(Note: This roundtable contains specific details from the first four episodes of The Circle’s second season.)
The first season of Netflix reality series The Circle debuted in January 2020, foreshadowing the pandemic lifestyle that would become a widespread reality only a few months later. As comedian Michelle Buteau narrates, eight strangers are confined to individual (and super-cute) apartments and communicate only via a social media instrument known as “The Circle.” Some of the players are who they say they are; others are catfishing as someone else. Every week the players all rank each other, with one getting cast out of The Circle (and getting replaced by a new player). The top ranking contestant at the end receives $100,000.
Season one was a fascinating exploration of the relationship ties that can form only via a chat room and text messages. For the young players in The Circle, it probably all felt pretty familiar. But the real draw of the show wasn’t seeing who was fooled by the catfishers (and who wasn’t), but in seeing genuine friendships build between appealing players like Sammie, Chris, Shooby, and eventual winner Joey, proving that positivity reigned supreme.
Unsurprisingly, Netflix has now released a second season of The Circle, with eight new contestants vying for the eventual $100,000 grand prize. (The first four episodes dropped this week, with more episodes arriving on April 21 and 28, and the finale on May 5.) This season we have Cousin Greg lookalike Jack catfishing as fetching astronomy student Emily; 58-year-old Lee pretending to be young hipster River; and Deleesa posing as her own husband, Trevor, depicting him as a single dad. But The Circle is kind of kicking things up a notch this season, adding Chloe, who Netflix viewers may remember from its steamy reality series Too Hot To Handle, as a contestant. And first replacement player Lisa is posing as her boss, ’N SYNC’s Lance Bass. But are these more familiar faces adding to or distracting from The Circle drama?
We asked our own A.V. Club Circle fans for their thoughts on season two so far. Circle: Alert!
Gwen Ihnat: It is shocking to me how quickly I got sucked right back into The Circle. (Patrick, I think you were the first person who told me about this show last year!) It’s really difficult not to immediately binge these the nanosecond they come out; it’s such a fascinating social experiment.
In season two so far, I was worried that the shiny positivity of the first season was gone (a lot of that was due to Shooby and Joey’s fantastic friendship, to be honest), just due to the fact that Bryant was the first person blocked from The Circle. Yes, his breathwork instruction sounds a bit flaky, but he was so nice! And positive! Just too pure for this world, and definitely for the world of The Circle. I would have loved to see him hang out for a few more weeks and help diffuse the toxicity that can build in The Circle’s isolated environs.
Because it’s probably not coincidence that Bryant leaving kicked off some horrific toxic drama, as Savannah and Terilisha stoked the fires of their rivalry, and I was worried that this show was going to get more bogged down in petty bullshit than a typical Bachelor episode. But then Savannah and Terilisha moved from the top of the rankings to the bottom, again proving The Circle’s point that (hopefully) nice people finish first. To me, Savannah (who I liked at first!) just proved her awfulness by wasting most of her one-on-one time with Courtney by telling him who to take out next.
Patrick, Tatiana: What do you guys think? Are you liking this season as much as the first one? And do the famous faces added seem fun to you or just kind of random (as they do to me?)
Tatiana Tenreyro: What I loved about The Circle’s first season is that most people were genuinely trying to befriend each other. I would occasionally get annoyed at Shooby for forgetting he was part of a competition and getting too heated when people weren’t being best pals, but Joey, Sammie, and Shooby were so sweet to each other. Even when Joey had to take on strategic decisions, like blocking Miranda, he still had a very honest conversation with her about it not being personal—ending with a weirdly steamy makeout session. And they’re still close friends! But that’s the thing—these people managed to form genuine, virtual friendships on a reality competition. It made The Circle seem more like an exercise in trust and forming deep, long-lasting connections rather than tricking people for the cash prize.
But this second season is already off to a sinister start, where everyone’s overly focused on strategy instead of just going along for the ride and making themselves genuinely likable. The Savannah and Terilisha drama was too messy, and I didn’t like seeing Savannah try to absolve herself from blame when she was ready to kick off Chloe (who is a total sweetheart and naively playing the game fairly!) just because she feared that Chloe would do the same. It didn’t sit right with me that she actively tried to ruin Terilisha’s image in the game just because she hinted at some trickery on Savannah’s part while being the influencers. And Terilisha was right! Savannah was “full of shit” pretending that she was heartbroken over Bryant being blocked when it was her decision. Sure, Terilisha didn’t handle it the best way, but Savannah acted selfishly and then made the only Black woman (not counting Deleesa, who is catfishing as a man) out to be the villain, pinning everyone against her. It felt very icky to watch.
As for the addition of new faces, I do enjoy that they added Chloe, since her appearance on Too Hot To Handle made her out to seem like a vapid airhead. Though it’s tough to see her attempt to flirt her way to the top with an obvious catfish, I think she made it clear early on that she’s mostly in it for the fun of the experience and is actually eager to meet new people and have her own friend group with the girls. I was skeptical when I first found out she was added to The Circle, but I think her footage makes her seem the most in line with Joey, Shooby, and the rest of the nice OG crew. As for “Lance” though, I don’t know how Netflix really thought the show could get away with having someone catfish as a major boybander. Everyone knows ’N SYNC (except Chloe, apparently)! I can’t imagine the contestants want someone who is already rich and famous to win the money, either. Patrick, what’s your take?
Patrick Gomez: First of all, I’m just so pleased to have people to talk to about The Circle—the reality competition that should not work at all but thankfully does. I think a lot of that comes down to casting, admittedly an argument you could make about any reality series. Like you, Gwen, I had concerns that a second season would fall short of capturing the magic of the first. And in many ways it doesn’t. For all the reasons you’ve both mentioned, there’s less of a “let’s all be friends” vibe to season two. But I think that’s a natural progression from casting an unseen reality series (which, I imagine gets you a bunch of people genuinely looking for an exciting, new life experience) and casting a successful Netflix competition where people know they’ll become reality famous.
The result, at least from these first four episodes, is a lot more contestants aiming for viral moments instead of creating meaningful relationships and making strategic game moves. Speaking of the drama, it’s so interesting that I walked away with a completely different feeling about the Terilisha/Savannah feud, Tatiana! It was a two-person decision, and I felt Terilisha threw Savannah under the bus by making it seem as though Savannah was the only one feeling “iffy” about Bryant. As Savannah explained out loud (a.k.a to producers), “She wanted to save River and I wanted to save Courtney, so that just left Bryant.” I saw Terilisha as the one who started the character assassination. But regardless of blame, I agree with what you said, Gwen, The Circle is the rare reality show that is at its best when everyone is there to have a good time.
As for the stunt casting, I love that Netflix is creating their own Marvel universe by adding Chloe into the mix. In fact, I think The Circle provides a unique opportunity to bring in even more familiar faces, à la MTV’s The Challenge. I would have loved to have seen Shooby and Joey back to play as a duo behind a catfish profile. Or give me a former Love Is Blind couple having a You’ve Got Mail moment over Circle Chat. And, while I completely agree with you, Tatiana, that no one would want to give a rich and famous celebrity the cash over another contestant, I think Lance Bass is just the right amount of famous and the right amount of obsessed with reality competition series that he would have done The Circle. What I would love to see is a celebrity playing as a catfish, though. We’d get to know them way better than if they were singing behind a giant porcupine mask.
Gwen, I won’t give away any specifics, but I’ve already watched press screeners of the entire season (aside from the winner reveal, I’m holding out on that). What I will tease is that this season ultimately left me with the same endearing feeling as the first. I look forward to hearing what y’all think about it too!