The stateside debut of The Circle on Netflix definitely made a splash, earning strong online buzz and an almost all but certain second season pickup. The popularity competition that forces its players to communicate solely via a social media interface had fans staying up til 3 AM Wednesday mornings to catch new episodes at the moment they dropped. Much of what made the series a success can be attributed to the UK version of the series, upon which the US version is based. With the hugely popular UK version soon to air its third season, it's already seen its fair share of innovation. What lessons can be learned from the British Channel 4 original that could make what's good here even better?
Netflix released The Circle in three weekly blocks of four episodes each, while the most recent series of the U.K. original ran 22 episodes over the course of just over three weeks, with Channel 4 airing it each day of the week except Saturdays. It makes sense that Netflix would introduce the show as it did, sticking with its familiar weekly episode drop, but if the online buzz generated by the show over three sucessive Wednesday drops is any indication, there's an appetite here in the US for more frequent drops and more episodes overall.
Channel 4’s edition of The Circle doesn’t just air more frequently, it also airs while the game is being played, a la Big Brother. An additional element this allows for is audience voting through the show’s official app. That’s a huge power considering everyone watching knows both the real identities of all the players and the strategies they’re working on within the game. Is a catfish keeping quiet in chats to prevent a situation where they might be outed? Vote to set them up for a one-on-one dinner with the person they’re avoiding! The game can also give fans the power to block and save players once a season.
One feature added to the second season of The Circle in the UK was a live studio show once a week. Presenter Emma Willis introduced the sort of clips you would get from a regular episode, and then she would discuss the past week with blocked players and celebrity fans of the show. And of course the still-sequestered blocked players would get to see all the identities of their fellow players still in the game, so the audience gets a lot more priceless catfish revelations and reactions than the Netflix format allowed. This would be an excellent way to utilize one of the American version's best and most modestly-utilized weapons: host Michelle Buteau.
One Netflix disappointment was the lack of age diversity among the players and their characters. Every person in the game was between the ages of 23 (Shubham and Ed) and 30 (Chris). The Circle needs more of the energy Ed’s mom Tammy brought to the game. Season 2 in the UK had players ranging from 18 (Woody Cook, son of Fatboy Slim’s Norman Cook) to 58 (Tim Wilson, gay college professor and former member of the right-wing UKIP Party). And both of them played the game as themselves, leading to some pretty funny interactions with Tim learning the hashtags, acronyms, and emojis of the day, and forming sweet bonds with his neighbors in the process.
Having only twelve episodes led to a pretty standard ratings-game-blocking cycle on Netflix. Having an additional ten episodes in the UK version allowed for more twists. British TV personality Richard Madely entered the game as a celebrity catfish whose character (chosen by viewers) had a mission of getting blocked, with immunity for another player as a prize. Two players entered the game as Twitter-like eggs with everyone else deciding which of them could stay after getting to know them anonymously. Two blocked players got to return and play cooperatively as a 62-year-old woman. Now that we’re used to the basic game here in th U.S., it’s definitely time to shake things up a little.
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Chris Billig is the social media manager for Primetimer. He is also the voice behind LGBTSoccer on social media and you can follow his personal TV ramblings on Twitter @chrisjbillig.