I can’t believe I’m saying this about a show where people talk to their TVs all day, but The Circle’s seasons are too short.
So far, of the three American seasons of The Circle, two (including the current third season) have run for 13 episodes. The initial season was just 12. Compare those lengths to those of the show’s canceled UK version: their seasons ran anywhere from 18-22 episodes (save for the abbreviated Celebrity edition). Granted, their airing schedule was different than ours, dropping roughly one episode a day for three weeks. The Circle U.S. drops in four-episode chunks across three weeks — with the finale dropping separately — making it more binge-friendly for Netflix’s audience.
But what we’re missing by only getting 13 episodes a season is more information about the people behind the avatars in the game’s custom social media platform. So far this season, we’ve seen a ton of great strategies, some interesting relationships and alliances, and lots of conversation about how the players are feeling about each other. However, the rapidly evolving metagame of The Circle has made game talk trump everything else, leaving little room for viewers to get to know the players as people.
Season 1’s game was much slower-paced, and as a result we got more time to learn about and grow to love players like Shubaum, Joey, Sammie, and more. They may not have played all that strategically, but they opened up about themselves and grew into more compelling characters. Contrast that with the other seasons of the show — including the Brazilian and French versions — where the players largely come across as stereotypes, not unique individuals.
Take Matthew this season, for instance. We know he’s gay, from Long Island, and playing as his queer female friend Ashley. But because we don’t really know more about him as a person, his catfish is coming across as basically just him with a different person’s picture. What is Matthew changing about himself in this process? Are there hobbies or interests he’s unable to share because of his position in the game? We know he loves his ally, “Daddy Nick,” but we’ve yet to see them really connect on a deeper level.
Contrast this to another catfish in the last UK season, Natalya, aka “Felix.” We knew that she chose to be a male paratrooper because of her own connection to the military, but we also learned who she was when she’s not portraying Felix. Most compellingly, we saw her build a genuinely strong bond with fellow player Manrika, to the point of the duo being dubbed a “Circle couple.” Realizing that Manrika was genuinely falling for Felix left Natalya at a seemingly impossible crossroads: she needed to keep up the Felix illusion to win the game, but she was torn by the thought of leading Manrika on. Because we saw this arc play out across so many episodes, we knew how both Natalya and Manrika felt about it, which made their eventual in-person confrontation all the more compelling.
While I’d love to see the episode count bumped up to 20, even just 16 would give the game a better chance to breathe — they could still release across four weeks, but give us four episodes in the final cycle, instead of just the finale. They could even add another player if they wanted. Most crucially, the extra time could bring back some of the Season 1 personality time, without sacrificing the strategy.
Across its various seasons, The Circle has shown that it has all the ingredients to be a truly great reality competition series. It just has to combine those ingredients into a single pot. We’ll happily spend a bit more time on our couches watching people on couches.
The first twelve episodes of The Circle's third season are now streaming on Netflix. The season finale drops Wednesday, September 29th.
People are talking about The Circle in our forums. Join the conversation.
Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.