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TV TATTLE

Netflix's Clickbait amounts to "cringe-watching"

  • "There’s binge-watching and there’s cringe-watching," says Richard Roeper. "With binge-watching, you click on the first episode of The Mare of Easttown or Bridgerton or Euphoria or The Queen’s Gambit and you’re instantly drawn in by the production values, the quality of the writing, the excellence of the performances — and you’re rarely disappointed by the entire journey. Cringe-watching is when try out a series and it’s filled with implausible plot turns and soap opera cliffhangers from the jump — but you can’t help it, you have to see this thing through. (Hello, Sex/Life and You and Nine Perfect Strangers.) Sometimes you get a legit wine-and-popcorn, guilty-pleasure satisfaction from these shows. Sometimes not. In the case of the Netflix social media-themed series Clickbait, it’s a 'not.' Despite a gimmicky but admittedly attention-getting opening hook, some stylishly rendered visuals and the best efforts of the talented cast, this is the kind of show that grows increasingly desperate to hold our interest until the mystery is solved — and then throws a cold towel in our face by revealing a major character made an absolute howler of a decision at a pivotal moment in the story, a decision so ridiculous it undercuts everything we’ve seen until that moment. You’ll want to hurl the remote across the room, but don’t do that because you might break it."

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    • Clickbait is a very unpleasant show: "Let me be explicitly clear about this: It is very rare that I will say 'do not watch this show,' whether it be to a friend in casual conversation or to readers in print, because key to my passion for scripted entertainment is the belief that there is redeeming value in pretty much everything," says Liz Shannon Miller. "However, while there are some bright spots to Clickbait, they do not justify the overall experience of watching the show. It is an unpleasant show built on a semi-compelling mystery, and yes, if you watch to the end the full mystery will be unveiled, but while you'll know what happened, you won't feel good about it. There's something intrinsically nasty and mean about this show's outlook on the world, and while it does contain something resembling a central thesis about how the Internet has fractured the ways in which we connect with each other, it's not exactly essential messaging."
    • Clickbait deserves credit for a perfectly apt title: "Like the genre of internet article it’s named after, the Netflix miniseries tries to lure in audiences with the promise of juicy reveals and hot-button controversy — only to deliver, in the end, a shallow story about not much at all," says Angie Han. She adds: "The ultimate reveal of what’s really going on isn’t actually all that complicated or all that shocking; Clickbait has simply decided to take six hours to solve a mystery that a feature film (or Black Mirror episode) could wrap up in a fraction of the time. After a couple of episodes of incremental reveals and obvious red herrings, the temptation to just skip the rest and search for spoilers on Twitter becomes overpowering."
    • Clickbait grabs you, whizzes you along, and leaves you feeling satisfied before you forget everything you just watched: "It’s not sophisticated, but it is highly bingeable, and its eight episodes are consistently outlandish enough to keep you watching," says Roxana Hadadi. She adds that for the most part, "the ensemble’s work feels urgent and in the moment, and that matters for a series like this. Ultimately, Clickbait doesn’t say anything singular about the anonymity of the Internet, and it flirts with a lot of big ideas it doesn’t pursue as vigorously as it could have: how the community of chat rooms and message boards can lead to insularity and paranoia; the disposability of hookup culture and the way toxic masculinity can manifest within it; and the aforementioned difference in how the media treats people of different races. But a show that went down those roads wouldn’t have been Clickbait, and also probably wouldn’t have been this silly or low-brow entertaining."
    • Clickbait is a disappointingly muddled attempt to deal with internet accountability: "Like a good (read: bad) clickbait article, once you get in there, it’s all nonsense," says Allison Keene. "Any of the interesting ideas raised by the series are subverted not to make us question our relationship with online media, but to undermine any decent point the series might have made. It takes a kitchen sink approach to its storytelling, alighting on everything from expectations of privacy and data collection to catfishing, content moderation, revenge porn, and more—but doesn’t make a real point about any of it. It’s like someone heard a podcast about deep fakes, watched an episode of Law & Order, remembered Catfish exists, and then wants to explain The Unified Theory of the Internet Today to you three drinks in. No thanks!"
    • Clickbait seems to have borrowed its premise from Black Mirror, but it doesn't have much to say: "Perhaps this is where Black Mirror has the right idea: Its vignettes of life online range in quality and in novelty, but none runs longer than a feature film," says Daniel D'Addario. "By the end of Clickbait, which has taken much time and used many talented people to state the obvious, viewers may themselves feel they were baited by a show with a grabby title and synopsis, one that spoke loudly but had little, in the end, to say."
    • Clickbait is not worth the click: "Clickbait mashes up references to the cruelty of social media, callousness of the local media and vagaries of things like dating apps, creating what amounts to an illusion of broader relevance when the objective is just finding another somewhat novel means of presenting a serialized crime thriller," says Brian Lowry. "In that sense, Clickbait does at least reflect the commercial mentality defined by the title -- namely, once the show has elicited enough curiosity to prompt people to check it out, it's actually irrelevant whether it delivers on its promises."
    • True to title, Clickbait head-fakes, but not to a place you’re likely to relish: "Clickbait is yet another digital-concerned show/film that gestures at big ideas about the internet – catfishing, cancel culture, surveillance, etc – but fails to capture the contours of life on it, both on an emotional level and on an aesthetic one," says Adrian Horton. "The copyright-dodging facsimiles here ('QueriNow' as Google, various fake dating sites, rip-offs of Facebook and Reddit, texting interface that looks more 2011 than 2021) are budget practical but ultimately distracting, giving the show the feel of an askew frame – off-balance, squinted, a simulacrum of digital life that feels cheap and badly distilled into not-quite-plausible bogeymans."
    • Why call the show Clickbait?: "We had a lot of discussions around the title and what the title should be," says co-creator Tony Ayres. "Hopefully people will understand that there is something ironic in it because the show is talking about, 'How is clickbait constructed?' There is a meta narrative through the series about how these stories turn viral — what is the sequence of events that have to happen?"
    • Ayres breaks down the jaw-dropping whodunnit reveal
    • Adrian Grenier on returning to TV with Clickbait: "It's a very curious series," he says. "At first blush, just on the surface, it's a thriller; it's a whodunnit. But really, the depth of it is exploring issues of identity, especially in the technology world. It's really very interesting exploring what it's like to be alive at a time of the internet, avatars, catfishing, all those things." After reading the first few scripts for Clickbait, Grenier was hooked. "I took a look at it and I said, 'Yes, please,'" he says. "And this was even before I knew how it was going to end. And so during the filming, I didn't even know who had done it." 

    TOPICS: Clickbait, Netflix, Adrian Grenier, Tony Ayres




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