Like a good (read: bad) clickbait article, Netflix’s new eight-episode miniseries Clickbait draws you in with a compelling premise. Family man Nick Brewer (Adrian Grenier) is kidnapped, beaten, and forced to hold up cards for an internet video that claim “I abuse women” and “I killed a woman.” As if that wasn’t provocative enough, it ends with: “At 5 million views I die.”
From there, Nick’s wife Sophie (Betty Gabriel), his sister Pia (Zoe Kazan), and his sons Ethan (Cameron Engels) and Kai (Jaylin Fletcher) work with police and race (or amble, really) against the clock to try and track down who made the video and where Nick is now. But there’s also a question of how they grapple with what the video suggests. Is the man they know and love an abuser? Possibly a killer? Can they understand, perhaps, the vigilante’s motives?
But again, like a good (read: bad) clickbait article, once you get in there, it’s all nonsense. 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!
Again, Clickbait starts off by flirting with some compelling thought exercises, but it’s flattened by paper-thin characters. Each episode focuses on one of them as the story moves along: The sister, the detective, the mistress, etc. None are interesting, except perhaps an episode that focuses on an associate producer who will do anything to get a story, and is able to use cheaply-bought data from apps to help crack open an important element of the case. The investigation aspect of Clickbait isn’t terrible at first, but it could have been distilled into a single episode of, say, a show called FBI: Cyber Crimes. Unfortunately, in between solving the crime, so much of Clickbait is spent vacuously attempting to meditate on its characters, who give us nothing in return. It’s actually astonishing how little we know about any of them after eight episodes, although frankly they never really seem to be worth knowing much about.
For those still not deterred, the series does give the crime itself a clear ending with a full explanation by the end, and boy howdy is it terrible. This is yet another series that wants to be taken seriously thanks to the trappings of prestige drama, but gives us nothing but dreck. And yet, it’s too boring and offensive to be camp, either. I wish it could be the kind of Lifetime movie-level story that one could cuddle up and cackle along with; instead it’s deeply miscalculated in its delusions of grandeur. Worse still, its ending feels like a unearned and smug “gotcha” that further dilutes any possible point the show might have had earlier on. It’s also particularly awful in its implications towards its female characters, leading to a conclusion that plays into the worst, most cynical, and deeply misogynistic assumptions possible.
The whole thing leaves me wondering who this was for, or what the series was even trying to say. It evokes the same “why did I get involved in this?” feeling of being lured under false pretenses to an article that leaves you feeling tricked. Don’t let this Clickbait trick you—it’s not worth it.
Clickbait premieres Wednesday, August 25th on Netflix.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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