Netflix Recommendation- The Circle

Perhaps the best Netflix original programming we’ve ever seen?

We love reality TV and we love competitions, so it was a given that we were going to watch ‘The Circle’ a reality competition entirely playing out over social media. Which is fascinating to say the least!

The premise is simple,  imagine the well-known ‘Big Brother’ reality TV concept, a household of young (under 35s), interesting and attractive people, forced to live with one another while being filmed around the clock, like a sociological experiment – while the producers and we sit back and watch the drama unfold. However, where The Circle differs from the BB concept, is that the players/housemates/neighbours never meet in person! They don’t even get a chance to hear each other’s voices! All of their interaction is conducted over ‘The Circle’, a social networking app which connects the players wherever they are in the apartment block, and all throughout the 15 day ordeal, they never meet each other in person or see who their fellow neighbours are, until a player is ‘blocked’ from the competition. It’s all very strange, while quite reflective of most of our social interactions these days.

I have to admit, during the first 10 minutes of Episode One, I thought this show perhaps wasn’t for us – as each player was introduced to the viewing audience, each one of them was loud and a bit obnoxious. Dare I say…they were ‘very American’? However, as the players settled in to their apartments, they toned down some of their big personalities, and by the end of the series, each player presented quite a genuine side to themselves – and characters which were quite grating at first, turned out to be quite lovable.

With reality competitions like Big Brother, oftentimes we as the viewing audience aren’t able to grasp how it’s like living in there – as we’re not experiencing how it’s like to be living with 12 other people, never having a moment to yourself as there are roommates everywhere! However, The Circle is completely different, because we as the viewer are granted access to see behind every curtain, see into every apartment where they live on their own. So where the players only know each other through what each chooses to present to the others, we, the voyeur, see it warts and all! And for us, we see each player, we hear them talk to themselves and read out aloud to themselves each of the posts which come through to the screens – but we forget, that in reality these guys were sitting in an apartment on their lonesome with no real human contact for up to 2 weeks! That’s pretty wild hey? Almost like a period of coronavirus quarantine!    

When entering The Circle, each player completes a short profile of themselves (a profile pic, their name, age, status and a short bio), and that is all that is presented to the other players. So like in the Twitterverse, the players may pretend to be someone that they’re not, for the reasons of believing that they are more likely to win and are more likely to be accepted by others if they presented a more appealing version of themselves to others- be that pretending that they’re female when they’re a dude, or using profile pics of others who are more attractive than they believe themselves to be. And all the while, we the viewer know the truth, and sometimes cringe when watching the players interact with each other, seeing one side thinking that they’re developing a deep meaningful connection, when we know that everything is a lie!

But as trashy as this all sounds, The Circle was actually quite a meaningful show, uncovering some interesting modern-day social aspects about our society, and seeing integrity, loyalty and friendship play out on our screens.

In most of the episodes, there is a time where players rank each other from the first to last – the top 2 ranked players are given a blue check mark, labelling them as ‘Influencers’ – giving them the power to ‘block’ one player, thus eliminating them from the show. The eliminated player is then given an opportunity to confront one of the other players in person – and for us, being a bit of a wuss when it comes to confronting people face-to-face, this was a bit cringing for us to watch – but oftentimes the meeting turned out alright. Even when a ‘Catfish’ is unmasked…….

And once a player is blocked, a new player is brought in to replace them – thus continuing on the game for the full 12 episodes. And in the final ep, the contestants are brought in front of a live audience, where the winner is announced and they take home $100K in cold hard cash! And during the episodes, throw in some ice breaker games in between evictions – some games designed to stir the pot, and throw in a few twists and turns along the way – and here you have The Circle USA!

If you spend a significant amount of time on the various social media platforms – then it’s a no-brainer, you have to watch ‘The Circle’, as it’s everything you love and hate about interactions and friendships over Social. But if you’re a hater of social media, I also challenge you to give ‘The Circle’ a go, as it might just change your perception of virtual interactions.

To start watching ‘The Circle’ from Netflix, click HERE!

Netflix Recommendations- Singapore Social

Now I’ve seen it all!

Only Netflix’s deep pockets could allow this to happen i.e. producing a reality TV show which is like a small screen version of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’! Like what the?! A side of Asia rarely seen, even to their parents. Haaha. But with this global platform curtesy of Netflix, how did these young Singaporeans fair?

Singapore Social (SS) is an 8 episode Netflix original reality TV doco series, depicting 6 friends navigating life in Singapore, career, relationships, cultural and family expectations. If you elect to view you’ll meet (in no particular order, except for their popularity on Instagram): **Contains SPOILERS**

Sukki Singapora- Burlesque performer

Without Sukki in SS, the show would lose at least 60% of the drama! From meddling in other’s relationships (or non-relationship), her attempts to revolutionise burlesque, to her new long-distance relationship……. Sukki in my opinion is a polarising character, but I can safely say that the show would only be half as interesting without her.

Mae Tan- Fashion influencer

Among all the other juicy stories and strong personalities, Mae’s story is a little drowned out amongst all the noise. Aside from perhaps having a crush on Vinny and making the decision to complete her studies in NYC (with absolutely no pressure from her parents……. NOT), the fashion model is surprisingly drama free in SS.

Tabitha Nauser- Singer 

Former Singapore Idol contestant Tabitha was at the centre of my favourite moment of SS! When she sets things straight with her ex-boyfriend and Manager Adam. Haaha. Seeing him fade away from her life was the best! Not sure why, I don’t know the guy, but he really irked me hard! Hehehe. Other than that, her deliberations over who should shoot her next music video was a bit annoying and drawn-out I thought.       

Paul Foster- Actor/Host/Model

From the 6, Paul was probably the most likeable character of SS. He seemed genuine and his interactions with his mum were sweet and adorable. I think his reputation is still intact after taking part in SS.

Nicole Ong- Entrepreneur

Come on girl!? You couldn’t tell that your bestie has the hots for you!? Thus the hating on your developing relationship with Alson? BTW, Asian parents should stop creating their own English names from just putting ‘son’ onto the end of other names or nouns like Kenson, Fordson, Herdson, Winson……. But from the female cast members, Nicole seemed like the most down-to-earth and likeable. 

Vinny Sharp- Film maker

And Vinny, Vinny, Vinny…… Just because you don’t label your relationship with your ex-girlfriend as such, it doesn’t mean that you’re not in a relationship. So playing it cool, like you’re happily single and not looking – while on the side you’re still in regular contact with your ex and getting some ‘sugar’ with her? Now can you see why everyone is confused? Vinny is one of those characters you’d love to hate, but without him the show would be less binge-worthy.

So in the end, how did they fair, after opening themselves and their lives up to scrutiny by the global Netflix audience? Well, from the looks of things, 5 of the 6 are playing a low profile on Instagram after the airing of SS, either they’ve learnt their lesson and are now trying to keep their personal lives private, or they’re trying to avoid spoilers for Singapore Social Season 2?

From all accounts, there has only been criticisms of the show from the viewing audience, the words trashy were frequently thrown around, alongside claims that it’s not a fair reflection of life in Singapore. But depending on what you seek from entertainment, you might like it, it’s trashy, it allows you to get on your high-horse to judge others, and it’s good escapism for a handful of hours.

So if you’re still interested to check Singapore Social out, click HERE!

Netflix Recommendations- The Toys That Made Us Season 3

We were all kids once upon a time.

‘The Toys That Made Us’ is a well scripted and highly entertaining Netflix documentary series that re-tells the origin stories and history of some of the most iconic toy franchises from the past half century! Each season (there has been three) feature in-depth stories behind 4 different brands, from the Star Wars toys which accompanied the motion picture (season 1), to ‘Hello Kitty’, the cutesy white cat that was emblazoned on countless pink stationery sets world-wide (season 2).  

It’s funny how these count-down/documentary style programs walk us down memory lane – however once the wizard’s curtain has been thrown back to uncover the truths behind some toys which we held dear to our hearts as kids…it unfortunately somewhat ruins the romanticism of our childhood.

For example, take Transformers (from season 2 of ‘The Toys That Made Us’) – after watching the episode, I was somewhat deflated to learn that my favourite childhood toy was actually just a re-branded Japanese toy, and that the entire cartoon series was later constructed around the plastic robot just to assist toy sales in the West. Well, obviously their strategy worked, as it was these early morning cartoon shows which got me begging and pestering my parents to buy me these things. So finding out that these transforming toys didn’t have a background story, or a connection with one another until the cartoon drew these tenuous links together? This knowledge somewhat tarnished my fond memories of Optimus Prime and the gang. *Sad look*.

 And Season 3 of ‘The Toys That Made Us’ has recently been made available on Netflix – in this season we learn of the brand’s origin stories behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, My Little Pony, and Professional Wrestling.

Before watching this, who knew that TMNT was almost dead in the water as a toy when they were not even a twinkle in their father’s eye?; who knew that the action scenes from Power Rangers were actually taken from a much older Japanese kids series?; who knew that the original mind behind ‘My Little Pony’ wanted to produce realistic looking and realistically coloured horses as the final product for girls?; and who knew there’s so much behind-the scenes politics in wrestling!? But you’ll soon also know of these facts, after you watch ‘The Toys That Made Us’ season 3.

However much knowing these truths may baffle and ruin your rose-coloured view of your childhood, if you’re a truth seeker, and knowing all that goes on behind-the-scenes is your thang, then you’ll love the 3 seasons of ‘The Toys That Made Us’!

For me, watching TTTMU it has highlighted 3 things for me:

One. How blessed/fortunate of a childhood I had – as my parents provided me with so so much. I had a bucket full of G.I. Joes, a clothing basket full of Transformers, and throw in a heap of Lego, Ninja Turtles, and Matchbox cars. Truly a blessed childhood. #Blessed

Two. The generational differences between kids- how even a small gap of 5 years, made such a big difference in what types of toys kids grew up playing with. For example, kids who grew up in the 70s were into Star Trek and Star Wars toys. When being born in the early 80s, I was into the latter era G.I. Joe and Transformers as they were all the buzz when I was 7 – 10.

Three. The gender differences- it’s amazing how guys were largely unaware of girl toys, and girls were largely unaware of boy toys. My Little Pony? Raises eyebrows for me. While my wife wasn’t aware that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was actually a Wrestler before he became a voice in Moana. Gender differences, so weird, so weird!

But acknowledging credit, where credit is due- ‘The Toys That Made Us’ invested extensive time/resources into research/filming, they had amazing levels of access to key people with firsthand accounts of the time in mention, and the editing and the narration by Donald Ian Black is probably a highlight of the show!

So if you’d like to take a walk down memory lane, geek out over some toys, and learn the secrets behind some of the biggest toy franchises, check out ‘The Toys That Made Us’ on Netflix! And if you just want to read all the spoilers, click HERE for all the episode summaries from Wikipedia.  

Netflix Recommendations- On My Block season 1

Have our young people lost their innocence?

When I started to watch ‘On My Block’ I didn’t know what to expect, but being a kid who grew up in the 90s watching ‘Saved By the Bell’ after school, I couldn’t stop comparing the two shows which both depicted teenagers in their high school years.

Watching On My Block season 1 (2018), and reminiscing on ‘Saved by the Bell’ season 1 (1989), I had to ask, have our young people lost their innocence? Or is ‘On My Block’ targeted at an older audience?

For those who are unfamiliar with Netflix’s ‘On My Block’, the 30 min per episode drama depicts four 15 year old friends (Monse, Cesar, Ruby, and Jamal) as they progress into high school, living and growing up in a rough inner city Los Angeles neighbourhood. In the 10 episodes of season 1, the show touches on adult themes like consensual sex between minors, drug use, gang affiliation, and gang violence. The show is deemed a comedy, and sure there are parts which are LOL worthy, and by and large the acting is convincing and the storyline is compelling enough. But I just can’t stop comparing ‘Saved By the Bell’ and ‘On My Block’ with each other. And the question keeps coming back to mind, have our young people lost their innocence?

Is the contrast between ‘On My Block’ and ‘Saved by the Bell’ due to? –

  1. Our changing society i.e. generational differences, thus marking the changes in our society and changes to our morals over time?
  2. Our youth are actually changing i.e. youth in 2018 are growing up and becoming maturer faster, thus shows targeted at them are now depicting their more grown-up realities?
  3. Or is this a creation by the media i.e. TV Producers are wanting to be more risky and push the envelope for the sake of drawing in viewership, thus including themes which might connect with a wider audience (not just younger teenagers) while planting adult themes into young impressionable minds when they’re actually not ready for them?

But growing up with ‘Saved By the Bell’, which had left a deep impression on my 12 year old self, I do think that I and my peers grew up in a more innocent time, where the main story plots were run-ins with school principals, jocks Vs non-jocks, teenage dating, and teenage pranks, which were themes we could relate to as 12 year olds. And if we take the topics   explored in ‘On My Block’ as an example of where society is currently at, I do think that today’s teenagers are victims of a changing society, victims of a changing youth culture (i.e. younger teens are dealing with adult themes earlier), and our kids are victims of the media’s willingness to expose our kids to riskier topics all in the pursuit of more eyeballs on their product. And to prove this point, is to pull out the adult themes from ‘On My Block’ – themes of gang violence and teenage victims of gang violence; juvenile incarceration; police racial profiling; dreamers separated from their parents; and they were only the more confronting themes, which made underage consensual sex seem ‘everyday’, when topics of sex was way too risque for ‘Saved by the Bell’ 30 years ago. Or perhaps ‘Saved By the Bell’ depicted a ‘White American’s’ version of their reality in Calafornia, whereas ‘On My Block’ depicts a ‘Black/Brown American’s’ version of their reality in California? *Shrug*.  

So I think from a sociological point of view, ‘On My Block’ has been an interesting cultural educational experience and was surprisingly thought-provoking. And for those who are currently parents of little ones, parents of the future Monses, Cesars, Rubys, and Jamals? You’d have to be concerned about where our society is going and where it will be in another generation’s time? What other truly adult themes, will our young people deem as the norm for them in 2028? But look on the bright side, according to Greta Thunberg, we’d all be dead by 2030 anyway. So who cares???!!!

Netflix Recommendations- Rhythm + Flow

You’ve gotta watch-it on Netflix!

N avoida readin’-it on Wikipedia!

To avoida spoiler’s boy-E!

Rhythm +Flow, a Netflix original production (“singing competition”) featuring judges Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I.! Follow the judges from the Westside to the Eastside, from the Dirty South to the Windy City, in search of the best rappers in the great land of the United States!

Imagine ‘X-Factor’, but minus all the singers and dancers. Imagine ‘The Voice’, but minus all the white dudes. Imagine ‘America’s Got Talent’, but minus all the R N’ B and Gospel artists. And what you left with? Is Rappers! Back to back Rappers! Wall to wall Rappers! Contestant after contestant of Rappers! So if you luv Gangster rap, lyricism, and homies spitting bars? Then you’ve gotta watchit on Netflix!

We start the rap journey with 4 Open mic auditions in LA, NYC, ATL and Chicago. Then the top 30 are flown to LA to take part in 6 rounds of rap  challenges – where the 30 is initially sliced down to 16 through the Cypher round (for you white boys….Cypher is what you call ‘Group work’). Then the 16 is reduced down to 8, after the head to head ‘Rap Battles’. Then 8 becomes 6, after the filming and airing of their own Music Videos. Then 6 is filtered down to 5, after producing their own Samples, their take on a well-known melody. Then a handful become 4, after the collaboration round with today’s hottest R&B artists! And then there were only 4 Rappers remaining in the finale, where the finalists perform LIVE a brand new rap track which they wrote and co-produced in 3 days! All nicely choreographed with pyrotechnics, and judged on their performance and crowd interaction – one deserving winner earns themselves $250K in cold hard cash! Dolla Dolla Bill Y’all!

It’s a modern day TV series classic! 10 episodes of artistry, and you know how they say ‘pressure produces diamonds’? Well, Rhythm + Flow exhibited how Pressure, Hardship, Sacrifice, Talent, and Hard work produces Rap Superstars!

If you wanta checkout Rhythm + Flow for yourself? Click HERE!      

Netflix Recommendations- Fastest Car (Season 2)

Whoo! Fastest Car is back on Netflix for another season of drag-racing down the quarter mile! Yay!

If you’re a car nut like me, you’re literally shaking in excitement to get a second dose of fast metal screaming down a straight stretch of road! But Fastest Car is much more than just fast cars and pedal-to-the-metal for less than 15 seconds – it’s the people behind the wheel! And if you enjoyed the human side of the first season – then you’ll love season 2, as it’s even more about the backstories of the competitors, and oftentimes the car takes a back-seat to the driver.

Hey, I’m a bit of a granite when it comes to emotional stuff, nothing can get this boy teary-eyed. But I have to admit, there were a couple of times even I almost teared up from hearing the life stories of these gutsy drivers. So if you’re thinking to yourself “I don’t give a, about cars”, but if you like Reality TV, I guarantee you’ll still enjoy Fastest Car S2.

But for the car guys, there are still all the sleeper cars, there are still all the American V8 muscle cars, there are still all the inappropriate vehicles (a Toyota Hilux) with big motors dropped into them – powering down the straight like a chubby fella doing a 100m sprint; and of course there are still all the Supercars with everything to lose – lined up against these Frankenstein home-jobs.

The improvements we’ve seen from season 1 to season 2 have been: introducing rules to pre-race, thus eliminating a repeat from last season when a dude did a pre-race burn-out trying to warm up his tyres, which then cause the other cars who were patiently waiting on grid to over-heat – resulting in one heat being a fizzle-out. And the second improvement was in the championship race, they allowed each car to perform a test run, giving us a chance to properly hear each car tear off down the track! And allowing us to hear the other drivers comment on what they thought of their competitor’s start and car performance. This was good, as otherwise the actual race is over way too quickly!

The slight criticisms I have, is that the Supercars which rolled up for season 2 lacked variety. I think 4 of the 6 Supercars this year were all McLarens, which didn’t sound all that crazy compared to the high pitch whine of a V12 Lamborghini or a V8 Ferrari. And as mentioned before, the actual drag race just doesn’t have enough of a build-up to it. So after sitting through almost 40 minutes of lead-up to the race, the race is then all over within 60 seconds – so the ratio between build-up and race just don’t add-up. If they could extend the Championship format to each of the heats, i.e. allowing each car to do a test run? I think that would do the trick for Season 3 (fingers crossed that there is a Season 3). Vroom Vroom!

And the aspects which we enjoyed from Season 1 and were still present in Season 2 were, the diversity of drivers, the diversity of sleeper cars, and there was a healthy representation of female drivers! Which assists all viewers to be able to imagine themselves behind the wheel of a fast car. “See babe! It’s completely normal to be a chick driving a heavily modified sleeper car. And for this reason, why you should let me further modify our Beast……….”

Ok, if I’ve injected some gasoline into your veins, you can check out Fastest Car Season 1 and Season 2 right HERE!