The Netflix miniseries Clickbait aims to take viewers on a deep dive into the dark side of social media. The show centers on Nick Brewer, played by Entourage and The Devil Wears Prada star Adrian Grenier, who's seemingly a family man with a perfect life until he's kidnapped, and then social media posts paint him in a much more sinister light than how his family and friends viewed him. Clearly not everything glitters is gold.
The eight-episode series is set to premiere on Netflix on August 25 and promises to explore the ways social media can influence and escalate our most deadly impulses. Clickbait's spoiler-free reviews are in, and it's not usually a best-case scenario when reviews can only go public just ahead of a big release. But let’s see if critics think this one is worth the click.
We might as well start on the most positive end of the spectrum, since there's a lot of room to fall here. The Age gave Clickbait a perfect 4 stars, saying the cyber thriller asked important questions, all while holding viewers captive with the story being told through a different character’s perspective in each episode.
In a world in which technology grants us anonymity, creates a gulf between action and consequence, and gifts us the veil of plausible deniability when it comes to ultimate responsibility (if you are only the 4 millionth watcher, not the 5 millionth, are you off the hook?), what might compel us to act ethically, morally, and with compassion? The bracing answer appears to be not much, apart from the chance of being caught. These are big questions to wrap in the form of a pulp thriller, but Clickbait does a pretty good job of balancing the desire to make us think with the imperative to keep us hooked.
It's all downhill from there, though, as The Guardian rated Clickbait 2 stars out of 5, arguing that while it gestured at big ideas about the Internet, the fictionalized narrative failed to capture anything real, so to speak.
The Australian-American co-production entices you with a mystery whodunnit orchestrated by unseen villains of an anonymous, viral internet, but diverts to a feather-thin saga of red herrings and duality that is more irksome than interesting, with a roving perspective more dabbling than deep. Its ominously scored trailer suggests suspense, marking it as another entry in, as Slate put it recently, the clickbaitification of Netflix – cheaply produced, fast-churned, deceptively bland series designed to keep you watching.
There's definitely something of a running theme among critics that give Clickbait a backwards compliment in speaking to the episodes binge-ability, even if those compliments don't extend to the storytelling. The Hollywood Reporter called Clickbait a “Clicky premise, dull execution,” and argued that the characters weren’t strong enough to carry eight episodes whose central mystery could have been wrapped up in one episode of a more warmly regarded Netflix series.
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. Meanwhile, Clickbait offers precious little of the rich characterization or world-building that justifies the long hours spent on other TV mysteries, like Big Little Lies or Mare of Easttown. Everyone in Clickbait has secrets, but that’s not the same as having personality or interiority.
Variety continued waving the flag regarding Clickbait not needing to be an eight-part miniseries, positing that the project spoke loudly but ultimately didn’t have much to say with its volume. If nothing else, the critic found Clickbait’s commentary on character to be more effective than its approach to critiquing society.
That family does the heavy lifting on this limited series. With each episode devoted to the point of view of a different character, the installments focused on Nick’s sister, Pia (Zoe Kazan), and his wife, Sophie (Betty Gabriel), are the strongest. Both existed in the shadow of Nick’s goodness — Pia as black-sheep sibling, Sophie as less devoted spouse — and each seems dazed as she confronts the new reality the web has opened up in their lives.
The Chicago Sun-Times gave Clickbait 2 out of 4 stars, drawing a thick line between binge-watching and cringe-watching, as well as providing a warning for the reveal of a rage-inducing plot twist.
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. . . . 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.
The AV Club gave Clickbait a C+, lamenting that the series missed the mark on potentially fascinating plot lines.
Clickbait attempts to depict and critique how people can base their judgments on rumors, headlines, or what others might think about them. Pia, Sophie, and Sophie’s two boys have a tough time adjusting to horrendous new facts they learn about Nick pertaining to secret dating profiles and affairs, which potentially negate the man they’ve known and loved for years. Clickbait struggles to explore the fascinating concept of the power of manipulation on social media. The show just scratches the surface of serious issues like catfishing, mental health challenges, and even the #MeToo movement. Instead, Clickbait chases after the next game-changing revelation, each getting more unbelievable and bizarre, to the point that the ultimate reveal in the finale, “The Answer,” goes far beyond suspending logic for the sake of a TV show.
One aspect every single review agreed on was the series’ title. Clickbait is apparently exactly that, drawing viewers in within minutes of the first episode and leaving them desperate to find out what happens next. (And one technically doesn't even need to click again after the initial "Play" press.) The question lies in if the conclusion will have been worth it and if the series ultimately has anything new to say about the dangers of the internet. Godspeed to everyone who watches.