Review: Clickbait 2021 TV Mini Series
In a premise that seems borrowed from “Black Mirror,” Adrian Grenier’s Nick Brewer appears in a startling web video near the start of Netflix’s “Clickbait,” holding a sign indicating that once his taped confession of abuse gets 5 million views, he will die. The clip, of course, goes viral. And unsure where he is, his family must figure out how a man they only knew as devoted and sweet found himself confessing to a secret life.
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.
Unfortunately, “Clickbait” comments much more effectively on character than on society. A journalist played by Abraham Lim, constantly breaking the law to ensure he gets scoops about the Brewer scandal, exists as living proof that the media is engaged in a race to ethical rock bottom. This story has been told elsewhere, and with more acidity and irony. What rankles most about Lim’s plotline isn’t that tales like these paint the practice of reporting with a broad brush (although that’s true, too). It’s that “Clickbait” pats itself on the back for observing that tabloid-style media coverage can have collateral damage.
That gets at the general misguidedness of a very watchable show that ultimately runs aground when trying to assert big ideas. Some of the characters are drawn and performed effectively. But after starting in an extreme place, the show keeps pushing further past credibility, cutting corners on its investigation subplot in favor of increasingly bizarre demonstrations of the internet’s dark power. All the wilder flourishes are in service of the rudimentary idea that no one knows us online; the series goes to strange places in continuing to make the case, with which it’s hard to disagree anyhow. “Clickbait” seems to be forcefully arguing after the viewer’s conceded: Yes, the internet has made anonymous misbehavior much easier. But is there eight hours’ worth of story here? Or just endless amplification of that basic fact?
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. 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.