If there was ever show that seemed like it would be able to film in a pandemic, it’s Netflix’s The Circle, which locks contestants in isolated rooms for weeks, and lets them only communicate via the titular social app.

But at long last, The Circle season 2 has arrived, and Netflix is airing episodes in batches on Wednesdays for the next few weeks, a break from its binge dump format so it doesn’t spoil its twists, turns and eventual winner immediately.

Last night the first four episodes aired, and even though this is a break from my usual sci-fi/superhero fare, I am something of a Circle superfan. And I have thoughts.

Spoilers follow.

Generally speaking, I think The Circle season 2 has been better than the first run so far (at least the US one, I’ve watched a few other countries’ editions now). The central conflict that spanned the arc of the entire first batch of episodes, two influencer “friends” turned into bitter rivals, Savannah and Terilisha, was compelling and a rather interesting game of chess between the two that ultimate came back to bite Savannah, whose decision to save catfisher Trevor over Chloe likely cost her a spot, and she was ultimately sent home. The Circle season 1 was pretty feel-good in general with few true rivalries and villains, The Circle season 2 is a lot more cutthroat, which I think was the goal in casting.

However.

I think The Circle season 2 has hurt its core appeal with the idea that it needs to “shake things up” with notable guest stars, celebrities and quasi-celebrities, two of which are introduced in these first four episodes alone.

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The first is Chloe from the UK, who is not technically famous, but she was on another megapopular Netflix reality series, Too Hot to Handle, and they ported her over to The Circle season 2. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chloe and think she adds a good personality dynamic to the show. The problem is that having a known guest star ruins some of the mystique of the concept, given that immediately, everyone believes that Chloe is actually Chloe and would never be a catfish, as why would they be on a Netflix show where someone is pretending to be a girl from Too Hot to Handle? And Chloe is Chloe, never once suspected of lying. That…very much goes against the main concept of the Circle, where anyone may not be who they say they are.

Then things get even weirder.

The first “replacement” person after Best Boy Bryant is booted off for being too nice is none other than N*SYNC’s Lance Bass. And his addition has been eye-rolling at best, and cringey at worst.

This time, it’s not Lance Bass. It’s Lance Bass’s personal assistant of 14 years, a middle aged woman, playing Lance Bass. But again, this throws a weird dynamic into things where the focus is heavily on whether or not they’re actually playing with a pop star (though hilariously, Chloe doesn’t know what N*SYNC is and thinks the very publicly gay Lance is a potential flirt prospect). Everyone else, of course, knows who Lance Bass is, and again, this really cuts against the idea of The Circle making reality stars out of average people. Starting adding “known” people into the mix, whether real or fake profiles, and that creates an awkward dynamic that the show doesn’t need. This is evidenced by the fact that Lance’s manager pretending to be Lance has done nothing interesting or notably other than make a bad joke about how Lance won’t donate the $100K to charity, but will instead use it to kick off an N*SYNC tour. Everyone thinks he’s serious, and even his fans in the group are turned off. And that’s the only thing “Lance” has really done so far, while the most interesting dynamic has been between Savannah and Terilisha, two extremely not-famous people.

I think The Circle is good enough at its core where adding in famous or half-famous contestants feels like a stunt it doesn’t need. I hope that “Lance” goes soon and that they don’t have any more of these up their sleeve for further replacement additions. Chloe…can stay. But if someone shows up from Love is Blind I will not be amused.

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