“Clickbait” is a prime example of art imitating life. In this case, our technologically-dependent one.
In recent times, TV shows built around a cyberspace narrative - “CSI: Cyber”, “Mr. Robot”, “Black Mirror” and, going a little further back, “Person of Interest” - has become voguish.
“Clickbait” certainly got critics talking. Of the reviews I’ve read around Netflix’s new eight-part series, some love it and others loathe it.
I, on the other hand, think it is fascinating and superbly cast as it ingeniously unpacks cybercrime, cyberbullying and catfishing.
The title piques curiosity since we live in a clickbait world, where trolling and cyberstalking (intentional or causal) are the new forms of social discourse dealt with on a daily basis.
Creators Tony Ayres and Christian White were most creative in how they tackled the virtual vs real-world scenarios that play out in the series.
It has that intrigue of “24” in the story arcs that are told from the perspective of different individuals in a similar style to “The Affair”.
Nick Brewer, played by Adrian Grenier of “Entourage”-fame, is at the epicentre of the viral mayhem.
The first episode kicked off with a dysfunctional family birthday dinner party, where Pia (Zoe Kazan) takes a few digs at her sister-in-law Sophie (Betty Gabriel) and her brother Nick throws her out.
She then decides to party her troubles away and, in between swiping right and left on Tinder before dropping her phone into the toilet, she makes it home and passes out.
Pia comes across as the black sheep in the family. She’s not one for rules, especially Sophie’s anally retentive ones.
But there’s more to Pia than her rebellious streak. She’s actually a very caring person, which explains her profession as a nurse.
When she is shown an online video of her brother the next day, she goes into a flat panic.
Nick is seen holding up two placards that read: “I abuse women and “At 5 million views, I die”. It started at 3874 views and counting.
With her phone drying out in a container of rice, Pia rushes to the school where her brother coaches to see if anyone has seen him.
When she comes up empty-handed, she goes to Sophie and fills her in on what’s going on.
The two of them head to the police, where they are helped by Detective Roshan Amir (Phoenix Raei), who also happens to be the guy Pia matched with before her phone woes.
As he tries to establish a timeline for the period that Nick’s been missing, the video goes viral, jumping from over 300 000 to a million and a half.
And a second video is released saying he killed someone.
When the media gets wind of the story, the frenzy spirals out of control along with the views reaching that 5 million mark.
And the public is divided over whether Nick is guilty of something or not.
Meanwhile, a group of people search for him via an app called “Geo-Nicking”.
Amid trying to fight off the media camped out on her doorstep, Sophie struggles to deal with her guilt of having cheated on Nick while, at the same time, protecting her two sons, Kai (Jaylin Fletcher) and Ethan (Cameron Engels), from the pervading ugliness and trash-talking.
There are several parallel narratives in the series along with a minefield of red-herrings as the case evolves from a kidnapping one to homicide.
The deeper Detective Amir delves into Nick’s life, the more disturbing the discoveries become as it leads down a murky path involving catfishing, a double life and a Pandora’s box of secrets.
Gabriel is fantastic in her role.
Her character endures a range of powerful emotions and whether she is playing a grief-stricken wife or an angry and tormented one, she is most authentic in her execution.
Kazan dominates the series as a sister hellbent on getting answers. She’s fearless in her approach.
There’s a softness to her rough edges when she interacts with her nephews.
“Clickbait” might seem like spam series to some.
The mystery, which is underpinned by a huge social media thrust into the world of the dark web and doxing, unfolds at a somewhat sedate pace.
That said, there’s ample intrigue in each episode to ensure viewers stay logged on.
“Clickbait” is currently streaming on Netflix.