On paper, Netflix's The Circle seems like the easiest television show to make in the middle of a pandemic. Every contestant on the reality series is sequestered in their own apartment and only interacts with other players through a gamified social media platform. It's basically what we've all been doing for the past year — social distancing and self-quarantining are built into The Circle's DNA. But while The Circle season 2 was filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic that put approximately the whole world in lockdown... the cast never mentions it. It's just weird.
The pandemic has affected literally everyone in the world, yet when contestants talk about their lives on the outside, none of them mention any 2020-specific hardships. While we're unlikely to see any masked crew members running around in the background due to the format, it's just odd that no one jokes about how The Circle does or does not compare to pandemic living. Even the host, Michelle Buteau, doesn't mention it in her voiceover.
The Circle definitely did film in 2020, though. The fact that they don't talk about it was a choice. According to journalist Martin Holmes on Twitter, Netflix wrapped season 2 and season 3 of The Circle in November. So this season was likely filmed in autumn 2020, sometime before November. And after sifting through the season 2 cast's Instagram accounts, a few of them alluded to travelling last autumn as sneakily as possible. The sneaking was likely twofold: reality shows don't generally allow contestants to reveal their roles until the cast is officially announced, and posting about international travel in the middle of a pandemic is a major faux pas (though not everyone was worried about that second part).
Transporting the new cast overseas was probably the most difficult thing The Circle had to pull off during the pandemic, even though the show itself low-key counts as a form of self-quarantine. As some fans figured out when season 1 dropped, The Circle films in Manchester, UK — in an apartment building fitted for the show. The stock footage of — *checks notes* — every major city in the United States is meant to throw you off. There is one "local" British cast member in season 2, but other than her, the cast got to go on a little vacation, from one lockdown to another... without saying a word.
But maybe it's actually fine that The Circle is acting like everything is normal at this point in the pan, especially now that vaccines are becoming more available. Shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and Love Island have gone through extensive efforts to explain how they were able to film in the pandemic. Writers for fictional shows like Grey's Anatomy and Superstore wrote it into their new seasons. We've seen a lot of COVID content. Sometimes it's nice to see our experiences reflected back at us on screen, but sometimes it's exhausting when there's no escape from a reality as terrible as living through a year-long pandemic.
Plus, The Circle already hits too close to home right now. Who among us has not danced alone in their apartment in 2020, like contestants do during the "parties" thrown on The Circle? Who hasn't gotten a little anxious that we're forgetting how to communicate in person after spending every waking moment at home since last March? Bringing the pandemic into The Circle might have actually been meta in a deeply depressing way. Perhaps it's actually kind of nice that the panini (aka panorama, aka Panera Bread, aka personal pan pizza) effectively does not exist in silly, little contained world.