I started Netflix’s “Clickbait” with the promise of a twisty thriller based in the world of social media. In the ads and previews, we see Adrian Grenier’s seemingly upstanding family man, Nick, live on the Internet, held against his will, holding signs in which he admits to abusing women and says he will be killed once the video hits 5 million views. It all made me think of that notorious and powerful episode of “Black Mirror” in which the British prime minister is pressed to have sex with a pig on live TV in order to free a kidnapped princess.
Will the online mob, in their detachment from actual people and actual feelings, keep clicking to reach 5 million and potentially kill Nick? Where does voyeurism end and complicity begin? Are people seeing a real kidnapping, or is it all some kind of deep fakery?
Alas, I finished “Clickbait” feeling had, as though — to use the title — I’d clicked on something that promised a bit of substance but delivered a whole lot of nothing. There are performances that stand out in the eight-episode series, particularly by Zoe Kazan as Nick’s high-strung sister, Pia, and by Betty Gabriel as Nick’s wife, Sophie. Gabriel, especially, brings an emotional nuance that doesn’t appear in the script. But the cast of mostly cardboard characters, and, in particular, the strain to keep the twists coming, slowly but surely leads to an increasingly silly viewing experience.
Each episode is set from a different character’s point of view, from Pia and Sophie to a tabloid journalist covering the story and a detective on the case. At first, the approach seems like a great idea, a way to knit together some kind of crowd-sourced truth. Who is Nick, really? Is he the gentle man Sophie knows, or the abuser his kidnappers say he is? The more perspectives on him we get, the more difficult that question becomes. But the gimmick wears thin, and is ultimately purposeless when the final reveals roll around in all their absurdity and gratuitousness. I wouldn’t say the ending is as much of an insult to the senses at the ending of “Behind Her Eyes,” but left me simultaneously cold and peeved.