TV review: The Circle returns but has left me a bit confused

The Circle has returned to Channel 4

The Circle, Channel 4, Tuesday at 9.15pm

Perhaps I was living in a bubble this time last year, but I have no recollection at all of the Channel 4 reality series, The Circle.

Described as one of the "most exciting reality TV formats for years", it is back for 2019.

So what's it all about?

Well, basically it gathers up a group of people, places them in an apartment block - all in separate flats - and only allows them to communicate through social media.

The eight players will only be known to each other via their social media profiles, where they compete to become the most popular and to win a cash prize of £100,000.

The players can play themselves or alternatively create a whole new persona and try to win the popularity stakes as someone else.

Confused? Yes, I was a bit too.

Former Big Brother presenter Emma Willis, who almost looked unrecognisable in blonde hair extensions and bright yellow trouser suit, is the host of the show.

Joined by a live studio audience during the opening episode, each contestant was introduced one by one before they go "head to virtual head".

The first player to enter the apartment block was Tim, a Robin Williams lookalike, who also brought along his cat for the social media experiment.

A 58-year-old theology professor, he seems a bit eccentric, but could that be part of his charm?

"It's like I'm walking into Ikea," he quipped as he arrived through the door.

"I'm going to try and be everybody's favourite uncle."

Next through the door was Brooke, who speaks multiple languages, and says the "key to being popular in The Circle is being yourself and being honest".

Another player is Woody Cook, the 18-year-old son of presenter Zoe Ball and Norman Cook, the DJ and musician also known as Fatboy Slim.

He appears chirpy, but admits he's "always worried people are only friends with me because of who my parents are". No better man to hide behind a social media persona then.

When the apartment doors finally close and everyone is settled into their new abode, The Circle chat opens, allowing each contestant to see their fellow competitors' social media profile for the first time.

Supposed single mum 'Sammie', who is really James, instantly receives gushing praise about her profile picture with her cute baby Charlie, particularly from a woman called Katie, who is pretending to be her son - yes, I'm still confused.

Katie, who is playing 'Jay', instantly starts flirting with the girls in the group by messaging: "Really looking forward to getting to know you all, and I must say all you ladies are looking well fit".

But when 'Jay' chats with 'Sammie' and tries to bond over parenting, has she made her first mistake when in fact 'Jay' has no children?

A twist at the end saw former This Morning presenter Richard Madeley revealed as a surprise contestant.

He's not eligible for the prize and will not appear as himself, instead he's adopting a persona chosen by viewers - either Richard, a 23-year-old hunk, or 27-year-old beauty Judy.

"My mission is to be an agent of mischief," he said.

The programme is tapping into how much of a social media world we live in, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram.

Nowadays we are constantly reminded of how much we hide behind screens, allowing others to judge us for the lives we want them to think we have, the lives we present online.

And here we are watching a programme that is dedicated to finding the 'best influencer'.

It looks like an intriguing series, but for this first-time 'Circle' viewer, I'm not sure I'm convinced about it just yet.

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