‘Insiders’ pushes Netflix reality line one step further

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[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to watch the “insiders”: Netflix

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At one point in “Insiders” there’s a montage of people being told they are invited to the next “round” of a casting process for a reality TV show. Almost every one of them asks if they can give a hug or a kiss to the producer who tells him the good news. (They only get handshakes.) It’s a sustained burst of happiness and relief from a group of individuals who don’t even realize that the show they think they’re auditioning for is okay. started.

This is the main catchphrase of “Insiders,” a series that puts a dozen people through a period of “training”, apparently to see which of them is made to be on a show that no one knows she will never come. Instead, the minimalist practical living space they’re all trapped in is the spectacle, with hidden cameras and microphones picking up every bit of plot and secret alliance-building that’s already on the move.

Like most reality TV shows, this is an elaborate social experience under the guise of a bit of TV glory. And audition trickery isn’t the only way the “Insiders” play with the well-established formula. Host Najwa Nimri is constantly teasing the next new wrinkle, sometimes even linking in a clip a few days ahead along the timeline that shows how someone’s plan or principles will eventually change.

Condensing several weeks into seven-hour episodes is necessarily going to lose a lot of the context around some of these interactions. Given the “nothing is as it looks” carrots hanging in front of competitors, “Insiders” doesn’t go so devilishly in hiding key details from the viewing public. But it’s still an interesting case study in reality TV strategy, especially in conversations that happen when the people involved don’t suspect they’re being taped.

This is another drop in the overall ethical vagueness of reality TV. It’s obviously not the same as if the series lured a house full of strangers to watch them against their will, but there’s a distinct level of manipulation displayed here that feels less like a points game. There are segments that depend on seeing people at a level of vulnerability that sometimes feels more pervasive than the usual reality TV idea.

With the continuing caveat that there is always a question of emotional authenticity in this televised subgenre, the eliminations on “Insiders” truly feel like a funeral. It’s a question for the audience to answer if the amount of tears with each departure comes from the sadness of someone leaving, the gratitude that they remain, or the fear that they will be next. There are inevitably mass stories that pop up throughout the season, but aside from highlighting some brewing rivalries and short temperaments, it avoids pinning a specific person in that dozen as an outright villain ” me against the world ”.

Eventually, “Insiders” settles into a familiar groove, though the show has a few more surprises in store for the downturn moments of the season. It is less a matter of grafting fabricated drama onto an already tense situation than of making simple adjustments to an ongoing and developing situation. In a self-contained world of one-way mirrors and algorithmic personality biometrics, all it takes is a small pebble for the ripples to pass through the entire group.

By spending as much time as you do with this group, without any outside travel or connection to the company brand, you get used to the rhythm of the show and the difference one or two people can make. There will always be a barrier between the ‘real’ person and who they are onscreen, but this show takes it a step further by trying to make it as thin as possible.

Pair it with: For a reality show, there are few better additions than the episode “Frenemies” of “This American Life”. Not only is there a lexicographical discussion of the origins of this word and one of the late David Rakoff’s signature contributions, but there’s Rich Juzwiak’s classic breakdown of “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” .

And for an extra dose of Netflix from people unwittingly subjected to psychological conditions of which they are largely unaware, try Derren Brown’s special “The Push,” another example of television watching how easily influenced people can be. when they think no one else is. to pay attention.

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