If you want to make a modern crime thriller series, you should probably name it something modern and cool, like Facebook Killer or Deadly App or The Fake News Murders… or Clickbait. Wait yeah, you’re right, that’s a stupid idea.
Netflix’s new mystery-thriller series, Clickbait, sounds like a cheap attempt – like a clickbait headline – to cash in on a contemporary-sounding hip-with-the-kids buzz word. But you don’t write TV series like SEO websites, right? And the plot synopsis doesn’t help: The day after a family dinner ends up in an uncomfortable argument between brother and sister, the brother, Nick Brewer, disappears. A video appears on the internet of the badly beaten Nick holding a card that says “I abuse women. At 5 million views, I die”.
So there’s a clickbaity video on the internet, and those with Nick’s best interests at heart really don’t want it to “go viral”. Of course this will be a hit with the tiktok generation, right?
But once it starts, all those fears fall away. Zoe Kazan, appearing as Nick’s sister Pia, initially takes the lead as protagonist and detective. Her performance, as a family black sheep who’s desperately trying to save her brother before his clickbait clock runs out, finely balances this movie as a serious story with some high personal stakes. Nobody knows why Nick is being threatened, whether the video is even real, or what to do to stop it, and Zoe grounds this story and pulls the audience in for the ride.
Then in the next episode, someone else takes over. In another move that sounds very cheap and gimmicky, each of the series’ 8 episodes has a different protagonist, including Betty Gabriel as Nick’s wife, and Phoenix Raei as the detective assigned to the case. This not only helps the story to unfold in dramatic, interesting ways without seeming overly complex or twisty, but also explores 8 different perspectives of character’s relationships with the internet, including video sharing sites, social media, dating apps and instant messaging. But far from a cliché or a morality movie that warns of the dangers of technology, this just feels like a natural display of realistic contemporary characters.
But while the concept, plot, and characters were enough to keep me hooked, some of the plot twists and revelations along the way feels a little too familiar. In the first few episodes, the kidnapping and hostage video seems so intriguing and novel, that some of the eventual story conclusions feel a little tired. I wasn’t able to see any of the big twists coming, but despite not being obvious, they didn’t seem nearly as fresh as the show’s basic building blocks.
Still, Clickbait takes you on a fun ride that delivers more than the title might imply. Especially the well-written characters and their perfectly cast performers – from bit players to Nick’s children, who also get their time in the spotlight – kept me hooked until the end. Clickbait will probably not shock you as much as our headline suggests, but there’s enough substance and story to hold for the eight episode duration, and at least keep you from doing another Buzzfeed quiz for a couple of hours.
Clickbait is available to stream on Netflix from 25 August 2021.