There is no obvious reason why Joey Sasso, a contestant on Netflix’s new reality series, The Circle should be likable. He is nearly hairless, slightly sculpted, and leans more heavily on the word "bro" than any of us has the right to. He spends a lot of time in the gym, seemingly never working out, and he discusses partying a lot, despite the fact that he, like the other contestants, is locked in solitude in a brightly lit Chicago* apartment. And yet, after eight episodes of The Circle, there’s simply no other contestant as true and pure as Sasso. Joey Sasso is the Lovable Bro we need in 2020.
Sasso, an Italian-American with a seal-like head of slicked back hair, hails from Rochester, New York. He moved into The Circle complex along with seven other contestants on Day One. The mission is to last all 15 days of filming by being likable on social media. That's it! There is no wi-fi or physical interaction—only a social media platform called The Circle, where popularity is rated. Players can play as themselves or a “catfish” of their choosing. The top two most popular contestants become “influencers,” who must “block” someone on a daily basis. Get blocked and you leave the game.
The Circle, like many of its contestants, has all the ingredients for an unmitigated mess. Given the tools and freedom to be absolutely insufferable and horrible, the premise of the series should, for all intents and purposes, highlight just how vapid and rude humanity can be. And yet, The Circle makes for surprisingly good, if not heartwarming, television where we see people rising above. Now I should warn you that to comprehensibly explain his lovable bro-ness, from here on out I'm going to have to spoil some of it. You've been warned.
Sasso struck me as a likely early exit: exceedingly macho, incorrigibly flirty, and seemingly vain, he came into the competition at a 100. But as the season has gone on, it’s authenticity that has reigned supreme. While catfishes and perceived insincerity have fallen prey to the elimination, Sasso has risen to safety. Beyond the machinations of the game, viewers have also fallen for the competitor himself. All of the terms I’d instinctively use to describe him—bro, gym rat, Jersey boy—are words we’ve been conditioned to turn our nose up at. But next to every one of them seems to be an asterisk because Sasso is also a Lovable Bro.
It’s a concept I've tried to home in on before, but perhaps did not perfect. According to the highly scientific chart above, we are forced to classify Sasso as a real, true Frat Bro. Sasso has almost certainly broken a table at a party and smashed a beer can on his head. But one thing I never considered when breaking down how and where Bros were placed on this chart is the inherent goodness of each Bro. Sasso, for example, has all the trappings of a hairless playboy, but even when he’s being flirty, it’s with respect. His discussions never crosses into overtly sexual territory unless his counterpart takes it there. Often still, he cuts the conversation off before it gets too sexually-focused, sometimes to "take a cold shower." In a recent episode when a flirty love interest stops by his apartment after elimination (eliminated contestants are allowed to see one other player in person before exiting), he literally asks permission before he kisses her. Joey is a Bro of Consent. A moral man indeed.
His sincerity continues well past the romantic sphere though. He’s formed a relationship with Shubham Goel, a young, post-grad Indian student who fills the role of “lovable geek.” Together, the two have formed a powerful alliance and friendship. Sasso and Goel have planned a night out of partying and seem to be making good on that promise, if Sasso’s Instagram is any indication. Again, the Lovable Bro jumps out—a man of certain laughable qualities, bucking the emotional and social restraints of toxic masculinity.
Vowing authenticity, he’s remained true to himself from what production has chosen to highlight. Even in an episode moment when contestants were permitted to anonymously comment on each other’s photos, Sasso was the only one who chose to come forward and admit which disparaging comment was his. Sasso is the rare bird that lives for truth, whether you like it or not. He is exactly what The Circle needed, yet the antithesis of the show itself—social media allows us to be whomever we want to be, as privately as we want. Sasso, instead, chooses himself.
That seems to be the perfected magic of The Circle. This cast feels a bit like an accidental perfect mixture, with contestants embodying the absolute best and worst parts of social media life. But at the center of it all is Sasso, the Lovable Bro who really would have been better suited in a series where he could have interacted more closely with others. In this increasingly bleak television landscape, we need some more heroes. I just didn’t expect one of them to be a completely shaven, slicked back New York native with a penchant for partying.
Then again, I'm the one judging here, not Sasso. So who's the problem?
*Correction: The initial post said that 'The Circle' was shot in brightly lit Chicago. 'The Circle' was actually shot in Salford, England, which is overcast, at best.
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