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REVIEW: 'Clickbait' best viewed as background fodder

REVIEW: 'Clickbait' best viewed as background fodder

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‘Clickbait’ Teaser: Adrian Grenier Stars as a Loving Father, Husband, Brother — and Liar? (VIDEO)

Adrian Grenier as Nick Brewer in “Clickbait.”

A few friends recommended that I watch Netflix’s limited series, “Clickbait.” Although I finished it, barely, I would recommend it with reservations. If you have nothing else to watch, it’s fine. It’s the show you will watch when you’ve watched everything else and are too tired to spend hours looking for anything else.

Created by Tony Ayres and Christian White, the crime/drama/mystery begins with a bang. Nick Brewer (Adrian Grenier), a physical therapist who is married and has two sons, gets kidnapped and filmed. Videos of him — holding signs saying that he killed a woman, that he abuses women and if he gets 5 million clicks he will be killed — are uploaded to the internet. Of course, he goes viral. His sister, Pia (Zoe Kazan), is in shock. Is this a hoax? Where is her brother? Who is her brother? And who would do something like this?

Each of the eight episodes are named after someone involved in Nick’s life and in the investigation: The sister, the detective, the wife, the mistress, the reporter, the brother, the son, and, finally, we get “the answer.” As the series goes forward, layers are peeled back, revealing details pertinent to the crime. (Nick is found, murdered.) It’s a clever concept, and sometimes it works, and other times, it stumbles. (And when it ends, there are still a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions.)

Kazan costarred in “The Big Sick” with Kumail Nanjiani and was also in the HBO Max series, “The Deuce.” She’s a good actress, but in this her blonde bob-sporting character is abrasive and off-putting. It’s hard being sympathetic to her cause. A medical tech/phlebotomist, she uses and manipulates a smitten tech-savvy teen who she’s treating (Jack Walton) and she’s like a boulder crashing into everyone and everything. As someone tells her, she ruins everything in her path.

The detective, Roshan Amiri, is played by Phoenix Raei, a Farsi-speaking Muslim who is desperate to move from missing persons to homicide. At the start of the series, he and Pia are about to “hook up” — after matching on a Tinderesque app — before the investigation gets rolling. Clearly, it was a cheap way to create some sexual tension between the two characters. Raei is modelesque and a decent enough actor, but it often feels like he’s trying too hard to seem intense. “Hit things. Good. Now grimace. Great. Now start intently.”

The wife, Sophie, is played by Betty Gabriel. If you are a regular cinema-goer/TV watcher, you have seen her in “Get Out” (2017), as Georgina, the hollow smiling housekeeper; and in the series “Westworld” (2018) and “Defending Jacob” (2020). In “Clickbait,” she is the “take off your shoes in the house,” everything-in-its-place contrast to Pia, who is messy both emotionally and in reality. Gabriel does a good job with the character she’s given.

Although the next episode is titled “The Mistress,” it is revealed that Nick actually had multiple women dangling on the hook, and we do, briefly meet the others as the series unravels. But this episode focuses solely on Emma Beesly (Jessica Collins), a woman from L.A — Nick lives in Oakland — who is clearly not 100% “right.” She’s a flowy dress wearing, romance novel reading, New Agey, Happily Ever After, We are Soulmates type. At this point in the series, you get the sense that Nick targeted desperate, maybe psychologically fragile women, who could be manipulated easily. After this episode, to be honest, I was ready to call it quits. It was obvious that it “hooked” viewers with the mystery but had more interest in being a soap opera.

Abraham Lim plays the reporter, Ben Park, a desperate to be in the spotlight, TMZ gotcha kind of “journalist,” and I use that term loosely. They try to make him seem sympathetic, but as the episode progressed all I could think of was Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) in “Nightcrawler” (2014). I’m not sure why they made his character gay, but when series has a Muslim, “strong” female leads, an Asian, an LGBTQIA person and several African-American characters, you start to think instead of this being organic and authentic to the story, it’s more a way to check off the diversity boxes. The diversity in this show feels “hollow.”

The brother episode begins to take the audience down a path of twists and turns, and by the end of the series, you feel like you’ve been manipulated. This isn’t as much clever writing and plotting as it is “you never saw that coming” writing. And that annoys me. You have to earn situations and reactions. This show really does none of that. It’s just “gotcha” plotting, which I hate. It’s very calculated and done for shock effect.

So, in a nutshell, “Clickbait” isn’t unwatchable. The episodes are about 45 minutes long, and can be viewed while you are doing something else. I half watched while doom scrolling on my phone. The acting is fine, although some actors are teetering on the edge of melodrama. The writing is not particularly engaging. It’s a paint-by-numbers soap opera that keeps stringing you along with the mystery of what happened and who did it. The last few episodes are cringy, and the outcome isn’t earned. To be cheesy, “Clickbait” never earns its title. It’s more like “click” and “wait” for the end to arrive.

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