'The Internet Ruined My Life': TV Review

Courtesy of Syfy
Click away … far, far away.
3/9/2016

SyFy's new reality series about the destructive possibilities of social media is both cautionary tale and tabloid trainwreck.

There's something shameless about that title: The Internet Ruined My Life. It really should be followed by an exclamation point, each word emblazoned in black ALL-CAPS atop an inky scandal sheet, or its digital facsimile. Admittedly, there is a degree to which the SyFy channel's new six-episode reality series (of which the first three episodes were made available for preview) grasps its own luridness. Though that doesn't make the Reefer Madness-esque revulsion it simultaneously cultivates any more palatable.

In each half-hour episode, people whose lives have been upended by social media posts gone wrong discuss their experiences. The subjects are filmed facing camera, the glossy lighting giving them an unearthly glow. While they talk, cheesy reenactments straight out of Unsolved Mysteries illustrate the nightmarish situations in which they found themselves. Other people involved in their plight (a husband, a friend) occasionally chime in; they're usually framed in a mock-Skype or FaceTime window because, you know, this is a series about the big, bad InterWebz.

Each segment is scored with a similar kind of eerie electronic drone, which elevates the amorphous sense of paranoia. (One of the episodes previewed effectively mixes in snippets of Trent Reznor's Gone Girl score.) At segment's end, the interviewees sum up, in a typically exhausted or hectoring tone, what their experience taught them — an Aesop moral aimed squarely at Generation Millennial.

It's all superficial and reductive in the worst ways, though this doesn't make the series any less compelling. Basking in a person's misery — especially when it's not your own — is hard to resist, and this is a rogues' gallery of scarlet-lettered Internetters. Take, for example, Suey Park, the Asian-American activist whose hashtag, #CancelColbert, went viral and led to multiple virtual attacks, press vilification and, at worst, an actual military sniper taking aim outside her house. It's unacceptable that anyone would have to go through this, and the particulars of her experience, even in a bite-sized 10-minute chunk, are captivating.

Yet the very real issues raised by Park's harrassment (the racism, the misogyny, the mob mentality of people cloaked in digital anonymity) are glossed over so as to put across the sensationalistic tone on which the series thrives. The Internet Ruined My Life isn't interested in examining the issues it raises, or giving a platform to people whose livelihood and privacy were demolished by a virtual mob, so much as repackaging it all in an alluringly vulgar context.

Only occasionally does one of the interviewees break through all the gossipy dross with some semblance of unguarded humanity. It's difficult, for example, not to be moved by the raw confessional of video game developer Brianna Wu, whose tweets about sexism in the gaming industry unleashed a hellfire of rape and death threats, and forced both her and her husband to leave their home. At one point we see a video sent to Wu by some anonymous bully who was apparently driving to her house to kill her, but had an accident along the way. His unintelligible offscreen tirade is horrifying, and Wu's remembrance of it so deeply affecting, that it makes you wish it was contained in a much more sober and probing series.

Executive producers: Banks Tarver, Ken Druckerman, Jerry Kolber, Adam Davis
Featuring: Suey Park, Leigh Van Bryan, Brianna Wu, Mark, Cameron Jankowski, Allyson Pereira, Ashley Vanpevenage, Nicole Crowther, Sierra McCurdy, Annmarie Chiarini, Jennifer Box, Christopher Hermelin

Premiere date: Wednesday, March 9, 10 p.m. ET/PT (SyFy)

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