06/24/2024

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Track the Untold Stories

‘The 8 Show’ Review: When You Have ‘Squid Game’ At Home

The post ‘The 8 Show’ Review: When You Have ‘Squid Game’ At Home appeared first on Ready Steady Cut.

Whenever I write about a K-Drama, I typically avoid played-out comparisons to Squid Game, which seems to be the only Korean show Western critics have seen. But it’s unavoidable when talking about The 8 Show, which has a superficially similar premise though none of the quality and cultural staying power.

That premise revolves around eight strangers being locked in an unknown location to compete in a progressively more extreme game show. There’s a hefty cash prize to be earned if only the contestants can endure various arenas – and each other – for long enough. Think Big Brother for broke psychotics and you’re halfway there.

So, as you can see, it is similar to Squid Game, which was also about a crushing capitalist reality and the absurd lengths some will go to earn money they don’t have or spend money they do. But it’s also different, with a mean streak a mile wide, a puerile sense of humor, and a more mundane aesthetic that won’t have the social media appeal of those green tracksuits, red overalls, and black geometry masks.

The 8 Show is based on the webtoons Money Game and Pie Game by Bae Jin-soo, the former of which pre-dates Squid Game. Wealth disparity, inequality, and exploitation are not new themes in Korea, so the comparisons can blessedly end here. But it’s also undeniable that Netflix will be marketing the show on this basis, and that people will have their curiosity piqued by the similarities.

Let’s talk about the differences, though. As mentioned, the teen humor is a major and particularly trying one, since the jokes are both rarely funny in the first place and rub up awkwardly against an escalating torture-p*rn vibe as things progress. There’s also a smaller, more impersonal cast, all named after the floor of the building they inhabit – First Floor, Second Floor, etc. – and possessed of arch personality traits.

Yes, again, Squid Game was a bit like this with the numbers and such, but after a while, it sketched deeply human portraits of the contestants; The 8 Show never gets that far. It keeps its characters at arm’s length, content to allow them to embody their assigned stereotype and then fulfill whatever plot function is required of them.

The ostensible protagonist is Third Floor, who is really a stand-in for the audience. You can tell because he does the voiceovers and has no actual personality, which is always a giveaway. The explanatory vocals are, like a lot of the show’s other stylistic quirks, weirdly deployed, as if they’re present for the sake of it rather than to make a broader point or accomplish a specific storytelling objective.

As the stakes heighten, psychological and physical torment begin to occupy the apartment building like nightmare guests, inflicting misery on the contestants and audience, often for little discernible reason. It isn’t too extreme, but it is wearing, in part because it’s so fundamentally mean-spirited but mostly because it seems pretty pointless.

Something fascinating happens in The 8 Show, but it’s fascinating for the wrong reasons. I mentioned Big Brother earlier, which began as an earnest attempt at a social experiment that went wildly off the rails when the producers realized that stuffing the house full of maniacs instead of ordinary people would increase viewing figures. It was a betrayal of the show’s essential purpose, and The 8 Show has something similar.

This is supposed to be a critique of the macabre appetites that compel the opulent to make playthings of the destitute. It’s supposed to be a skewering of reality TV and social media influencer culture that reframes real experience as monetizable content. But it never really critiques these things so much as morphs into them over time. As the in-universe showrunners begin to demand an increasingly perverse bloodbath, The 8 Show just becomes one.

This is a betrayal of the underlying point. It has nothing to say about the kind of people who would control or participate in this game. In its eagerness to degrade and torment the characters, it forgets that the purest and most successful forms of reality television all recognize that the personal stories of those characters are what matter most. The interplay between their personalities and motivations is what makes reality TV fascinating. The 8 Show sees its nameless contestants as simply fodder.

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The post ‘The 8 Show’ Review: When You Have ‘Squid Game’ At Home appeared first on Ready Steady Cut.