Review: ‘The 8 Show’ is not ‘Squid Game’ — and that’s OK

Review: ‘The 8 Show’ is not ‘Squid Game’ — and that’s OKReview: ‘The 8 Show’ is not ‘Squid Game’ — and that’s OK
via Netflix
Spoiler warning: This review contains details about the plot and characters of “The 8 Show.”

I probably would have dove into “The 8 Show” the moment it popped up in my Netflix recommendations if I hadn’t initially dismissed the show as a probable “Squid Game” knockoff. But as a sucker for survival-thriller dramas, I decided to give it a try — and was I ever pleasantly surprised! 

About “The 8 Show”

The 8 Show,” which premiered on Netflix on May 19, has a familiar premise to fans of the “deadly game” genre: strangers are trapped in a mysterious location and forced to compete in increasingly extreme challenges to win a life-changing sum of money. In the show, each of the eight contestants is known only by the floor they inhabit, creating a microcosm of society that plays out in intense, often violent ways.
The cast is led by Ryu Jun-yeol as Bae Jin-su, the third-floor contestant who becomes our primary viewpoint character. Other notable cast members include Chun Woo-hee, Park Jeong-min, Lee Yeol-eum, Park Hae-joon, Lee Joo-young, Moon Jung-hee and Bae Sung-woo. Each character represents different societal roles and struggles, making their interactions both a reflection and critique of real-world dynamics.
This series marks the first foray into drama for filmmaker Han Jae-rim, who is known for his work on “Emergency Declaration” and “The Face Reader.”

The white “squid” in the room

Given the thematic and aesthetic similarities, comparisons between “The 8 Show” and Netflix’s global hit “Squid Game” were inevitable. Both series involve contestants vying for prize money in life-threatening games and offer pointed critiques of social inequality and capitalist exploitation. “The 8 Show” also shares the vibrant, almost surreal production design of “Squid Game,” with both series making heavy use of symbolism to enhance their narratives.
But while “The 8 Show” may tread familiar ground, it’s important to note that its origins and inspirations are different. The series is based on Bae Jin-su’s webtoons, “Money Game” and “Pie Game,” which both predate “Squid Game.”
The series also appears to also draw inspiration from the 2019 Netflix film “The Platform.” Fans of the Spanish psychological drama may experience a sense of deja vu watching it, noticing similarities such as the use of levels to represent social hierarchy and the stark contrast in food distribution.

Humanity at its worst 

“The 8 Show” brilliantly creates an atmosphere of constant suspense and unpredictability by keeping characters and viewers alike in the dark about the true nature of the competition. It is only after a couple of episodes in when the contestants realize that they must entertain unseen viewers to earn time and money. 
This format, which keeps the audience guessing, effectively serves as a critique of reality TV culture and social media’s voyeuristic tendencies. One of the show’s most compelling moments is when the initial camaraderie among the contestants shatters upon discovering the stark inequalities between the floors. This revelation ignites bitter power struggles, manipulation and eventual ruthless physical torture.
Despite the show’s brutal portrayal of human behavior at its worst, it is able to use dark humor to effectively underscore the absurdity of the contestants’ predicaments.
The second half of the series eventually succumbs to cliched tropes and a repetitive cycle of violence that may be jarring to some viewers. Fortunately, the strong performances from each of the cast members keeps the series engaging.
Chun Woo-hee’s portrayal of the enigmatic Eighth Floor is a standout. She effectively pulls off a complex antagonist that can effortlessly shift between charming and chilling.

Verdict: Totally floored

“The 8 Show” brings a gritty exploration of human nature that makes its eight-episode arc engaging enough to go through in one sitting.
Though its premise is not entirely unique, the show still offers a thought-provoking and creatively entertaining critique of society. Strong performances and dark humor, which elicits uncomfortable chuckles at unexpected moments, make the show a compelling watch. 
Some scenes do border on violence porn and may leave some viewers unsettled. Skip if hyper-violent scenes are not up your alley. 8 floors out of 10
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