If there were such a thing as a “Misinterpreting the Message of Your Own TV Show Contest”, Netflix would be winning it in a walk when it comes to Squid Game. The Korean series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk is both a survival drama and scathing critique of a late capitalistic hellscape in which engaging in a 456-player battle to the death for ₩45.6 billion is preferable to trying to make it in the dismal real world.
Since the massively successful series first premiered on Netflix in late 2021, the streamer has responded to its anti-capitalistic themes by: underpaying its creator, having Netflix’s millionaire CEO dress up as one of the desperately poor contestants during an earnings call, and most glaringly: commissioning a reality competition based on the show’s deadly games. Of all the ways in which Netflix has terminally missed the mark on its own creation, it’s undoubtedly that reality show that stands out the most.
Squid Game: The Challenge is a cynical attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original show without fully understanding what made it a hit in the first place. And you know what…it just might work! Because, if the first trailer released by Netflix is any indication, this could be a marvelously entertaining reality competition series. Give it a watch below to see what we mean.
That actually looks pretty fun, right? In that nearly three-minute clip, we can see how Netflix has adapted Squid Game‘s original games for the reality format while introducing some new contests all together. Present here are the “red light, green light” game (with paintballs instead of actual bullets obviously), the “sugar honeycombs” game, the “marble” game, and the Hopscotch game. New to The Challenge appear to be events involving vending machines, cheeseburgers, and even the classic board game Battleship.
Of course, none of it would work without the classic Squid Game scenery, costuming, and iconography, and that’s all present too. From the oft-imitated green jumpsuits to the recognizable charmless barracks, and the whimsical M.C. Escher-esque stairs, the sets here look like they carried directly over from the flagship series. Some credit must be given for the sheer scale of the thing as well – getting 456 contestants together to compete for a $4.56 million prize (which Netflix claims is a reality show record) is no small feat. Add in the fact that Netflix is applying the lessons of traditional television by releasing the show’s 10 episodes in a weekly fashion and one must mournfully concede that they’re kind of cooking here.
It’s a shame too because Squid Game is such a singular project that it deserves to exist on its own merits without succumbing to the inevitability of “franchisification.” At the same time, however, Hwang Dong-hyuk and Squid Game‘s production team did too good of a job in creating iconic, easily replicable imagery for it not to eventually be…well, replicated. Squid Game resonated with a worldwide audience not just because of its familiar messaging but also because of its incredible dramatic execution of them.
There’s quite simply no way that the world could leave the concept of adults playing murderous childhood games while wearing brightly-covered outfits alone. In fact, the world hasn’t left those alone with everyone from YouTuber Mr. Beast to several video game knocks giving them a twirl already. Something like Squid Game: The Challenge seems inevitable. So we might as well put Netflix’s money to good use on it anyway.
Squid Game: The Challenge premieres Wednesday, Nov. 22 on Netflix. New episodes premiere weekly through Dec. 6.