‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ review: give this game show spin-off the green light

‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ review: give this game show spin-off the green light

Reality TV must be in its ‘reboot phase’. Already this year, long-dead noughties favourites Big Brother and Survivor have been dug up and revived, with new instalments of Gladiators and Deal Or No Deal still to come. Squid Game: The Challenge, out on Netflix this week, isn’t technically a reboot, but like the others it comes from a hit original that we haven’t heard from in a while.

If you saw the 2021 K-drama it’s based on, you’ll already know the format. Hundreds of contestants (456, in this case, all massive fans) dressed in dark-green tracksuits each with a unique number emblazoned upon, must complete tasks in order to survive and stay in with a chance of winning the jackpot ($4.56m). The big difference this time being that if you lose in The Challenge, you are merely sent home – and not violently killed. Also, the players mostly come from North America or Europe rather than South Korea.

When they’re not punching shapes out of crispy wafers or playing giant games of Red Light, Green Light (Korean Grandmother’s Footsteps), the contestants eat, sleep and hang out in that oh-so-recognisable warehouse filled with many-levelled bunk beds. A lot of effort has been put into making the space look exactly like the one Seong Gi-hun recruits his gang in – and this is where the reality aspect comes to the fore.

Squid Game’s dormitory is expertly recreated in the new show. CREDIT: Netflix

There’s dirty dealing, brutal backstabbing and some firm friendships made too. As with all reality shows, everyone is characterised in the simplest emotional terms. We have the villain (a muscly jock who is hated and respected in equal measure). We have the cutesy mother-son team that you’ll want desperately to make it through together. And we have the wet blanket (a young, conflict-averse lad who can seemingly be bullied into doing anything). CCTV-style footage paired with behind-the-scenes interviews, edited in the modern, action-reaction Love Island style help to bring these personal stories to life in a genuinely enthralling way. “You can’t trust anybody in here,” says one competitor to camera. “I’m absolutely going to double-cross you,” says another. At its best, Squid Game: The Challenge captures a bit of the Machiavellian magic that made the first season of The Traitors so compelling.

Where it falls down, predictably, is in the games themselves. It’s hard to feel worried about an old grandpa slipping on the famous bridge challenge when he risks plummeting onto a crash mat and not to his death. Likewise, the Red Light, Green Light episode, which saw dozens sniped out of existence by movement sensors in Squid Game, here has nowhere near the same effect. Just watching who’s eliminated throws up doubts as some wobble their way through to the next round while others remain perfectly statuesque and yet get splattered with bullet-replacement paint anyway. Only a few of the trials work at all, and none as well as they did before.

It says a lot about the skilful storytelling weaved by the producers that this doesn’t matter. The reason the show got made in the first place was because its fans wanted to know what it felt like to be inside their favourite scenes. With the launch of this spin-off, and in a slightly head-scrambling turn of events, they have now become what’s most interesting about it. Even in the streaming/reboot era, no TV series can last without an audience. And never has the saying proved so true as it does here.

Squid Game: The Challenge streams on Netflix from November 22

The post ‘Squid Game: The Challenge’ review: give this game show spin-off the green light appeared first on NME.

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