TV Review: Squid Game: The Challenge is a 'hate watch' that will win you over
THE biggest problem with Squid Game: The Challenge is not that its stakes are so much lower than Squid Game, the hit Netflix drama series in which participants must compete against each other on pain of death: it's that real people are just so much less likable than fictional characters.
In short, these folks are annoying as hell, the majority playing to the cameras with exaggerated reactions to every little occurrence - whoops, exclaimations, dry heaves, actual tears - an irritant exaggerated by glossy production which hammers viewers with dramatic music and quick edits in an attempt to topple us off the edge of our seats even during mundane events like someone opening a door.
The actual 'squid games' are also intercut with interview segments which allow us to get to know some of the contestants a little better - the usual emotionally manipulative reality TV bloat involving sob stories about trust issues, daddy issues, how 'no-one really understands me' and why it's 'not all about the money' and how they are doing it to 'prove something to myself'.
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Thankfully, there are some players who aren't quite so annoying, including a couple of Irish contenders, so you will likely find someone to root for - though you might not meet them until a good few episodes into its staggered 10-part run.
Episodes one to five are available from November 22, with six to nine coming on November 27 prior to the finale dropping on December 6.
Those prepared to enjoy/endure a 'hate watch' of the first couple of installments will surely appreciate the attention to detail the programme-makers have shown in replicating key sets from the original series, which is truly impressive, and there's no denying the actual 'squid games' are still highly entertaining even without the heightened tension provided by potential execution.
Challenges include familiar favourites from Squid Game series one, like Red Light, Green Light (don't get caught moving on red), Ppopgi (carve a perfectly-shaped cookie from fragile honeycomb under time-pressure), The Bridge (make it to the other side without falling through an invisible trapdoor) and Marbles (played in pairs to mutually-agreed rules).
And, just like in the Korean original, the total prize fund is boosted by 10-million per each elimination, meaning that every contestant has a literal price on their head.
In the drama, this means that all players sleep with one eye open, lest they be murdered in their beds: in this version, it means that loners are vulnerable, trust is scarce and even firm alliances can become increasingly fragile as the money piles up and the stakes become higher for all involved.
Despite some of its more irritating reality TV quirks, Squid Game: The Challenge definitely makes for an enjoyable stop-gap for those (im)patiently awaiting the second series of the 'real' Squid Game.
And, of the two big gameshow spin-offs released this month by premium streamers, this one is truest to its source material. It might have a smaller body count, but Squid Game: The Challenge at least feels like it's part of the same universe as its inspiration, whereas, 007: Road To A Million plays more like an exotic, globe-trotting pub quiz hosted by Logan Roy.
I'm still 'here' for the latter, to be fair, but in terms of which one has the potential to return for a second series next year, Squid Game: The Challenge is the clear winner.