The newest Netflix craze “Squid Game” was released on the streaming platform on Sept. 17, 2021. As of Oct. 28, it has become the most popular original series in Netflix’s history and, according to Protocol, is the number one show in 94 countries around the world, with the most popular Netflix show debut, attaining more than 111 million viewers.
The show follows the monetary struggles of the main character, Gi-Hun, as he and several other cash-strapped contestants decide to participate in a competition playing children’s games with the promise of winning a large cash prize. But this seemingly easy trade-off is not what it seems, as the consequences of failing a game are deadly.
“Of course, the concept of Squid Game is far from original; we’ve seen deadly games played for entertainment in Battle Royal, The Hunger Games, and Westworld. It’s the theme (and execution) that resonates so strongly with audiences,” Senior Contributor Dani Di Placido said in a Forbes article, saying why the show stands out from the nearly 2000 others on Netflix.
What stands out about “Squid Game” as opposed to other shows on the platform is its smart political criticism and characters which resonate with viewers, even though it has met some criticism for mistranslation and inaccurate portrayals of cultures.
The show is obviously a criticism of the system of capitalism, in a way that is subtle yet powerful. The main message of the games, as promoted by the game master, the Front Man, is giving people a fair chance to succeed, equally. But it’s evident from the beginning that this is far from the case when put into practice––female players are perceived as “weak” and cast aside in favor of forming “strong” teams of only men, and older characters struggle to compete in the more physically-strenuous challenges.
This execution perfectly parallels the circumstances of reality. Society preaches that anyone can become successful through hard work and determination, when in reality there are several political, financial and social barriers that actively prevent this for large groups of people. This is what makes the show’s stakes higher: the players and audience are given opposite information to what is true.
The other main selling point for this series were the characters. They are portrayed in a raw and real light, which highlights the artistic writing and masterclass acting in the show.
“The characters represent the best and worst of human beings, and how they compete in the deadly games — at the whim of an unidentified entity — is far more illuminating than how they accumulated their debts,” Bethonie Butler, reporter for the Washington Post, said. From the optimistic Gi-Hun to the intellectual Sang-Woo, these characters are pushed and prodded to the brink, unfolding a series of actions so terrible you cannot help but watch on in horrific fascination.
Not everything about this show, however, was met with the same excitement and enthusiasm. Critics found problems with Netflix’s English dubbing and subtitling for the Korean show. It often vastly mistranslated or misportrayed cultural differences, taking away from the tremendous acting. There was also criticism of the show’s ending, which left many unsatisfied, with even pro-basketball player LeBron James weighing in online. Many felt it took away from the main objective of the central character and was too obvious in its setting up for a second season.
Even so, the pros of “Squid Game” far outweigh the cons when considering this incredible show. If you enjoy remarkable acting from talented actors, masterful writing that leaves you on the edge of your seat and striking visuals that offset the dark themes just around every corner, this is the show for you.