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Stream it or skip it?

Scripted shows that bring together a number of characters in a strange game seem to be a specialty of South Korea. Squid game was released three years ago and became a global hit because it was a scripted drama about surviving a game. Was there a plot outside the game? Yes, but not alot. Now a darker, comedic scripted series about people in a game has emerged from South Korea. In this game, time is literally money.

THE 8 TONES: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening shot: “I thought I would be different,” says Bae Jin-su (Ryu Jun-yeol) as he looks out over the water while standing at the railing of a bridge.

The core: Jin-su there because he’s about to end it all. He is heavily in debt and owes 900 million won (about $667,000) to loan sharks. He works many minimum wage jobs, such as at a convenience store, and has no discernible skills, thanks to his liberal arts degree. He borrowed the money after an investment banker promised him that he would help him make a huge profit, which of course didn’t work. So after dangling from forty stories high while washing windows, Jin-su felt like he had no other choice.

Just before he jumps, he sees notices that money is being deposited into his account, and a limousine pulls up. Jin-Su thinks it’s some kind of citywide suicide prevention program, and is surprised when the drinks in the limo are fake. He is dropped off at a theater and presented with a card, a stack of money and numbered card keys. He can take the stacks of money and go home, or he can take a key and go through the curtain. At first he takes the money, thinking that only bad things are hidden behind that curtain. But he thought he was about to commit suicide, so if someone harvests organs there, what’s the difference?

Behind the curtain is a huge, colorful room and eight floors of bedrooms. A clock shows 24:00:00.00. The number on his card key – 3 – corresponds to the floor he is on. He enters the room and sees an empty room and a digital scoreboard. He is presented with a uniform with his key number on it and a booklet with rules. What he eventually finds out is that every minute he spends in the room earns him 30,000 won. But he has nothing to sleep on or pee in, and the prices of everything he brings in are a hundred times higher than in the real world. If he leaves the room before 8 a.m., he loses half his earnings. So he improvises, gets a bottle to pee in and cardboard boxes and newspapers to sleep on.

The next morning he sees that the time has been added to the clock. He meets the other players in this game: 8F (Chun Woo-Hee), 7F (Park Jeong-Min), 4F (Lee Yul-Eum), 6F (Park Hae-Joon), 2F (Lee Joo-Young), 5F (Moon Jeong-Hee) and 1F (Bae Sung-Woo). They decide to refer to each other by their numbers. They all have distinctive personalities: 7F is logical, 6F a bit rough. 8F wears only her bra under her uniform jacket and acts privileged.

Not only do they discover that everything in the common areas is fake, including the food, but when they ask for supplies there, the time is taken off the clock. But the time saved costs less money than the money things cost in their room. So they all ask for buckets, toilet paper and cigarettes. Then when they realize the ‘free’ food isn’t coming, 8F admits that she has twelve packs of food and water in her room. When the group finds out that the food is for all of them, but she is not supposed to leave her room, 7F finds out that the parachute that delivers items to them connects all the rooms. All participants go to the 8th floor, to the rooms of 8F. That’s when they realize that not everything in the game is equal.

The 8 Tone
Photo: Lee Jae-hyuk/Netflix

What shows will it remind you of? The 8 Tonewritten and directed by Han Jae-rim and based on the webtoons Money game And Cake gamefeels very bad Squid gameexcept no one gets killed for losing a challenge (we think).

Our opinion: The 8 Tone can be as dark as Squid game, but it’s definitely wryer funnier than the Netflix megahit. In a way, it’s actually intriguing. Sure, there’s money at stake in both shows. But in the case of The 8 Tonethe participants will have to figure out whether they will work together or be at each other’s throats to keep the pot of money they think they will win.

We don’t know much about the characters playing this game. Other than 3F – Bae Jin-su – we don’t even know their names, at least not yet. But that’s not really necessary at the moment. This is a case where each character’s broad archetypes serve the plot well. Someone has to be the practical one. Someone has to be the spoiled one, and someone has to be the rebellious one. The thing about Jin-su is that he’s good with awards and numbers, but for the most part he just seems like a neutral party. Since we’re looking at the game from his perspective, that’s a good archetype for him to settle into.

Han Jae-rim tries to get a bit stylistic, especially during the pre-credits sequence, which is shot in 4:3 format. We wonder if these kinds of stylistic touches will continue as the game becomes more surreal; the set design of the game’s central courtyard is certainly colorful and surreal. We welcome some stylistic caveats as the show progresses, as we suspect some of the show’s dark humor will go by the wayside as the participants figure out how long the game lasts and how they have to fuck other players to get ahead. They have already discovered that there is a hierarchy when it comes to the rooms, the money made per minute and the food. What other things are the game masters going to do to mess with these people?

Gender and skin: Other than 8F parading around in her bra like she’s Sue Ellen Mischke, there’s nothing.

Parting shot: The participants see 8F’s room and realize that she earns much more per minute than they do. One of the participants says, “Aw, shit” in English.

Sleepy Star: 7F, played by Park Jeong-Min, certainly asserts himself as a leader in the first episode, given his application of logic to the proceedings. But who knows how long that will last?

Most pilot-y line: When the two thugs come to Jin-su’s apartment to break his legs, they bang on his door, but are immediately chased away by a mother whose baby is woken up.

Our call: STREAM IT. Like it Squid gamethe pleasure of The 8 Tone is seeing what kind of situations the characters get into and how they figure out how to play the strange game they find themselves in.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not kidding himself: he’s a TV junkie. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.