The devil works hard, but Korean reality shows work harder. Whether the execution is successful or not, we cannot deny that they try to bring innovative concepts more than actual fiction writers. We had Single’s Inferno, and you could say whatever you wanted, but it was a unique concept. Then there was Nineteen to Twenty, and as disappointing as the execution was, it was a good idea. Who can forget Physical 100 and how no one could get enough of it while it was airing and even after? That is why this becomes a niche in itself, and it seems as if the most successful one of the lot, Physical 100, has found a sibling in The Devil’s Plan. We say that because the first show was about physical prowess, and the second was about the strength of mental faculties.
Essentially, a group of overachievers have been placed in a house, and they must compete with each other for a gigantic cash prize. In our humble opinion, the smartest thing to do should have been to just admit that they are there for the money instead of making it about wanting to show off their intellectual capabilities. But a good thing about the liars and the truth tellers is that they are all showmen and are sufficiently charming, enough that we can forget that this is a scripted show. As we said at the beginning, Korean reality TV works harder than the devil, and we absolutely don’t believe that the events of the show are unscripted or spontaneous. But we have long stopped caring about that. We just want to see who does what and how well.
A major part of Korean reality that we love is the introductions. Whatever the show, the intros don’t change, and the guarded yet enthusiastic greetings are as awkward as they are funny. On the other hand, we don’t think Netflix actually has a different house for this show. We are positive that the interiors of the Physical 100 set have just been revamped a bit.
Either way, the participants have one job, which is to protect the ‘tokens’ they have been given. While that is well and good, was it really necessary to design the games as some episodes of Run BTS, which only worked because we like seeing the boys run around causing chaos, because there is a lot of rational and irrational love for them in our hearts? We don’t believe that is the case with The Devil’s Plan. Why were there so many rules, and how are we, as the audience, supposed to remember them? If we were capable of retaining them in our memory, we would have been there playing the game. Also, as someone who follows Korean content on the regular, it is just weird that the taskmaster in this reality show is reminding us of Gaetal, who is the main ‘villain’ in The Killing Vote, a Korean drama that is running on a rival streaming platform. Finally, adding to our list of complaints, why are the participants working for the devil? Are they supposed to be fallen angels, or is it a message about avarice caused by intelligence? We just had to ask this.
Another major problem of the reality show is that when watching a game, we, as the audience, don’t root for someone because of how well they have deduced something. In a group like the one at The Devil’s Plan, they are all pretty much the same. We want a look at their personalities, their likeability, and a reason why we prefer their brand of intelligence over others. That means that even though Ha Seokjin and Lee Si Won are perhaps not the smartest of the lot, we are more interested in them because we know them from before. Ha Seokjin is a recognizable face, especially for the non-Korean audience, so it really throws us off when we don’t know who we like and who we don’t. Kwak Joon Bin shines a little because his attitude is the one that catches our attention. There is a competitive determination to him that doesn’t come with the need to prove anything, and it is instantly visible. We also liked that Guillaume said that he understood things as they went along, making us feel relieved at the others’ confusion.
Thankfully, we started getting the hang of things as they moved forward. We have often wondered at the efficacy of Korean humor and why it lands so well. The moment is never the laugh-out-loud kind but feels more adorable, as strange as it may sound. The fact is that the rules for Korean broadcasting are rather strict, and for the rest, you still have to play along the strict lines of niceness and culture to be accepted and loved by the public. That narrows down the scope for a lot of formats of humor, which is why Korean dramas and shows seem to stick to situational or reactive comedy the most. Humor is a matter of context, and since our expectation is of proper, well-behaved characters, this humor feels like it hits home. And that is what works with the show, with the way the characters assess each other or talk about them, either in front of them or behind their backs.
But despite everything, what fails the show is the lack of personalities exhibited by the participants. They may all be unique, but the audience needs to know how. This is why Single’s Inferno and Physical 100 worked and Nineteen to Twenty didn’t, and we cannot believe that Netflix did not understand this lesson. What could have been done to make things more interesting is that the episodes could have been shorter. Instead of an hour or more, if they had stuck to being 30–40 minutes in length, it would have greatly raised the excitement. For a show based on intelligence, this wasn’t a very smart move by the creators. We will end by saying that The Devil’s Plan is all right. It is watchable, but we are not sure if it will remain that way. We hope we are wrong and have found some genuine reality TV entertainment for the week.