Netflix’s Squid Game Could Become the Parasite of TV – but the Path Is Tricky

AbraxasOctober 9, 2021

Squid Game is eligible for multiple Emmys, but Netflix’s path to those historic wins may not be as clear as fans think.

Now that Squid Game has squirmed its way into current pop-culture consciousness, the Netflix show is poised to keep winning over viewers around the world. The South Korea produced, nine-part series is a bonafide awards show contender. But will this foreign language TV event compete in a category that hasn’t rewarded outsiders before? It depends which path it ultimately takes to victory.

Squid Game, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, is a brilliant downward spiral and clever examination of despair, greed and self-worth. The excellent juxtaposition of warm, bright colors and fun shapes set against the calculated savagery and sacrifice is a mind-blowing twister of revulsion and fascination. The show grabs hold of audiences before pulling them through a wild experience to its big finish.

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What elevates the show, beyond its unique aesthetic wonderland of vibrant colors and geodesic shapes, is the way it lures viewers into a sense of familiarity amid the spectacle of horrors and atrocities, which is why it belongs as a top Primetime Emmy contender.

Does it have a shot? Absolutely. But Netflix and the producers of Squid Game must decide to put it up against the other big networks main headlining series or choose a best foreign language category instead. It can’t do both and split the odds. Because Netflix backed the series, it qualifies as an American production for major Emmy consideration, not just foreign language.

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Squid Game is shocking and grotesque in many ways, but the calamity is a by-product of the greater narrative, not the starting point of the scene. Great art needs to challenge and sometimes push boundaries. Art is about taking risks. Squid Game did that and more, which is why it stands as a strong Emmy contender.

When South Korea’s Parasite broke through and became the first non-English film to win four Oscars, including Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards, it proved the most compelling movies don’t require English language first, but do demand enthralling storytelling with alluring visuals. Comparisons to director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite are valid, but only as part of a broader association. It shows the appetite people have for something beyond what’s already familiar, which should comfort some Emmy voters.

Squid Game, partially inspired by survival manga, like the iconic Battle Royale, still introduces many fresh ideas into old concepts. This is where South Korea’s continual success in producing great content is sometimes better than the material it draws inspiration from.

The horror film, Train to Busan, is another great example of South Korea giving a fresh face to an old trope. It did an amazing job of revisiting the fast-moving zombie genre with strong characters, pacing and tension, with individual stakes and appropriate action to match. In similar fashion, Joon Bon-hon also did so years earlier with his masterful Snowpiercer.

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Inspired by the real life Squid Game popular with kids from older generations, the series has layers of reality interwoven throughout, helping hold the many imaginative pieces together. Creating a sense of reality in unbelievable situations helps fuel so many great productions from South Korea, like Squid Game and others, which continually makes them strong awards contenders.

Parasite: Bong Joon-Ho Family

Once thought of as art-house entertainment outside the mainstream, foreign language productions are more popular than ever. The insatiable demand for new streaming content has amplified the need to access foreign offerings, much to the delight of domestic viewers. From Germany’s Dark to Spain’s Money Heist. Great content is truly a global affair.

In order for Squid Game to win against its big network competitors, Emmy voters have to be as fearless as the producers of the show. The show challenges its viewers in new ways without using cheap gags to do it. If it was only popular because of a blood-lusting audience, it wouldn’t be able to sustain the broader public’s interest. The less ‘Hollywood’ Squid Game feels, the closer to the viewer’s world it becomes, and the fantasy/reality line gets blurred even more. And that seems an awful lot like the stuff needed to make award winning television.

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