As I have mentioned before, I am fan of the Japanese manga Liar Game, which is a psychological thriller comic about a group of people playing through a series of seemingly simple social strategy games with their futures hanging in the balance. The basic concept is cleverly played out, and the actual games themselves are fascinating to watch unfold. So much so that the Japanese turned it into two drama series and two movies, and now the Koreans have also made a drama version which puts some nice twists on the original Japanese story.
However, at the same time, the Koreans have also taken things a step further- they’ve produced a reality tv/gameshow version of the concept with real contestants called The Genius. Of course, unlike the manga/drama, the reality tv version isn’t quite so life-and-death, but it makes up for it in cleverness and variety. You see, the Liar Game story has a small flaw, which is the ending is almost always the same for each event, with a few small twists. Once you’ve seen two or three games play out, you can pretty much guess how each round is going to end because there is a clear theme and story happening. Not so for The Genius, where there is no hero, only really smart people trying to outwit each other in a series of elimination rounds, with one person leaving every episode.
And that’s where The Genius shines. It is perhaps the smartest TV contest that I have ever seen. It’s the polar opposite of most reality tv- where the contestants are idiots fumbling and scheming their way through the challenges. In The Genius, the contestants have to be smart in areas like mathematics and psychology, and each has their own specialties they bring to the game. This isn’t a show where your knowledge of useless trivia is going to win you millions, or where you just need to be smarter than a 5th grader, you need to beat people like a career politician at networking or a math wiz at playing the odds.
Now, considering that most reality tv game shows are based on the idea of even the dumbest person in the room being able to play along, you’d think this concept would be dead in the water and never go anywhere. However, The Genius has already finished it’s third season and is currently one of the top rated things on Korean TV. It’s a huge success, and you only need to watch it to see why- it challenges its audience instead of pacifies them, but it’s based on basic social skills and situations that most people can understand with a bit of thought.
If you have the chance, give it a look (with English subtitles, click “watch online” to bring up the video player). The episodes run around 90 minutes each, and once you get into it, it’s addictive as hell! (And I’m someone who generally watches neither game shows or reality TV because they bore me too much.)