Physical 100: modern-day survival of the fittest

A show not only committed to finding the perfect physique, but also dedicated to breaking stereotypes

Netflix has released a show to encourage the millions of people who put exercising at the top of their New Year’s resolution list — and they did not disappoint.

Physical 100, a South Korean reality survival show, is gaining a lot of attention for its fierce competition and stunning visuals from start to finish. The show was released on Jan. 24, 2023. It comes at a particularly good time with the start of the new year.

The show has been compared to the blockbuster series Squid Game because of the competition-elimination format along with the big prize money.

Thankfully, nobody dies.

In Squid Game, 456 players in deep financial trouble risk their lives to compete in a sequence of children’s games to win 45.6 billion South Korean won.

The ultimate champion of Physical 100 won 300 million South Korean won (about $310,000 CAD). 300 million is not 45.6 billion won, but you get the idea.

One hundred predominantly Asian male and female athletes with well-developed physical attributes ranging from Korean national team members and bodybuilders, to YouTubers and actors, among others, compete in a series of grueling challenges to test their quickness, balance, willpower, strength, and endurance.

The show’s premise is to find the ideal human physique based on many tests of performance.

At the end of each quests, eliminated contestants have to smash their own headless human plaster torsos with a sledgehammer, which definitely leaves a bad taste in their mouths due to the competitive nature of the participants on the show.

Despite it being a South Korean show, it rose to fame internationally and even peaked at number one globally.

Contestants not only show off their physiques, but also break stereotypes about Asian people being weak and lacking athleticism.

Christina Chin, an associate professor of sociology at California State University, said that historically, Western perceptions of strength are often imagined on white and Black bodies.

The predominantly Asian cast is breaking that dynamic. Viewers are forced to focus on their skills, not race. In addition, body diversity on the show challenges Western audiences’ views on strength and physical fitness by making them think outside of Western body standards, such as having broad shoulders, big biceps, triceps, thighs, washboard abs, etc.

As the series progresses, particular builds are better suited for different quests. Some have a lanky and lean physique, while others have defined muscles from head to toe. And then there are some contestants who don’t seem to be physically fit at all who ended up doing well in the competition!  

The show subtly sends a message that no body type is universally superior to the other, while consistently preaching that mental toughness goes a long way compared to physical capabilities.

While the show displays a competitive atmosphere from start to finish, it does not stop the contestants from constantly showing respect and sportsmanship to one another.

I understand the idea that trash-talking and trying to intimidate your opponents is a normal occurrence in order to play “mind games.” 

This is often seen in other shows, but Physical 100 is different: winners help the losers up, and losers cheer on survivors until a champion is eventually crowned.

My favourite contestant was Kim Min-cheol, a member of a mountain rescue team and Korea’s national ice climbing team. He was one of the few contestants with natural muscles gained purely from his everyday occupation, which made him admirable and easy to root for.

The moral of the story is you don’t need to look like The Rock to achieve the perfect physique. Everybody has their own idea of what the perfect physique looks like. Bigger doesn’t mean stronger, slimmer doesn’t mean quicker and toned doesn’t necessarily mean you have the most endurance.

Netflix has not announced a second season, but the narrator alluding that their “search for the perfect physique will continue” leaves fans expecting more.

Hear me out Opinions

Hear Me Out: What Makes A TV Show So Good, It Becomes Bad?

Do you ever wish your favourite TV show just had *fewer* seasons?

Last year, I finally decided to watch the infamous The Office because everyone around me told me I would like it and that I was missing out on an important cultural moment of the 2000s.

I also wanted in on all the inside jokes. I wanted to know who Prison Mike was and how everyone started saying “that’s what she said.”

I had already seen some of the comedy gold that was the fire drill and the first-aid class scenes. They made me laugh so much, I needed more of this.

In short, people were right. To this day, The Office is the first and only show that made me laugh out loud alone in my room. 

I would pause the episode, rewind and get my mom to come because she HAD to see this.

Then, I started to get in the later seasons. It was okay, but I found myself laughing less and less.

What really cut it for me was the moment nobody wants to talk about: when Steve Carrell’s character Michael Scott left.

It was not the same show. It felt like a bad attempt at a reboot or parody. The characters started to act out of character and the storylines were just not as funny.

You’ve probably been the victim of this: your favourite TV show becoming so bad it’s unwatchable.

While I haven’t watched it myself, I’ve heard about the atrocity that Riverdale has become. But I won’t get into that here.

There are many theories I want to explore as to why our favourite TV shows flop after a while.

First, there is the main-character-leaving-the-show complex. Obviously, Michael Scott was the trigger to most of my bursts of laughter. So for me, his departure from the show was a big downfall.

The Office is not the only show victim of that. I also remember how That ’70s Show was struggling after its main character Eric Foreman was no longer there. It makes sense why the storylines were a bit all over the place when he left as he was the one holding all the other characters together. After all, it was in HIS basement that the group of friends would gather in.

The Office was also the victim of too many seasons. This is easily explainable by the sheer success of the first few seasons. We can, again, see this in other shows.

Grey’s Anatomy also found so much success that its producers are trying to milk it until there are no more medical scenarios they can come up with.

This phenomenon is even seen with shows that should only have one season like 13 Reasons Why and You. The former being based on a book that did not have sequels, and the latter which just abused the character of Joe Goldberg too much. Like, seriously, how many times can you actually get away with such sporadic murders and changes of identity?

Overall, TV shows that get a lot of momentum after their first season will now for sure get, according to fans, too many seasons.

It’s like producers are not able to leave a show on a good note and start a new project.

But, at the same time, fans would not be ready either. Even though they are the first to critique a show for dragging on for too long, they are the first that want to know if a new season is coming.

Do you remember a time when you just finished a well-acclaimed show and went on Google just to find an ending explanation, only to see “season 2” as the first suggestion next to the show’s title? Yeah, that’s why producers will never let go of an opportunity to make a new season.

In Hollywood, money talks.

In the end, TV shows with too many seasons just lose their direction, originality, and credible plotlines.

I think ultimately, when a TV show is so good, it is deemed to become bad because of the high expectations we now set for it.

I had hopes for Squid Games when the director was pretty clear that he hadn’t thought about the show having other seasons. But, it was announced in June through Netflix’s Twitter account that the record-breaking show will come back.

Let’s hope this one won’t be milking the idea of a sick and twisted money game too much.


How About We Stop Making True Crime Content Our Whole Personality?

Let’s take a step back and think about the harmful narratives it can perpetuate.

With the amount of controversy and hype — if we can even call it that — around the Jeffrey Dahmer series on Netflix, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ethics of true crime content as a form of entertainment.

It’s nothing new that true crime content is enjoyable to watch for many. It has everything a compelling story needs: good and evil characters, a mystery that needs to be solved and a denouement that can either be frustrating or satisfying.

After all, crime has always been a subject of interest even before Netflix made documentaries or YouTubers recorded podcasts about it.

Although it may seem like a new thing because of social media, vigilantism has always been around. Public executions and the role of the church in presenting criminals as evil made the public invested in crimes in their area.

Today, it has become a genre on TV, a topic of debate, a hobby, a whole culture. With content on YouTube, Netflix, and TikTok, true crime has also created spaces for community discussions on Reddit, Facebook, and blogs.

The casualness with which true crime “fans” consume this content and discuss their obsessions with specific cases is weird when we put it in perspective.

Although being obsessed with serial killers has been discussed before and has been deemed “not okay” in the true crime community, they’re still exploiting someone else’s story.

When I see discussions around whether true crime content production/consumption is ethical or not, the conclusion I sometimes see is that it’s okay as long as we don’t romanticize the attacker and that we give the victim the main voice by focusing our re-telling of the events from their perspective.

But how is that any better for the victims’ friends and family? And who are we to say that we have the right to tell that person’s story?

As someone who lost a friend to murder, I would not like to see a YouTuber trying to make a name for themselves by exploiting her story and plastering her face in their thumbnail.

The topic has been so desensitized that you can now watch a Gen Z college student talk you through someone’s horrible death right before plugging in an ad for a Ring doorbell to keep you safe from being the topic of their next video.

This type of content also tends to over-simplify judicial procedures and due processes in our legal system. It’s easy to make a video detailing all the horrible things a criminal has done to their victims to appeal to the humanity of the viewer and skip over all the steps of our criminal justice system before sentencing.

From having explored it first-hand myself by shadowing a criminal court judge for a year, I can say that the criminal justice system is much more gray and complex than simply identifying guilt and locking criminals away for life if they seem to deserve it. 

It’s also important to make a distinction between real-life criminality and true crime content. True crime content focuses on a very small percentage of the most brutal and sensational crimes because those make the most interesting stories.

The police-reported crime statistics of 2021 released by Statistics Canada shows that violent crimes only accounted for 890 individuals per 100,000 while property and other crimes accounted for 2,219 and 2,266 respectively.

This trend is also presented in a graph as being steady since 1962.

Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, Uniform Crime Reporting Survey

True crime content tends to perpetuate myths about violent crimes that can be harmful to viewers, like the stranger-danger myth that can be responsible for a lot of profiling and false accusations.

This type of content does not explore these nuances, as it is produced as a form of entertainment.

Since it sensationalizes criminality as extremely gruesome and relies on dramatizing truly depraved and violent acts for viewers’ entertainment, it’s impossible for true crime content to deliver an accurate portrayal of these real-life tragedies without throwing audiences off.

It is much simpler to present it as a black-and-white issue and ignore the legal process altogether, than to simplify it in a way that fits the producers’ narrative.

Although true crime content is filled with problematic portrayals of criminality and makes people profit off other people’s stories, watching it does not inherently make you a bad person.

However, I can’t help but think that there is something inherently wrong with the community of “fans” when I stumble upon a TikTok that desensitizes the content. It’s always a young adult white woman reminding everyone of how comfortable she is watching true crime content from her bed, and how that makes her “special.”

What is so wrong with fictional crime series after all?


Palestinians deserved Netflix’s Mo

Why Mo Amer’s new Netflix series is the most culturally significant thing you’ll watch this year

Mohammed Amer is a Palestinian-American comedian, and co-creator of Mo on Netflix, along with Golden Globe-winning Egyptian-American actor Ramy Youssef. 

The A24 series follows Mo Najjar as he navigates his life as a Palestinian refugee in Texas. The series is heavily autobiographical and the events are based on the experiences of Mohammed “Mo” Amer.  

In one scene, Mo puts down a bottle of olive oil on the dinner table, freshly made by his mother, Yusra. “It’s nothing like the stuff back home,” she says.

The olive oil is a piece of home in Texas, so he holds on to it everywhere he goes as he juggles the intricacies of being Muslim and Palestinian in America.

The TV we consume shape our mindsets, paired up with research and an open mind, some TV shows that shine the spotlight on Muslim and Arab communities are a good place to start. `

Mo is the representation Palestinians have been craving.

My Palestinian family and I watched it from our living room in Kuwait and have never felt more seen because finally, we got a show with accurate Arabic dialogue and relatable family dynamics. 

My family comes from a city by the coast of Palestine called Haifa, but after the occupation of Palestine my grandparents fled to Kuwait, where I was born and raised. I had grown up so far away from what I felt resonated with my identity as a Palestinian. 

Similarly, Mo’s parents were forced out of Haifa by the Isreali Defense Force (IDF), leaving them with no passports or residency anywhere. They ended up living in Kuwait, but had to leave after the Gulf War in 1990, the same war my parents endured as teenagers. 

The details of Mo’s life felt so familiar it kept my family and I enticed for all eight episodes of the series, because watching something so relatable was so gratifying. The main character is undeniably flawed, authentic, and hilarious. 

He juggles his relationship, illegal immigrant status, the weight of providing for his family, and the tragic death of his father as we watch his mental health deteriorate. Despite being a fictional character, the issues and struggles he represents are very real.

Alongside his traumatic flashbacks and nightmares caused by his father’s death, I found it insightful that an Arab character overcomes substance abuse issues on-screen. Mo develops an addiction to lean (a mixture of cough syrup and soda), shedding light on an important scope in Muslim and Arab communities that is often dismissed.

Drug addiction and substance abuse are prominent within our communities (almost everyone I know has a nicotine addiction), but cultural and religious stigma stop us from confronting the uncomfortable reality of it.

Even withdrawal symptoms are portrayed in the series, when Mo sits in the waiting room of the courthouse the day of their asylum case, sweating, vomiting, and struggling from a lack of sleep.

Yet the series remains funny and lighthearted, and comedy television seems to be the only thing that humanizes these groups to the Western world.

There is something refreshing about laughing at the jokes of a main character who resembles your cousins and uncles, and remains a Muslim Arab character who isn’t battling loss and confusion with their identity.

Unlike the familiar tropes Muslims and Arabs are confined to in the media, Mo seems to reject the common Islamophobic plotlines we have become used to.

I would compare Mo’s character to other Muslim characters in the media depicted as terrorists or victims of oppression. For example, in Netflix’s teenage drama Elite, one of the Muslim characters takes off her hijab to “liberate” herself from her religion. However, Mo refuses to distance himself from his religious and national identity. 

We have grown tired of two-dimensional and misrepresented Muslim and Arab characters. 

We must recognize that the issue with such limited representation of Palestinians in the media is that it has granted the power to the straight male diaspora to be the voice of Palestine.

The amount of screen time our communities get is what provides us our voice and platform, although we must be wary of who exactly is the face of that platform.

This leaves room for misrepresentation or misinformation. For example, Mo comments on the borders set in Palestine in 1967 after the Six-Day War.

He says, “I’d be really happy if we’d go back to 1967 borders.” This neglects the reality of Palestinians living in Palestinian territory in 1948. He refers to a time when Palestine was still actively under occupation, and Palestinians were being displaced from their homes.

It was refreshing to watch someone who speaks, eats, and prays the way I did growing up, and who carried a bottle of olive oil with him in an effort to hold onto his roots. It stressed the simplicity of taking our home with us no matter where we are.

I think we can agree that Mo is a face of Palestine, but definitely not the only one. The next step is a less Hollywood-washed, Westernized face of Palestine. One that acknowledges the struggle of Palestinians in Palestine and represents women, queer people, and stateless individuals who identify as Palestinian. Soon we will all be carrying our metaphorical bottle of olive oil everywhere we go.


The anatomy of a girlboss scammer

The fraudulent feminist and fashion icon that is Anna Delvey

If you know about the story of Anna Sorokin, better known under the alias Anna Delvey, you probably have an opinion on her.

Her instagram comment section, full of people who either admire her or hate her, is jumping from “#DeportAnna” to “#FreeAnna.”

The Russian-German con artist and fraudster rose to fame in 2019 for going on trial after not only defrauding banks, financial institutions, and hotels by pretending to be a German heiress, but tricking New York high society into believing her scam.

After her story was made public by journalist Jessica Pressler in the New York magazine, she became an overnight sensation.

This fame also culminated into the hit Netflix series, Inventing Anna, based on the events surrounding her scamming activities and her trial.

Not only did people wonder how she got away with her crimes for so long, but they lusted after her opulent demands — some as tone-deaf as asking her defense council to hire a wardrobe stylist for her during the oh-so-famous trial.

From her designer-styled courtroom attire to her angelic and innocent-looking expression, people loved the idea of Anna Delvey because she embodied what some of us wish we could do: scam the elites.

Delvey knew what she was doing. Coupled with the fact that she coped with the stress of unpaid debts by continuing to live a life of luxury, her antics even made some of us think we must be too conservative in our side-hustles.

She did what the rest of us — trapped in a capitalist economy — choose not to do based on rationality: living in a fantasy world, where money is never a problem.

Although she was found guilty of attempted grand larceny, larceny in the second degree, and theft of services, many refuse to see her as a criminal. Instead she’s perceived as an embodiment of class struggle — she grabbed the American Dream in a chokehold, all without connections.

After all, the reason why she was able to keep up with the character of Anna Delvey for so long was the ease with which she navigated the world of the one per cent, just by knowing what to say, how to dress, who to hang out with, and where to be.

Her story pulled back the curtain of how the rich do not become successful based on natural selection but more so on the basis of whether or not one can “fit the part.”


Faking Old Money

She confirmed what many hypothesized about the elite: that it’s all a facade of appearances.

Delvey became one of them by seeing past what a regular person perceives wealth to be. Instead, she isolated a persona of the rich white chick that buys her t-shirts from The Row just because she can, not because it looks expensive. She saw the nonchalance and aloofness behind the rich — if you have that much money, might as well show it and don luxurious brands for people to respect you. And that’s how Anna acted.

This explains why so many of the people she scammed were embarrassed: how can a 20-something con woman with no degree and no connections screw us, big men of Wall Street in suits?

I would say, props to her for breaking through another glass ceiling.

As the character of Neff, a friend of Anna, in Inventing Anna said it best: “You are the real fucking deal.”

But not everyone could have pulled off such an act and still make a career as a #girlboss after serving her sentence.

We could easily compare Anna Delvey to the case of Elizabeth Holmes, who also was the muse of a fictional TV show, The Dropout.

Holmes was an entrepreneur in the biotechnology industry who scammed her investors into thinking her revolutionary method of blood testing could detect a person’s complete health profile, which turned out to be false.

Both of these scammers dropped out of college and were trying to pursue something bigger than themselves in fields dominated by men.

What differentiates Delvey from Holmes though, is that the victims of Delvey’s crimes were the common enemy of the average middle-class millennial: the rich.

On top of that, Delvey’s rich-girl-from-Europe-who-doesn’t-give-a-fuck style saves her from a comparison to Holmes, who claims to draw inspiration from Steve Jobs by wearing the same black turtleneck everyday.

Delvey tried to pass as an elite to scam them out of their money; Holmes tried to pass as a business tech mogul to scam the middle-class by making them trust her technology for their health.

In classic scammer fashion, both women changed their appearance, demeanor, and for Holmes, her voice, to fit their bigger agenda.

In the end, both women created characters; except Delvey’s was likable enough to grant her the respect and icon status that many grant her.


Collage by Catherine Reynolds


Netflix and Chappelle can’t play harmless

Whether they like it or not, media has always been influential

In 2021, it feels strange to still see debate around the influence the media has on real world events. I think of the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers, which was suspected to have inspired a slew of copycat crimes. I think of Stephen King’s 1977 novel Rage, which he allowed to fall out of print after incidents resembling those in the plot occurred after publication. And as a journalism student, of course I think of the industry’s mistakes. How perpetrators of mass violence have been sensationalized, then idolized and imitated. Or what about all the harm the media has caused Indigenous peoples, while ignoring the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits, Even if a case is covered, the media usually perpetuates racist stereotypes through their coverage.

If you have any doubts about how powerful media can be, might I remind you about how misinformation helped elect Donald Trump in 2016, then caused a domestic terrorist attack at the U.S. Capitol? Or how about how misinformation about COVID-19 has led to confusion and resistance to public health measures? And, combined with centuries-long racist media, led to a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

That’s why Netflix Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’s recent comments about veteran comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial new Netflix special The Closer are so ridiculous.

Saraondo said, “With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm. The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others.”

Chappelle’s The Closer spends a lot of time (more than you’d think for a 48-year-old straight man) talking about the LGBTQ+ community. Chapelle’s last special Sticks & Stones was similarly controversial, with jokes (or “jokes,” depending on your perspective) about the LGBTQ+ community, abuse allegations against certain celebrities, and his defence of admitted (but unprosecuted) sex offender and comedian Louis C.K.

Chappelle is undoubtedly influential. He’s an Emmy, Grammy, and Mark Twain prize winner, and arguably one of the most influential comedians of the 21st century. While The Closer does not encourage violence against the trans community, it is harmful.

He fixates on the private parts of trans people, mocks the appearance of queer people, uses slurs, and compares trans women to white people wearing blackface.

Chappelle jokes about rapper DaBaby, who recently made homophobic remarks about HIV/AIDS. Chappelle says DaBaby, “Punched the LBGTQ community right in the AIDS.” He goes on to reference an incident where the rapper shot and killed another Black man in self-defense, which did not negatively affect his career. Chappelle says, “In our country you can shoot and kill a n***** but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.” This is the self-proclaimed central idea of The Closer

“I have never had a problem with transgender people… my problem has always been with white people,” he says. But as Black gay activist and writer Kenyon Farrow points out, Chappelle is playing into, “a 30 year-old campaign carried out by Christian Right groups to use LGBT rights as a cultural wedge issue with African-Americans,” and forgetting how many people belong to both groups. Chappelle posits these communities against each other with stories about encounters he’s had with white LGBTQ+ people. He says he is jealous of the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made over a hundred years, and jokes that “If slaves had oil and booty shorts on, we might have been free 100 years sooner.” It’s clear to me that Chappelle is frustrated. I get the impression through his stories that he thinks the LGBTQ+ community is a way for white people to victimize themselves, get away with racism, and distract from the ongoing struggles of the Black community. I understand why Chappelle thinks this way given his age and the life he has led but it’s still unfortunate to see minority groups still be pitted against each other by white supremacist, Christian, and right-wing structures.

As the National Black Justice Coalition points out in their criticism of the special: “With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better. Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence.”

It’s such a shame that Chappelle’s standup in the last few years has come to this. In his early career, Danielle Fuentes Morgan, who teaches a course on African American comedy at Santa Clara University, says that he “punch[ed] up, to speak truth to power, to focus his ‘attacks’ on injustices and institutions with discernibly more power than he had.” Punching up or down is a concept usually discussed in the context of comedy. Punching up means criticizing and mocking a person, group of people, or institution with more power than you. Punching down is the reverse. In Chapelle’s case punching up would be white people, the police, the government for example, trans people decidedly belong to a group with less power than the cis-het millionaire. In The Closer, Chapelle acknowledges that he’s been accused of punching down, and wonders what the phrase means. As Morgan writes, “In teaching Chappelle, it’s become increasingly important to address how a person can be marginalized while also marginalizing others.”

I’ve written about the real world impact media has on minorities before, but comedians are a special case. Culturally, comedians have a bit of an outsider/underdog complex that many can’t shake, even when they become famous millionaires. There’s even a common joke that comedians are themselves a minority group. And so they think they can joke about anything, forgetting they have influence, especially in the era of mass-produced, mass-streamed Netflix stand-up comedy.

Many have pointed out the irony and hypocrisy of Sarandos’ recent claims “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm” even after the platform released Disclosure in 2020, a documentary about the impact of ignorant and inaccurate portrayals of trans people in American cinema. This is the same documentary Sarandos cites in statements following the Chappelle controversy about Netflix’s commitment to inclusion.

No matter what Chapelle, Sarandos, or anyone who whines about cancel culture says, art has impact. Jokes cannot just be jokes, especially not ones aimed at minorities. No, The Closer is probably not going to directly cause someone to go out and commit a hate crime, just like author J.K. Rowling’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) essay didn’t. But when hate and ignorance is given a platform, it is normalized and perpetuated and that is what leads to violence and discriminatory legislation.


Photo collage by Catherine Reynolds


Squid Game’s striking portrayal of modern capitalist society

Squid Game has captivated audiences across the world with it’s twisted mix of Korean childhood games and violent massacres, but the show’s hidden message says more than audiences might think

Warning: Spoilers ahead, but no violent details will be discussed. 

If there is one series that has been on everyone’s lips, it’s no doubt the record-breaking Netflix show Squid Game. With more than 111 million viewers across the world, the visionary Korean series by Hwang Dong-hyuk has turned into the streaming service’s biggest debut show of all time.

The show is a striking mix of violence, pastel-coloured playgrounds and cinematic suspense, exhibiting masterful storytelling throughout. Despite only having nine episodes, the plot allows for immense character development; no one is painted one-dimensionally in Hwang’s explosive universe. In fact, the human complexity of each character is possibly one of the show’s greatest strengths.

The main character, Seong Gi-hun, with his irresponsible spending habits and poor parenting skills, doesn’t immediately tug at the audience’s heart strings; however, as the game progresses, we discover his light-hearted humour, good intentions and the almost foolish extent of his trust, all of which end up endearing him to us.

Meanwhile, the main character’s childhood best friend, Cho Sang-woo, isn’t the kind of person we would expect to fall into financial ruin. A business graduate at the top of his class, Cho is intelligent and clearly ambitious, but he finds himself trapped by excessive debt after his investments and business plans go wrong.

The range and contrast of characters prove that it isn’t only the most vulnerable which are affected by our society’s economic system. In fact, the show does a great job of showing a compelling and deeply symbolic interpretation of modern capitalist society overall.

For every single character, the world beyond childhood ultimately becomes a competitive hamster wheel in the search for economic stability. Eventually, financial failure marks their inevitable downfall into oblivion.

At first glance, it might be our instinct to blame the characters for their demise. It can be tempting to dismiss the players of the game as people willing to ditch their moral compass for money — but Hwang highlights an important distinction, making it clear that it’s not simply greed driving the players. When each person stares at the 45.6 billion won reward ($38.6 million USD), each one of them sees a different kind of salvation.

Abdul Ali, a Pakistani immigrant in the show, goes to South Korea in search of a better life, but is trapped by an exploitative boss. Unable to provide for his wife and newborn son, he joins the game to provide for his family.

One of the show’s more reserved characters, Kang Sae-byeok, is a North Korean defector. We are told that she flees North Korea with her little brother in search of a better life, but she ends up losing all of her money trying to broker an escape plan for her mother, who was returned to North Korea.

Kang turns to the game as a way to get her brother out of the orphanage he’s living in and rescue her mother — she has no great plans for spending the prize money otherwise. When asked about her wildest ambition she simply says she’d visit “Jeju Island” a South Korean tourist destination she once saw on the TV.

The point is, Hwang’s characters are not bad people, they’re just human. Their circumstances and poor financial decisions don’t mean that they deserve to live in perpetual poverty. The real question is why the capitalist system gives them no chance at redemption.

Much like in the game, if they stumble or fall, they end up eliminated from the race.

Squid Game might seem like a radical alternate universe at times, but as viewers we’re being asked to compare our society with that in the game; on the one hand you have the game exploiting people’s desperation for entertainment, on the other you have our society exploiting  people through loans, gambling and debt.

At least the game asks for the players’ consent before participating, and offers them some kind of financial compensation. Meanwhile, capitalist society fails to offer financial freedom to every character on the show, and never asks for consent before imposing itself upon them.

Society’s economic disparity is so evident on the show, that the rich sponsors of the game are convinced that they are doing the players a favour by creating a game where there is a small chance for them to improve their lives — even though the consequence is death.

Despite this, the show provides us with glimpses of hope in the form of individual acts of kindness. Beyond the violent executions and dramatic blood-splatterings, several characters display a level of compassion which has no other reason than a core desire to be kind.

Throughout the show, Seong consistently watches out for Oh Il-nam, an elderly man hopelessly participating in the games. Oh’s vulnerability is in sharp contrast to the game’s violence, and his fragility ends up moving Seong into aligning with him. Even though we know that the alliance is not strategic, we still root for Oh’s well-being because he appeals to our humanity.

Creator Hwang gives us several other glimpses at the characters’ better nature, early on in the show we see Ali rescue Seong during the red light, green light game by preventing his fall when he accidentally trips while running. By holding on to Seong, Ali risks his own life, but this one act of courage allows the main character to keep playing the game.

The insinuation is that, although human nature might have ruthlessness, it also has kindness. Our economic and social systems can bring out either one of these two streaks, and in an ideal world — one where the Squid Game wouldn’t seem like a possibility —  our society would guide us into being better, more compassionate people, where economic ruthlessness alone doesn’t determine our fate.


Graphic by James Fay

Netflix’s dating shows have a sex problem

The streaming service’s roster promises raunchiness but delivers an antiquated scolding

Since the start of the pandemic, Netflix has been pumping out reality shows left and right. Once the place to go for high-concept prestige TV, with early titles like “The Crown” and “House of Cards.” In recent years, Netflix has cast a wider net, venturing into the murky world of dating shows. This move makes sense, as while in lockdown, many yearned to be able to go out and meet new people, with casual dating being risky at best. So, what could be better than absorbing the sexy, flirty, and even awkward experiences of strangers, right from the comfort of your couch?

Unfortunately, Netflix’s quarantine roster did not deliver on the fun raunch viewers have come to expect from reality dating shows. Instead, it doled out a heavy hand of sex-negativity and falsehoods on basic human attraction.

This trend is no more obvious than in the streaming service’s breakout hit “Too Hot to Handle.” In this show, so-called “sex-crazed singles” are lured to an island vacation on the false promise of all-night parties and uninhibited hookups. However, in what can only be described as a horror movie-esque twist, they soon realize that they are actually going to be judged on their ability to remain celibate, while under the pressure of a cash prize that decreases with every sexual indiscretion. The show’s Amazon Alexa-style robot judge posits this test as a way to force the contestants to foster “real” romantic connections with each other, rather than focusing on sex.

What results is a show with a perfectly serviceable amount of relationship drama, where the contestants learn to be “better people” through activities like wellness workshops, and break a few rules along the way. But, despite the moderate fun, always in the background is an impossible-to-ignore puritanical view that casual sex is somehow incompatible with a happy and fulfilling life.

“Too Hot to Handle” is not Netflix’s only show peddling this ideology. Both the recent “Sexy Beasts” and the early-quarantine smash hit “Love Is Blind” fall prey to similarly regressive views. In “Love Is Blind,” singles meet each other through an opaque wall, with only their conversations to connect them. The aim of the show is to foster relationships not built on physical attraction.

Similarly, in “Sexy Beasts” the romantic hopefuls can’t see each other. However, in this show, that is because the contestants are decked out in ridiculous animal and monster prosthetics for their dates. This renders them unrecognizable, and rather ugly. Both of these shows argue that when dating, physicality is the least important indicator of compatibility, and in fact, we should ignore it all together.

The issue is, this isn’t exactly true. For the vast majority of people, physical attraction is, if not very important, at least an influential factor in determining compatibility. While yes, there can be a point in which someone becomes vain or overly obsessed with looks in their partners, as humans, we generally experience sexual attraction as a fundamental fact of life.

With that, pairing couples up with either no clue what each other looks like or no experience with each others’ physical touch could lead to some awkward encounters later down the road when they realize they just aren’t compatible in that way.

But that shouldn’t be punished, right? Simply not being physically or sexually attracted to someone isn’t a moral lapse. All these shows try to convince viewers that the sheer desire to be with someone you find attractive is a non-sequitur to romance and we should try to learn to date differently.

While I think most of us would agree with the cliché that inner beauty is what really matters, and that there are some real issues with contemporary hookup culture, it’s impossible to take physicality out of the equation for the vast majority of people. It begs the question why Netflix’s shows need to demonize this fact of life.

Furthermore, on both “Sexy Beasts” and “Love is Blind,” once faces are revealed (spoiler alert), all the contestants turn out to be wildly conventionally attractive. So, if all the options were thin, young, clear-skinned, seemingly able-bodied people anyway, what sort of message is this even conveying? What are the stakes here?

These shows seem to have to convince the viewer that the show has a reason for existing. Rather than relying on the fact that many of us simply want to watch a bunch of hot dummies create drama with each other like we have for two decades on Bravo and E!, Netflix needs to convince itself these new dating shows are all “social experiments” made to uncover some hidden dirty truths about modern romance. Thus, no, a show where singles dress up in animal prosthetics to go on dinner dates can’t just exist for fun. It must now spoon-feed viewers a moral on the importance of inner beauty. This leads to a series of shows with convoluted rules and uninteresting storylines.  There’s obviously space in the culture for thought-provoking stories on love and relationships, but come on, can’t Netflix just throw us a bone for once?


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert


Are we out of original ideas?

Discussing the issues with reboots or remakes in the entertainment industry

Whenever I’m watching an entertainment news show such as Entertainment Tonight, or listening to podcasts like The Ralph Report, I am constantly hearing about the latest remake or reboot of a show or movie. Most of the time, I end up rolling my eyes because I am kind of sick of it. From the reboot of “Saved by The Bell” to the who-knows-what iteration and reimagining of Batman, there is always something. While yes, I understand and agree that nearly every story has been told and what matters is how the story is told, I find myself thinking about why there is this huge craze to bring back old shows and movies, or to just remake them entirely.

My first thought about this is that film executives are just lazy and don’t want to put as much work into telling stories. It seems like there is no real attempt anymore to try to make something original.

After some thought, I asked myself if it’s easier to reboot or remake a piece of media or if it’s more challenging because there is a directly comparable source. I think that it depends on if it’s being marketed as a reboot or a remake. If a franchise is being rebooted, then there is the potential for things to be a little more challenging because the story has to continue, or because it may only feature some of the original cast.

Whereas with a remake, it seems like there is less need to take artistic liberties because the base is there and only certain things are being changed.

Take the 2013 remake of the 1976 horror film Carrie with Chloë Grace Moretz. Not much differed from the original except for the lack of nudity, as Moretz was only 16 at the time, and the use of cell phones. Did the movie need to be remade? In my opinion, no. The Sissy Spacek version of the movie was really impactful, and remaking it without many changes just felt like it was a waste of time.

There have been times where I have been interested in the reboot or the remake of a show that I grew up watching and was left quite disappointed. For example, the Disney Channel show “Raven’s Home,” which airs on the network as well as on Disney+, was taking “That’s So Raven” and making it new. I loved “That’s So Raven” growing up, and when I watched “Raven’s Home,” I was left feeling bored. The jokes weren’t as funny, and there wasn’t the same energy present that “That’s So Raven” had. I was hoping to feel a sense of nostalgia, but instead I was left feeling let down because it didn’t have the same elements that made the original series fun and entertaining. “That’s So Raven” was so original, funny and quite wacky with the plot, and “Raven’s Home” just toned it down way too much to be enjoyable.

There have been instances where I have been incredibly annoyed with the thought of something being remade. For example, recently it was announced that the movie Face/Off was getting remade, and I was angry to hear this. I thought that the original film was this perfect mess because of how unrealistic the premise was and just how much overacting both Nicholas Cage and John Travolta did. So, trying to remake it seems like a waste of time. I don’t see any purpose other than money as a valid reason to remake this movie.

Nostalgia could be a motivation for this reboot and remake craze. In current times, I can understand the want to escape from our reality and try and bring back things that brought joy in the past. However, at the same time, I think that trying to shove forced nostalgia in everyone’s face removes the natural feeling of being nostalgic. Also, if the movie or show is made new, does it still hold the same importance or feeling as the original? I would argue that no, it loses what made it special in the first place.

I can also see how this trend of reboots is a cash grab, honestly. A lot of the time, certain shows and movies that did well in the past or had a decent following are seen as easy money. If a story is familiar, then it might draw a larger crowd than a story that is entirely new.

I think that if there wasn’t such a push for all this rehashing then it might be less annoying. A lot of major studios, with the right amount of funds and new technology, can take many more creative liberties than before, yet they keep reaching into the past to make things again. It frustrates me because there are many stories that could be told, and many ideas that are not being pursued because something that was popular twenty years ago needs another shot in 2021. Nearly every time I hear about a new movie announcement, it’s always some movie or show that was made before. I just want to hear about something that is original, that hasn’t been done before.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Horse Girl: Approaching ambiguity in film

Alison Brie loses her grip on reality in Horse Girl

Jeff Baena’s film Horse Girl focuses on a woman named Sarah who slowly loses her grip on reality. She is portrayed by Alison Brie as an awkward and shy woman, and we get a sense of Sarah’s daily life working at a crafts store by day and watching supernatural crime shows at night. At home, she’s pitied by her mean-spirited roommate Nikki, played by Debby Ryan. Nikki organizes a last-minute birthday party for Sarah who was going to spend the evening alone, and later that night she has a strange dream. Soon, Sarah begins to have recurring blackouts and starts to see people from her dreams in real life.

First and foremost, Alison Brie is spectacular. Her performance is believable, strong and moving. No matter how crazy Sarah’s delusions get, you never doubt that she believes them. Brie makes her character’s descent into madness feel rooted in real emotion. John Reynolds charmingly accompanies her as Darren, Sarah’s love interest who accidentally fuels her fantasies. Horse Girl was co-written by Baena and Brie, which marks the actress’s debut as a screenwriter. She is previously known for her stunning range of work in TV shows like GLOW, Mad Men and Community.

Despite being engrossing throughout its runtime, Horse Girl fails in achieving some ambitious goals that would have been integral in making the film memorable. There were plenty of interesting ideas: it’s a character study, it shoots for ambiguity through a possibly unreliable narrator, and it discusses conspiracy theories and issues related to mental illness. 

On a technical level, the film is perfectly fine. There are cool zoom shots, and I particularly like some of the imagery in the film and how it depicts Sarah’s state of mind towards the end. There are some tonal shifts throughout the film as the atmosphere becomes darker and crazier, but these changes are justified because they make sense according to Sarah’s perspective. Additionally, the transitions were smooth.

Horse Girl is a bit slow to start but ambitiously grasps at many big themes, which I respected as a viewer. However, it was this attempt to capture so many ideas that led to my biggest issue with the film: the ambiguity, or lack thereof. Baena seems to be trying to puzzle the audience and make us wonder if Sarah’s delusions might be real. There are some suggestions that create this ambiguity, like scratches on walls or strange people who believe her theories, but the most compelling evidence was introduced too late in the story. Because of this, I was never convinced that any of the strange events were outside of her mind, despite the fact that the film is trying to set it up to be vague. This made the ending, although interesting, less impactful. When it came to themes of conspiracy theories and mental illness, they were not explored in-depth enough to feel like anything was truly being said about it.

All in all, Horse Girl is a fascinating study of one woman’s mind and the film stays committed to her perspective. It was not life-changing by any means, despite its attempts at tackling ambiguity and dark themes, and it isn’t as mind-bending as it would like to be. Yet, it’s a fun ride nonetheless. It’s worth it for Brie’s performance alone.


It’s a Netflix Party: police corruption, fistfights, a crazy ex-girlfriend and a weird roommate

Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg collaborate on a fifth movie together, Spenser Confidential

Witty and sarcastic, ex-cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) is always quick to throw an amusing comeback. Yet, he is also a work in progress, taking every opportunity to help others and better himself.

Spenser Confidential is inspired by the book Wonderland by Ace Atkins, and the characters are loosely based on the ones Robert B. Parker created in his Spenser crime novels.

This action-comedy movie starts with a flashback from five years earlier, showing Spenser, who was then a cop, going to his captain’s house and beating him. At the same time, the narration is him pleading guilty for disturbing the peace, harassment in the first degree and for aggravated assault of a police officer. He ends his confession with “the son of a b*tch deserved it.”

After spending five years in prison, Spenser goes to live with Henry (Alan Arkin), a funny old man who only eats hot dogs, and Hawk (Winston Duke), Spenser’s new roommate.

The movie revolves around this team trying to solve the murder of a woman while looking for enough evidence to get dirty cops arrested. Boston police captain John Boylan (Michael Gaston), who Spenser had assaulted, is killed the night he gets out of prison, and the murder is pinned on officer Terrence (Brandon Scales), who, according to the police, killed himself after killing Boylan. Spenser claims that Terrence wasn’t a crooked cop and that he was murdered, which is why he starts another investigation into Boylan’s murder.

Fights are always happening in this movie. To be exact, Spenser gets into four significant fights and a dog attack. The first fight is during his last day in prison. While in the library, he gets jumped by a group, including Squeeb (Austin Post a.k.a. Post Malone). After the murder is pinned on Terrence, Spenser goes to a cop bar to find Terrence’s ex-partner, where he, once again, gets jumped, this time by a group of police officers. Later on, when Spenser is running after a car, he gets attacked by Lego, a dog. The third fight is at Marcela’s Burritos, where he gets attacked by members of a Dominican street gang involved in drug smuggling. Finally, the fourth and last fight is against Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine), the main villain and the brains behind all the murders.

This movie is not only funny, but it also examines corruption within the police system. It reminds us that justice is not always served and sometimes, more than we’d like, bad guys get to walk the streets free, framing innocent people for their acts. This movie serves as a reality check while making us laugh about Spencer getting beat up, his crazy ex-girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) and Hawk’s weirdness.

Spenser Confidential is also about relationships. We see Spenser and Hawk’s friendship grow during the movie. They start as rivals, Spenser being jealous that Hawk has been spending more time with his dog, Pearl, while he was away in prison. But the two roommates quickly bond and become friends. Spenser and Cissy’s relationship also improves and in the last scene together, they’re actually getting along and not yelling at each other.

This could easily be one of the best movies of the year, as it’s the perfect combination of an action-comedy and a drama. It’s funny, exciting, and we see the characters developing. For example, in the last fight, Spenser controls his anger and stops punching Driscoll, making a citizen’s arrest instead. As well, the performances are incredible and the plot keeps everyone alert. It keeps the audience wanting to know what Spenser’s next move will be, or when he’ll get beat up again, which is probably the funniest part.

Netflix Party, a new chrome extension, allows people to watch Netflix together virtually and offers a chat section to discuss the show or film. If one person pauses the video, it pauses it for the rest of the group, as if everyone were watching it on the same screen. This extension has gained popularity over the last few days, as people from all around the world are implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Stay at home, talk with some friends and put Spenser Confidential on to enjoy together from a distance. Stay safe!


Netflix premieres first Quebec production

“This isn’t my first film, but it almost feels like it,” said director Patrice Laliberté

Quebec’s first film produced as a Netflix original premiered at the 38th edition of the Rendez-vous Québec Cinéma festival on Feb. 28, a milestone for the Quebec entertainment industry, according to director Patrice Laliberté.

Laliberté explained that high expectations for the province’s first Netflix production made him somewhat nervous on the first day of filming.

“It’s an enormous stress,” Laliberté told The Concordian. “This isn’t my first film, but it almost feels like it.”

While The Decline is his first feature-length film, Laliberté has directed a number of shorts that address a deep fear of the world ending.

In spite of the pressure, Laliberté didn’t shy away from tackling topics that hit close to home.

He describes this film as “very much a thriller and action movie” that also takes on divisive issues such as eco-anxiety, gun control and the migrant crisis.

“I definitely feel [eco-anxiety] every day, although I don’t think I’m organized enough to become a survivalist,” Laliberté said with a laugh. “A survivalist lifestyle is very withdrawn—it’s all about protecting me, my stuff and distrusting the government. That’s not part of my fundamental values at all.”

Set in rural Northern Quebec and filmed in the Laurentians for the region’s wilderness and proximity to Montreal, the thriller follows a man (Guillaume Laurin) who undergoes survivalism training until his fate takes a tragic turn.

The director first heard of the term “survivalist” when studying urban militias and right-wing extremist groups for a film project in 2015. The term describes a member of survivalism, a movement in which individuals actively prepare for doomsday scenarios.

“One of the guys involved with the [urban militia] group was a survivalist, and this really made me want to explore the subject more, which I got to do through research for the [Decline] screenplay,” Laliberté said.

With a $5 million budget, Laliberté, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicolas Krief and Charles Dionne, didn’t take the project lightly.

The release of The Decline comes after a controversial 2017 agreement—spearheaded by then Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly—between the federal government and Netflix. The deal would have Netflix invest $500 million in original Canadian productions over five years. However, it drew criticism as it made no mention of a commitment to producing francophone content.

“I’m proud of how the work turned out, but there was a lot of backlash against Netflix after the Mélanie Joly deal,” Laliberté said. “Now, it seems everyone is looking to see how Netflix will position itself in a new market with this movie.”

In anticipation of The Decline’s online release, Netflix will dub the film in 10 languages and subtitles will also be made available. Laliberté has already watched his film in English.

“It’s pretty funny listening to the actors’ voices with their accents,” Laliberté said. “Using the same actors for the English version was Netflix’s idea, and I really liked it. It keeps all the colour of Canadian, francophone speech, even though they’ve dubbed their own voices.”

Until he begins writing his next project, Laliberté is focused on planning the fifth edition of  Plein(s) Écran(s), an online film festival that he founded in 2016, which is hosted entirely on Facebook. Participants submit their original short films for review and may earn thousands of dollars in prize money. Following the broadcasted award ceremony, viewers can watch the winning films on the Plein(s) Écran(s) Facebook page for 24 hours.

Audiences can catch screenings of The Decline in select theatres for a week, starting March 13. The movie will be available to stream on Netflix as of March 27.


Photos by Laurence B. D.

Exit mobile version