Why Netflix's Squid Game is Such a Hit

These days it seems like every few weeks there is another movie or program that catches a ton of attention on Netflix, and some of the more popular releases break out even further by not only catching on in Netflix's own Top 10 lists but find new life in memes, viral videos, and all sorts of in-jokes. This time around it's Squid Game, an original series written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk featuring over 450 people competing in a series of deadly children's games in order to win a massive cash prize at the end of it all. 

Squid Game's popularity is a bit of a surprise (to even Netflix themselves) because while Korean dramas have huge followings, and a number of the ones available on the streaming service have taken off with fans, this one seems to have broken through to a multi-generational pop culture at large. This is tough for even the most hyped of series and movies making their debut on Netflix, so why is this one such a surprise hit? It's because of that incredible first episode. A good pilot can bring anybody into a series, but a great one keeps going through word of mouth. 

(Photo: Netflix)

Squid Game introduces a premise that many can unfortunately relate to in these harsh economic times. The series' first episode introduces us to Seong Gi-Hun, a father who has been divorced by his wife and lost custody of his daughter because of his history of joblessness and gambling troubles (though as the series continues we learn how nuanced his situation truly is). No matter what he does, it seems neither he or his mother can completely get out of their debt troubles, so Gi-Hun then decides to just keep living as is rather than truly face his problems head on. 

That is until he gets invited to play a strange game where he can either win tons of money or be slapped in the face. Not only is this approach inherently interesting to the audience, but it also proves how far Gi-Hun is willing to go for even the chance at winning some money. This already demonstrates the kind of person he is, and things get even more interesting when the actual game begins and we get to know him even more. The game itself is super intriguing as well as it features quite the elaborate set up and it's revealed that every contestant has not only been through the same recruiting process as Gi-Hun, but has mountains of debt as well. 

Then the main conceit starts to reveal itself. It's a faux type of equality. By playing this game, it's said that every person has the chance for a better life than they can actually get in the real world. But then it's revealed that this is just another cruel facet of how unlucky life really is as each game comes with a brutal cost. A brutal cost that's blanketed by the juxtaposition of a cartoonishly childish game and packaging. It's this blend of high intensity, economic struggle, and slight playfulness masking those harsh realities that makes for an incredible first episode. 

(Photo: Netflix)

And that's before you meet all of the characters! There are some introductions here and there to get you slightly invested in this first game, but the real trick of the series is using its first episode to get you hooked for the slower paced character introduction coming in the second. That's why Squid Game has been such a hit for Netflix. It's got the perfect kind of premiere that keeps you watching the rest of the series as soon as possible. Whether or not it sticks the landing is not really the point either, especially for Netflix. 

Squid Game's a hit because its packaging makes you interested enough to click play, and it's well-executed enough to get you to stick around because of that premiere. But what do you think? Have you checked out Squid Game yet? Let us know all of your thoughts about it in the comments! You can even reach out to me directly about all things animated and other cool stuff @Valdezology on Twitter!