Ever since I started exploring the world of South Korean television last year, I admit to occasionally boring my friends with it. They’re patient, particularly the Weekday IRC Crew (represent!), but I can feel eyes glossing over whenever I start talking about that drama where the leads swap bodies or the latest double-crossing in The Genius. Yes, yes, Liore. We know.
But put all that aside for a moment while I tell you about a television show that has become one of my favorite shows ever, and one that I have already watched for literally hundreds of hours. That show.. is variety show Running Man.
Each week on Running Man the 7 stars (8 in the early days) and a few celebrity guests are given challenges, and inevitably have to try and eliminate each other by tearing off nametags stuck to the back of their shirts. The challenges vary wildly between shows, from speed-eating a firey octopus dish to building a cardboard boat and rowing across the Han River to a rock paper scissors showdown on a train where the loser gets left at the next station.
Why do I love this show so much? Read on!
1) Everyone is happy!
Man, I know it makes me a sap but sometimes I really enjoy watching people be kind and awesome to each other. The team dynamic on Running Man is amazing, and even when they “double cross” their teammates it’s clearly all in good fun.
2) It makes me laugh.
Look, I enjoy bleak television and movies a lot, but even I like to just chill out sometimes. It is rare for an episode of Running Man to not make me tear up with laughter at least once. Yes, it’s a show aimed at children as much as at adults, but sometimes a little wholesome laughter is good for the soul, or something like that.
3) The celebrity guests are in on the fun.
Running Man is a very popular show and they get some pretty big names as guests, particularly from the K-Pop scene. And these huge stars are mostly just as good natured and up for some fun as the hosts! There is something sort of sweet about seeing members of Super Junior or Girls Generation gamely get into competitive hula hooping or whatever.
4) I can learn a bit about another culture.
I have been known to say in the past that you can learn a lot about a country by watching its reality television. It’s a pretty superficial glance, of course, but it can be an interesting “inside” look. (I am admittedly a foreign reality show junkie and will watch everything from Africa’s Next Top Model to MasterChef New Zealand.) Watching a ton of Running Man has taught me a bit about South Korean culture, like when to use honorifics in speech or that tteokbokki is the most popular late night street food (and is delicious).
5) The shows are available via streaming and the subtitles are top notch.
As mentioned above, I’ve watched a lot of non-English television and the group that subtitles Running Man is hands down the best I’ve seen. (And they’re volunteers! Thank you iSubs!) The idioms are all translated in an expressive way for English-speaking audiences, and many episodes even include notes for the vast collection of musical queues the show uses. And forget torrents — all 200 (and counting) episodes are available through online streaming in HD, thanks to dedicated fans.
So if you want to give Running Man a shot, you could start with the very first episode in my link just above. It’s a good introduction to the cast, but keep in mind that just like any show the pilot is a little rocky while people find their feet. I think for new watchers I would also recommend #60, called “The Tru-Gary Show” (yes, that is supposed to be like the “The Truman Show”), where Gary thinks he is the spy but in fact everyone else is secretly in on the joke. Or #74, when each of the cast gets a special “super power”!
Basically what I’m saying is: Running Man is awesome and you probably should watch it.