Despite an extended strike sidelining much of the major networks’ output during 2017’s second half, Korean variety was quite strong this year.
Taking a look at the following list, it will quickly become clear that my taste tends to steer towards idol-specific variety series, which makes sense since this is a k-pop blog first and foremost. And with that criteria in mind, 2017 had a lot to offer.
Though both The Unit and MIXNINE didn’t quite make my list (for various reasons), I want to give them an honorable mention. Even though they’ve been messy and problematic at times, they’re reliably entertaining in their own way. I also want to give a shout-out to K-Pop Star, which ended its run with a strong season.
10. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER
Combine six idols from foreign countries, a bunch of cute kids, and the always entertaining hosting of Kang Ho Dong, and you have a highly entertaining — if slight — variety special. The Korean-language learning concept wouldn’t be able to sustain a whole series, and the special’s anticlimactic final round felt utterly pointless, but the idols’ visits to their young (and old) teachers’ houses were absolutely priceless.
9. OUTRAGEOUS ROOMMATES
Outrageous Roommates feels like We Got Married without the forced love lines, and like that series its success is entirely dependent on the casting. But smartly, Roommates never outstays its welcome, shuffling through a different combination of guests every couple of episodes.
8. PRODUCE 101 (SEASON 2)
There’s a reason Produce 101 is the star-making competition to beat. The Unit and MIXNINE have each aped Produce’s format to varying effect, but the original provided the kind of viral moments to build a phenomenon around. The fact that we got the tremendous Wanna One out of it is just icing on the cake.
7. STRAY KIDS
Stray Kids became the dark horse survival series by narrowing its focus on just nine participants, rather than the hundreds who competed on other like-minded shows. The stilted organization of the finale felt oddly anti-climactic, but the preceding missions were well-structured and engaging (especially the much-hyped YG vs. JYP battle). Throughout it all, the members of Stray Kids remained constantly endearing, and Park Jin Young continued to be TV gold.
6. SECRET VARIETY TRAINING INSTITUTE
Secret Variety Training Institute received a fair amount of criticism upon its release, and it’s true that the special was kind of a mess. But it’s one of the funniest pieces of idol variety that 2017 had to offer, highlighted by the “forced interaction” rooms, which resulted in some of the most brilliantly awkward (and sometimes touching) encounters all year.
5. SNOWBALL PROJECT
Though it eventually transformed into something very different than it started as (hence the “snowball” in the title), Snowball Project’s mocumentary style felt unique among 2017’s Korean variety offerings. Yoon Jong Shin and Henry made for excellent foils, but the wide-ranging supporting cast, drawn from both SM and Mystic Entertainment, provided some of the series’ best moments.
4. WANNA ONE GO – ZERO BASE
Wanna One have proven themselves to be lightning in a bottle when it comes to variety, and Zero Base capitalizes on that with a wonderfully simple premise. Imagine the secret hideout of every kid’s dreams, personalized for each individual member with a series of surprises waiting to reveal themselves. Unlike many idol variety conceits, the series feels remarkably unforced, offering a fly-on-the-wall view of a bunch of goofy guys plunged into superstardom.
3. I LIVE ALONE
I Live Alone has had a tremendous year, finally settling on a main cast that feels incredibly comfortable. A show like this relies on a sense of chemistry, and the current members have an easy-going family-like familiarity. With improving ratings come bigger guests as well, as the show offered slice-of-life glimpses at stars as big as BigBang’s Taeyang and Rain.
2. IT’S DANGEROUS BEYOND THE BLANKET
The best pilot of the year, and three of the funniest episodes 2017 had to offer. The cast was absolutely dynamite, from Kang Daniel’s scene-stealing presence to Lee Sang Woo’s charmingly reserved demeanor. With hilariously deadpan narration, the show’s focus on “introverted” celebrities resulted in unbelievable laugh-out-loud moments of almost unbearable social awkwardness.
1. SISTER’S SLAM DUNK (SEASON 2)
So often, Korean variety shows reserve only one or two spots within their cast for female contributors. But Sister’s Slam Dunk proved that an all-female cast can match — or surpass — the boys. Throughout Slam Dunk’s sixteen episodes, we followed the wonderfully dysfunctional “Unnies” group on their pursuit of k-pop glory. The show worked as a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the industry, a brilliant screwball comedy, and a triumph against the odds for this ragtag, musically-challenged group. Along the way, we were introduced to a supporting cast that became just as endearingly lovable as the ladies themselves.