As some of you may recall, when I first heard about the casting decisions made for Invincible Youth 2, I was giddy with excitement. The decision to cast Sunny, Hyoyeon, and Amber all together on one show was already a winning combination in my eyes. Admittedly, I felt a bit uneasy about the fact that there would be no female MC equivalent of Kim Shinyoung from Season 1, but I felt that even if the MCs in Season 2 did not end up being up to par, the girls themselves could still manage to make up for it on their own.
Boy, I was wrong.
Instead, this season has so far turned out to be, for lack of a better word, quite boring. All of the magic and spunky country charm that was what drew us to the original Invincible Youth has so far failed to show up. That being said, I still think that we have a wonderful cast of girls this time around; the fault of the new season lies not with the girls themselves, but rather with the MCs and scriptwriters for not staying true to the heart of the show.
It’s hard not to draw parallels in between Invincible Youth 2 and Family Outing 2, which was similarly notorious for running into the ground. Like Invincible Youth, Family Outing was originally a family-oriented program that was very much steeped in fun, adventures, and games in the countryside. Furthermore, what made the first season of both shows so great was that the cast members were able to form a ragtag family of characters who had a unique set of dynamics that never failed to amuse. In the second season of Family Outing, the focus of the show shifted towards an emphasis on idols, and tried to rely on gimmicks such as scripted love-lines between Taecyeon and Yoona, which — needless to say — everyone got tired of real fast. Not even were the flamboyant personalities of the variety-gold Jo Kwon and Heechul able to save the season from its demise. So why did a show that contained not one, but four idols that were red-hot commodities at the time end up failing so hard? Wouldn’t it have logically been a recipe for success? The answer lies not necessarily in the casting, but rather in the change in direction and format of the show. When the focus in Family Outing 2 shifted away from developing camaraderie between the cast members and their community and more towards catering toward the idols, the entire essence and magic of the original show dried up and disappeared as well.
I feel as though the same kind of identity crisis is happening to Invincible Youth 2. The right-off-the-back, easy problem to identify is that the MC choices that they made for the new season were pretty terrible. Ever since Boom came back from the army, he seems to be trying a little too hard to crack cheap jokes that simply aren’t that funny. I think Boom is an interesting guy to have around in small doses, but too much and he becomes obnoxious and belligerent (such as when he constantly teases Jewelry‘s Yewon about her laminate teeth). The young actor, Ji Hyun-woo, presents the opposite problem. He’s likeable (handsome, tall, nice, and sings and plays the guitar) but at the same time, he’s so quiet and shy that you barely notice that he’s there unless it’s explicitly scripted for him to fulfill some sort of role at a given moment. And don’t even get me started on the SNSD-loving village chief. I know that he’s only trying to be funny, but his steadfast bias just comes off to me as mean and creepy. The only MC that I do think was cast correctly for this show is the adorable Lee Soo-geun, but it seems that most of the time he is in the background, letting Boom take care of most of the work.
With the implementation of these three male MCs, the relationship dynamic among the whole cast is markedly different. In Season 1, the cast developed into a virtual sort of family, with the Village Chief Noh as the father figure, Road Lee as the cute and enigmatic uncle figure, Bear Tae-woo as a gruffly cute older brother figure, and of course, Shinyoung as the silly mother figure that doubled as the glue that held everyone (the girls, as well as their relationship to the community) together. The fact that there is no one to replace Shinyoung (as the role of the strong, older female MC) in the new season leads to a feeling of overall disconnect. Although the girls have begun to form new friendships, the cast as a whole has yet to feel like an actual family.
The other main problem with Invincible Youth 2 is that like what happened in Family Outing 2, whoever was in charge of writing the script for the new season seems to have entirely missed the whole point of the original show! Invincible Youth was always just as much about the community and the village, as it was about the girls themselves. And I say girls, because in Season 1, they really behaved more like girls and less like idols while they were on the show. Above all, the original season emphasized the importance of self-reliance, respect for elders, giving back to the community, and immersing yourself in arduous rural work. In the second season, I get the sinking feeling that the filming of the show is actually more of an inconvenience to the local community than a source of help. In fact, I feel like the villagers end up doing more behind-the-scenes work for the show than the girls themselves, who spend their time being driven around on boats, playing games, and biting the legs off of poor octopi.
Part of the reason for this change is due to the fact that while general farm work would have allowed the girls to have a lot more freedom in running around and managing their own tasks, in Season 2, the girls’ self reliance is significantly diminished at sea. Most of the tasks at sea require the supervision of local fishermen to navigate their boats, as well as to utilize the proper technique to net and draw in their fishing lines. The girls each get their turn at trying the tasks, but ultimately, they are spectators trying to appear as though they’re doing things on their own, when they’re actually not.
In addition, the girls have their new house practically built and provided for them (it also seems much nicer than the neighboring residents’ houses), and the first thing that they sit down to do is talk about the things they wanted to fill it with, such as fancy refrigerators, televisions, and karaoke machines! This is a far cry from the humble beginnings of Season 1, which opened up with the girls needing to provide for themselves even the simplest of necessities, such as digging and building their own urinal, cleaning the chicken coop, and helping with menial village work such as gathering smelly gingko nuts. In Season 1, the Idol Village was a labor of love that was built and nurtured by the girls themselves (giving it special meaning and significance), over time.
If anything, the girls that were cast are the only saving grace of this show as it stands. I’ve grown to like all of the girls — especially Amber and Suzy — and I think that it will be enjoyable to watch their friendships grow. The only broadcasted segment that managed to fully captivate my attention so far was Suzy and Jiyoung‘s “Giant Maknae’s Daebudo Talk Show! Hello G8 Problem Solver” which also happened to be the one activity that the girls (and not the men around them) actually were able to direct for themselves. It was great to see the girls truly open up and try to help each other with their respective insecurities, and I can only hope that further episodes of this season will show similar emphasis on human relationships and growth, rather than on trivial tasks and bad jokes.