As September draws to a close, so did Summer Vacation: the latest variety show from producer Na Young-seok. Na is known for shows like One Night Two Days and Three Meals a Day. The only cast members are actress Jung Yu-mi and actor Choi Woo-sik, who starred alongside each other in Train to Busan. Their goal? To have a relaxing summer break away from Seoul. Though inviting the audience to rest and relax with the cast, Summer Vacation ultimately ends up being a dull watch overall.
Summer Vacation aired every Friday on cable network tvN for ten episodes, with the final episode airing last week. In order to achieve their healthy and relaxing summer vacation, there is a checklist of three things that Yu-mi and Woo-sik must complete daily. First, they must journal what they did. Second, they must eat more than one healthy meal a day, though what constitutes a healthy meal is not strictly defined. Lastly, they must complete one hour of exercise. The small checklist is not strictly enforced, and there are no consequences for completing the daily tasks.
The show wishes to remind its audience of the innocent summer holidays that they may have had as children. Holidays with friends and family where your biggest worry was what you were going to eat next, and what time you could go to the beach. Angling for a nostalgic, natural narrative, there are very little special effects used that fans of Korean variety shows may be used to. Shots of the scenery of the town and the ocean surrounding it are also frequently incorporated to evoke a sense of peace.
The small cast, made up of Yu-mi and Woo-sik and the dog of the original landlord, are a likeable trio. Yu-mi is clearly the responsible and laid-back older sister, while Woo-sik is the more mischievous and carefree younger sibling. Their chemistry with the guests, however, is one of the highlights of the show.
Guests include actors Park Seo-joon, Park Hee-soon, Park Sun-kyun, Ahn So-hee (formerly of Wonder Girls), and photographer Choi Yong-bin. All of the celebrities have worked with Yu-mi and Woo-sik on various films: Park Sun-kyun starred in critically acclaimed Parasite with Woo-sik, and Ahn So-hee starred in Train to Busan with both Woo-sik and Yu-mi. All of the guests are clearly comfortable with Yu-mi and Woo-sik, and the natural banter and stories they share as friends can be amusing to watch. They also serve the purpose of the show well, as viewers may be reminded of the times they sat and enjoyed a meal on a warm summer day with friends and family.
However, Summer Vacation lacks a certain oomph and episodes often feel like they drag on. Simple concepts for variety shows can be fun and popular, as the enduring popularity of Three Meals a Day has proven. Unfortunately for Summer Vacation, the simplicity of the show ultimately becomes its weakness as many of the episodes can feel repetitive.
Yu-mi and Woo-sik, and their guests, seem to enjoy themselves as they get a break away from Seoul to relax, but that enjoyment fails to cross over as entertainment for the viewers. The cast has the freedom to decide what to do with their day, but it results in an emphasis on the slow-moving, drama-free everyday activities. Watching Yu-mi and Woo-sik cooking, cleaning, doing other household chores, and playing with the dog can be relaxing but the charm is bound to wear off, which it eventually does.
Granted, they do all the quintessential summer activities for a summer break by the ocean. They go to the local beach and learn to surf, even becoming friends with the owner of the local surf store. They also experience a temple stay, as they spend a night at a local Buddhist temple. Woo-sik also learns how to bake scones at a local café, showing off his new skills for their friends. Such activities are sparse throughout the episodes, and the show fails to be consistently engaging.
Good chemistry and a few amusing moments cannot make up for the overall blandness of Summer Vacation. Though it may not be the most entertaining variety show, Summer Vacation hopes to be a breath of fresh air for an audience sure to be tired inside and may be on your watchlist if you missed a summer getaway of your own this past summer.
(Images via tvN)