Entertaining and, frankly, ludicrous, Busted! I Know Who You Are is a k-variety show that is interesting and potentially significant in what it might mean for the streaming giant going forward.
The Korean variety show scene is alien to me; a strange, multi-coloured world that is energetic and entertaining and also, it must be said, a bit insane. Were it not for my role here I likely wouldn’t have ever discovered something like Busted! I Know Who You Are, despite all the publicity the thing has been getting for its somewhat unique distribution model. Debuting on Netflix today, May 4, and airing two episodes a week for the next five weeks, Busted! represents something of a change for how the streaming giant treats its international shows, with its first two episodes, “Forewarned Murder” and “Treasure Island”, being two of the first from an international show to avoid the usual direct-to-binge method of content delivery.
The premise is that seven main cast members position themselves as detectives – one complete with classic Holmesian outfit, no less – and, each week, set out to solve a mystery. It’s a weird blend of drama and comedy, adult and not-so-adult, and a range of (mostly western) influences that pull ideas from all corners of popular culture. The show apparently features an all-star K-variety cast of people I’ve never heard of, including Yoo Jae-suk, Lee Kwang-soo, and Kim Jong-min. Ahn Jae-wook and Park Min-young are dramatic actors foraying into K-variety, while Sehun of Exo and Sejeong of Gugudan are, as I understand it, K-pop stars, which Google informs me is pop music with a K in front of it.
The first episode, “Forewarned Murder”, styles itself as one of those now-popular murder games in which one of the cast plays the culprit, while the second episode, “Treasure Island”, is a treasure hunt on an island. I don’t want to give too much away, of course, as the entire point of the show is to not have much information, and the tone is so wavering and anarchic that I don’t imagine I’d do a good job anyway. I’m sure most people have determined whether or not they’re interested in Busted! I Know Who You Are based on whether they understood the preceding paragraphs. For the most part I didn’t, and I wrote them.
Still, the business behind Busted! is undeniably fascinating, and it’s odd to see Netflix indulge such an unusual project with a weekly format typically reserved for its talk shows. You can understand it, in those cases, as such things are typically driven by timeliness, whereas Busted! isn’t. It also – despite having a sort-of overarching continuity – isn’t really a written dramatic show that would benefit from building tension one week at a time (although it’ll be granted multiple opportunities to grace Netflix’s front page.) Why, then, is Busted! I Know Who You Are being afforded such special treatment?
I found it entertaining, particularly as an oddball curiosity that I felt as if I was trying to understand as I went along, and the cast are very likable, but that can’t be the only reason. Netflix do, of course, benefit from treating their international properties with more care and respect, and experimenting with their method of distribution works as a goodwill gesture, if nothing else.
I suspect, though, that the decision has been made as part of a more long-term move towards simulcasting, the absence of which has hampered the platform’s anime library and certain other overseas shows by allowing spoilers to be leaked ahead of the Netflix releases, and by depriving fans of the satisfaction you get from experiencing something at the same time as everyone else.
Busted! seems an unusual starting-point, but what do I know? As I say, the show is entertaining to someone clueless like me, even if I did find the episodes to be somewhat overlong. “Forewarned Murder” runs for 97-minutes; “Treasure Island” runs for 83, both of which strike me as unnecessary running times that neither episode really managed to sustain. That could quite easily be a standard feature of k-variety shows, mind, and I’m not really in a position to say one way or the other. Feature-length, though? Yikes.
Anyway, don’t let me keep you. In this instance I’m not particularly useful to you anyway; I’m a newcomer to the genre, and you probably know better than I do whether you’d be into something like Busted! I Know Who You Are. Still, if you were wondering what is is and why it might matter, now you know. Kind of.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.