Celebrity Season 1 Review – A scandalous K-Drama entrenched in the culture it’s critiquing

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 30, 2023 (Last updated: 3 weeks ago)
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Celebrity Season 1 Review - A scandalous K-Drama entrenched in the culture it's critiquing
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Summary

Celebrity sometimes threatens to become the very thing it’s critiquing, and it’s much too long at 12 episodes, but it just about works as a scandalous mystery with impressive, layered performances.

This review of the 2023 Netflix K-Drama series Celebrity Season 1 does not contain spoilers.

Nothing makes me feel older than influencer culture.

What’s impossible to deny at this point, though, is that influencer culture is, for better and worse, simply culture. The power of social media and celebrity are so inextricably intertwined with capitalism and commerce that it’s hard to imagine having one without the other.

The Netflix K-Drama Celebrity, directed by Kim Cheol-kyu, taps into the facile world of rich, beautiful people holding up, wearing, or using items they want people to buy, and wraps it around a scandalous murder mystery in which the victim, in the first episode, reveals themselves to be very much alive.

Celebrity Season 1 review and plot summary

Seo Ah-ri (Park Gyu-young) is introduced as a top 1% influencer, in a framing device that sees her addressing her fans in a live stream, promising to reveal the so-called “cheat codes” of navigating celebrity culture.

The bulk of the twelve episodes, though, chart Ah-ri’s almost accidental rise to stardom through a chance encounter with an old school friend turned socialite. Born rich but ruined by her father’s business failure, Ah-ri makes a living selling cheap cosmetics door-to-door. Her drive to escape the circumstances she and her mother languish in leads her on a backstabbing journey through social media fame and fortune.

At the end of the first episode, though, the true hook of the series is revealed, and suddenly everyone in the moneyed Gabin Society of influencers is potentially a murderer – or an attempted murderer, at least.

The showy cast of Celebrity is capably led by Gyu-young in a multifaceted performance, but she’s matched by Kang Min-hyuk as third-generation conglomerate head Jun-kyung. The supporting cast might all be predominantly playing various flavors of vapidity, but there’s enough nuance and depth behind their carefully cultivated exteriors to make unpacking their actual personalities and backstories worth the investment.

It is quite an investment, though. Ah-ri warns in the first episode that this is a long story, and she’s right. The twelve episodes all run between 40-50 minutes apiece, which is on the shorter end by K-Drama standards, but still feels like far too much given that most of the runtime is devoted to needless frivolity to make obvious points.

Is the K-Drama Celebrity good or bad?

There is a decent mystery here, and relevant themes – of fame, identity, and the toll the former takes on the latter – are explored through the prism of these characters’ relationships and traumas. But these meaningful developments often only occur in the margins of episodes that spend too much time indulging in the lifestyle they’re ostensibly critiquing.

Is Celebrity worth watching?

Celebrity will be popular, though – of that there’s no doubt. It boasts excellent performances from talented young actors and plays in the deep end of a tumultuous contemporary culture that none of us can avoid. It only partially works as a cautionary tale, but it has all the right elements in front of and behind the camera to work as a scandalous drama.

What did you think of Netflix K-Drama Celebrity Season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series with a subscription to Netflix.


Additional reading:

Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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