"Come Watson, come! The game is afoot!"
It's comedy, it's drama, it's a murder mystery whodunnit and, at its heart, a giant escape room puzzle set in Seoul. That's Netflix's Busted! I Know Who You Are in a nutshell. It's a Korean series that recently premiered globally on the streaming service.
If you're unfamiliar with Korean variety shows, then Busted! should be quite an introduction. They usually feature an ensemble cast and mini-games or events focused on a theme, such as camping. In the case of Busted!, the cast are detectives solving cases around Seoul.
That premise takes the detectives through the streets of the South Korean capital, where intricate puzzled-filled sets lie in wait to confuse and confound them. There's a thin overarching plot about a mysterious scientist called "K" who implanted detective genes into our hosts to catch a murderer.
It's loads of fun, whether you like solving puzzles or you're just in it for the cast interaction. It seems people are getting behind the series -- Netflix is renewing it for a second season.
Showrunners Cho Hyo-jin and Kim Ju-hyung are behind one of Korea's popular variety programs, Running Man. That show has a similar theme, with hosts playing mini-games and traveling around Seoul landmarks.
Busted! shares two cast members with Running Man, Yoo Jae Suk and Lee Kwang Soo. Yoo is a South Korean star with a number of weekly shows under his belt -- he's the guy in the bright yellow suit from Psy's Gangnam Style video.
"We needed someone who could lead the mystery narratives and bring out the personality and character of each detective. Naturally Yoo Jae Suk, who we worked with in Running Man, was the first to come into mind," said the producers.
But it's not just Yoo who makes the show. There are six other cast members, both veterans and newbies, including Lee Kwang Soo, whose antics in Running Man have made him famous, singer Ahn Jae-wook and Kim Jong-min, who also stars in another popular Korean variety 2 Days & 1 Night. There's also actress Park Min-young and boyband idol Oh Se-hun. Newcomer Kim Se-jeong took a while to gel, but the jokes are flying fast and furious by the fourth episode. There are plenty of laughs to be had -- even if you don't understand or speak Korean.
New to the scene
Actress Park Min Young wasn't familiar with variety shows and told me she found filming physically challenging, especially when it involved chasing after villains or balancing on a giant see-saw. Even though this was her first time in the variety format, Park stood out. She's quick to figure out solutions to the clues and she's braver than her male counterparts.
"The reaction the older guys showed when a snake appeared was certainly not acting," said Park.
"I was of course scared, but maybe a little braver than the older guys," added Park. "[Kim] Sejeong was so brave as well, I think the female cast was more adventurous."
It's not just dealing with snakes in boxes, Park is quick on her feet as well. Crew members aren't allowed to interfere once filming starts, and the cast don't know what will happen when they begin a new challenge. This leads to a hilarious moment in the first episode when she encounters a room filled with spinning poles.
"As the log came rolling, but I didn't have enough time to get out of the way, and I got desperate and just laid down," said Park.
Not your usual variety
But the show's not just about the gags. The charm lies in its puzzles, which you can solve alongside the cast. The clues aren't easy to figure out as the crew spent more time in planning than standard productions do.
Showrunners describe the show's most unique feature as "virtual reality". We see the candid reactions of the hosts, immersing us in the action on screen. It's a perspective the producers believe is unique to their show.
Part of the experience also lies in how carefully the episode is cut. This can sometimes involve a production device that fans call "scripting": Deus ex machina plot elements can appear to advance the story or bail the hosts out of a situation if they're stuck. It's often criticized by fans but in Busted! it works, especially if you're a new viewer.
Unlike other Korean variety shows, Busted! has a running storyline, which the showrunners hoped would help engage global viewers. It also has fewer captions than other Korean variety shows. Instead, it uses images and audio explanations to help viewers along.
Busted! will focus more on mysteries and storytelling in its second season, while special episodes will focus on the laughs.
"Since we believe that the characters of the detective team have been established progressively in season one, season two will be able to focus more on the links between the episodes and the overarching narrative based on advanced mystery-solving and humor. There will also be characters with various secrets appearing throughout season two," said the producers.
The second season's release date hasn't yet been revealed, but Netflix would do well not to wait too long, especially since Korean variety is best consumed weekly. If you can't wait though, there's always Running Man and 2 Days & 1 Night to satisfy your variety fix in the meantime. Or you can dive into the wonderful world of Korean drama with our beginner's guide.
Busted! I Know Who You Are streams globally on Netflix.