Well... we can't say that we didn't see it coming. 'Invincible Youth 2' has been canceled, and along with it, one of the last idol-centric variety shows on a big network. Its last episode aired last Saturday - I'll be sad to see it go.
I first reviewed 'Invincible Youth 2' a few months ago, when it was transitioning into the 'Youth Hostel' that ended up being its final theme in a season that ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper last Saturday with abysmal viewer ratings of 3.6% (AGB Nielson nationwide). Rumors of the show's cancellation had begun long before then, and frankly, I was somewhat surprised that the announcement came as late as it did.
Before writing this retrospective, I sat down and skimmed over all of the 'Invincible Youth 2' episodes - starting with the very first one and ending with the very last. I have to echo my sentiments from my previous review: 'Invincible Youth 2' was, if you looked past the preconceptions, a worthwhile show to watch, especially as the season went on.
While it certainly lacked in many respects, it was also not the steaming pile of waste that many disgruntled viewers made it out to be. It was not the funniest show on the television, but it did have its small, cute moments here and there. While I may not recommend 'Invincible Youth 2' to anyone anytime soon, I must admit that - sometimes - I dig up one of my more favorite episodes, sit down with something to munch on, and take it for a spin.
The show can be broken down into three broad thematic 'periods': the first era beginning with episode 1 and ending with episode 18 as well as the removal of four of the cast members, and then changing once more at episode 32 with the introduction of Lee Young Ja and the creation of the 'Youth Hostel'. Each sub-season (so to speak) had a distinctly different vibe and theme; first trying to copy the friendliness and familiarity of Season 1, to transitioning into a game show, and finally ditching the farm setting altogether.
First Era (Ep. 1-18)
Big expectations, big plans, but in the end, left much to be desired in terms of execution.
First of all, it was a mistake - hands down - to not include a female MC among the cast. The G8 was comprised of entirely female idol group members; without a 'mother figure' to bounce jokes off of or create situations with, the comedy suffered.
Among the MCs that were casted, Lee Soo Geun was - not to mince words - out of his element. In a 'supporting' role (such as in '1 Night 2 Days' to Kang Ho Dong), he really shines. However, as a main MC, he stumbles. In 'Invincible Youth 2', he was supposed to fill the shoes of Noh Joo Hyun from the first season - interact with the locals, provide a link between them and the idols, and act as the 'kind-yet-stern grandpa' figure. He managed to do exactly none of those things, seemingly merely going through the motions.
Ji Hyun Woo shall not be mentioned in this article, other than to point out that he made season 1's Hyomin look like a variety genius. (Whether or not Hyomin was a variety genius is a different matter entirely.)
Which brings us to Boom, who - at the time of the show's conception - was riding high on a wave of goodwill and support based on his recent departure from the military. As his bubble evaporated, however, his limitations soon became painfully clear. Beyond the occasional catchphrase attempt and a joke here and there, Boom soon ran into a brick wall as he struggled with real variety (as opposed to studio varieties such as 'Strong Heart', where - it must be admitted - he's in his element).
Finally, the new idol village - a shining example of modern, urban architecture surrounded by a faux lawn - stood out like a sore thumb in the pastoral landscape. It seemed like it was a vacation for the idols rather than the true 'lived-in' atmosphere that viewers experienced with the first season right from the get-go.
In the end, everything seemed like a pale shadow of what 'Invincible Youth' used to be. While much of this can be chalked up to the usual settling-in period that all new variety programs must go through, the mistakes that the second season did make should not go unnoticed either. From the beginning, the show made several fatal mistakes that would impede its efforts to be successful throughout the rest of its run.
Second Era (Ep. 19-31)
With the removal of Lee Soo Geun, Lee Hyun Woo, Amber, and Woori, the reformed 'G6' welcomed a new MC into the idol village: season 1 veteran Kim Shin Young.
In many ways, this era of 'Invincible Youth 2' episodes remains an enigma. It is clear that the producers had a slight idea about what was going wrong - the absence of a female MC, too many members who simply weren't pulling their weight - but they also made several inexplicable changes to the show's format that, more often than not, made the show even worse.
The godforsaken 'jar game' made its appearance in this era. The game, which had the girls pick at random from a series of jars containing punishments, was uninspired, boring, and - when repeated over a series of episodes - stale. The punishments themselves were often crude and incredibly dangerous (flinging pepper? Really? What kind of hotshot junior producer thought that was a good idea?). Also, the jaw-droppingly stupid "hey-let's-stick-your-head-under-this-stressed-cow-and-hope-it-doesn't-bite" punishment was flat-out dangerous, and the producers should be thanking their lucky stars the show did not get slapped with a hefty fine for reckless endangerment.
It was during this second era that guests began to appear with increasing frequency as well. While there isn't anything necessarily bad about inviting guests, it does detract from the fixed cast members' ability to create characters and situations for themselves, since most of their energy must go towards securing airtime for the guests. In a show that was still struggling to get its bearings, the appearance of guests did not help 'Invincible Youth 2' in any way - apart from the momentary hype they generated.
If I sound somewhat bitter about the previous few episodes, it's because this was really the point in time when the show could've turned itself around.
In the waning days before the end of this second stage, the show did slightly improve; by getting rid of the cow-tongue punishment and scaling back on the game-to-work ratio, the show seemed to (somewhat) return to its original format. Kim Shin Young also proved to be a plus, establishing characters for the first time in the show's run, despite her and Boom's tendency to sometimes host things like a variety game show - instead of the show's original intentions as a true reality program. It was with this in mind that I had written my original, favorable review. All in all, the 'second era' cemented 'Invincible Youth 2' as not just unfunny, but uncomfortable to watch as well.
Third Era (Ep. 32 - end)
The creation of the 'Youth Hostel' marked the point when the producers simply threw up their hands and said, "Screw it, we're going full variety." Removing most of the few remnants of the original purpose of the program - farming, village life, townspeople - the show transitioned into a fully 100% variety show with Lee Young Ja and the further-trimmed 'G5' playing the roles of mother and daughters as well as hosting a new guest each week.
The benefit to this approach was that the show didn't, for the first time ever, feel like it was trying to do something it didn't want to do. Everything felt more natural, more 'in place' - every cast member had her role (thanks to the even smaller cast, but also thanks to Lee Young Ja's underrated hosting abilities), and the big, giant, ridiculous house they built finally came into good use.
The loss? This wasn't 'Invincible Youth' anymore. The last remnants of the old program had faded away into the dustbin of history. While that may have been a terrible development for many fans of the original series, when viewed from an objective lens, it may have been for the better. The show had wasted a couple of months trying to - at first - completely duplicate the first season, then attempt to graft those ideas into a poorly-executed game show-style format. Neither had worked particularly well, and it was time the show took a new direction, even if it meant abandoning its roots.
The story of 'Invincible Youth 2' is filled with what could have been. It could have been awesome, it could have been a rip-roaring success - heaven knows it had the potential to be so as the sequel to one of Korea's most heavily-exported shows ever; right in the middle of the Hallyu boom and featuring some of the top names in K-Pop, there was a massive amount of hype over the creation of a second season.
'Invincible Youth 2' took all of that hype and basically said, "Nope, sorry." If the producers behind this failed season could have thought a little more deeply, a little more carefully, about what had made the original 'G7' so beloved, perhaps the show would still be airing right now. Perhaps it would have a reputation as one of the funniest shows on television instead.
Although the ending of a variety show is a sad thing in and of itself, what is possibly even more important is that the closure of this program potentially signifies a drought in future idol variety programming.
Unfortunately, this is probably the last time we'll be seeing an idol-centric variety program on the 'big three' channels anytime soon. For the past couple of years, idol variety has been trending low - shows such as 'Bouquet', 'Heroes', 'Oh My School', and now, 'Invincible Youth 2' has been canceled due to suffering ratings.
Coupled with a general sense of 'idol overload' from the public, it paints a very stark picture for idol variety shows in the future. Not to say that idol shows aren't fun - in fact, 'Heroes' remains one of my favorite variety shows ever created - but the fact of the matter is, less and less viewers are interested in the same kind of thing.
Will there ever be an 'Invincible Youth 3'? In the near future, probably not. But who knows? Perhaps, one day, there'll be an empty spot in the schedule and a spunky producer could say to her/himself, "This concept deserves another chance."
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