Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Highly recommend to all. It's very peaceful and funny and I feel incredibly healed after watching it.
I started In the Soop: Friendcation (인더숲: 우정여행) by accident when the first episode released a few weeks ago.
I had just come off a 48-episode round trip with Arsenal Military Academy, and I wasn't feeling quite ready either to move on or to jump into a new high-intensity drama.(1) At the time of writing, there are two episodes out, but I am already an absolute goner.
This show is so funny but also gentle. At times it's quiet, pure quiet, and at others, it's boisterous in the way only young men joyfully set loose can be. The group consists of Park Hyung-shik, Park Seo-joon, Kim Tae-hyung (aka V from BTS, hereafter known as Taehyungie—these three were all in Hwarang together), Choi Woo-shik and Peakboy, who is the only one I didn't know before but I like him a lot as a gentle giant type.
They are collectively known as “the Wooga Squad” for reasons unknown to me but very likely better known by you, dear reader.(2) 😄
The things these kids come up with! Let me tell you, if you didn’t like them before the show, you surely will after. They’re just each so wholesomely endearing in their own particular way.
Park Seo-joon—who, I’ll be honest, I don’t love (3)—quietly plays mama bear and caretaker to everyone, while Peakboy is like the comfortable hyung who makes you feel really safe. And little baby Taehyungie is just so... so little! Like a drowsy, tousled bunny, faithfully following the hyungs. Hyungshikie and Wooshikie (yes they are my friends, be quiet) join the group a little later so we haven’t seen too much of them yet, but we wiiiilllll, I’m excited! (4)
I don’t watch much variety and my exposure has been limited to the mid-2010s Na PD type (i.e. the Grandpas/Noonas/Youth Over Flowers series etc.), which means I have a Pavlovian expectation of meeting a devious twist in a dark alley—but not this show! It also serves an easily digestible runtime of just under an hour, unlike the stamina-sapping 90-minute runtime of other popular variety shows.
In the Soop has a simple but wonderful conceit: describe your ideal fantasy vacation, and the production team will make it happen.
There are no secret budget constraints, the dream doesn’t have a booby trap at the bottom—it’s all exactly at face value, but better.
So if you joked about something you wanted and it was silly or strange... maybe you’ll get that too. And if you want to roast a chicken around a campfire but also eat fancy steak and also play pingpong and also go swimming and also go fishing on a boat in the sea... maybe you can. It’s an entirely uncynical gift, both to the guests and to the viewers.
What I love most is how evidently and how much they love each other.
There are all these times where they’re doing things like unpacking, or eating a meal, or dividing a task, and an easy silence settles on them—easy, but not empty. Those quiet moments are filled with small unspoken things they do for each other without breaking rhythm. They seem to fall immediately into sync, easily reading each other’s movements—and minds. The more time they spend together, the less they need to say and I just love how comfortable they are in each other’s close space.
And that's why their unexpectedly frank fireside conversation in Episode 2 is so fascinating.
They're all sitting there—bundled up in down-filled puffer jackets, sporting rough five o’clock shadows and trying not to catch fire—having the kind of conversation you can only have in the wee hours with the lights low.
They reflect on their friendship and how they met, how they deal/dealt with each other's fame (and beauty), and the subtle weight it continues to exert even literally now. And how very grave(5) Taehyungie is, but also how much the hyungs ground him. Seo-joon says very frankly that he chooses to see Tae-hyung just as himself—who he is unvarnished in front of them. If he had to take him in all his astronomical stardom, "Then I couldn't see him... I couldn’t see him."
And oddly, I can relate to that, and maybe you can too. I (surprisingly!) have friends who are famous and highly visible, and I've also gone through the process of having to make a deliberate decision to put that aspect of them aside, and see only the friend I know.
I don't know that those two faces can co-exist in your relationship when one is the person and the other is the persona—not without messing with your friendship, or at the very least, your head. One is a living, breathing, messy reality while the other is a carefully composed creation not designed for all the vagaries of real life, only specific situations. You can’t be friends with the persona.