Updated: Aug 10
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.
Being a fly on the wall for a conversation like that is kind of amazing, because these are situations that we can never experience, and that means we don’t have to work through the complexities that come with that degree of visibility, scrutiny and idealisation. While we don’t necessarily need to feel sorry for beautiful, rich and famous celebrities, it’s not difficult to feel a pang of sympathy for what you lose in the tradeoff, and how severely it narrows their ability to interact with a wider world. The boys have a shared understanding of the distance their celebrity creates between them and everyone else, but we also see them draw much-needed solace that they’re all in it together.
I’m afraid I don’t know much about Peakboy(2), but all three actors can claim international recognition and a comparable level of fame: Park Seo-joon because, well, he’s Park Seo-joon, Choi Woo-shik more recently thanks to his role in Parasite, and Park Hyung-shik’s acting career builds on his idol fame from his ZE:A days (note especially the international glee over Strong Girl Bong Soon, in which he is absolutely incandescent but the drama is…less consistent).(6)
But even in the menagerie of A-listers, Taehyungie's fame (by ways of BTS) is incomparable, and even in many ways, incomprehensible. It’s easy to imagine that his "world star" status can set him apart in a way that could be very isolating and lonely. But for all that he looks aloof and untouchable, the group maknae (youngest) is basically a puppy in human form, and the sight of him trailing adorably after the hyungs just makes my heart go all bursty.(7)
All of these boys (fine, men) are used to being under the constant gaze of cameras, of course. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that we are privileged with some of their unguarded moments, and genuine conversations. Yes, the show is a carefully curated experience, and at least three of them have every ability to manufacture that authenticity, but you know what? I still think it’s real, and I think there are periods when they let themselves forget the cameras, and certainly don’t feel a need to play up to them.
The sense of genuine authenticity (a double positive makes it really real, right?) is undoubtedly facilitated by the use of unmanned cameras, discreetly placed around the house and grounds. It frees them from the intrusive, invasive nature of a full camera crew(8), and if it’s not real privacy, it’s at least the illusion of it, for them and for us.
That may be the real allure of the show: that it invites us into a private-feeling space, and allows us to be part of it in a way that is obviously vicarious, but also emotionally real. And rather than it being a dispensable bonus, how much it leaves me howling with laughter is a huge and integral part of how this show works its healing magic: the laughter is therapeutic and cleansing, the love is sweet with a touch of heartache, and the soul-searching is a sincere gift from a beloved friend, even if they may be distant.
And so we come to my only complaint: I’m out of episodes to watch, and I like it so, so much. Instead, I’ve had to raid the crypt and am now watching the original BTS one, even though I am a K-pop dummy and much less familiar with them (although HIGHLY SURPRISINGLY I can identify at least five of the members!). I LOVE how these kids can turn anything into a musical moment 💜. It’s very soothing to watch people who like each other doing things that make them happy—together, alone, or alone together. Their ease with each other just, ugh, beautiful. You can always seduce me with a heartfelt bromance, scripted or otherwise.
(1) I’m still not 😭
(2) I was going to google, but there are some things where I don’t think googling is sufficient, and this is one of them. Some types of knowledge must be absorbed organically and in the wild, otherwise it doesn’t count. Anyone can do the google, but not everyone can know the knows.
(3) I mean, I think he’s perfectly fine, but I don’t have strong feelings about him after a run of meh dramas. Peak PSJ for me was Kill Me, Heal Me/Witch’s Romance, and everything else since then has run the gamut of ever-so-slightly-disappointing to what-a-travesty-how-could-you. What about Hwarang, you ask? Well, what you have to understand about Hwarang is that the main character was Park Hyung-shik’s Faceless King, not as most were led to believe, Park Seo-joon. Sorry Park Seo-joon. I’ll still be excited if I ever bump into you in London.
(4) They're so funny and I love them so much 😭
(5) Or perhaps sleepy
(6) This isn’t to say they didn’t do noteworthy work before these points, but these were the points they hit peak global interest. Although as a totally disinterested third party, I would also argue Park Hyung-shik is always of peak global interest.
(7) If anyone is familiar with Fruits Basket: TAEHYUNGIE IS MOMIJI. I just realised! Also I love him from his Hwarang days.
(8) An intrusion brought fully home to me after last week’s episodes of Miracle (11-12) and the boys’ horrible attempt to manufacture real bro moments under the weighty gaze of their crew two feet away, frenemy status notwithstanding.