The madcap gang of Running Man has lost a member, and the show seems to be losing its mojo
At the start of Episode 324 of Running Man, an off-camera producer promises a "nasty break-up" with Gary, the rapper who is splitting from the madcap gang of the South Korean variety show after seven years.
But it delivers a little more than that. The break-up spills over into Episode 325, and by the end of the two-part send-off, I remember the reasons I liked the show, but also why I stopped following it. In other words, the episodes feel like a microcosm of my split with the show.
Episode 324, which has many good moments, some silly and some moving, is the television equivalent of a photo album of an ex you can't bear to toss out.
It begins with the other six members of the cast - comedian Yoo Jae Suk, singer Kim Jong Kook, rapper Haha, actor Lee Kwang Soo, comedian Jee Seok Jin and Gary's soon-to-be former "Monday Girlfriend", actress Song Ji Hyo - arriving at a cafe for a briefing on Gary's departure.
Haha scores quickly, asking: "Then will the cameraman who's in charge of Gary quit as well?" and the others join in the riff, commiserating with the cameraman. This is classic Running Man, how well the members pick up a joke and run with it together.
It gets even better when Yoo and gang surprise Gary at his studio, where they start taping a string of farewell parlour games ahead of the schedule he was given.
Here, the comic highlight is the other members' hidden mission, which is to steal a series of objects, each bigger than the one before, from Gary during the taping. This becomes a hilarious arms race as the stars try with mounting desperation to move objects including a man-sized potted plant, a bicycle and a carpet unnoticed.
Then comes a bigger payoff, when Gary returns alone to the studio and finds that the members have not only returned the loot, but also left presents and letters. It's a bittersweet note where the break- up special should have ended.
Instead, in Episode 325, the stars are sent on a mission to visit Gary's neighbourhood on a shoestring and harass him like jilted exes from hell, calling him for help constantly and dropping by his studio without warning.
The concept is funny until it isn't.
The set-up of Gary having to humour his former colleagues and answer quiz questions by telephone goes stale fast.
By the time Song, Jee and Lee return to Gary's studio to steal a bicycle again, the show seems to have run out of comic steam.
It is possible that the episode is repetitive on purpose: It's a bad break-up, get it? It's the ex who won't go away and won't let Gary go, get it? Perhaps there is some winking self-parody here, some twinkling acknowledgement that the show itself is getting tired and may be outstaying its welcome.
VIEW IT / RUNNING MAN EPISODES 324 AND 325
Viu the website and app, any time on demand
Viu, any time on demand and on tvN (Singtel TV Channels 518 and 619 and StarHub TV Channel 824) on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9.15pm
At the end of the episode, the stars troop out of Gary's studio again and he cleans up after them again, saying: "They don't fail to amaze me."
This remark doesn't quite ring true, though. Because sometimes the show seems to be running out of surprises and just limping along.
What is Entourage, the Korean remake of the Hollywood buddy series, running on? In the first place, was the original a show that needed to be remade and given a K-drama gloss finish?
The American Entourage (2004-2011) was an affable, sporadically amusing void of a series about four guys from Queens, New York City, lolling around the movie capital, Los Angeles. It went by in half-hour episodes, before you could notice how empty it was.
By contrast, the hour-long episodes of the Korean Entourage feel as exhausting as marathons.
Horsing around in a bathhouse, waxing their bodies and leering at babes, the Korean bros (Seo Kang Joon, Lee Kwang Soo, Park Jung Min and Lee Dong Hwi) try so hard at dude humour that little of it is funny.
Time slows to a painful crawl, as I go on waiting for drama, meaning, something to materialise.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Running Man says goodbye to Gary'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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