By Jenna Gibson
Although they may not know it, over the last few years, American TV watchers have seen several Korean TV shows appear on their screens. NBC’s “Better Late Than Never,” which follows the antics of American celebrities in their 70s and 80s as they travel around the world together, was based on the Korean show “Grandpas Over Flowers.” And ABC’s successful medical drama “The Good Doctor,” focused on the life of a surgical resident with autism, was based on a Korean drama of the same name. Will this usher in a new wave of American versions of Korean TV programs? Here are five great Korean shows that may resonate well with an American audience.
1. King of Masked Singer
Anyone who watches a lot Korean TV knows that there is no shortage of singing-related competition shows in Korea. Korea has several of the typical singing elimination programs, but it also has some singing competitions with a twist – including King of Masked Singer. The program features famous singers and other celebrities who belt out covers of popular songs – but while wearing a (ridiculous, glittery, over-the-top) mask. The idea is for a panel of guest judges to guess who the singer is – and to evaluate their voice free from any prior conceptions they may have about that person. Americans may be familiar with the program thanks to a recent viral clip of Ryan Reynolds making a surprise appearance on the show, covering “Tomorrow” from Annie while wearing a sparkly unicorn mask. With the return of American Idol and The Voice still going strong, there may be some interest among Americans for a new kind of singing program – in fact, Fox may already be developing an American version of this show, although details and timeline is unclear.
2. Strong Woman Do Bong Soon
Comic book movies are taking over the box office, and people are calling for more female superheroes in the wake of “Wonder Woman.” Korea may have the perfect answer with “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon.” With her superhuman strength, Do Bong Soon gets a job as a bodyguard for a super-rich and super-snobby CEO, and hijinks (and sexual tension) ensue. This show (and many other romantic Korean dramas) might be particularly primed for an American run now that we’ve seen more Netflix-style mini-series, since its will-they-or-won’t-they romance plot might get old past a dozen or so episodes.
Whether or not this show gets an American remake, you can check it out on Netflix with English subtitles under the name “Strong Girl Bong-soon.”
3. Return of Superman
One of Korea’s most popular and long-lasting variety shows on air right now is Return of Superman, a fun reality show that follows the lives of celebrity dads as they take care of their adorable kids. Besides just showcasing the real lives of celebrity families, the show is often educational – the show will sometimes feature expert guests who show the fathers how to teach their kids about resolving conflict, not to talk to strangers, etc. One of the best parts of the show is watching the kids (and their dads) grow and learn new things. With American audiences still eating up even the most toxic of reality TV shows, this could be a nice antidote to some of that drama-filled programming.
You can watch full episodes of Return of Superman with English subtitles on KBS World’s YouTube channel.
4. Please Take Care of My Refrigerator
If there’s one type of show that can rival the number of singing programs on Korean TV, its food shows – so any list of Korean TV programs has to include something with cooking. One program that has a fun twist is “Please Take Care of My Refrigerator,” which pits chefs against each other to make a great meal in just 15 minutes – using just the ingredients found in a guest’s refrigerator. While each episode shows off the great cooking skills that Food Network fans love to watch, it’s also more approachable than most cooking shows, since it reveals creative ways to use all the random ingredients you forgot you bought during your last trip to the grocery store. Fans of Chef Gordon Ramsay may have heard of this show – he appeared as a special competitor late last year.
You can watch this show on Netflix with English subtitles under the name “Chef & My Fridge.”
This drama can capitalize on a couple of major trends in American TV – it’s a police procedural, which can be ratings gold, but with some time-travel thrown in which could capitalize on the recent resurgence of nostalgia-based programming. But, most importantly, it’s good – the show ended up as one of the highest rated Korean dramas from a cable network, and won a slew of writing and acting awards. Although the show wrapped up after 16 episodes, its plot is intriguing and versatile enough that it could easily be extended into an American style show with multiple seasons.
You can watch the entire show with English subtitles on Viki.
Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from islandjoe’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.