Writing for TV: Squid Game Pilot
2021 was filled with incredible shows, films, and mini-series for us to digest. If there was one show that made headlines across the board as soon as it came out, it was Squid Game. People raved the show for its themes, performances, dark comedy, and most importantly, its writing.
Created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game is about hundreds of cash-strapped players accepting a strange invitation to compete in children's games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes, a survival game with a whopping 45.6 billion-won prize at stake.
Writing for TV is a daunting task, but analyzing masterful shows like Squid Game help outline what to do script-wise for your TV idea. Nevertheless, below will highlight writing for TV and the Squid Game pilot. What makes this first episode so unique, and what can we learn from it? Let’s take a look!
Still from 'Squid Game'. Photo credit: Crespo's Cave
The most significant appeal a show like Squid Game has for audiences is its storytelling. Although we’ve seen game shows with a deadly stake before, Squid Game takes it to a whole new level, satisfying even mainstream audiences. It’s not every day a show like Squid Game becomes the most popular show on Netflix.
Part of that reason Squid Game is so popular has to do with its characters and their stories. We get the backstory of Gi-hun immediately, a degenerate who blows what little money he has gambling on horses. Despite all of Gi-hun’s faults, we feel some relatable to a degree, given that most people go through a period of struggle at some point.
Squid Game’s first episode works because it’s not just about the insane game of Red Light Green Light. It instead utilizes much of the episode to introduce characters, why they’re a part of the game, and the stake of it all. It’s a great representation of desperation, which we’ll talk about more later.
Not Afraid to Use Gore
Unlike most other television series, Squid Game is pretty bloody. Now, it’s not as gory as some Horror films like the Evil Dead or The Descent, but it does have a good amount of blood in it. Much of that gore isn’t seen until the Red Light Green Light game. Still, the show isn’t afraid to show gore is out of the ordinary for a mainstream show.
Generally speaking, writers are scared to have any bit of gore in their shows because they feel it won’t appeal to everyone. Given that so many people are desensitized from gore due to film and video games, it makes sense why Squid Game wasn’t afraid to have it a part of its story.
After all, since the show is about a contest with deadly stakes and many desperate people, the gore needs to be a part of it. This isn’t a Marvel film; it doesn’t naturally cut away or not show some gore whenever someone is shot. The deaths are more impactful rather than just arbitrary deaths.
Brutally Realistic Stories in a Fictional Story
As fictional as Squid Game is, the backstory of Gi-hun feels incredibly realistic. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, the notion of struggling has only gotten more robust, with so many people not knowing if they can afford their bills. It’s an unfortunate reality that makes Squid Game so powerful.
Although we don’t get much information about the other characters Gi-hun eventually meets, we piece it together enough that they’re in similar circumstances as Gi-Hun. It’s a writing lesson about the importance of characters and how the characters drive the story, not just the exciting setting.
Desperation and a Dystopian Reality
Novice screenwriters should learn that a theme is what helps elevate a script to the following degree. When it comes to Squid Game, the first episode indicates that it focuses on desperation and a dystopian reality that doesn’t seem far off. Gi-hun needs to prove himself financially, so his daughter doesn’t move to the United States.
No matter how many mistakes Gi-hun has made in his life, his desperation for wanting to keep his daughter around indicates that he’s a good father. He cares about his daughter and is willing to enter dire consequences to keep her. It’s rampant within fear that makes him such a likable character.
Leaving the Audience to Want More
The first episode could’ve gone three different routes with its conclusion. It could’ve ended right before the Red Light Green Light section, concluded while Gi-hun was in the middle of the game, or concluded where it did. Although the other two cliffhanger scenarios would’ve worked okay, it shows us that Gi-hun is okay and has more to come, making us want more.
Whenever someone discusses the idea of leaving the audience to want more, they conflate it with a cliffhanger. Although cliffhangers are great for getting the audience to tag along for the next episode, it’s not the only way of doing so. Squid Game is such a masterful show that it can show Gi-hun is okay after the first game, yet we’re so invested in his character we need to see what happens next.