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Girls Planet 999 premiered its Episode 1 across multiple livestreaming platforms, and the world didn’t burn down (whew). But even with the Epcot Center paint job, this program cannot hide the fact that it is an Mnet Idol Survival Show, replete with evil editing and manufactured drama. Episode 1 plays out note-for-note like any Produce season did, setting the stage for Mnet’s ordained list of heroes and villains. Struggle montages, uneven screen time, pithy attempts at memeing, “the dream to debut”: all the familiar tropes have been been pulled out of the fridge, reheated and slapped on a plate. Bon Appétit.
We’re introduced to this season’s contestants in groups of three, one J/K/C trainee per unit. Upon meeting, they fumble with their languages, learn why they’re grouped together (“We all like TWICE!” “We’re all child actors!” “We like Mint Chocolate Ice Cream i.e. Mnet hates us!”), then are prompted by Siri to take their seats in the main amphitheater. During all this we’re treated to back stories, exhibition of hobbies, banter between trainees, and a lot of Crayon Shin-Chan impressions. After everyone is seated,
host Planet Master Yeo Jin-Goo enters and introduces the mentors/trainers. He then proceeds to explain why the trainees are grouped in teams of three.
Each trio of trainees will be linked as a Cell, and each Cell will survive together or will be eliminated together. This feels like a way to mitigate one nation’s trainees getting boosted over another, at least in the early voting. From the outset some cells seem much more powerful than others, like the one with both Roada Xu and Choi Yujin, both being extremely popular trainees. It’s not clear if the votes will be cast per cell or if individual votes will be added up (voting doesn’t start until Episode 2). I highly doubt this system goes all the way to the end.
Jin-Goo then states that these cells are by no means fixed, that the trainees can change cell members if they choose to. But how??? First, units of trainees from the same group (not cells) will perform, effectively auditioning for each other. The trainers/mentors will then evaluate the performers and pick candidates for the Top 9, who will be the trainees to choose first when the cells are rearranged.
A change from Produce is that everyone’s already been “ranked”; on each trainee’s name tag is a number (1-33) which is what the trainers have ranked them based on their individual audition performance of the show’s theme, “O.O.O.” These numbers are revealed at the beginning of each unit’s performance. While all sorts of ranks are bundled together, the judges take their higher/lower expectations into heavy account. Some low-rankers shoot to Top9, and some higher rankers disappoint greatly. Not every #1 and #2 makes it into the Top 9.
Right out the gate the Chinese trainees play the AKB role from Produce 48 and are framed as bumbling, all-looks/no-talent bumpkins. 33-out-of-33 Chen Hsin Wei (ViVi Chen for all you Youth With You 2-ers) was earlier lauded for her beauty, but is now demolished by the trainers for her inability to sing. But then immediately praised for at least not sucking as bad as she did on the “O.O.O” evaluation. What beautiful healing. Braid-packing Tammy Wu’s entire group is thumbs-downed, but she’s later seen in the background with a Top 9 sticker. They just chose not to show you that part. Setting up for the finale there’s a montage of the Chinese performances all being bad. You know, just Mnet things.
J-trainees sort of play innocent bystander for the most part. If anything, they’re given credit for being much better than the AKBers were in PD48. Noted Somnie Kawaguchi Yurina is very pretty and can hold a note properly and gets a sticker for it. “Boombayah” round 2 features the #1 Japanese trainee Ezaki Hikaru is totally acceptable. Meanwhile, K-trainees again are suffering the curse of high expectations. Contestants like former SM Trainee Kim Chaehyun lose concentration. #1 Kim Dayeon‘s stage doesn’t attract attention. Some dark horses emerge; I really enjoyed Seo Youngeun from the “Kick It” duo, and I appreciate we’re getting a much greater helping of rapping tomboys who can dance this season.
The episode climaxes with the controversial Fu Yaning dissing Choi Yujin moment referenced in the trailer. With more context it’s… pretty much the same, minus a few reactions. The biggest difference is that the mentors/trainers actively egg them on, telling Yujin she can’t just take that lying down. Visibly flustered, Yujin does a little dance as a response. Jessie Fu does get to explain herself (“I did it to boost my teammates confidence”), and the performance of CLC’s “Helicopter” by the Chinese trainees is satisfactory, on par with some of the YWY2 audition stages. I love how Sunmi is so horny for Cai Bing, though. Cai Bing, Jessie Fu, and Fanatics‘ Chiayi all get nominated for Top 9.
Immediately afterwards, Yujin takes the stage solo. She expertly throws shade at the previous act, takes off her shoes, and Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop” starts to play. And then… scene. Episode 1 is over.
The preview immediately starts with Yujin running backstage and crying (Good Crying? Bad Crying??!!), more clips of auditions, and then immediately goes into the group battle stage. Also they reveal the votes will be weighted 50% Korea and 50% international (lol). Never change, Mnet.
So yeah, this is Produce 999. I’d say that the talent level here on the whole is higher than it’s been, since maybe the first season. If you’re gonna watch the whole thing (I am), be prepared for evil editing, netizen nationalism, fake controversy, vote rigging, and in three years more apology payments. Let’s fucking goooooooooooo!