Roush Review: Mean Girls Go to War in ‘Pyramid Game’

Pyramid Game Season 1, featuring Kim Ji yeon as Seong Su-ji, Jang Da A as Baek Ha-rin, Ryu Da In as Myeong Ja-eun, Shin Seul Ki as Seo Do-ah and Kang Na Eon as Im Ye-rim

Pyramid Game

Matt's Rating: rating: 3.0 stars

The stakes in South Korea’s Pyramid Game may not be quite as high as in the infamous Squid Game, but try telling that to the tormented adolescents subjected to shame and violent bullying in this gripping though seriously bloated melodrama, based on a webtoon. “School is a smaller version of society” is an oft-repeated theme, a lesson soon learned by spunky Su-ji (Kim Ji-yeon), the new arrival in a corporate-funded girls’ high school who tells herself, “You need to figure out who’ll be beneficial to you or not, and find your place among all the kids, so that you don’t crash land at the top or the bottom.”

Unfortunately, she gets seated next to a gentle outcast, the sullen and remote Ja-eun (Ryu Da-in), in a classroom that inexplicably is located in its own building, away from prying eyes as a savage game of toxic peer pressure is enacted. Despite the class motto “Happiness for Everyone, a Class for All,” nearly everyone partakes in a popularity app where those at the top of the pyramid have all the power, and anyone ranked an “F” (no votes) is subjected to a torrent of physical and psychological abuse.

Bystanders are just as culpable in this amoral lottery of judgment and perverse conformity, where dodgeball and a paintball outing provide innocuous backdrops for cruel class conflict, and the mere act of stepping on another classmate’s sneaker signals a show of domination and submission. To Su-ji, a well-traveled military brat whose single-dad officer often leaves her to deal with problems on her own, this nasty game becomes a crusade to turn the tables on the class ringleader, the serenely sinister and undeniably sociopathic Ha-rin (the fascinating Jang Da-ah).

“I’m not the one who judges you,” Ha-rin coolly explains. “The game does.” Su-ji’s not buying it, and neither do we.

But the Pyramid Game extends well beyond school walls, because many of the Alphas in this class are daughters of industry, enacting a ritual echoed in the ruthless machinations of their parents, who appear to be grooming the next generation to be equally cutthroat. It’s a long haul over 10 episodes to watch Su-ji slowly build a team of nervous allies willing to rebel and dismantle the system, with setbacks, reversals and betrayals par for the course. On both sides of this fierce battle of wills, these mean girls mean business.

Pyramid Game, Series Premiere, Thursday, May 30, Paramount+