Times, Sisyphus, Vincenzo, oh my! There’s a drama for every day of the week and that is not even an exaggeration!
Because I have not yet learned wisdom, I checked out EVERYTHING. Well, everything except Hello, Me, which my youngers and betters have helpfully reviewed already: check out Paroma in a snazzy video-review, and Anisa in her inaugural Drama Addict outing.
Your requisite spoiler warnings for episodes 1-2 of: River Where the Moon Rises Sisyphus: The Myth Beyond Evil Vincenzo Times 😵
He mocks me.
I really hated committing some of these spoilers to writing (sorry! so sorry!), but I generally think of opening week spoilers as fair-ish game because they help me to figure out whether I want to pick up a show or not. So read on if the drama spoils tempt you, I won’t blame you if they don’t!
Before we get into the prose, here is a table. In case you thought the whole “drama for every day of the week” was hyperbole, IT’S NOT:
The colours of the boxes reflect something important about the drama. Like, Sisyphus is Park Shin-hye’s plum-coloured leather jacket stolen from the body of a young hunk. (Please note that I only ever say a phrase like “young hunk” highly ironically.) Vincenzo’s grey is that designer Italian suit. Beyond Evil is how dark the show is running. River is, well, a river. Where the moon rises. And Times is a winter coat for a cold day, warm wood panelling and the comfort of home.
It was a tough week, I’m telling you. However: lists! I have a list. A ranked list of all the premieres. It’s mainly ranked by how turbulently I feel about it, it’s heavily influenced by recency effects, and deeply informed by how much I need the next episode immediately.
Do not be perturbed by the (lack of) structure. I have vacillated between paragraphs and bullet points because flirting with format is my hobby …just kidding. I wrote them in different sittings and I decided not to let fixation with format stop me from just writing. So here it is: the list where everything is a winner but I still insisted on ranking it.
1. Times: The undisputed best
This one is my favourite of all the premieres MY GOSH
When we read the plot of this, we speculated it could be like something between Signal and Kairos but no guys! It is totally, entirely its own show and it’s using its conceit to its absolute max. The tension is MAD—all moment to moment and never letting go.
We meet Seo Jung-in (Lee Joo-young) in 2019 as a skilled young reporter cheering her dad into his second term as President. Then she falls asleep one night and some kind of temporal shift happens, and when she wakes up, it’s to a world where her dad was shot dead on his first campaign as a presidential candidate in 2015. So in her new reality, he never even served a first term, never mind a second.
The only part of it I find a little confusing is how/why we launch into the timeline she finds herself in. Is it a real timeline that actually happened, or is it, as her therapist says, some kind of wishful, constructed false reality that rose as a response to her grief and trauma? (I think we’ll get an answer eventually since the show has alluded to it.)
We catch up with her a year later (definitely in an alternate timeline, because she’s in a 2020 that clearly has not experienced a pandemic) where we learn she’s basically forced herself to accept the reality she is in, and that her father is dead, and that other life was a figment of her brain.
But there’s definitely something temporally disruptive going on, because an unexplained communications outage is where things go wonky. She gets a call from a reporter called Lee Jin-woo (Lee Seo-jin), who wants to talk to her about her dad getting re-elected. YES IT IS A VERY 😱😱😱 MOMENT even though you know it’s coming, because it’s all stuff we know from the premise. Jin-woo brings a darker shadow of sadness with him when we realise who he is in the past, and what he becomes in the future that is Jung-in’s now present. Their desperation and urgency is everything to this show.
But the execution, guys. The execution. It is so, so gripping. And I actually literally was on the edge of my seat at so many points! (I even took a moment while watching to appreciate that I had become a cliché, because what is the fun of life if not to enjoy your moments while you’re in them?) And the way it works never makes you question the characters or the verisimilitude of the world. It’s a premise that constantly interrogates itself, and the characters question themselves and their senses just as much. All of that acts to create a real sense of believability to the universe.
And then you have the thing itself: Jung-in is desperate to save her dad, and has to recruit Jin-woo to the job. They have nothing but this weirdly malfunctioning black-hole phone, and…I hate that I am spoiling this, but guys, the present/future changes in real time and not only is it really strikingly presented visually, but what it means to have to deal with a constantly changing reality is, without exaggeration, downright harrowing. Especially as the ending closes in and you realise that a) they’ve done it, but b) all hell has now broken loose. Damn.
2. Beyond Evil
This one surprised me by being not at all how I thought it was going to be. I was thinking Good Detective-style light antagonism that turns to a bickering, deeply heartfelt camaraderie, but nope, this drama is going all in on the dark stuff. I keep forgetting that the Korean title for this is Monster.
Shin Ha-kyun is diabolical. How have I never watched him before, in all this time?
HEY THAT’S LEE DO-HYUN! HE IS BABY SHIN HA-KYUN!