If you’ve been able to catch up or start new dramas this week, what have you been watching? What’s keeping you engaged these days?
Here’s what we started, finished, dropped, or kept watching this week.
(Note: We’ll mention some plot details, but will try to keep major spoilers to minimum.)
Hospital Playlist [8-12]
——–Warning: Major spoilers for the finale———
Waaaah, it’s over! Whyyyyyy.
I can’t praise this writing-directing pair enough. From the way they set up the stories, the dynamics in the hospital, the daily exchanges between the friends and the staff that was the heart of the drama, and finally, for selecting such a great point to end the first season on.
The heroes: Writer Lee Woo-jung (Left) and PD Shin Won-ho (Right)
Before the advent of Netflix into dramaland, K-Dramas rarely did multiple seasons, and even if they did, each season had a complete arc. Dramas are usually conceived of as stories with a limited run of episodes. If you ask Anisa, she would tell you that no drama should be given more than 12 episodes to tell its tale. I’m more flexible, but I admit that many of them resort to adding padding to stretch the episode count to 16 or 20 just to shove in more product placements.
Hospital Playlist was in every way the perfect length. I know many viewers were fatigued by its movie length episode runtime, but I never noticed the time fly. I was enamored by the happy, friction-less camaraderie between the staff and the core group of friends.
It ran contrary to everything we’ve been told about developing tension in a plot. There were no villains, no secret resentments, no life-threatening danger that everyone must work together to overcome.
The show often setup an issue at the beginning of the episode, only to deflate it at its climax. Like its creators were laughing at us for expecting anything dramatic from them.
The only real tension came from the fate of certain relationships in the drama. And one in particular was setup from the very beginning and given a wonderful, almost old-fashioned ending by the close.
In the novel Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, the protagonist, Judy, visits her benefactor at the end of the story with a heavy heart. She’s given up any hopes of being with the one she loves and confesses her pain to the mysterious patron she’s been writing to for years. At this, he asks to finally meet her. She walks into his house and finds that her Daddy-long-legs was also the man she was in love with. And that he loved her back.
That’s the feeling Yeon-suk and Gyeo-wool’s final scene evoked in me. That gratification at the end of a long build-up when a nicely placed twist soothes all worries away and leaves you happily content.
It’s not that I didn’t suspect Yeon-suk’s interest in Gyeo-wool. It was that he’d convinced me that his desire to join the church was stronger.
I also really respected that Yeon-suk’s final decision was based not just on his feelings towards Gyeo-wool, but on his very real desire to help his patients. It’s what he’d struggled with from the very beginning. The deep hurt of not being able to save every child who was under his care.
Yeon-suk was sensitive enough that this pain ate into him, making him forget all the good he did at the hospital. But once his plans of accepting priesthood was put in motion, and the escape he imagined for himself was close, he started noticing all the lives that he became a part of with every little kid he worked to save.
The fate of the other friends were left a bit in the air, but it doesn’t feel like a cliff-hanger.
We know that Ik-jun and Song-hwa remain friends and play in the band together no matter what her answer was. We also know that even though the package came back, Jun wan and Ik-sun have a squee-ful, warm relationship that will weather their insecurities. (Though I’m a little worried that Ik-sun never received the package at all.)
And, I didn’t really think Suk-hyung was lying when he said he wasn’t interested in Min-ah. The show leaves us with the feeling that there’s more to his story than we know for now.
I suspect my mellow acceptance of a year’s wait to find out what happens next is because over the last 13 weeks, the show has convinced me that these friends are an infinite source of comfort to each other, and no matter how difficult their lives get, they’ll be there for each other in the next year.
Now, if they had ended with one of the friends breaking off from the group, I would have been deeply unhappy. But thankfully we were spared such an awful cliffhanger.
“Eating with you and drinking coffee together. That’s a treat I give myself.” — Ik-jun
And finally, as much as I adore Ik-jun and Song-hwa – together and apart – it genuinely feels like a half-way point for their romantic arc right now. I mean, they didn’t even give us a real indication of their feelings till episode 10! It would have felt terribly rushed if they had brought it to conclusion in just two episodes. My hope now is that we’ll get a nice, long unwinding of the history and complexity of their feelings over the next season.
That’s a treat I’m happy to wait for.
Good Casting [1-10]
My main interest in watching this drama was to see Choi Kang-hee be badass and clever on screen again. And I was not disappointed. When BAEK CHAN-MI’s not losing her temper in the middle of a crisis (as all action heroes must when they feel helpless before an injustice), this “wild-card” Secret Service agent is hyper competent and utterly focused on her job. To the point that when the story begins, she’s volunteered to be undercover in prison for months, trying to get information out of a fellow inmate.
So, when she’s ordered to go undercover as a young CEO’s secretary, I was expecting some really self-aware subversion of the boss-secretary romance tropes and lots of office shenanigans. With spy skills being put to use to ace everyday office work.
But this was one hope too many. Lee Sang-yeob plays a sweet and kind boss who starts falling for Choi Kang-hee’s character because she reminds him of his teenage crush. And because the story likes over-complicating things, it turns out that Baek Chan-mi IS his teenage crush, but despite having the same face and a similar name in the present-day, she’s able to convince him that she’s not the same woman.
There are two other agents on the field with Baek Chan-mi—Hwang Mi-soon and Im Ye-eun. The former is a retired agent enjoying a quiet life as an insurance saleswoman while picking up after her husband and daughter, while the latter is a rookie agent with an adorable daughter and a secret sadness. Neither is thrilled to be forced into the field in pursuit of a deadly enemy most agents refuse to go after.
While all actors in the show are doing the best they can, I realised that dramas like Search: WWW, Be Melodramatic, and Because This is My First Life have spoiled me. Now, when I see three women cast as team-mates in a drama, I begin to expect camaraderie and bonding with sharp verbal sparring and dramatic tension as they get to know each other better.
Instead we get fart jokes.
Which. I guess. Okay, they have their place. But Good Casting seems to have no real intention of building any kind of real bond between the women. They are held together by the goal to land their dangerous target, but since the identity of their opponent is a mystery, we don’t even get to enjoy a proper game of cat and mouse here.
Overall, aside from some incredibly well done action scenes, Good Casting has been a passable watch. If Choi Kang-hee didn’t own my heart and Lee Sang-yeob didn’t look so cute, I could stop watching right now. But. Well. This is their romantic score.
Hospital Playlist [7-8]
Not much to say about this except that I’m finally getting a chance to catch up, and I love all of these people. I’m so happy this show is getting a second season. (One exception: Dr. Do Ji-hak is trash, pls don’t bring him back.)
Once Again [3-26]
Nothing much to say except I love all these people, and I’m thoroughly enjoying catching up. (With one exception: Dr. Do Ji-hak is trash.) I’m so glad they’re doing another season of this!
I guess this is Lee Sang-yeob week. I’ve seen this family drama compared to Father is Strange, and while unfortunately Once Again is not nearly as funny, feminist, or well-written, it does have a similar strong bond between the four siblings in the family, and scenes that show their relationship are among the best in the drama.
I’m also feeling very invested in the doctor couple’s relationship (Lee Min-jung and Lee Sang-yeob). The fallout from the revelation of their secret divorce has certainly been intense, but I’m glad that Na-hee’s older sister asked her bluntly about why she was willing to live in the same house with Gyu-jin if she really has no feelings for him anymore. Clearly neither of them has stopped loving the other. It’s a truth both Na-hee and Gyu-jin have been avoiding—along with the other huge elephant in their relationship that is her miscarriage. But both have an excess of pride and stubbornness that means they won’t have vulnerable conversations, either with each other or their families. That’s why no one knew they were having problems, and they never went to the couples therapy they so desperately needed. I think it’s pretty likely these two are headed for a reconciliation, and I’m looking forward to (I hope) some hard, painful but ultimately healing conversations between them once they can stop bickering long enough to have them. Which is why, as much as I dislike Na-hee’s mother and her pathological need to live through her children, I agree with Dad that Na-hee should move home. These two need the space to miss each other, and to process their grief and anger. (Also, Gyu-jin REALLY needs to learn how to set some boundaries with his mother.)
Speaking of Mom, one thing that’s bothered me consistently from the beginning of this show is the incredibly petty, vicious gossip in this small market, and the way it’s been weaponised against Cho-yeon and her staff. I was hoping there was a point to the whole storyline about them being excluded from the merchants’ association by jealous, judgmental ahjummas, but it seems like they’ve just… learned to “know their place”? I really hope this storyline is going to resurface in a way that says something about the toxicity of the dynamic in this market (and before Dad finds that Cho-yeon is his long-lost sister and thus automatically virtuous). Otherwise this drama is going to leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Oh and one last thing: how adorable are Da-hee and Jae-seok?! I’ve never seen either of these actors before, but their entire storyline, from awkward strangers who then realise they’re in-laws, and then good friends who confide their deepest secrets to each other, is completely adorable. Out of all the couples in the drama, these two have the most chemistry (let’s not kid ourselves, they’re definitely headed for romance—there is nothing unpredictable in Once Again‘s DNA). The way he looks forward to seeing her at the end of every day, and makes excuses to go to his mother’s cafe, has been giving me a lot of joy. I hope these two still hang out even though they won’t be calling each other “Sadoooon!” anymore.