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/clearly mark them.)
The King: Eternal Monarch [1-8]
I feel like I spoke a little too soon on Lee Min-ho’s performance in The King. I’ve just passed the halfway mark and FINALLY the man is king-ing it up and really bringing that royally dark edge to his performance. It even makes the romance better!
I’m lukewarm on the romance as a process (we skipped from “who are you” to “I love you” without due process, lols), but if I put that aside, I find I really like the actual dynamic of them as a couple, and the feelings that exist between them—flowing and stoppered and flowing again.
Let me be clear: I am ENGROSSED by this show. The plot is so intriguing and there are always ten things going on at any given time. I like puzzles that form a show-long arc, and these puzzles are SHOCKING and EXCITING and build up to some really effective reveals—actually, it’s not even the moment of the reveal, it’s the moment when you figure it out yourself that’s a big GAAASSSPPP moment. And the cliffhanger game is on point. And my poor baby Shin-jae!!!!! *screamsob*
Plus: Woo Do-hwan meets Woo Do-hwan? I mean, this would always be funny in any actor’s hands but it’s been a while since we had this situation and IT IS GREAT. There’s something so bone-ticklingly funny about Eun-seobie acting like Yeongie even when he looks exactly like him, hahaha.
I have thought about it more and my conclusion is this show doesn’t really need a romance. It’s perfect as a supernatural mystery thing.
Speed: 1.0. SHOCK, I am watching this at NORMAL SPEED as of episode 6. But I admit that in its draggy, laggy, slow-music moment earlier on, I went as fast as 1.4. Oops.
Alex Rider [1-8]
A little sideways from K-drama, but I promise there’s a tie-in.
This story starts with tiny teen Saya. Okay, I mean, not that tiny, but shockingly actually a teen. Back in those old days when the internet was still new and flash drives were yet to be invented, British children’s writer Anthony Horowitz penned an immensely popular series about Alex Rider, teen-spy. It was such a success that it practically birthed the teen-spy genre (in the UK at least)—we’re talking pre-Twilight, pre-YA as the genre we know it as today. Anyway, that’s the books.
There was a film of the first book, Stormbreaker, back in the early 2000s (I think? Aha, 2006, thanks IMDB)—a family-friendly tweenish affair, which I admit I enjoyed—but this thing now? This is completely different, and truer to the spirit of the book. An 8-episode series produced by Amazon Prime, its concept is much darker than its previous screen interpretation and my goodness, it WORKS.
Alex is recruited by a shadowy intelligence division to investigate the death of his uncle by infiltrating an elite boarding school in the remote French Alps. As a person driven away from western TV by the problematic portrayal of law enforcement and related authorities, especially in how they treat marginalised characters, it was excellently refreshing not to be asked to believe these were the good guys. They’re not. They’re people who cross lines without losing any sleep, and within them lurks occasional humanity. Alex has no love for the establishment, and no faith in them. They’re not allies: he’s forced to be a tool for a ruthless system. It turns the whole thing moodily noir, and put me a great deal in mind of my old favourite, White Christmas (KBS, 2011). They have that same vibe.
Unlike the film, the series picks up from book 2, Point Blanc. A teen book repurposed for an adult audience that grew up with it, it’s dark and dubious and delicious. Remarkably, it stays unerringly true to its teen/YA roots (Alex is 15), remaining completely watchable by a younger audience, while simultaneously providing a morally complex thriller for a critical adult audience. And the way it deals with all that ambiguity really suits our moment right now. Add to that the promise of future seasons and I’m all in.
Speed: 1.0. You can’t speed this up!! It’s already fast!
Once Again [25-26]
I’ve dropped this one. My fear that the misogynistic tropes we saw earlier would disappear without being resolved was borne out, and I’m weary of the way this show, especially in Mom and Dad’s generation, makes women the petty/backstabbing/shallow/hysterical ones, whereas the men are logical, calm, have a view to the long term, allergic to gossip… you know the drill. Nothing about this show’s writing gives me confidence it’s setting this up for social critique, and that makes me feel tired. Add that to the fact that there has not been a single plot point (or even line of dialogue) that I can’t see coming like a distant meteor, and I’m done. It’s a shame, because the dissolution of Lee Min-jung and Lee Sang-yeob’s marriage was movingly portrayed, and I love the youngest sister’s chemistry with her ex-brother-in-law’s brother, but that’s not enough when everything else about this drama is both dead obvious and moves at a glacial pace.
My Unfamiliar Family [1-3.5]
In contrast with Once Again‘s hard lean into the most obvious version of every possible trope, and the constant and literal verbalization of characters’ thoughts, this show is a breath of fresh air. The rate that this show hits its audience with hard truths honestly leaves me breathless. Here is a real family, in all its fraught silences, angry outbursts where characters say what they don’t mean and then guiltily try to make up for it, their suppressed resentments and secret worries, their regrets about the past and fear of the future. The parents in this show are facing a variety of crises that thankfully my parents are not, but they’re a similar age to mine and their interactions with their kids sometimes hit home in poignant and almost painful ways. Halfway through Episode 4, the show is really showing its melodrama DNA, but the writing and acting have been so assured and on point so far that I have faith the show can pull off some of the more makjang elements it’s brought in.
For me, Eun-hee (Han Ye-ri), Eun-joo (Choo Ja-hyun) and Chan-hyuk (Kim Ji-suk) are the standout characters in this ensemble, but everyone is so relatable, even though none of them can really be called “good”. There are a lot of questionable decisions being made by pretty much everyone in this story, but you understand why they do what they do, and you can’t stop watching. Except Chan-hyuk, who is a gift to everyone he knows. And to me.
I love the way the way Eun-hee and Chan-hyuk’s dynamic is set up: the rift, the way it heals, the emotion that lives between them, everything about their friendship. *heart eyes* I’m not sure if this is heading for a romance (yes please, VP Player-ssi is trash and she needs to dump him STAT), but I just want to see more of them together.
Mystic Pop-Up Bar [1-2]
I know y’all are probably tired of me dumping on The King by now, but since I’ve watched just the first two episodes of both, let me just say this: Here is a fantasy setup done right, with a simple but well-done backstory, clear rules for the supernatural stuff, stakes that matter and make sense, intros to all the relevant characters, and our main trio teaming up and working together—all in two episodes. By the end of the first hour, I knew exactly what I was getting and itched to see what was coming next, which is… not how I felt at the end of The King‘s premiere.
Mystic Pop-Up Bar is quirky, funny, smart, creepy, and well-paced. I wasn’t sure what to make of the unconventional combo of Hwang Jung-eum, Choi Won-young, and Yook Sung-jae, but they actually have great, crackling chemistry. Refreshingly, there’s no hint of romantic tension between any of the three, but they’re hilarious together as the staff of the ghostly pocha that resolves people’s grudges. Protagonist Weol-ju is smart, sharp-tongued, and tough, though her cynicism hides a vulnerability that she’s too world-weary and distrustful to allow others to easily see. Hwang Jung-eum brings her trademark energy to the role, but with an edge of bitterness under that manic brightness that makes this one of her more interesting performances for me. And also, thank God, she has FINALLY been released from the Bowl Cut of Doom! Her clothes in this are to die for. I want every dress.