The new Monday-Tuesday lineup: First impressions
As I’ve been saying recently (I sound like a broken record, I know), today saw the rare circumstance of four new drama series all premiering on the same night. There’s a lot of interest to see which one(s) will emerge victorious, but so far there’s no clear winner, as the numbers came out more or less even.
I usually use TNS Media numbers, which put God of Study on top with a 15.1%, followed closely by Jejoongwon with 14.9%, then Pasta with 12.2%. However, AGB Nielsen numbers (which are usually pretty similar) flip the top two, giving Jejoongwon the edge with 15.1%, then God of Study and Pasta almost even at 13.4% and 13.3%, respectively. In the earlier hour, Wish Upon a Star brought in 11%, which was a 1% increase from the premiere of its predecessor, Angel’s Temptation.
I had a hard time deciding which drama to see (and possibly recap) first, and I know I won’t be able to recap them all even if I wanted to. So rather than pick one arbitrarily, I managed to watch all four premiere episodes, and have come up with my first impressions on each.
GOD OF STUDY (KBS)
I fired up God of Study first, thinking it would be the easiest to watch and recap. I wasn’t necessarily excited about this drama, but I was curious to see how it would handle the high school setting and obvious Boys Before Flowers comparisons.
Kim Su-ro is a lawyer who is brought in to Byungmun High School to consult with its board chair. The school is affiliated with the Byungmun corporation, whose future is shaky at present, meaning that the school may be shut down. Kim Su-ro’s lawyer character has painful memories of being a student at the school and would like nothing more than to help that happen. Bae Doo-na is a well-meaning English teacher who fears that closing the school would be disaster for these kids, who are already faring so poorly.
Surprisingly, my first thought was that I was bored. The setup wasn’t particularly striking, with the rowdy kids sleeping through classes and showing a general disinterest in learning. I thought Bae Doo-na — acknowledged as one of the top actresses of her generation — overacted. And I was disappointed to have been told Yoo Seung-ho would be this badass rebel, only to see that his goodness is pretty apparent on the surface. (Not that I wanted him to be a horrible person, but it seemed like the character wasn’t at all what we’d been told to expect. I did like his acting and he has a lot of presence — and it’s nice to see him playing something other than a king! — so there is that.)
However, this drama grew on me a lot over the hour, and perhaps I have my own expectations to blame for the initial surprise. Nobody said this was going to be Boys Before Flowers Redux — it was my assumption based on the descriptions, the casting of Kim Su-ro (who does comedy so well), the hip teen cast, and the KBS ties. But this is nothing at all like Boys Before Flowers — it’s not even a comedy. I was expecting light trendy stuff, and instead what we get is much more serious in tone. It actually reminded me a lot of American teen dramas — not over-the-top Gossip Girl or campy One Tree Hill but more toned-down, straight drama fare. I’ve thought that it’s too bad there weren’t more shows like those lower-budget youth dramas (such as those produced by EBS or aired outside of prime time), but upgraded with higher production values. So this fulfills that wish.
The narrative heaviness turned me off at first, but as we got to know more of the characters, I warmed to it. I do think they’re laying on the serious drama vibe too thick (especially with Kim Su-ro) and there are scenes that drag. Part of the slowness of the episode is because it takes some time to establish each of the characters, and we’ve got a good number of them — five students, plus the adults. What I hope this drama does is take realistic characters and bring them together with good chemistry, because the story itself is low-key and simple. We aren’t going to get exciting location shoots, super-dramatic plot twists, or over-the-top villains like in Boys Before Flowers, so the fate of the show rests on the relationship dynamics. Thankfully, most of the cast can act pretty well.
I’m not hooked on God of Study and I think it’s the slowest of the four to settle into its groove, but there’s something interesting about the vibe that has me intrigued.
Pasta surprised me by being better than I’d expected. (Granted, I didn’t really know what to expect.) The restaurant setting has drawn a lot of pre-show comparisons to other food-themed series like My Name Is Kim Sam-soon, Gourmet, and Coffee Prince, but that’s pretty flimsy basis for comparison.
Gong Hyo-jin is exceedingly cute as an assistant in the kitchen, but what’s even better is that she has great chemistry with Lee Seon-kyun. They have one of the more adorable meet-cutes I’ve seen in a while, and I won’t ruin the fun by giving it away, but let’s just say that the situation is amusing but it’s their banter that makes the scene sizzle. The credit for that has got to go to Lee Seon-kyun (as he does most of the bantering), and GODDAMN he has never been so sexy. Y’all know that I have loved this man for a while now, but even so, this is the most charismatic I’ve ever seen him. Wow.
Even before the premiere, he was drawing a lot of comparisons to “Kang-mae,” aka Kim Myung-min in Beethoven Virus. But I’ll beg to differ. Kang-mae was entertainingly caustic, but Lee Seon-kyun’s character isn’t mean 100% of the time. He can change from volatile and scary to very suave. He knows how to be charming — he just doesn’t use that charm while he’s working in the kitchen. The dismay when he realizes that the girl he’s been flirting with is his employee is hilarious, and it affords us the chance to see him go hot-and-cold with her.
Pasta has a brisk, refreshing pace and a light tone that is amusing without being jokey. There’s humor, but it’s not a drama that hinges on comedy like a Hong Sisters piece.
The two leads are fabulous together, and the music is also great; the soundtrack sounds somewhat Coffee Prince-like, but less twee. Maybe more indie-rock than indie-pop. Of all the shows, Pasta is the one that won me over most. I’ll be watching the next episode for sure.
Jejoongwon is a very competent, well-produced, beautiful-to-look-at historical drama that will probably do well. It stars Park Yong-woo as a young man from a dirt-poor background who works as a butcher. One day, he is delivering beef to a fancy party, where one of the partygoers collapses. A famed Japanese doctor is in attendance and brings out his medical kit to sew up the guest’s open wound, and Park Yong-woo is transfixed. He has heard of this growing Western medicine movement and thinks it’s exciting.
His beloved mother is ailing (of consumption, it looks like), and his uneducated father spends their hard-earned money on a shaman to chase away the ghosts. He, however, insists on taking her to the hospital for modern treatment, but doesn’t have enough to pay the bills and is forced to take desperate measures to find enough money. Throughout the episode, we see him coming up against societal prejudices because of his low status, which will likely become a major theme.
Meanwhile, Yeon Jung-hoon is a nobleman’s son with a growing interest in Western medicine, who spends study time poring over anatomy texts. He has a flirtatious relationship with Han Hye-jin, the daughter of a powerful nobleman who cultivates relationships with Westerners.
Jejoongwon has a nice, pleasantly airy feel in its lighter moments and the acting is solid from both leading men. (Unfortunately, I have a bit of a mental block with Han Hye-jin, who bothers me here. It’s nothing to do with her acting; it’s her vibe that sometimes irks me.) The scenes with the aristocracy feel lighter than what we’d expect of the writer of White Tower, but we’re still only in the first episode.
I enjoyed this premiere and found it easy to watch, but rather unchallenging on the whole. There are aspects about this drama that really appeal to me, such as the juxtaposition of Western and classical Korean elements in this time of rapid change (we start in 1884). However, I sorta feel like I’ve seen this conflict played out dozens of times before — Park Yong-woo will end up being the medical genius with a gift for surgery, despite his humble beginnings. Yeon Jung-hoon has everything going for him — education, wealth, background — and he is skilled, but not brilliant. Naturally, the two will both fall for Han Hye-jin.
Jejoongwon will probably be a solid choice to watch, but I’m not diving in yet because there are so many offerings coming to us at once. I’m in the mood for something fresh, or challenging — hopefully both. Jejoongwon may have to wait until the schedule clears…
WISH UPON A STAR (SBS)
Frankly, Wish Upon a Star was my least-anticipated of the bunch because nothing really stood out about it. It’s built on a standard romantic conflict (klutzy girl melts icy heart of mean, hottie professional man) and the actors, while likable, are known more for their looks than their talent.
I was surprised the most, then, with Wish Upon a Star‘s bright, cheerful tone and particularly with leading lady Choi Jung-won. She has gotten criticism in the past for being just another pretty face, but she’s cute in this — maybe she should have done more romantic comedies.
Choi’s Pal-gang character is the eldest of a brood of adopted kids that her soft-hearted parents, who are still ridiculously in love, have taken in. She is frivolous and silly, and harbors a crush on the company’s lawyer (Kim Ji-hoon). She’s determined to make him fall for her, and then she’ll marry him and live happily ever after! She doesn’t care that he’s known to be a heartless bastard, as his younger brother (Shin Dong-wook) cheerfully warns.
I suspect that Pal-gang character may be a love-her-or-hate-her type; she can be pretty foolish and selfish. I happen to find her appealing — plus, you know she’s going to be in for a rude awakening soon — but as with many romantic comedies, if you don’t like the lead couple, you probably won’t like the drama as a whole. As for Kim Ji-hoon, I like that he’s actually cold rather than misunderstood, and he’s pretty sexy here.
One the things I’m wary about is that there’s a subplot that I suspect will take up more time than it should and drag down the breeziness of Pal-gang’s plotlines. It features a power struggle to claim a company’s ruling rights — an elderly chaebol chairman intends to use all his money to build a large free hospital, and asks Pal-gang’s good-hearted father to run it. However, the chairman’s long-suffering son feels like he deserves to run the company, and may have something to do with the car crash that kills Pal-gang’s parents.
This is also not going to be a challenging drama, and because I have seen this plot done so many times before, this drama’s appeal will rest on the characters’ charm. This is the most aggressively comedic drama of the four, and also probably the most conventional. It feels like a good-natured family show, but with a faster pace. It could go either way, in my book, so I’ll keep an eye on it to see if it stays fun or gets bogged down with the nefarious plot.
- Choi Jung-won in Wish Upon a Star
- Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Su-ro play chicken in God of Study
- Lee Seon-kyun presents Pasta staff with gifts
- God of Study’s first posters released
- Behind the scenes from Pasta’s outdoor shoot
- Jejoonngwon’s production press conference
- Pasta’s official posters released
- Posters for SBS’s Pick the Stars
- The young cast of God of Study