MBC kicked off its new sitcom Standby last week, and if you’ve been following my updates on the show, you’ll know I’ve been anticipating its premiere. That’s mostly thanks to its endearing main cast—Ryu Jin playing bumbling, Lee Ki-woo going mischievous, Jung So-min back on TV, period—and the workplace setup. (Family sitcoms can be great, no question, but those are more common and I like the idea of going with a workplace family this time around.)
The first week was mostly setup so it’s too early to decide how I feel about it, but for the most part I find Standby an easy, enjoyable watch. The characters are cute and the relationship lines are numerous; they carry potential for a diverse range of dynamics, some romantic, some platonic, with one in particular that may turn out surprisingly rewarding. (I hope. I’m encouraged, but as I said, it’s early days.)
I know I can’t commit to recapping this show, but I do plan to follow it. And in case you want to give it a whirl as well, here’s an introduction into the characters, setup, and plotline from its first week.
SONG OF THE DAY
Glen Check – “Metro” (Acoustic version) Yes, this three-member indietronica band is Korean, though you (almost) couldn’t tell from their English. [ Download ]
CHARACTERS & SETUP
Meet RYU JIN-HAENG (played by Ryu Jin). His occupation is technically TV announcer, but he doesn’t do much actual announcing because of a history of onscreen failures, like the time he hit an interview subject in the nose with his microphone and got threatened with litigation. Or when he reported on the World Cup and cheered for the wrong goal, made against Korea.
Still, he diligently keeps at it, hoping for the day he’ll get his big break (and not botch it). His on-air stints are limited to brief news reports on Queen of Current Affairs, a news-variety program for TV11. Jin-haeng is well-meaning but hapless, and his name ends up being rather ironic; jin-haeng means to proceed, and is the verb used to describe a host emceeing an event. It leads to the exasperated question, “How can his name be Jin-haeng and he be so terrible at jin-haeng?”
His younger brother, RYU KI-WOO (Lee Ki-woo), has no such trouble. He’s got a much more carefree attitude, with a playful personality that’s always ready with a smart quip. Dad isn’t necessarily nicer to Ki-woo than he is to Jin-haeng; it’s that second-born Ki-woo doesn’t let Dad ruffle his feathers the way his hyung does.
For instance, Dad nags Ki-woo about getting a job already; he’s been out of college for ages but seems content to just laze around without searching for employment. Ki-woo shrugs it off, whereas Jin-haeng would be all aflutter to make Dad proud. (Ki-woo doesn’t even tell Dad he’s working toward a job until he’s got one. At which point Dad revises history and says proudly that he always knew Ki-woo had it in him. Ki-woo, cheeky bastard that he is, points out that Dad believed no such thing.) He’s confident, charming, and a bit of a smartass. But in a good-natured way.
Jin-haeng is the quintessential first child: under constant pressure to please Dad, aware of the burden to be a success which wars with his desire to make himself happy. With such a strong-willed father, however, Jin-haeng often finds it difficult to assert himself.
Ki-woo’s the classic second child, free of the pressures to be perfect. He drinks lots of milk and makes smart-alecky jokes about his height, and Dad’s lack thereof. Whenever Dad moves to smack his head for his smartassery, Ki-woo avoids him by jumping in the air. Hehe. So while Jin-haeng often finds himself paralyzed with fear over the idea of invoking Dad’s wrath, Ki-woo just goes ahead and does it, then dodges when Dad reacts.
Right off the bat, Ki-woo has a number of run-ins with Jung So-min, who appears to be challenging Eun-chan (Coffee Prince) and Seol (My Princess) for most part-time jobs ever. Her ultimate goal is to set up her own shop, but that requires enormous amounts of money and she’s still in the just-barely-making-ends-meet stage of life.
It’s not long before So-min finds the sight of Ki-woo mortifying, since every time they run into each other she inevitably does something embarrassing. While the average guy might be gallant and make her feel better, Ki-woo’s like a human-sized version of the devil on your shoulder; his flip comments embarrass her more and she curses her bad luck at constantly bumping into him. Still, she’s got an upbeat attitude and a winsome optimism.
Kim Soo-hyun is the PD of the program, and skilled at her job. It’s why people wonder at her leniency with the problem-causing Jin-haeng, although thankfully for her pride, the assumption is that it’s because he’s her school sunbae. In truth, she’s got a crush on Jin-haeng that makes her blush and stammer whenever he’s around, though he remains oblivious.
Kim Kyung-pyo (Go Kyung-pyo) is Soo-hyun’s dumb-as-rocks high-schooler brother, and the two siblings live in an apartment across the hall from the Ryu-bros and Dad.
The faces of the program are Park Joon-geum and Ha Suk-jin, both of them popular and competent in their own ways. She’s the veteran with a diva complex and inflated ego, but I’d say her airs are amusing more than scary. Meryl Streep she is not. She’s easily flattered and has a roving eye for good-looking younger men. Rock on, cougar lady.
Suk-jin, on the other hand, is the poster boy for perfectionism. And I don’t mean it in the k-drama hero way where he’s good at everything and handsome and charming to boot, but in the way that he’s like a robot. Everything always has to be precise, carefully planned, and logical for him. He isn’t a funny person, but as a character I find him hilarious because he’s such a stick-in-the-mud.
Im Shi-wan comes into play as the teenage son of the woman Jin-haeng is secretly dating. Jin-haeng is in love with the mother and wants to marry her, but fears telling Dad; he fully intends to proceed honorably, but it just takes him an awfully long time to muster up the nerve to face Dad.
Shi-wan is a well-mannered, smart senior in high school and a loving son to his single mom. I sense that his prickly relationship with Jin-haeng, his almost-potential-stepfather-to-be, will become one of the show’s central themes and highlights.
Then there are these three yahoos, who are, simply put, idiots. Soo-kyun’s little bro Kyung-pyo hangs out with Simon D (or Sam-di for short) and Kim Ye-won, and together they make up the Three Stooges. What makes them funny is that they think they’re smart while spouting ridiculous things; that all three operate on the exact same wavelength of stupidity is doubly amusing.
The three often hang out at the cafe-restaurant where Simon D works, which is owned by Daddy Ryu.
We open at the TV11 broadcast station, with announcer Ryu Jin-haeng prepping for his big moment on camera on news-variety show Queen of Current Affairs. It’s not his debut but for various reasons his on-air appearances never go well, so he’s both nervous and eager to prove himself. Alas, he drops his script cards in the bathroom, hastily grabs them… and misses seeing one fall under the sink.
That leads to an embarrassing gaffe when Jin-haeng conflates two stories into one report and can’t find the missing script. The hosts smoothly take over, but the damage is done and the video goes viral.
That puts Soo-hyun on the spot, because as the show’s PD, she’s instructed to fire Jin-haeng. Aside from being his hoobae from college, she’s also harboring a secret crush on him; however, there’s only so much she can do to defend him because Jin-haeng has such a long and colorful history of screwing up. Suk-jin says in his coldly logical way that Jin-haeng is just not suited for live TV, so it’s to everybody’s benefit that they cut him loose.
So Soo-hyun glumly gives Jin-haeng the news that the next broadcast will be his last. He’s disappointed, but takes it gracefully.
Jin-haeng has another problem to contend with, because it’s finally time to meet his girlfriend’s son, Shi-wan. Mom proudly introduces her well-mannered son, who greets him with all the civility in the world… until Mom steps aside, and then Shi-wan turns cold and disapproving.
Turns out that Shi-wan saw Jin-haeng on a blind date with another woman—he’d been forced into it by Dad, who wants the political alliance—and calls him out on his secrecy. How can Jin-haeng declare his love for his mother and then hide them from his family? Is he ashamed of them?
A convenience store is the site of the first of many run-ins between this pair: So-min works here, and sees Ki-woo’s leftover ramyun sitting on the counter, barely touched. Figuring it’s almost as good as new, she starts to eat it, just as he comes back—he’d just stepped outside to take a phone call. Whoops.
She’s mortified and apologizes, but he waves it off, amused more than anything and saying she’s “in an awful hurry.” It’s a phrase he repeats the next time they meet, when So-min realizes she’s missed her bus stop and has to step over the passenger next to her, who turns out to be a sleeping Ki-woo.
The bus screeches to a stop and she ends up in his lap. He recognizes her as the girl who’s in a hurry, and she climbs over his legs awkwardly and runs away.
Jin-haeng mulls over Shi-wan’s rebuke and comes to a decision, inviting his girlfriend and Shi-wan to the studio on his last broadcast. A fly in the ointment: Dad is also here, unexpectedly, with the politician’s family in tow.
Jin-haeng freezes up at first, but finds his resolve and makes his on-air proposal, declaring to the world that he loves his girlfriend and wants to marry her. Dad, naturally, is not pleased.
Neither are the other employees, namely Park Joon-geum, since this is HER show and Jin-haeng is ruining it. To their shock, the proposal is a huge hit with viewers and ratings hit 40%. So Jin-haeng gets to keep his job after all.
Dad refuses to consent to Jin-haeng’s marriage with the older single mom, but Jin-haeng stands up to his father for once, saying that he’ll marry her anyway. Ki-woo urges Dad to give in this once, but blustering Dad is used to getting his way and tries to interfere by visiting the girlfriend.
Instead, Dad ends up being schooled by Shi-wan. The teenager says calmly that he doesn’t like the pairing either, but the adults are serious so they should accept it; Grandpa should be the bigger man. Dad huffs and puffs at Shi-wan’s effrontery, but Ki-woo gives him a big round of applause. Aw.
News of Ryu’s upcoming wedding depresses Soo-hyun, who drowns her sorrows in soju, then succumbs to her inner petty jealousy by getting online. Eeek, walk away, walk away!
In the morning, little bro Kyung-pyo freaks out because somebody used his ID to go on a tirade online (she’d lambasted everyone who praised Jin-haeng’s romantic on-air proposal). Soo-hyun gulps nervously, but dimwitted Kyung-pyo jumps to the conclusion that his account has been hacked. Heh.
This leads to a pretty amusing attempt at Whodunnit by the Idiot Crew, who are equally matched in their lack of common sense. They suggeest that the hacker is someone close to Kyung-pyo and knows his password, which was his birthday. Like… his mom! Simon D’s reasoning? “Your mother gave birth to you, so she should know the date.”
Turns out that Mom gets his birthday wrong, though (apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?), so the friends conclude… that it must have been Kyung-pyo himself. He freaks out, and Soo-hyun finds him crying, “Noona! I think there’s another me inside of me!”
She consoles him, secretly relieved and thinking that there are upsides to having an idiot for a brother.
So-min’s list of embarrassments grows one item longer when she dumps out dirty cleaning water and accidentally douses Ki-woo with it. Reluctant to part with an expensive dry-cleaning fee in compensation, she offers to launder his clothes for him, and gets to work in the bathroom sink.
Good-natured Ki-woo is content to wait in a nearby cafe, where he drinks his milk (does a body good!) and smiles cheekily at the ladies who ogle his bare torso, saying, “I know I’m hot, but you shouldn’t stare so obviously.” But I… can’t… help myself.
True to his word, Jin-haeng proceeds with marriage plans, defying Dad’s opposition. Dad refuses to go to the wedding despite Ki-woo’s urging, but everybody else arrives at the hall, including Shi-wan, who has made good on his word to accept the union.
But nobody sees Mom anywhere, and wonder if she got held up in traffic because of that big accident outside. Until they realize that Mom was IN the accident…
…and then we pick up three months later, with Shi-wan and Jin-haeng both still grieving for Mom. Wow, they really went and killed her off, huh?
Life goes on for the others, and Ki-woo passes the PD test to join his brother’s team at TV11. He’s an assistant director working under Soo-hyun, and his arrival is met with coolness by Suk-jin (coolness is his default setting) and Joon-geum, who sees him as the useless newbie. Until she cops a feel of his rock-hard arms and is suddenly all attention. Yes, Ki-woo’s pecs tend to have that effect on women.
The order of the day: shooting new promos for the show. Ki-woo has lots of creative ideas and the team agrees to his suggestion of light-hearted and fun. Suk-jin answers in his robotically stiff way, “Yes. I have no objection.”
Problem is, the uptight Suk-jin ends up shooting down every idea anyway, citing his three rules of broadcasting: Youthful, wholesome, pro-underdog. For instance, an idea involving Superman violates his idea of wholesomeness because Superman was an alien committing identity fraud. Lol.
That just makes Ki-woo determined to find a solution, while satisfying his own three rules of broadcasting: “Fun. Even funner. Awesomely fun.” Haha.
The end product? A birth theme, with Joon-geum “delivering” the show’s fresh new concept, with Suk-jin standing in for the baby. Young, wholesome, and pro-underdog, just like he insisted! Everyone loves the promo and praises Ki-woo’s direction… except Suk-jin, that is.
There’s an interesting snippet that shows Suk-jin harboring a grudge against Ki-woo, which I’m sure will be explored more in the future (mostly ’cause I’ve read the background info, ha). At work Suk-jin keeps his professional robot face on, but then he mutters Ki-woo’s name while writing it down in his notebook, like he’s literally putting him on his shit list. Hehe.
Shi-wan has been living at a jjimjilbang/sauna, where So-min now works. She’s on friendly terms with him, but clearly he’s been lying because she calls him oppa and assumes he’s in university. She asks for his help rounding up minors to kick out at curfew because authorities are cracking down on violations, and Shi-wan gulps and gets defensive at her comment that he looks like a minor himself.
So-min hears his phone ringing and picks up to take a message, only to find that it’s his homeroom teacher. She realizes that he was lying about his age and urges him to go back home before he gets her fired, too. She thinks he’s an angsty teenager having a fit of rebellion, but he tells her that he has nowhere to go, stirring her pity.
Jin-haeng sees Shi-wan entering the jjimjilbang one day and heads inside to ask about him. But So-min just sees the adult asking about the minor and panics, thinking this is about curfew violations, so she runs to warn Shi-wan and shoves him into a ball pit, out of sight. Which leads to a bit of a close call when they slip and land just within kissing distance. Gulp.
But Jin-haeng finds out the story, and learns that Shi-wan’s home got repossessed for debts and his relatives turned their backs on him, leaving him to scrape by on his own.
Jin-haeng tries to talk to Shi-wan and offer his help, but Shi-wan freezes him out, saying that he doesn’t want his pity. Jin-haeng is left wondering how to get through to him, and asks his own father how he raised two boys on his own after Mom died. Dad replies that it’s not like it was a choice—when you have kids to take care of, you just do it.
Having overheard the conversation, So-min is persuaded to help Jin-haeng. She locks them in an empty sauna together so they can talk, and Jin-haeng makes his proposal: Shi-wan should move in with him. Shi-wan flatly declines, and then things take a turn when the cold sauna suddenly turns on; Jin-haeng slips and finds his face stuck to a frozen pipe.
And of course, from So-min’s vantage point it looks like they’re hugging, so she feels pleased with the turnout, letting them stay locked inside just a little longer.
Jin-haeng doesn’t give up and continues to press Shi-wan to move in, saying he was almost his stepfather. To his surprised relief, Shi-wan relents and agrees to the move, just till he graduates. Jin-haeng thanks him for his decision, thinking his sincerity finally got through to Shi-wan.
It wasn’t Jin-haeng that changed his mind, however, but So-min. Because of the underage issue, So-min had gotten fired from the jjimjilbang job, and he’d apologized for it. She’d cheerily told him that she’s good at finding jobs, worrying for him more than herself. She’d urged him to move in with Jin-haeng, because at least then he’d be eating square meals, not living off of ramyun every day.
Her comment echoes his mother’s words about living off of warm food instead of ramyun, and he remembers having promised Mom to always make sure he ate well. So now he goes, out of respect for that promise more than anything.
So-min gets back to the job hunt, and interviews at Daddy Ryu’s restaurant. Dad agrees to let her work there for a few days before deciding whether to keep her, so she prepares to do her best when she hears that her boss’s son is bringing his co-workers over for dinner.
When she sees who that son is, she panics. If Ki-woo’s still angry about the clothes she dirtied, he could get her fired, so she ducks out of sight and pleads with Simon D to help her avoid him.
Simon D agrees… then immediately tattles to Ki-woo, citing male solidarity. Plus, there’s the fact that he wants to be a singer and wants Ki-woo to hook him up with his PD connections, which explains why he’s always bursting into song/rap.
Ki-woo is mightily amused, and decides he’d like to see how this plays out. So he tells Simon D to act normal, and has fun watching So-min bend over backward (and frontward, and upside-down) to keep her face hidden as she serves their table.
When she hears his voice approaching the storage room, for instance, she frantically looks for a hiding place… and climbs out the window, hanging on to the ledge with her fingertips. She loses her grip and falls one story down, landing on a scooter seat below. Driven by Ki-woo, of course: “Hey, it’s Miss Always-In-a-Rush.” At least this time he assures her not to worry, because he won’t get her fired.
Meanwhile, Jin-haeng brings Shi-wan home with him while Dad is away on a business trip. He’d meant to inform Dad of the situation beforehand, but didn’t muster up the nerve in time and now figures he’ll tell Dad after he returns.
But Dad returns home early, having cancelled his trip. Jin-haeng panics, shoving Shi-wan into a room while he works up the guts to deliver the news. The thing is, Dad puts the clues together—signs of a houseguest, Jin-haeng’s phone calls to a mysterious person—and chuckles, thinking he’s got it all figured out. He calls out to the mystery guest to come out, because he may as well meet the new girlfriend now.
Except… it’s a teenage boy who steps out instead. Dad recognizes him as the son of Unsuitable Girlfriend and flips his lid.
As I said, this week was mostly setup, so we’re still getting a feel for the world and the characters. I enjoyed the show and I’m going to keep watching, but it doesn’t yet have that “it” factor, that thing that gets its hooks into me and makes me excited to see it. The show might develop that connection as it goes, and with characters like this I have some hope that that might happen. Or the show may remain like this, a fluffy way to spend 22 minutes with a super attractive cast. (Seriously, everyone’s gorgeous.)
What’s different about Standby than, say, its predecessor High Kick 3 is that High Kick had a way of cutting straight to the heart of the matter. It had a thoughtful air and used its plot to draw out thematic beats that really resonated with me on an emotional level. But looking at a lot of the sitcoms I’ve watched in recent years, I think High Kick is the exception, not the standard. And I’m totally okay with Standby not being that, because High Kick wasn’t really much of a comedy; it was a sitcom by virtue of its adopted format, but not in spirit.
Standby is more overtly comedic, and while I don’t find it laugh-out-loud funny either, I do think it has its moments. For instance, the Three Stooges, aka the Idiot Trio. I might not have found them amusing had they been played as buffoons, but what makes them funny is that they’re convinced they’re smart. Simon D counsels with an air of sagacity that he has no business affecting, which makes it funnier when Kyung-pyo and Ye-rim fall in line like disciples of a guru.
The TV milieu gives the show some opportunity for some meta jokery, which mostly comes in the form of throwaway lines; they’re not crucial to plot but they wring a little extra funny out of a moment. For instance, Suk-jin’s always heading to one hosting gig or another, on shows like Golden Fish Market (a play on Golden Fishery) or We Were Married (a dating show for divorcees, haha).
I’ll admit to an immediate Ki-woo/So-min bias, because I just love them as actors and I enjoy them together here. I was afraid she’d be too bumbling, but like with the idiots, I appreciate that she’s not a clown. She has terrible timing and luck where Ki-woo is concerned, but at least she’s not an incompetent fool.
I dig how much of a kick he gets out of teasing her, not least because it’s always refreshing to find a good-natured lead character who doesn’t flip out when he’s inconvenienced, harassed, or injured by a stranger. Plus, his playful streak is going to make it a lot more interesting if/when he expresses any emotion with any intensity.
I’m not sure about the Shi-wan/So-min connection yet, but I like that she’s the one who gets through to him (although it’s mostly because she reminded him of his promise to Mom). She, like Ki-woo, is immediately likable for her upbeat nature; I love me my dramaland Darcys and uptight heroines, but it’s a refreshing change to meet characters who aren’t cast in that icy-lead-in-need-of-thawing mold, once in a while. She gets fired from job after job, but she doesn’t dwell on it and just moves on.
Ryu Jin is definitely one of the show’s strongest assets, and most of the reviews and articles I’ve read about the show focus on his contribution. In addition to displaying the funniest image turnaround, “ruining” his image thoroughly in pursuit of getting the laugh, he also gives the show its earnestness.
The Jin-haeng/Shi-wan relationship was an unexpectedly intriguing development for me; it’s rich with possibilities and I’m eager to see where that goes. I wouldn’t have thought theirs would be the relationship with the most depth, but I’m invested in seeing whether they can bond as not-quite-father-and-son. Perhaps it’ll even give rise to some fatherly bonding between the Ryu-bros and their own father, to have this precocious, wise-beyond-his-years grandson-figure around, schooling them when they’re wrong.
I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that in the next episodes, Jin-haeng asks neighbor Soo-hyun to take Shi-wan in temporarily—Dad must refuse to house him—which makes Shi-wan roommates with Kyung-pyo. The smart boy and the dimwit = comedy gold? Suddenly the boy with nobody will have not just a father figure, but multiple families: the Ryus, the Kims, the cafe friends, and the broadcast extended family. I love stuff like that.
- More lovelines and flashbacks in Standby
- Standby on standby for weeklong High Kick 3 specials
- An introduction to Standby’s TV broadcast family
- Ryu Jin dorks out for Standby
- Ha Suk-jin cast as rival in sitcom Standby
- Lee Ki-woo joins Standby to romance Jung So-min
- MBC sitcom Standby adds to its cast
- Jung So-min returns to TV with Standby
- Ryu Jin ruins his image for sitcom Standby