EPISODE 1. Broadcast on July 5, 2013.
girlfriday: Here we are with the first episode of tvN’s new Friday variety show Grandpas Over Flowers, helmed by PD Na Young-seok, of the original 1 Night 2 Days.
javabeans: He’s definitely the main reason this show has been on our radar. Yes, the premise is cheeky, but you can’t sustain a whole series based on a funny-sounding premise alone. (As we found with the current 1N2D, which has taken a golden premise and tanked it with clumsy execution.) It’s Na PD’s brand of cleverness, tightly planned trips/games/rules, and amusing sadistic streak that have made his episodes such great fun to watch. It’s just enough structure to keep a show from going off the rails, but knows when to back off and let a moment have, well, its moment.
girlfriday: The premise: four veteran actors — the Halbaes (a slangy term for grandpa, like gramps) — and one guest go backpacking in Europe. Hijinks ensue.
javabeans: Backpacking grandpas. Sold. Especially once we’ve seen how they revert to childish pouts in moments of stress, which is just hilarious when you’re talking about dramaland’s presidents, kings of yore, and stern patriarchs.
girlfriday: Yeah it’s definitely built on an old idea — variety as a way to ruin images for entertainment — but this takes it to a whole new level. The first episode brought in average 4.15% ratings (with a high of 5.39% during the hour), which are big numbers for cable, and a fantastic start for the show.
javabeans: Okay, so we open on the four halbaes (gramps—er, grampses?) of the show with scenes of Paris in the backdrop, and is it witty or just plain mean that the song playing is “Viva Primavera”?
girlfriday: Oh, Na PD’s songs, how I’ve missed you. The opening preview montage is really cute.
javabeans: It’s adorable, on top of being artistically really well done with cartoony graphics laid over and integrated in.
girlfriday: And just plain funny moments like Lee Soon-jae bumping into a full-length mirror thinking it’s a hallway.
javabeans: Then we back up to footage from March, before the trip proper to when the show was getting planned. The halbaes arrive at a coffee shop and meet with Na PD and the other crew members.
girlfriday: Haha, did Na PD just tattle on Lee Soon-jae for being pissy that Shin Gu never calls him?
javabeans: Whoa, they met in 1961 in their twenties. Okay, he can be a little pissy that the upstart never calls. I love when Na PD takes out a globe to discuss travel options, but it gets in the way and Baek Il-sub just points and goes, “Take it down.” Na PD immediately, sheepishly takes it down.
girlfriday: I really enjoy seeing him squirm so much.
javabeans: Then we see the footage from the previews, where Na PD presents a few ideas (skydiving, hot air ballooning) and the halbaes are all, “So… you want to kill us? Is that it?” This is the great thing about this premise, which I think maybe other variety shows are losing a bit, of the dissonance between the PDs being the bosses but feeling awkward ordering around their celebrity charges. It’s not the shows’ fault, the novelty is just wearing off and PDs are getting more comfy bossing around big stars. But here, you just can’t get over the age/respect thing.
girlfriday: Yeah it’s immediately hilarious one moment and tense the next, because you can’t escape that dynamic. It’s great. Even when the four halbaes meet up and Park Geun-hyung arrives, it’s just shocking that he’s all, “Il-sub-ie!” at Baek Il-sub like he’s some kid. Ha. Turns out they’ve known each other for years, and were so close in their twenties that people thought they were brothers. At the next pre-trip meeting, Na PD brings up backpacking, and Lee Soon-jae brings the room to a screeching halt: “Backpacking?” They all expect him to complain or something, but then he says, “I did that once. June 25.” As in, the Korean War. LOL.
javabeans: Haha. You really can’t top the “I was in the Korean War” line. He literally carried a sack of rice on his back in wartime.
girlfriday: Baek Il-sub immediately perks up at the mention that a youngun will be brought on as a guest, because that no longer makes him the maknae. We just saw him make coffee for the hyungs after pouting in protest, which we’ve seen in previews.
javabeans: HAHA, is that Lee Seo-jin’s role? That is hilarious. The biggest star, relegated to errand boy role?
girlfriday: I’m thinking yes.
girlfriday: Pwahahaha… and then there’s this cut to Na PD asking, “So what lie did we tell Lee Seo-jin? That he’s going on a trip with Girls’ Generation?” Oh. My. God.
javabeans: Is this a con job? This is aweeeeeesome.
girlfriday: This is even better than I thought. So then he proceeds to lie to Lee Seo-jin’s face about the trip and how he doesn’t have to prepare anything. And then when Lee Seo-jin says that he really likes Sunny, Na PD nearly loses it. I’m dying.
javabeans: Why is it so cute just watching Soon-jae haraboji packing his bag? Editing is everything.
girlfriday: Yeah it’s the intercutting between his charismatic bossypants drama characters, and then his real-life shuffling about, fetching his underwear and socks at his wife’s request.
javabeans: Baek Il-sub is the only one who actually seems as boyish as his image. He chuckles that he feels like the night before going on a grade school picnic, and somehow he looks like that eight-year-old version. Okay, then we have this bit with Seo-jin totally grinning to himself at the thought of palling around with SNSD, and they’re playing the SNSD song “Genie,” and he’s labeled Seo Genie, aka Seo-jinnie. Witty layers of puns! I love everything so far.
girlfriday: I know, this show is making me happy. YAY.
javabeans: What makes Na PD a great PD (aside from the wit and editing skill and the sadistic streak) is that his alterna-plans feel like real plans too. Like, he has the plan for the real show, but you get the feeling that in planning the dupe with Seo-jin, he gives that whole faux trip full mental consideration, because if it’s not convincing then it ruins the real trip.
girlfriday: Totally. That’s why he’s an evil genius.
javabeans: Because I was sitting here wondering why anybody continues to fall for Na PD’s tricks, when he’s famous for the twists. But it’s because sometimes he lets you think you’re IN on the joke, and you’re not.
girlfriday: Here we go… it’s airport day, and “Almost Paaaaaradise” comes floating in. HEE.
javabeans: Oh man, I still have reflex twitching from that song. Is it mean that I feel like “almost paradise” has another meaning with halbaes in their 70s?
girlfriday: That’s why it’s hilarious. Shin Gu is the first to arrive, and the first thing he unpacks is two bottles of soju. Pfffft.
javabeans: And Baek Il-sub has this huge tupperware of soy sauce beef.
girlfriday: Aw, cute, are they already calling him Sub-sub-ie?
javabeans: Haha. It’s perfect. (Sub-sub = disappointed, as in, he gets petulant when things don’t go his way.)
girlfriday: *sniff* Miss 1N2D. The real 1N2D, I mean.
javabeans: Na PD tells the halbaes that Seo-jin is going to be joining them, saying that the halbaes only have to do light stuff and can make the young strapping lad do the heavy work. Grandpa Il-sub says he’ll do as much as he can… which strikes me as the kind of thing you mean for about ten seconds. When they hear about the SNSD bait and switch, they all chuckle. It’s actually embarrassing when Na PD meets Seo-jin and draws out the ruse and it’s so obvious that Seo-jin spent his time googling them and preparing to be all cool and awesome. Embarrassing in the best way, that is.
girlfriday: Heeeeeee. I’m watching through my hands, but dying of laughter.
javabeans: Because Seo-jin can’t stop grinning despite himself and his attempt to act cool is failing because he’s just too excited. Na PD is being such an imp about it, too: “Are those new shoes? Did you buy new shoes for this?” (He totally did.)
girlfriday: So then Na PD makes him sit in the middle of the airport with his back turned, and then sends the halbae foursome over. Lee Soon-jae taps him on the shoulder, and he spins around… eep the look of shock on his face!
javabeans: He does the whole polite bow thing, assuming this is coincidence, and on one hand you don’t get the big sudden bomb-drop reaction. But it’s almost funnier this way because you can see his muddled confusion trying to make sense of it, slowly, as they’re dropping hints (“Oh, we’re going to Paris too” and “Why don’t you come with us?” and “Who did you say you were going with?”).
girlfriday: It’s so funny to watch him try and say no without saying no.
javabeans: And there comes the moment when he’s starting to sense something weird, so when asked about his trip he starts stammering, “I-I don’t know. Who am I going with?” Na PD has to tell him the prank, and then: “Did you just shoot me a dirty look?” Park Geun-hyung tells him he can choose to go with or decide now to back out, rather than feel he has to go and then resent them all. Seo-jin: “Teacher… how can I possibly say I won’t go?” Hee.
girlfriday: Na PD sits the grandpas down and pulls Seo-jin aside. “Are you gonna hit me?” And Seo-jin just keeps laughing because he still can’t believe it.
javabeans: Seo-jin’s manager approaches with head hanging, and he says he’ll have to fire her upon his return. Haha. From a clip shot later, Na PD asks what Seo-jin would say to her, and Seo-jin goes, “Who’s that?” So now we get the H4 montage (intercut with F4, natch), and it seems as good a time as any to do formal intros. I thought the show would get to it, but maybe they assume everybody and their mother already knows these veterans.
girlfriday: Halbae 1 is Lee Soon-jae, age 80, and the grandpa in every drama ever. Some recent roles: Childless Good Fortune, The King 2 Hearts.
javabeans: Halbae 2 is Shin Gu, age 76, also every grandpa ever. I guess that’s just a given with these men. Shin Gu was most recently in Hundred Year Inheritance, and also Feast of the Gods, Queen Seon-deok and King and I, among many others. (It’s worth noting that each halbae’s filmography is insane, with more than 100 projects for most if not all. Each, I mean.)
girlfriday: Yeah their filmographies out-do their ages in number, which is kind of astounding. Halbae 3 is Park Geun-hyung, age 74, and the cold chaebol president specialist of dramaland. His recent credits: Empire of Gold, King of Dramas, The Chaser.
javabeans: Halbae 4, Baek Il-sub, just turned 69, though by Korean counting he might get called 70s (I suspect we’ll get a lot of references to 70s, so that’s why he counts). In contrast to the gruff, stern others, he’s always the cuddly teddy bear type. Recent dramas: Ojakkyo Brothers, Sons of Sol Pharmacy.
girlfriday: And the guest (labeled the Jandi of the group, lol) is Lee Seo-jin, age 43, most recently in Kye Baek and known in varietyland as Art School Hyung from his hilarious guest appearance on 1N2D.
javabeans: I know that in variety we tend to drop the surname, but… I dunno, I don’t think I can do that this time. Maybe he’ll just have to be Soon-jae halbae the whole way through.
girlfriday: Yeah I think we’ll either have to go with full name or add a halbae or gramps or something. I just can’t do a straight-up first name for them. It seems rude.
javabeans: Na PD outlines the trip specs: Essentially, they’re on their own in Paris for ten days and have flights back to Korea out of Zurich. “And if you need internet or anything, you have Lee Seo-jin.” Seo-jin makes this What in the what now? face that cracks me up. But maybe I shouldn’t laugh, given how I am anytime my mom asks me about how to message on “the face book.” (I shouldn’t, but I’m still laughing.)
girlfriday: He hands them an envelope of cash, meant to be their entire allowance for the whole trip. It’s roughly a hundred bucks a day per person, which isn’t so bad, but that includes having to pay for hotels and everything, so it’s gonna get interesting.
javabeans: The one concession is that the show has secured lodging for the first night. Still, that’s nine days unaccounted for. As soon as they land in the Paris airport, I hear gramps(es) going, “Seo-jinnie. Where’s Seo-jinnie? We need Seo-jinnie.” This trip is going to be good.
girlfriday: Lucky for Seo-jinnie, there’s a small group of fans waiting to greet them. It’s just like three or four Korean students who are studying abroad, but they help him figure out how to get to the city from there.
javabeans: Oh phew, that’s such a relief though. Like how in a foreign city, you want to cry in relief to see ANY familiar thing. Which is why my dad would rather eat ramyun every night than, say, gourmet French food at amazing restaurants.
girlfriday: And thankfully, Seo-jin’s English is really good.
javabeans: Yeah, that’s gonna come in handy. Just as long as he doesn’t get the thing I got, of asking in English for a price in lira and getting back a number in yen. Not helpful!
girlfriday: Oh noes, the first bump in the road: At the train station, the five members somehow get split up into three different groups while trying to transfer trains.
javabeans: Seo-jin probably has the worst time of it because he’s lost everybody and starts wandering to find them. Meanwhile, Grandpa Soon-jae is really spry for being the eldest, and he just keeps charging along without slowing down. Grandpa Il-sub gets pouty because his hurting knee keeps him from going fast, and he finally is all, “Fine, go! Go then! Go!” It’s so cute that his hyung Shin Gu knows him well enough and sticks around to wait, smoothing ruffled feathers.
girlfriday: And in an interview segment, Grandpa Geun-hyung calls him Baek Shim-tong, for his tendency to get pissy. I’m really glad these halbaes know each other and can poke fun right away.
javabeans: I’m just glad Seo-jin found them in the end, though his expression is looking pretty dark. But he does have his eye out for the grandpas, who suffer through a long subway ride. Ha, Il-sub Halbae is so mad about the weight of his bag (compounded with his bad knee) that he grumps that if there are any more goddamned stairs, he’s throwing away that beef. And wouldn’t you know, he gets to the staircase and just tosses that bag out of the suitcase huffily.
girlfriday: OMG. He totally throws it, and then kicks it away for good measure. Haha. They weren’t kidding about his tantrums.
javabeans: He was so proud of it in the morning! His wife made it all special-like for the trip! (Cute, Seo-jin picks it up.) They exit the subway and find the street, but then they have to figure out how to make it to their lodgings. There’s this really tense stretch while the grandpas get increasingly cranky and Seo-jin is plugging away at his smartphone, and you just feel him willing the place to be nearby. He’s biting his lip and looking really stressed, and then finally he breaks into a smile and we get the full-on choral Ode to Joy accompaniment.
girlfriday: Oh thank goodness. He runs back with this huge grin to tell them that he found it, and scrambles to help them with their bags. It’s pretty funny to watch him TRY to help them, but they all refuse to be helped in this really stubborn way.
javabeans: I’m amazed that they found some sort of residence for the show, and also jealous. It’s a special lodging house just for Korean visitors, but located in a residential neighborhood which makes it harder to find, since you can’t just ask for directions to a hotel. It’s such an ordeal getting here that Seo-jin is all, “We’re staying here for the rest of the trip, right? We can stay here, right? We should just stay here.”
girlfriday: He looks a little like his soul is elsewhere.
javabeans: There’s this sequence at the table as the grandpas discuss all the touristy places they want to see, and Seo-jin’s head just hangs lower and lower and lower. Then the staff introduces a student who’s living in Paris and helping out on the trip, and his head just pops back up and he starts smiling again. It’s hilarious.
girlfriday: Poor guy. I can just feel the stress and relief, stress and relief, over and over with every twist.
javabeans: It can’t be good for Seo-jin’s health. But… good for building character?
girlfriday: And certainly entertaining for us.
javabeans: Then they head toward their beds—there are two dorm-like rooms with three twin cots in one, and two in the other. Just his luck, Soon-jae halbae wants to bunk with Seo-jin in the two-bed room. HA. Shin Gu halbae actually says, half-amused and half-sympathetic, “I feel so sorry for Seo-jinnie.”
girlfriday: Dude, and then Il-sub Halbae starts to tell Na PD that they can’t put all those cameras here or he’ll kick them: “Did you see me kick the beef earlier?” Na PD actually gulps… and then orders the staff to take the cameras down. WHAT.
javabeans: Omo. That’s… unprecedented. But yunno, Na PD’s gotta pick his battles. I freaking love how when it’s time for dinner, Il-sub halbae is ALL ABOUT the freaking beef now, even though he’s the one who almost kicked it right onto the train tracks. Wow, his wife vacuum-packed it and everything.
girlfriday: I love how it turns into a Thing. He gets interviewed about it later, and he says how much he regretted kicking it away, like it’s a freaking love letter to beef, and how bad he felt.
javabeans: It’s sweet, though, how he’s all, “I’m sorry, my wife!” I think he’s teary-eyed too.
girlfriday: How is it both hysterical AND touching?
javabeans: I know, I’m laugh-crying right now. Especially when they’re passing out the dishes at the table, and they talk up the beef, and Seo-jinnie pipes up, “That’s the thing he kicked earlier.” That’s soooo the thing your five-year-old brat brother would do. Omo, it gets better when Na PD has this realization and tells the group that the two people sitting at the table—whom they have ALL assumed were staffers—are actually just boarders at the lodging house. They just joined them at the table and have been eating and chatting. Hahaha.
girlfriday: And then after Na PD has this whole conversation with them about how they’ve been married seven years, Il-sub Halbae suddenly turns to them: “So why are you sitting here? Are you on your honemoon?” Seo-jin actually quips: “He never listens when anyone else speaks!” Lol. I’m more afraid he’s going to kick them out for eating his beef. I love how Il-sub Halbae turns on a dime. Suddenly he’s all sentimental and mushy, wanting to make a toast to commemorate traveling with all his dramaland friends.
javabeans: Afterward, it’s to the computer for Seo-jin, who has this whole list of plans and reservations to make. Thankfully he has that extra student staffer to help, but you definitely get the sense that he got hoodwinked into working on his vacation, and he’s maybe formulating a complicated revenge plan against Na PD in the back of his mind while trying to keep his polite face on for cameras’ sake. It’s awesome because you can SEE it on his face.
girlfriday: Seo-jin brings up the money issue with Na PD, knowing that they can’t make the plans they want on their budget. If it were just him vs. Na PD, he’d never win, but once the halbaes get involved, they squeeze more money out of him.
javabeans: I think there’s also the element of intentional suffering not needing to play as big a role in this trip when it’s built into the structure already. So the producers can surely give a little so that grandpa can see Moulin Rouge. I feel like Seo-jin just needs like ten minutes in a dark, empty closet to cry or something. Instead he settles for OJ with the staff, who are appropriately awestruck at the terribleness of his SNSD trap. I hope for his sake the drink is spiked.
girlfriday: He does look relieved that there are other human beings around who get his pain. And then the episode ends on Na PD’s eerie refrain: “You know what the truly frightening thing is? That’s just the first day…” HA. Evil!
javabeans: Oh wow, and that’s the end of the episode. I didn’t even realize it till my file stopped. That’s a good sign, surely. Here’s my takeaway from Grandpas Over Flowers: With a good PD, any show can be interesting because it will be funny and well-crafted. I was iffy on whether we should follow this show on an ongoing recap basis or just treat it like a Roulette one-off, because while I was drawn to the premise, ultimately these are halbaes I like and respect but don’t particularly feel the need to know on a weekly basis. But the episode was hilarious and smart, and I fully enjoyed it.
girlfriday: Yeah, I knew I missed Na PD, but I kind of didn’t know how much until I saw this episode and was just entertained the whole way through. Yay for a new variety show that gets me excited! It couldn’t have come at a better time.
javabeans: I’m excited enough to say I want to stick with the show, but let’s go with: We’ll finish the trip, and then decide. But if the next episode continues to be this funny and cute, I will be happy and relieved to find another show that gets me pumped to recap, rather than dragging my feet. Ya just can’t take this kind of alchemy for granted, not anymore.
- More crackling wit from Grandpas Over Flowers
- Grandpas Over Flowers goes to Paris
- Na PD launches new travel variety show on tvN
- 1 Night 2 Days cast and PD changes on the horizon?
- News updates from Varietyland
- 1 Night 2 Days: Episode 375 (Season 1 Finale)
- 1N2D (as we know it) to come to an end
- Na PD rumored to leave 1 Night 2 Days