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The Great Show: Episodes 1-2 (Series review)

Song Seung-heon is back in tvN’s latest offering, and you know, I’ve got to say it: So far The Great Show is a great show. With the Monday-Tuesday evening drama slot disappearing on broadcast channels, this show is just what you need to start the week. It provides a slanting, sideways look at the showmanship of politics, with all its requisite dry humor. Despite its lighthearted front, it’s actually a surprisingly poignant show with a lot to tug at the heartstrings.

We’re introduced to WIE DAE-HAN (Song Seung-heon) on the campaign trail, as he canvasses for votes ahead of a general election. He’s the youngest serving assemblyman ever, and during his term he’s won a load of accolades and awards, including Assemblyman of the Year.

His biggest rival in the election is crafty older politician, KANG KYUNG-HOON (Sohn Byung-ho), and only a few percentage points separate them. Dae-han uses his youth and charm to try to gain the edge, but it’s all undone when his long-estranged father dies in poverty. With just days to go, it becomes the scandal of the election, and he’s stuck with the label of “Unfilial Son.”

To counter the bad press, he goes on an exhausting yet hilariously ostentatious mourning march, which takes DAYS because he goes into a full-on, full-body bow with every three steps (but he’s got secret knee pads he has to keep hidden HA!) until he finally collapses before his father’s ashes. But it’s all futile in the end—Kang beats him using his “unfiliality” as a sneaky smear campaign, and it’s the death knell for Dae-han’s political career.

In a wry voiceover, Dae-han tells us about his dad walking out on the family when he was a kid. The real story is bleak, but the way he tells it is so funny, and it’s a truth Dae-han never reveals. It’s difficult to say how the public would react. Maybe he’d be judged harshly either way, but the story casts Dae-han in a more sympathetic light. So too does his backstory with his rival. We learn that Assemblyman Kang was responsible for destroying his mother’s livelihood, pretty much out of spite (because Dae-han outdid his son at school). He essentially told young Dae-han to know his place, which, wow, there should really be a special circle in hell just for that.

It seems like Dae-han mixed his anger and idealism to become a genuinely effective official, and all of those bills he proposed might look like political spin, but I don’t believe it. In the eye of his self-made PR storm is a man who has beliefs about what power should do, and even if he makes a big ol’ show of it, he actually tries to earn his keep.

There’s a strong My Fellow Citizens-vibe in the opening episodes, and Dae-han plays the opportunistic politician to the hilt. I know poor “hand towel” Song Seung-heon has never been a popular actor in this neck of the woods, but I’ve really liked him in his last few shows (in my defense, I never watched Dr. Jin). He has a gift for comedy–the blacker, the better. His last drama, Player, saw him as a similarly suave, devil-may-care kind of character, but there’s also a gravity to him here that comes out in quieter moments.

Three years later, Dae-han barely makes ends meet working as a designated driver, and it’s as embarrassing as it is funny to see him constantly trying to stay relevant. On one of his neighborhood sweeps, he runs into JUNG SOO-HYUN (Lee Sun-bin), his old college hoobae-turned-neighbor. Just as they’re getting reacquainted, a girl pops out of nowhere and begs him to find her lost little brother. This is HAN DA-JUNG (Noh Jung-eui) and ohhh, I like her. She runs him ragged looking for her brother, and he likewise seizes the opportunity for some ostentatious heroism.

Da-jung tells Dae-han that she’s come looking for her birth father, who, by the way, has no idea he has a kid. We learn that she’s been left fending for herself and her siblings since her mother was recently killed in a hit-and-run, and her stepfather abandoned them because of debt.

Dae-han encourages her, but he has nooo idea that karma is coming for him when he laughs about it later with his friend. “I’d love to see the look on her birth dad’s face,” indeed! He gets his wish alright, when Da-jung turns up on his doorstop (with her brood of siblings in tow) going all, “Hi, Dad!”

Well, Dad sure is dismayed, especially when the circus of kids make themselves entiiiiirely at home. Da-jung reminds him of a youthful one-night stand which he can’t remember…until he does. Haha. He demands a paternity test, but even before the results come, he tells Da-jung that he can’t take her in regardless. His reasons are sound, but the rejections stuns her.

Da-jung really squeezes my heart. She’s so…she’s devious and cheerful, but like Dae-han, she’s solemn beneath that front, and really genuinely sweet, especially to her little twin half-siblings. Her story is tragic all around, but she asks for no pity. I love her sense of pride, which isn’t diminished even though she’s in abject circumstances and asking a stranger for help. Through it all she remains motherly, mannered, and diligent. It’s telling that Dae-han finds himself secretly moved by her efforts and sense of responsibility, but the idea of taking in these kids who make a mess of his life and home… It’s a step he’s just not prepared to take.

But Da-jung also seems unaware of the direness of his circumstances. He might have a nice house left over from his assemblyman days, but the dude is definitely house poor, and his job is pretty lousy for income. Nor do any of his efforts to stay in the political game end well, and he’s finally told by a sunbae that he should forget trying to make a comeback. Dae-han remains remarkably thick-skinned, which I guess you have to be in his line of work, and bears with it all.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Kang’s popularity flourishes thanks to his family act with son, lawyer KANG JOON-HO (Im Joo-hwan), Dae-han’s old classmate and rival. And that, Dae-han’s told, is the key to political success: to be a family man and show off strong family values.

Dae-han has a bad encounter when Joon-ho turns out to be his client for the night, and EVEN WORSE is when his ex shows up as Joon-ho’s plus one. Awwwkwarrrrd! But are these men frenemies, or straight up rivals?

Joon-ho’s a bit of a question mark to me, because he actually seems like a genuinely good guy (who does not agree with his father’s politics). At the same time, it depends on how you look at him. Either he’s sincere and a bit square, or he’s a devious evil genius who has everyone right where he wants them…or maybe a little of both. Either way, their encounter ends with Joon-ho getting riled and making up his mind to run for election, if only to show Dae-han.

When Dae-han returns to his too-quiet, too-empty house after all the family talk, you can see the idea take hold…the tiniest what-if. But the shocker is that the DNA test comes back negative! That’s not what I expected at all! I think even Dae-han expected it to be positive. Well!

Meanwhile, the kids are set upon by loan sharks, and Dae-han and Soo-hyun run to the rescue. His sincerity is no lie, even if he’s about to pull off the greatest show of his life when he announces, “I’m these kids’ father now.”

It’s actually a super heartwarming moment, and we know that there’s some emotional truth in his grand declaration. Yes, he has ulterior motives, and yes, he fully intends to use these kids, but it’s also true that he feels something towards Da-jung, even though he now knows she’s not his kid. But I’m pretty sure the kids will actually be okay with that: It’s a mutually beneficial exchange. They get protection, a home and security, and he gets to win back public approval, and maybe an election. Win-win.

I find the title of the show hilariously apt, both in translation as “The Great Show” (widaehan meaning “great”) and as literally “The Wie Dae-han Show.” Dae-han is a consummate showman, and I find it so interesting that his choices are dictated by what makes him look best pretty much 100% of the time.

But the most interesting thing of all is that in the absence of prying eyes, he’s an instantly much better person. Like how after his election defeat, he realizes his girlfriend wants to break up, but rather than letting her be the bad guy, he says it first. It’s not about saving face for himself or one-upmanship, it’s deliberately sparing her by shouldering the burden of being the bad guy himself.

It’s the same trait he shows when he doesn’t expose his father even when it might have saved him. I like this guy. It’s not often you can say about a politician (in dramaland or elsewhere), that their inside is better than their outside. His outside is definitely all pomp and vainglory, but inside, there’s a person with firm values and a real desire to make things better for the have-nots.

I’m enjoying the dynamic Soo-hyun brings to the relationship between Dae-han and the kids. Her genuine concern for them incites their trust in her, but she has no skin in the game. I think she will put her money where her mouth is, but I’m hoping she’ll just slide into their daily life, and become attached before she knows it. And oh, did we mention that Dae-han is her first love?

The forced family setup has been done aplenty before, even with politicians, but with so much potential for sweetness, hilarity, and youthful evil, I don’t think anything about it will feel tired or trite. I’m also super-curious about how the question of Da-jung’s parentage will come back around; I’m not ready to rule out the old, “whoops, sorry, we made a mistake, you really are the dad,” but that would be trite, and I’m hoping for better. I’ve got a provisional theory that it could be Joon-ho, even though he doesn’t look like he even knows the meaning of “youthful indiscretion.” But we’re here for drama, we’re here for a showman’s show, so bring on the preposterous!

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I'm here for Song Seung Heon's hilarious expressions (eg. last pic).

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I didn't know what to expect from this show - you never know wish Song Seung-Heon will turn up.

This is a drama with so many nods to other shows it was becoming a little distracting. Add to that, each of the main performance has strengths but for me they are yet to mesh. (It was like each was playing to one of the difference references). I really hope this drama is able to find its voice.

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My provisional parentage theory is Assemblyman Kang is the father. He's so slimy I could see a variety of scenarios that could make this true. Also, Joon-ho discovering he has a sister who is now under the care of his frenemy would be great. He is also in need of a new family, and this new family grouping would be a good way to loosen him up.

I liked this premiere week. I like Song Seung-heun, and I'm looking forward to further interactions between him and those adorable kids. But oh do I hope they don't short change me on that sarcastic caustic teenage boy. Please let him continue with his bitter one-liners and epic side eyeing because he speaks the language of my own bitter soul.

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Song Seung Heon Is just nailing this. Am loving his characters and I hope he can find a way into politics. I too believe that he is a much better person than most out there. Even when he decided to send the kids to the orphanage he spoke to her in a very practical tone and expressed himself well. When he said ‘I can not separate you four’ I could totally see that he thought of all possibilities. He just couldn’t afford 4 kids.
But with the carrot being ‘family’ am so excited to see the next episodes.

Da-Jung is an amazing elder sister to these kids. She is smart, resourceful and kind. I am sure she can be a great brain behind Wei dan’s Success.

Am rooting for you Wei DAE Han. Fighting!!

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I appreciated Dae-han's honesty with the kids. He leveled with them. He's broke, even if he doesn't look like it. And he's smart enough to see that this little tribe has be remain together. I expect that Mom may have made them promise to always stay together.

I totally enjoyed SSH's performance in the movie WONDERFUL NIGHTMARE. In that, he played an unflappable Dad to a surly middle school girl and cutetastic little boy. Nothing fazes him, unlike poor Wie Dae-han, who is getting his baptism by fire. Or is it water?!

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Thanks, Saya! I agree, Daehan is actually a good person, but in this world it seems like it's impossible to succeed as a politician just being a good person. It'll be interesting to see how far he'll go to the dark side to win, because his original goal was to weed out corruption in government by being in government.

Song Seunghoon is really hitting his stride as an actor -- I was so looking forward to this after Player, and I wasn't disappointed.

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Yes, Dae-han is fundamentally a very good person - who may indeed have to take a walk on the dark side.

There is a strong MY FELLOW CITIZENS vibe o this show but the main characters are actually mirror images to each other: Choi Si-won's Yang Jung-kook was a true conman who thought that he just wanted money- only to discover that deep down he really wanted to help his people. Dae-han has always known that he was not really interested in the money- and has always wanted to help the people- particularly those who are weak and oppressed. But to survive and succeed he has had to behave at times like a con-man- and never more so than now.

But there are real bottom line differences too. In the end MY FELLOW CITIZENS was a nice story of redemption- with a lot of hilarious moments and some really fun characters. This show is setting up to be more about the underdog who has always had it hard but never gave up his principles -and in the end will be receiving the rewards of love and family.

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Thanks for a very nice description of Wie Dae-han's underdog's journey, @oldawyer OldLawyer. ;-)

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I enjoyed the heck out of the first 2 episodes. I wasn't expecting to, but my goodness those twins are Adorable. That being said the whole reprobate son thing annoyed the crap out of me, his father left him, it is perfectly understandable that he didn't speak to the man who abandoned him 30 years prior. Hmmph, but plot and all of that.

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I too hated the entire "unfilial son" thing. But what if the real story- and the way that the 'unfilial son' story was leaked is revealed later. All of the things that Assemblyman Kang has done may come back to bite him in the *** in the end. I think it is great that we have such a despicable villain.

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@oldawyer OldLawyer,
I agree with you that the karmic payback is going to be delicious when Assemblyman Kang is revealed to be such 24-karat cad and bounder. It will be even better when a third party reveals how Kang Sr. forced Dae-han to subvert his own academic success by threatening his widowed mother's puny livelihood. Son Byung-ho is having a blast as the reprobate politician. He is such a bad apple, I expect that he's the one who ran over the orphans' mother and figured the thud was just a speed bump.

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i am hooked! and i like the progress SSH has made in his dramas. he definitely has a flair for comedy! i love the little family already and of course the girlfriend to be. this will be my fluff for all the dark shows i am watching.

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The morally ambiguous son of a rising politician, Im Joo Hwan...didn't he play exactly the same role in Uncontrollably Fond? I mean he's great as these characters, very charming, very persuasive, but I hope to see him as someone different next time.

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Like a lead role!

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Yeah, he looks like he gets to play a lot of morally ambiguous characters. Maybe next time he will be a cheerful guy ?

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Where are you watching this? Thanks.

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I watched on Viki.

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Viki

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I liked it so far. Can't wait to see what more the drama has to offer.

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Da-Jung's dimples are to die for!! I could not stop staring at them every time they showed up. They are the cutest things i have ever seen 😻😻

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Seriously- when Dae-han was setting up to ship these kids to an orphanage my reaction was : You don't want to have her as your daughter? Are you blind? Is your hear made of stone?

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THE GREAT SHOW looks like it will be a great show. I agree that it has some MY FELLOW CITIZEN'S feel but there are very significant differences.

I enjoyed the first two episodes. But now the real story begins- I hope they can keep it up.

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I wasn't expecting much from this one but thought the first two episodes were funny and had a lot of heart. I was really impressed with the actress playing Da-Jung, and Da-Han is a good character for SSH.

I can relate to Da Han's method for making major life decisions lol.

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LOL! Thanks @saya What a great review and funny! I didn't watch this show yet ,but reading you makes me want to ... maybe in 3 weeks time after I finish 1 project?!?! Heh!

A heart-warming family show with kids at their natural best or worst sounds like something I'll enjoy after the machinations of Ma Gos in Hotel DL and a silly firefly. 😇 😆

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You will like it. And we are going to need something (especially something light) with HOTEL DEL LUNA ending this weekend

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@oldawyer My thoughts exactly! I'm getting a bit excited for tonight's HDL ... less than 6 hours to airing time, I think!

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I'm liking this show. Its comedic and i want to see know the relationship among dae han, the kids and the other lady.

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Thanks for your recap of THE GREAT SHOW, @saya. Show got off to a great start, and has kept me tuning in ever since. Late to the party, as usual.

As you've mentioned about Wie Dae-han and noona Han Da-jung, there is an underlying seriousness lurking below the surface. I particularly like that Dae-han takes the high road, even when it might benefit him more to do otherwise. He looks like a scamp at first blush, but there's a decent human being there. It just seems to take him a moment to get his bearings before he does the right thing.

I'm especially interested to find out the circumstances of the children's mother's demise. I can't help but wonder if some bigwig politician did it in a rush or a cloud of soju fumes and didn't even realized his vehicle had collided with something (or someone) in the dark.

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This is the first time I've given a non-completed show a try. It's started off great and I can't wait to watch more!
I love that Da-jung was introduced to us playing her own game. She's genuinely good but isn't above a little deception/putting on a show to get what is needed for her and her family. She's so much like Da-han that it made the reveal that he's not her father all the more shocking. One of my favorite tropes is the concept of chosen family, and the reveal that there's no blood between them mad me excited to see that happen here. I want to see this "don't like kids" guy turn around and decide he going to keep all four of the siblings not because of some obligation or for how it makes him look, but because he actually wants to. Especially since Da-jung kept saying "blood is thicker than water," which has been misinterpreted. The full saying is "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb," meaning the promises/ties you choose to make are stronger than the ties of the family you are born into, and I for one would be beyond excited if they purposely tie both the common misconception and true meaning of the saying into the story.

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