Touch: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
Channel A’s Touch premiered last week, I actually liked this drama more than I am willing to admit. Truth be told, I think that the K-pop industry backdrop is perfect for some really great dramas. But, not only are they few and far between, but the ones that exist never seem to go deep enough for me. So, when Touch and its idol world was announced, I was intrigued. It’s also a small show from a small cable channel (so to speak), and that always piques my interest.
Judging a drama by its premiere week is pretty risky, especially when a drama spends its entire first episode on setup and backstory. But, with one episode of backstory, and one episode in the “present day” setting, we’ve got a pretty good feel for this drama and where it might go. And the backdrop of makeup, skincare, idols, and celebrities has me shamelessly hooked.
When the drama opens, we meet CHA JUNG-HYUK (a very handsome Joo Sang-wook), a highly sought-after celebrity makeup artist at the peek of his career. He’s rather petty and pompous, but there’s no doubt he’s an artist. When we first meet him, he’s on a plane back to Seoul, horrified by the skin condition of a girl on the plane. He cringes at her makeup choices, and immediately (and rudely) tells her what kind of makeup and techniques she needs to use instead.
In true K-beauty spirit, though, it’s about her skin’s condition first — he criticizes her poor sleep habits, bad diet, and tells her to use a sheet mask to hydrate before she dares to put makeup on. This setting of skincare and self-care runs through the drama, and I enjoyed how the drama depicts Jung-hyuk as able to tell what happened to someone the day before merely by looking at their skin. A literal face reader, perhaps?
This guy knows everything and is universally worshipped in the industry, but he meets his match in our heroine, HAN SOO-YEON (Kim Bora). She’s been an idol trainee for over ten years and when we meet her, she’s a part of an idol competition that’s akin to real-life Produce 101. Jung-hyuk is personally doing the makeup for one of the idol contestants, and we’re led to believe this is like a god descending to earth to assist a mere mortal.
Of all the contestants in the program, he chooses Soo-yeon’s face to adorn with his art. But that’s where it all goes wrong. Though the transformation is amazing, Soo-yeon is uncomfortable and secretly re-does the makeup herself. This is the ultimate insult, and Jung-hyuk is beyond furious. I understand their butting heads is an essential part of the story, but he’s a grown man, and I found his pettiness and fury both annoying and immature. However, such is the case for many a K-drama lead hero early in the plot.
Just when Soo-yeon’s finally made it and is about to debut, she (and her career) are sacrificed to save the star and money-maker of her agency, KANG DO-JIN (Lee Tae-hwan) from a scandal. They’ve been friends for ages, and have an adorable rapport, but when Soo-yeon is kicked out of the agency in shame, she returns home and cuts ties with everyone.
It’s not until a year later that she’s rallied herself, and has decided to pursue a career in makeup. This path takes her to a blind audition at Cha Beauty, Jung-hyuk’s super successful and posh company. Soo-yeon is highly talented and might even be a bit visionary — the executives recognize her skills right away, but Jung-hyuk is a grudge-holding sort of man, and he barely agrees to take her onboard in their new round of assistants.
Cha Beauty is like high school, and though you’d think Soo-yeon would be a little more resilient to “mean girls” and bullying after ten years as a trainee — I don’t know, I find her a little mousy when I’d expect her to be tougher. But this very well may be part of her journey.
The setting of Cha Beauty is really the best thing about this show. There’s high-stakes makeup sessions, celebrities popping in and out for skincare and dolling up — and the artistry (and artistic temperaments) that are intrinsic to the industry. Even after just one episode in this setting, I want more!
New assistants are assigned to Cha Beauty teams, and no one chooses Soo-yeon (it’s much like getting picked last to play dodgeball in middle school). By default (and storytelling necessity), Soo-yeon winds up on the best team.
That team is comprised of Jung-hyuk himself, and his two assistants. The first is SOHN HONG-SUK (Ahn Dong-yeob), who’s honest and sweet and is the guileless sunbae she needs. The second is the cold but talented LEE HYUN-JOON (Sohn Woo-hyun) who is so drop-dead gorgeous I hope he plays a bigger part in this story (even if it’s just for my benefit).
The setup around the team and their dynamics is strong. Throw in a pictorial competition with a nemesis company, and the VIP treatment of the celebrities, and Touch is already cooking up a really fun dynamic between its many characters, their talents, and the hierarchy at Cha Beauty.
Where things get problematic is in the approaching love line between Soo-yeon and Jung-hyuk. If this wasn’t written into the drama summary, I don’t think I would have expected the drama to try to create any romance between these two characters at all. Their dynamic is typical: ego-driven CEO versus gifted candy. While I guess in dramaland that defaults to romance, I would like this story so much more if it left them as boss and mentee.
Touch has already created space for many a love line with all the young, more age-appropriate characters we’ve met, and I’m not exactly looking forward to seeing the show sacrifice that for the standard OTP setup of CEO + Candy. Maybe it’s a lie and they won’t?
As for chemistry, they’ve got none so far. The most we’ve had to connect them as more than opponents is the fact that Soo-yeon saw Jung-hyuk naked. Yes, you read that right. She gets to work early, and explores the gorgeous headquarters. For some reason she thinks it’s normal to walk into a room within a room that’s labeled “Shower Room.” The door is unlocked… and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
This is a pretty standard drama trick, and for comedy/increased hostility between the two, I can accept it — but as a sort of sexual awakening for Soo-yeon? No thanks. I’d rather see her with Do-jin — and speaking of, he’s already queued up to be the second lead of heartbreak.
Lee Tae-hwan is either great (Pride and Prejudice), or not-so-great, (What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim), but I love him here as Do-jin. He’s perfect for the self-centered idol-actor who expects the world to revolve around him, but is also a teddy bear when it comes to the people he cares about.
Our characters in Touch might be all-too-familiar stereotypes, but they’re also rather well-drawn. So, even if I can predict what they’ll do in their cookie cutter roles, I’m also highly entertained and invested in their character development. Touch sucked me in fast, and that’s got to mean something, right?
Finding tropes in a drama’s premise is like finding sand in the desert. What’s fun, though, and what makes it a ride worth taking, is the fun we have with those tropes along the way. I’ll definitely be tuning in to Touch’s second week just to see how Soo-yeon is saved from firing on her first day, and how many more faux pas she can make before the day is through.
Here’s to hoping Touch continues to lead with its fresh setting and well-established characters. If the characterization remains as strong as it’s started, I might just be able to believe that our leads’ comic antagonism will blossom into romance.