Sweet Munchies: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
Soft lines, warm lights, and lots of delicious food set the mood for Sweet Munchies. But while the set is dreamy, both our hero and heroine are facing some life challenges that may prove to be more than they bargained for. The premiere week jumps right into the premise and launches our reluctant chef into a starring role in our PD’s new variety show about a gay chef.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
At the end of a long day, the hazy sunlight trails behind TV variety show employee KIM AH-JIN (Kang Ji-young) as she makes her way to her favorite after-work bar. In its first moments, Sweet Munchies establishes its aesthetic before anything else, allowing the natural wood furniture and soft lines of chef PARK JIN-SUNG’s (Jung Il-woo) Bistro speak for the tone it hopes to present. In the first of several food preparation montages, Jin-sung welcomes Ah-jin back with the perfect side dish to accompany her work frustrations and the hard liquor she orders.
It’s this calming environment and perfectly supportive response to her woes that gives Ah-jin the idea for her variety show proposal: a cooking show where a chef offers advice to women. She adds in the extra angle that the chef is gay to offer a new perspective. She’s hoping to finally earn respect from her coworkers (and secure a permanent position), but instead Ah-jin’s stern boss Department Director CHA JOO-HEE (Kim Soo-jin) gives her the impossible task of finding a suitable chef in just 24 hours or lose her position entirely.
But when Jin-sung’s dad gets into a car accident and his restaurant partner pulls out his financial support suddenly, Jin-sung is in dire need of money that only a starring role in a variety show can offer. He just has to pretend that he’s gay.
At first glance, the premise of the show hints at potential distasteful disaster. So much could have gone horribly wrong if it had played this as zany fun at the expense of gay men. I was worried for a moment that we were headed there when Jin-sung turns up for his audition in an outfit that could only be described as a caricature of what he assumed a gay person might dress like. But instead, the show makes good effort to offer differing perspectives and to push back against Ah-jin’s often naive desire to put together this show for her own personal gain.
Jin-sung’s outfit is a bad costume, but he’s not so much impersonating a stereotype so much as he’s trying to copy his gay younger brother, JIN-WOO (Choi Jae-hyun). His brother doesn’t know about Jin-sung’s new job, but he undoubtedly will soon, and it will be interesting to see his reaction. Jin-sung clearly both respects his brother’s sexual identity and cares deeply for him. But it’s unclear whether he’s fully considered what his role on this show may do to their relationship. Right now, he’s just focused on keeping hold of the one thing that makes him happy: cooking at his restaurant. Jin-sung’s reasons are selfish, but it’s hard to be mad at him for it. His reasons are also earnest and simple. He wants to do what he loves and take care of his family.
The show also offers perspective from the other side of the looming love triangle. Fashion designer and TV host KANG TAE-WAN (Lee Hak-joo) calls out Jin-sung’s outfit right away. And when Ah-jin runs into resistance from the studio’s wardrobe department, Tae-wan initially refuses to showcase his clothing on her show when she seems to want to lean into stereotypes. It does not help when Ah-jin suggests that every woman secretly wants a gay best friend. Oof. Tae-wan quickly squashes that by saying that friends aren’t bought like handbags.
But Tae-wan is won over in the end by Jin-sung’s plea to make sure that he doesn’t look ridiculous. And thus, some sidelong glances and the hint of a smile while he takes some measurements, and Tae-wan is clearly smitten. Knowing that Jin-sung isn’t actually gay, we can assume this crush is doomed even before it gets started. But at least we have more than one gay character on this show in just the first week. It keeps me hopeful that Tae-wan doesn’t have to walk away as the loser and he may find several other options for a happy ending.
Ah-jin’s desire to create this show is an equal mix of misguided earnest effort and selfishness. At first glance she is ambitious and wants to climb the ladder at her job. But she also wants to bring real comfort to women who are having a tough time, just like she’s found. She’s a little naive, but also not a pushover. She accepts her boss’s challenge, and stands up for herself against the wardrobe department (though it was more a tantrum than anything else). She realizes when she’s said something out of line, but it’s unclear whether she’s understood yet how truly out of her depth she is with this show.
I also like that while I assume the main love match will be Jin-sung and Ah-jin, so far things are very platonic between the two of them. They both seem to have very serious sides as well as a side that devolves into giggles when things are going their way. I’m up for a nice, slow build, especially since Ah-jin will likely assume he’s unavailable for quite a while. It helps that they’re already neighbors in the same building and Jin-sung is always willing to lend a helping hand to a drunk Ah-jin.
It all adds up to a complex relationship ecosystem, and adds nuance to some really tricky situations. Instead of zany, the humor is entirely observational and rooted in real world situations. The laughs come from things that are strange and out of place in our everyday experiences.
Once the obstacles are faced, both internally and externally, Jin-sung faces the cameras and has to see if he has what it takes to perform for an audience. And this is perhaps when maybe things are a little too real? I struggled through that second-hand embarrassment alongside him as Jin-sung tries to adjust to being on camera and working with a (super cheesy) script. Thankfully, Ah-jin adapts quickly and tells him to just do what he does at Bistro every night for his real customers.
Jin-sung’s advice is not gentle. He’s not a poet here to offer sweet words of comfort. He tackles things honestly and straight-forwardly, maybe even a little brusquely. To a woman who gags at the thought of eating even her favorite food after she discovers her fiance has been cheating on her for months, it’s exactly that dish that he cooks up for her. But it’s offered with sincerity, and by the end the young woman who has volunteered to be their first guest is brought to tears. “Try to remember the things you truly love.”
I think if done right, this show will reveal to every character how their personal motives may have consequences they never anticipated. No one has bad intentions, but of course intentions don’t matter when the impact still hurts. We’ve got some ups and downs ahead, but at least there will be beautiful food to drool over.
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