My Unfamiliar Family: Episode 1
tvN’s latest melo My Unfamiliar Family is off to a strong start as a poignant tale of family in all its messy glory. Despite delving into some heavy issues, it doesn’t feel overly dark or oppressive. Thanks to its emotional resonance and engaging cast, one episode in and I’m already invested.
As KIM EUN-HEE (Han Ye-ri) busily gets ready for work, she ignores calls from her mother LEE JIN-SOOK (Won Mi-kyung). The second she finally does pick up in frustration, Jin-sook yells at her for never taking her calls or calling her back and hangs up.
KIM SANG-SHIK (Jung Jin-young) chides Jin-sook for yelling at their daughter while she’s headed to work. Jin-sook cryptically says she’s going to tell the kids today. Although he doesn’t look happy about it, he tells her to do what she wants.
Son KIM JI-WOO (Shin Jae-ha) follows him to the door and politely sees him off on his hiking trip. Sang-shik looks at him exasperatedly, and Ji-woo whines that his part-time job might become permanent – he can’t move out yet. Sang-shik pats him on the shoulder and leaves.
Ji-woo tries to aegyo his mom out of her anger but just ends up getting tasked with calling Eun-hee and informing her she’ll be disowned if she doesn’t get her butt home that night. Then, Jin-sook ignores a call from Eun-hee. Ha. Ji-woo calls Eun-hee back and loudly passes the message along before whispering that he doesn’t know what’s going on either.
At the Yoon Tae-hyung Family Clinic, the eponymous YOON TAE-HYUNG (Kim Tae-hoon) doesn’t understand why KIM EUN-JOO (Chu Ja-hyun) insists on personally doing the clinic’s laundry. But she likes going to the laundromat and asserts she has nothing better to do.
When he mentions her writing, she plays it off, asking if Hyo-seok said something. They begin arguing about this Hyo-seok, and she tentatively asks if he’s jealous which he denies. Eun-joo tells him she’s having dinner with her mom and leaves.
Punctuality is no joke at Eun-hee’s work where being late earns you a fine, so Eun-hee throws a mini-tantrum when she arrives three minutes late. But her frustration pales in comparison to her boss’s full-blown tantrum as he stalks out. SEO KYUNG-OK (Ga Deuk-hee) has the scoop and shares that headquarters is sending a young, competent vice president over who is rumored to be after CEO Jung’s job.
At a small media company, Ji-woo informs his boss PARK CHAN-HYUK (Kim Ji-suk) that he wants to tell Eun-hee he’s working with him, but Chan-hyuk wants to do it himself. Sure, he hasn’t talked to her in several years, but they’re social media friends, so it’s cool. Riiight.
Eun-hee and Kyung-ok visit an author at a Buddhist temple where they’ll be attending a meditation session the following day. Meanwhile, Ji-woo and Jin-sook arrive at Eun-joo’s sleek apartment. Jin-sook sighs at its sterile feel, noting it doesn’t seem like a married couple’s apartment.
At the laundromat, AHN HYO-SEOK (Lee Jong-won) comes bearing coffee he brewed for Eun-joo. He recalls she said she’d stop holding herself back and eat and drink whatever she wants starting today. She gladly sips her first coffee in years (!!) and asks if Hyo-seok told her husband they hang out. He jokes that he never knew laundromats were private places.
When Eun-joo gets home, Jin-sook sends Ji-woo to the laundromat to wait for Eun-joo’s stuff. “Do you sleep in separate rooms?” she asks her daughter. Eun-joo nonchalantly confirms it. Her mom brings up having kids, but Eun-joo is done going to doctors. Plus, Tae-hyun doesn’t want to keep trying.
Their views on marriage clash with Jin-sook claiming a couple needs kids to be strongly bonded while Eun-joo argues her parents’ bond doesn’t seem that strong despite having three. Oof. The atmosphere is still strained when Ji-woo returns with the laundry.
As the siblings chat, Ji-woo mentions he’s working for Chan-hyuk and confides his suspicion that Chan-hyuk used to have a crush on her. Maybe her and Eun-hee’s falling out has something to do with why Eun-hee and Chan-hyuk haven’t talked in years.
Jin-sook chides him for interfering when he tries to get Eun-joo to make up with Eun-hee, but he’s annoyed they’re having two separate family meetings due to the rift. Later, Tae-hyung joins them at the café where Hyo-seok is a barista. Ji-woo eyes Hyo-seok and the couple suspiciously.
While they’re at the café, Eun-hee arrives at her parents’ empty apartment and is shocked when a strange man enters. He’s a real estate agent showing the apartment to clients. Eun-hee calls her mom who merely tells her to show them the place and hangs up.
At the table, Jin-sook drops the bomb that she’s splitting from their father, although they’re not divorcing. She uses the modern colloquialism “graduating” from marriage. She’s already discussed it with their dad, and she’s not seeking their opinions.
Hyo-seok brings Tae-hyung his coffee, his eyes lingering on Tae-hyung’s hand resting comfortingly on Eun-joo’s. Jin-sook continues they’ve agreed to sell the apartment and split the money. Eun-joo seems primarily concerned about their father while Ji-woo annoys them with all his incessant sighing.
Jin-sook and Eun-joo start arguing. Eun-joo doesn’t think she’ll be able to make her own living since she’s been a housekeeper all her life. Jin-sook is hurt by the lack of support and leaves to go break the news to Eun-hee. Eun-joo rants to Ji-woo that Eun-hee will probably just tell her to do whatever she wants, and then she snaps at her brother to leave.
Sang-shik is having a cookout with his hiking buddies who are gossiping about his marriage “graduation.” They badmouth Jin-sook for dumping him now that he’s not making a steady paycheck.
As predicted, Eun-hee is 100% supportive of her mom’s decision. But Jin-sook zones out while watching TV and doesn’t respond. Eun-hee and Ji-woo relocate to the convenience store for a talk (and beer). Did their parents fight recently? Ji-woo says it’s quite the opposite – it’s silent between them. Their mom is only comfortable when their dad isn’t around.
Eun-hee astutely mimics her sister’s reaction to the news, making Ji-woo clap in appreciation of how well they both know each other. Why not make up? Eun-hee stubbornly insists that her sister doesn’t know her at all.
Chan-hyuk returns to work that night to find YOON SEO-YOUNG (Hyejeong) still there, going through his photos. She grumbles about him pulling an all-nighter for lousy pay and offers to help, but he kicks her out. He sighs when he finds an old picture of Eun-hee.
Eun-hee gets a text from her sister saying she’ll be in charge of their dad, and Eun-hee can be in charge of their mom. She wants help convincing them to think it over again, and Eun-hee with a noncommittal “got it.” Tae-hyung advises Eun-joo to just call her, but she doesn’t want to make the first move.
The following day at the temple, Eun-hee is reluctant to meditate and get too introspective, afraid of what she’ll find. The author tells her just to sit and observe then. During the meditation, they’re encouraged to extract difficult memories. Eun-hee closes her eyes and recalls the longest day of her life: March 10, 2016.
She wanders her memory and, as she watches Jin-sook cry in the kitchen, surmises this is when her mom began contemplating divorce. She notices her mother’s wedding ring on her dresser. In a familiar pattern, Eun-hee grows frustrated by her mom’s nagging as she heads to work, while Jin-sook argues it’s the only time she sees her. Once out the door, Eun-hee feels bad and rushes back to say she’ll take the lunch box her dad didn’t want.
Eun-hee watches herself meet with two women who accuse her of an affair. One of the women claims to have been dating Jong-min for three years, but Eun-hee informs her she’s been with him for nine. Now, Eun-hee recognizes how far apart she and Jong-min had grown in those years.
The woman brazenly admits they met every weekend, and she even goes to his place often. Eun-hee comments that he doesn’t live alone. “Chan-hyuk knows me, too.” Eun-hee goes still. The woman viciously reveals that she and Jong-min took a trip last weekend.
Eun-hee ignores calls from Jong-min and goes to find her sister. Through tears, Eun-hee confesses she doesn’t know if she wants to leave him. Eun-joo exasperatedly tells her to stop crying, annoyed at her indecisiveness.
Eun-joo plays the “I told you so” card and accuses her of taking the easy way out by pretending not to know something was up. She knows Eun-hee hates conflict and would rather not deal. Eun-joo never liked him anyway – he was too dishonest and desperate.
Eun-hee scoffs, asking why she never told her back then, but Eun-joo claims she did. Eun-hee just didn’t want to hear it. Eun-hee regrets coming to see Eun-joo in this situation. Even if she won’t console her, Eun-hee shouts, can’t she be on her side as her sister?
Eun-joo sits indifferently as Eun-hee cries and rages, and Eun-hee has had enough. She tells Eun-joo she never wants to see her again and walks out. Eun-hee narrates that she didn’t know then that Eun-joo was dealing with a miscarriage. Her sister never tells her anything.
Eun-hee goes to Jong-min’s and catches Chan-hyuk on his way out. Jong-min opens the door when he hears her screaming at Chan-hyuk for not telling her. They pull her inside, away from the prying eyes of neighbors.
Eun-hee is angrier at Chan-hyuk, who’s supposed to be her friend, than at Jong-min. Chan-hyuk fires back that he barely ever sees her anymore, so how could he tell her? Jong-min tries to intervene, but they ignore him. Eun-hee finds Chan-hyuk’s excuse lacking, yelling that he just didn’t care enough.
Chan-hyuk argues that Jong-min said he’d tell her when the time was right, so what could he do? “He started seeing another girl because he got sick of you! What could I say?” Jong-min jumps in at that and gets screamed at by Chan-hyuk who’s over them both. They cowardly dragged this out for years.
Eun-hee tells him to leave so they can end it. “It’s over with you, too.” He sarcastically thanks her for saying it to his face and claims he’s relieved as he storms out. As she watches him leave, Eun-hee narrates that she didn’t know what was worth fighting for back then.
In the meditation session, Eun-hee cries along with many of the other participants. The author thanks them for participating in the filming. Eun-hee looks over and is surprised to see Ji-woo and Chan-hyuk behind the camera. Ji-woo gives a little wave, oblivious to the awkward tension between her and Chan-hyuk.
At the café, Hyo-seok sits at Eun-joo’s table and lightheartedly asks “the regular I like” why she’s suddenly drinking coffee and wine again. She’s even starting to work. Eun-joo draws the line at discussing her personal life. He gets up when she tells him she needs to make a call.
Eun-joo calls her dad who assures her everything is fine, but she wants to talk in person. They agree to meet up in Incheon. Before they hang up, Sang-shik tells her not to stress about having kids and just live happily with Tae-hyung.
Eun-hee’s attempt to literally run away so as not to see Chan-hyuk fails when she’s spotted by Ji-woo. Chan-hyuk stands there awkwardly while Ji-woo introduces the Golden Goose Media team to her.
Chan-hyuk ignores Eun-hee’s “long time no see” but then invites her to grab dinner. Seo-young warns him not to lead people on, which makes Eun-hee smile. She comments that he must still have the habit of being overly friendly to women. They bicker good-naturedly and fall into a comfortable rhythm. She sincerely thanks him for inviting her to eat and treating her like nothing happened.
Sang-shik drives his truck to a rest stop late at night and traipses into the woods. In a flashback, Jin-sook says they need to talk and suggests they separate without the messiness of divorce. She assures him she knows how hard he’s worked for their family, but he accuses her of doing this because he’s not making enough money. If he’d rather not support her, she’s willing to get a divorce.
When she suggests selling the apartment and splitting the proceeds, Sang-shik yells, “Did you buy it?!” He doesn’t see the need for divorce or separation when he’s barely home anyway. She cries that she can’t take being in the same space with him anymore; it’s hard to breathe.
Hurt, he screams at her to leave if she hates it so much. Jin-sook stands and quietly demands, “You leave.” Later, although he isn’t happy about it, he agrees to do as she wants.
Over dinner, Chan-hyuk tells Eun-hee that Ji-woo has been doing jobs for him since he was discharged. Eun-hee wonders why Ji-woo didn’t tell her, but Chan-hyuk reveals he stopped him. He worried Eun-hee would’ve thought he hired Ji-woo with ulterior motives.
Eun-hee bristles and goes on about her great, open-minded personality. He jokingly agrees but turns serious when he mentions her crying in the meditation session earlier. To his surprise, she straightforwardly confesses she saw herself in the past. “You were there, too.”
She realizes now that 30 is still young – you don’t have it all figured out. Eun-hee apologizes for taking out her anger on him rather than Jong-min. She muses that she must’ve trusted him more. As she leaves, she tells him they should stay in touch. He gives a weak, “I guess,” assuming she’s just spouting empty words. Ha. Eun-hee bemoans his lifelong brutal honesty.
In the car, Eun-hee jams out to some Baby Vox, taking her back to her college days when she goofed around with Chan-hyuk and Jong-min. She gets choked up and turns the car around. At the café, Eun-joo looks up and is shocked to see Eun-hee standing there.
Eun-hee struggles to find the words and finally utters, “I’m sorry.” Eun-joo sighs and accepts the apology. But Eun-joo doesn’t buy the excuse that Eun-hee would have behaved differently had she known what Eun-joo was going through. She always blows up immediately and reacts one-sidedly. Eun-hee agrees, smiling cutely and placating until she gets prickly Eun-joo to laugh.
At home, Jin-sook sadly looks through an old photo album full of her and Sang-shik as a young, happy couple. In the dark woods, Sang-shik drops a bottle of pills down a hill.
The next morning, Eun-hee arrives at work early and ecstatically whoops and yells that she’s first. Then, she sees everyone in the break room behind her. Ha. Turns out everyone is early because IM GEON-JOO (Shin Dong-wook), the new VP, is coming. When he arrives, he seems to take special notice of Eun-hee.
They have a welcome dinner that night at a fancy restaurant where Eun-hee runs into Jong-min, of all people. It’s his wedding anniversary. Does she keep in touch with Chan-hyuk? Eun-hee shares that they met up just yesterday. The conversation is polite and super awkward. Geon-joo calls her over just as Jong-min asks for Chan-hyuk’s number.
Eun-joo worries when she can’t reach her dad and calls her mom who hasn’t heard from him. Early the next morning, Sang-shik still hasn’t appeared and his truck remains at the rest stop.
Eun-hee wakes Ji-woo up when she calls at the break of dawn asking where Chan-hyuk’s office is. She assures him it’s no big deal, but she needs the address right now. Chan-hyuk is stunned to see Eun-hee at his place, looking anxious. Meanwhile, Jin-sook receives a call that Sang-shik never showed to pick up the cargo for work. She calls him, but it goes to voicemail.
Eun-hee sits with her head in her hands, worrying Chan-hyuk. She doesn’t know why she came, but she has no one else to tell. As she confesses she saw Jong-min the previous night and did something bad, the rest of the family gathers at the police station. In the woods, Sang-shik lies unconcious with a head injury.
This is exactly what I hoped it’d be: an emotionally resonant exploration of family and relationships. It has a warm, lived-in vibe, like we’re dropping in on a story that’s been in progress for a long time. Although it’s technically dubbed a melo, it has a slice-of-life feel that grounds it and keeps it from feeling contrived or overdramatic. I also appreciate that it has a sense of humor and playfulness. Take that intense breakup scene, for instance. I cracked up watching the cheating boyfriend standing ignored and confused off to the side while Eun-hee and Chan-hyuk had it out.
I like the way we’re getting to know the characters more naturalistically through their interactions rather than through exposition or forced situations. Jin-sook is a great example. Rather than directly voicing that she’d been suffering in silence for years, feeling unappreciated and overlooked, we saw it through her reactions and interactions with her family. It adds a layer of nuance and subtlety, letting us see who the characters are without rushing to tell us.
The characters so far are balanced well between being sympathetic yet flawed. Eun-hee is fun and lovable but also overly emotional and stubborn. I find myself rooting for her and wanting to see her grow as a person. That’s in no small part thanks to Han Ye-ri’s fantastic performance. She and Won Mi-kyung stole the show for me this hour, although the whole cast is solid.
Eun-joo is an interesting character. She’s so different than the rest of her family. They come off as emotionally driven to varying degrees whereas she’s stringently practical. From the way she kept chastising and shaming Eun-hee for crying in that flashback, Eun-joo seems to view emotionality as a weakness. It’s hard to tell how much she’s bottling up versus how much is just a natural tendency toward being less emotional. She’s clearly acting more okay with her strained marriage than she truly is, though. And now with this Hyo-seok situation, things are looking pretty complicated. They’re in dangerous territory since there’s obviously attraction on both sides.
In a single episode, we touched on a whole lot of relationship issues that I’m interested to see explored further. On top of that, there’s Sang-shik’s accident which, depending on the severity of his injury, could affect family dynamics. I’m excited to see where we go from here. But, tvN, must all of your dramas have ridiculously long episodes? I’m glad we got a thorough introduction and all, but I don’t need each episode to be approaching movie length.
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