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Once Upon a Small Town: Episodes 1-3

Once Upon a Small Town is finally here and it’s as fluffy and adorable as you would imagine for a show about animals and the people who take care of them. Everything about this drama is pretty from the animated intro to the pastoral setting — and the budding romance promises to be just as lovely. I am so in the mood for bike riding and peach picking in the sunshine, and now that I’ve got it, there’s no going back. Countryside, here I come!

 
EPISODES 1-3 WEECAP

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This could not be further from the other show I’m covering right now, and I could not be happier about it! Green grass, natural light, flowers in bloom, and a crop of new young actors that are as good-looking as their surroundings. For a small drama, the first three episodes are big on heart.

We start by meeting HAN JI-YOOL (Choo Young-woo), a veterinarian at a state-of-the-art clinic in Seoul. In the middle of treating a pampered pet, he receives a message about his grandfather telling him to come quickly because there’s not much time. In a panic, he drives to the rural village of Huidong, repeatedly failing to get ahold of his grandparents. At their house, no one answers the door and he begins to climb the gate. Here, three minutes in, under the pouring rain, we get our meet-cute — and it’s everything you’d hope it would be.

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AHN JA-YOUNG (Joy) is a local police officer touring the neighborhood on the lookout for a small-time thief who’s been robbing the elderly. She spots Ji-yool, pulls him down, twists his arm behind his back, and asks to see his ID. It’s hilarious as he tries to explain what he’s doing and she doesn’t believe a word. By the time she realizes she’s mistaken and lets him go, her partner comes along, thinking she’s in danger, and flips Ji-yool over his back and onto the ground, knocking him unconscious.

This is the first in a stream of physical comedy that earns its laughs not from the outrageous actions (throwing people down, falling in the mud) but from the other characters’ nonchalant reactions to it all. In this case, Ja-young’s partner has no idea what’s going on and plays the scene straight-faced as she gives him a dumbfounded look. This is the show’s style. The setups are over the top, but the punchlines are slight — making for playfully funny results.

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Ji-yool wakes to find he’s in his grandfather’s vet clinic and the text messages were a ruse. His grandfather lured him there so the grandparents could go on a two-month cruise and leave him in charge of their animal hospital. When he protests that he has to be at his own clinic in Seoul, his grandfather says it’s all taken care of and, no, he doesn’t (heh).

From here we’re off and running. It’s a classic fish out of water story as Ji-yool tries to make sense of country customs, maintain his boundaries, and get used to his new job. It’s not easy to go from the everyday issues of dogs to vaccinating pigs and checking up on baby goats with colic. But it’s even harder to get used to the neighborly ajummas walking into the house unannounced (even if they come with kimchi).

For Ji-yool, the new customs aren’t just confusing, they sometimes violate his animal-loving ethics and penchant for sticking to the rules. When he goes to help out a farmer whose chickens are being attacked by a wild dog, he finds the dog’s leg in a trap, bleeding. He gets angry, takes the dog’s side, and states it’s illegal to trap a dog like that. Ja-young is there but says it’s her job to defend the farmer’s property, not to give him a citation. Ji-yool takes the dog back to his hospital and fixes him up but the animal refuses to eat. After a week or so, the dog finally starts eating and the nurse says, “What can he do? He has to adapt” — and we see our hero agree, just as he begins to take steps toward adaptation as well.

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Because Ja-young does double duty as police officer and farm hand (of course), she and Ji-yool are in constant company. Though they snap at each other over their different ways of seeing the world, Ja-young actually has a terrible crush on Ji-yool — from when they were twelve. That’s right, they were “secret friends” as kids but Ji-yool hasn’t recognized her yet. She knew the minute she saw the name on his ID when she had him detained at his grandfather’s gate.

Even though Ji-yool doesn’t remember Ja-young, his feelings toward her soften when he finds out that she was abandoned by her mother. He lost both of his parents as well, and seeing her vulnerability makes him wonder who takes care of her while she takes care of everyone else. He realizes that the local people have no boundaries but starts to see it’s because they care about each other.

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The group of gossipy ajummas that run the women’s association want to set up Ja-young with someone but the town only has a few young people. One is the stunning new veterinarian in town and the other is Ja-young’s best friend LEE SANG-HYUN (Baek Sung-chul), who runs a peach farm (can you get any cuter than this?) and also has a crush on her. And while the show is setting him up as a second lead, it’s also setting him up for heartbreak, because it’s very clear she only has eyes for Ji-yool.

I’m liking Ji-yool a lot too and it’s not because he’s so fresh-faced and pretty (not totally). He’s adapting quickly to his new environment and seems like a truly good person. In fact, all the characters strike me as good people. So far, we have no high drama. The minor conflicts have cleared up easily and everyone is easy to forgive without a grudge. And even though Ja-young wants Ji-yool to remember her from when they were kids, it’s more important to her that he has a nice time while he’s in town this summer. (Of course, she could just tell him — but if she did that, this wouldn’t be a K-drama.)

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Another reason I like Ji-yool is because the actor is proving to be very funny. This is my first time seeing Choo Young-woo and his slight, quick facial expressions are just hilarious. One of the running jokes is that he’s looking for a good cup of coffee. When the nurse at his hospital gives him instant coffee, he asks, “Is this the only coffee you have?” She responds, “Are you afraid we’ll run out? No, we have more. Don’t worry!” And his small, reflexive head movements are comedy gold (and impossible to capture in a screenshot).

Other highlights in these episodes are watching Joy handle live pigs (I don’t know why I found this hysterical) and the cast of side characters at the police station, the vet clinic, and the women’s association, which I’m sure we’ll continue to get to know. Notably, we have Jung Suk-yong as police chief HWANG MAN-SEONG and Baek Ji-won as CHOI SE-RYUN, the loudest of the three ladies leading the upcoming conflict against the neighboring town. We just saw these two in Extraordinary Attorney Woo and their roles here couldn’t be any more campy and different.

So far, Once Upon a Small Town has elements of an old-school silly K-drama that doesn’t take itself too seriously and will make you smile all the way through. I’m totally camping out for more.

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This was cute. Nice short episodes and fun.

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I was pretty happy with this beginning. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but I was promised a supremely light, short, cute series of episodes, and it’s definitely delivering that. I like my boundaries enough that I generally tend to be Team Standoffish City Person in these situations (oops, haha), and this was no exception, but I’m glad that they haven’t stayed in that territory very long and our vet is adjusting a little better now.

My favorite part so far was probably in ep 3 when Ji-yul was trying to buy the truck and Sang-hyun was having absolutely none of it. And then the drama teases us with this amazing set up where Ja-young is going to pretend to be Ji-yul’s wife so that he can get a better deal at a nearby place. In a drama with more time, we would have definitely seen that play out, but I love that it was just nodded to here, and that was enough to change Sang-hyun’s mind.

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My wife and I really enjoyed the first episodes.

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I was a little disappointed in the first episode. I was expecting some green acting and a lot of tropes, but the characters and the actors seemed too flat, and it didn't play as fun and light as I hoped.

But the show hit its stride in the second and third episodes and now I'm looking forward to the rest of this. Sang-hyun is already breaking my heart, though--I honestly cannot fathom how Ja-young would not have already fallen for him. But, of course, this is a kdrama, so the boy she fell in love with pre-puberty is the only boy for her.

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@dramaddictally thank you for a great weecap. You are so right this is a proper old fashioned rom com. The comedy gold for me was the truck buying incident; the bartering down by the owner himself just to ensure they didn’t get to go play husband and wife in a neighbouring town.

I was hooked at episode one, I like the short episodes and the fact we get three a week as well as the tone and atmosphere of the village.

I was assuming the lack of memory was due to him being under ten when they first met so when she said they were twelve, I wondered how insignificant she been in his life for him to forget her existence as surely there weren’t that many kids in the neighbourhood when he visited his grandparents as a child.

I know I am going to like this show as I get to know the village characters. I can already tell that the rivalry between the villages is going to be played out throughout the season. I know they needed to show the common knowledge of the absent mum but seriously how was the Ajumma unable to read the room as she went on and on about it?

This is a show that if I was not live watching I would have binge watched in a day just for the feel good factor. The newbies are doing great and chose the right vehicle to showcase their budding talents.

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I wonder if Ji-yul really doesn't remember his secret friend at all, or if there is something else going on there. It did seem odd that he wouldn't remember anything, but we don't get many scenes where he confides in anyone else, so we can't really be sure what he knows and what he doesn't.

And I think that Ajumma knew exactly what she was doing when she went on and on about Ja-young's absent mom. I think she was trying to humiliate her. I hope she gets put in her place for that.

Totally agree about the truck scene! My favorite of the week for sure.

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It was sweet but also made me realise how much of a city person I am. I would be driven crazy in a village like this one 😅. I'll keep watching coz it's cute.

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I'm not necessarily a city person, but I would find those ajummas soooo overwhelming. And it is truly alarming how quickly news travels!

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It was cute and I enjoyed it, but I was utterly distracted by the sweat marks on Jiyul's shirt. Every take it was there, it wasn't, it reappeared in a different place etc etc. Costume department: you're filming in high summer, it's an active role. Stick him in clothes that don't show sweat, or if you want the sweat to be part of it, watch your continuity please...

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It was pretty logical. First, it was the rain, the shirt slowly dried. Then, mud + water, then sweat on his t-shirt, sweat with the pigs, etc. It just dried after a moment.

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I was admittedly quite tired at the time but I fell asleep in episode 3. Then I woke up and realised I’d missed about ten minutes, went back to watch it and fell asleep again relaxing watch or boring? Hmm.

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Also I don’t understand why someone apparently concerned about animal welfare (as demonstrated by the stray dog) would go and chase a sick goat around a paddock when he is aware he’s unfamiliar with large animal treatment and has a local, who clearly often assists the usual vet, willing to help.

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The FL is quite unlikable to me and the main reason why I hardly enjoy the series.

I also have a problem with the way she tried to defend the farmer who had caught the poor dog in the trap and injured his paw. I find these kind of traps barbaric in general, no matter if dog or animal, not for nothing they are banned at least here.

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I get where you are coming from but she was born and raised in a rural area and the way she behaves is an indication of her environment. In her mind a warning is enough cos the survival of the hens are vital for a community that grows and consumes their own food. No one is perfect and I think the whole point of this series is for the vet to teach his more moralistic city ways to all the characters so they can grow and learn and for the farming community to encourage him to be more open and trusting. A drama wouldn't be a drama without flawed characters who grow and learn as they develop. So basically this drama has a flawed female lead who's character will develop as she learns to be a better person thanks to the male lead's influence.

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I mentioned I dropped this because of FL's acting and someone jumped on me saying they don't get the idol hate 😒

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Well, the farmer was also a poor man trying to save his chickens (his source of livelihood). Its sad that survival works this way for all animals (including poor human beings even as the rich get richer)

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I liked it. It's simple, fun and cute.

I'm not convinced by Joy in this role. I think she suited more the role of an influencer in The One and Only than this one. She doesn't look like a cop from countryside who spends her time outdoors.

Choo Yeong-Woo looks older than his age. I'm happy that he's the lead for once! Baek Sung-Chul is cute.

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Cutest. Show. Ever. Like a cross between All Creatures Great and Small and Hometown CCC. I love fish out of water dramas anyway, but the characters here are all so likeable, and the location of the peach farm is so pretty, it's like a balm to watch.
I loved when Grandad told him on the phone not to try too hard, - he knows his grandson well! A bit of a perfectionist, and standoffish, he's setting himself up for failure in this place. (I recognise myself😅)
Also loved the truck buying scene like other beanies, LSH has let everyone know where he stands if he didn't already.
Finally, I do wonder if our ML does remember his past, sometimes those small expressions look like he's thinking about something else. And yes, that ajumma in the other village totally knew she was humiliating Ja Young.
I'm all in!

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Okay may be a minority here. I didnot enjoy it much. The boundary part was frustrating to watch. Entering someone's home when they are out although they meant well ,its not something I will be a be able to digest. Another red herring was the grandpa who found it right to lure his grandson with drama instead of respecting his choice,I would literally go madin one day.
May be it's because I am a city person who values space and boundaries, its is quite difficult for me to warm up to these genre. I will give it a week more before dropping.

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I think we all have certain subjects where it ceases to be a relaxing time spent in a make believe world. I hope that if it continues to be frustrating that there are other dramas that are a better fit for you. It is disappointing when a drama isn’t what we were hoping/expecting it to be.

I agree that the grandad ‘joke’ was out of order. Jiyul could have had an accident on the way down he came totally unprepared with the clothes on his back and high levels of stress hormones running through his system. To then be trapped in a job he had no post qualifying experience for is a lot to ask of him and would the practice insurance company be happy to cover any mistakes he made? Human doctors only have to know one animal and still the specialists tend to focus on one element of the body whilst vets have to learn numerous species and so he had chosen to specialise in domestic small animals following qualification and that was his comfort zone.

I am hopeful that whilst they are using stereotypes and exaggerating things to make a point they will use these to show the city and country approaches to life each have their pros and cons. It’s about accepting people as individuals within a community space rather than assuming everyone is ok with something just because it’s always been that way. For me it grated on me the over emphasis on Jayoung’s mother’s abandonment as if it was just another topic of discussion. The reason it struck a cord was it was the same woman who had been keen to point out that adult decisions can have a long term impact on children when it involved her son having a criminal record.

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Cute show. Fun, too. It reminds me a little of Modern Farmer. What a lot of work covering each peach with a tiny bag to protect them from beetles!

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I grew up as a city person. But after we got married, we got to live at the countryside for work for a few years, then move back to the city. The moment I watched the scene where the ahjummas stormed into grandpa's house and start explaining their Kim hi and side dishes, I smiled remembering our sweet memories the first time we met such neighbors at the countryside.

They might look nosy, but they did that to welcome you and so that you won't feel left out. I miss our countryside moments... Everyone are so close to each other. I didn't get similar vibe at the city, at least not at the moment.

I love this show. It felt fresh with vet and treating sick animals. Joy handling the animals especially holding the pigs is so cute to watch! The view of the country is stunning. I might Google where they're shooting this drama later.

Looking forward for next week's episodes!

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I never thought I would say something like this again but... I have second lead syndrome. They look so freaking cute together.

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I love the little dog they rescued and hope he'll stick around (judging by the poster, he might <3). That scene alone made me warm up to the ML, I do love a man who respects and loves animals.
I also enjoyed the relationship between the FL and her friend. He obviously has a crush on her, but they're very close and comfortable with each other and it's nice to watch.

One thing that annoyed me, though, is the first love nonsense. Who would still carry a torch for a prepubescent boy they met 10+ years ago? Let me tell you, when I see my old crushes now, I want to run and hide under a rock *shudders*

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Do any of the old crushes look as cute as him though! I think I would have reminded him from the start. He is there for a limited time and getting the old memories out I could see if there were any options. It would clear the air instead of things stretching out awkwardly and ruining fond memories.

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Fair point, none of my old crushes are as cute 😭
She should've just said, "hey, we met when we were 12, don't you remember me" or something along those lines, instead of giving him the side-eye every two seconds 🤣 then again, it wouldn't be a kdrama if they acted rationally heh

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The thing for me with dramas is what they choose and what I choose for the area of conflict. I would choose a straight forward conversation and then have the drama about the thing that brought them together at that age why she held on to his promise to stay in touch what led to him not staying in touch. What the impact of remembering that pre teen relationship has on the here and now. Clarifying whether he really does have a girlfriend as he has not been seen contacting anyone. We should be seeing a stropping city girl moaning about the lack of contact, suggesting that he hire a locum vet and come back. Maybe, she would visit and complaining about the backwater and question why he chose to be there rather than in the land of pampered pets whose owners pay out big money.
The writers of dramas go for the obvious quick fix and milk it for 3 episodes and that’s why it becomes frustrating as real life conflict usually is very different although of course it is minor issues that often lead to bigger problems.

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It would be nice to have some middle ground between the absence of one sentence that would solve the problem and the deep reflective 15 paragraphs in the more true to life serious dramas like My liberation notes.

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I agree, sometimes I watch a drama and think how it would be immeasurably more satisfying if some conflicts were resolved with a single conversation, because - like in real life - not everything needs to be drawn out. Can you imagine having a friend or significant other who would never be straightforward with you and would always sulk over you not remembering something they said ten years ago? I'd run for the hills lol
I think a more interesting conflict here would be if he remembered her as just some kid he hung out with one summer, without the added nostalgia/romanticism. That would create some nice tension bcs then they would remember the same thing in different ways. She also STILL (*rolls eyes*) has a crush on him, while he (supposedly) has a girlfriend. It would be more believable, too. Kids play with random kids for two weeks during summer break and then forget they exist the second they return home.

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