Pandemic Diary March 2021: Team Good Boy

Spring is springing and unlike last year which was a profoundly silent time…this year New York City is full of revving motorcycles. 

My dearest friend from college had a baby and despite a long-ass labor everyone is okay.  

I got my second vaccine dose and a small fever to go with it. But truly a mild reaction.

I’m still not sure I am ready to be in the world.



When I first saw Kim Seon-ho in 100 Days My Prince, I was instantly drawn to him, but that TV show was less interested in his character than I was. Start-Up is a better showcase for his talents.

The story involves two sisters who go to live with different parents when the parents divorce. Seo Dal-mi stays with her entrepreneurial father who is full of ideas but struggles to find success. Dal-mi’s grandmother (Kim Hae-sook) runs a corn dog stand and ends up giving shelter to an orphan, Han Ji-pyeong there. He has aged out of his orphanage and has nowhere to go—he’s not an adult, he has hardly any money, and yet he’s to take care of himself. While he’s staying in her shop, the grandmother turns to him to help her raise Dal-mi’s spirit. Together, they create a pen pal for Dal-mi, Nam Do-san who confesses he has a crush on Dal-mi. Over time, Ji-pyeong pours himself into these letters with both of them needing a friend at this time in their lonely lives.

Years go by, and Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) continues to cling to her memory of Do-san, who is her first love. She lives with her grandmother and has struggled financially most of her life. She did not go to college. She is smart and capable and wants to go into business, but has yet to catch a break without connections or a higher status. Meanwhile, her sister, with the backing of her wealthy stepfather, appears on top of the world and is CEO of a company. 

Dal-mi runs into her sister and to save face, Dal-mi lies to her sister about collaborating on a new project with her old pen pal, Do-san.  Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) , who has only recently run into the grandmother, hears about this and does not want to let Dal-mi down and goes in search of a real Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) to try to help her out and keep his original deception from being discovered.

Convoluted to be sure, BUT it turns into a bit of a tech Cyrano situation. Do-san is the CEO of start-up and a clueless engineer who’s not great with women. He has potentially interesting ideas but no business sense. 

Ji-pyeong, who is nicknamed Good Boy by the grandmother, has spent his life making money and turning businesses into successes, but he’s neglected his own heart. Do-san and Ji-pyeong both have feelings for Dal-mi who still doesn’t know the truth about the letters. And the more time they all spend together the more agonizing the lie becomes.

Each of the characters in the story have pain and loss they are holding onto. It has colored and driven their lives, in good and bad ways. While the situation is “Not great Bob,” in the end this forces a catharsis they all need to heal and move forward.

Meanwhile, I’m on my sofa crying my eyes out as their sort their shit out. The characters, writing, and performances here make for a rich and more nuanced series. There is a push and pull between which man seems better suited for Dal-mi and their rivalry for her affection can be downright silly at times. To be clear, I am Team Good Boy all the way. But Dal-mi is finally thriving in her life and both these men are helping her make her dreams come true. She is super capable, but they all contribute something to each other. So, it’s difficult to watch all this good be created on the basis of a lie.

But really, what hit me the hardest was Ji-pyeong’s relationship with the grandmother. She gives him unconditional love and he spends years pushing away love and affection because he cannot trust it. It’s not an emotion he’s been equipped to handle.  He’s this guy who is at the top of his field, but he’s still a 17-year-old helpless orphan at the same time. Kim Seon-ho’s performance here is so clutch. His anger is never anger alone but a melee of self-doubt, regret, disappointment, and suffering. You can see the lost teenager in this adult’s face when he’s with the grandmother. It’s a beautiful performance and their scenes together are really central to the show's emotional core. 

The expanded ensemble of characters adds a lot of color to the story including Do-san’s dorky engineer pals, Ji-pyeong faithful co-worker Mr. Park, and the diva who ends up working with Dal-mi and Do-san. 

I fell hard for this show and so when things went a certain way, I was a mess.


You Drive Me Crazy

In my quest for more Kim Seon-ho content, I watched this tiny wisp of a rom-com where he’s the romantic lead.  It’s an ultra-short series (four 30-minute episodes) about two college friends who sleep together and then try to figure out what their relationship is. 

Kim Seon-ho plays Kim Rae-wan, an artist living in a house his parents own (which is the perfect blend of traditional Korean house with a modern sensibility and I would buy it in an instant) who is blocked in his work.  His long-time best friend Han Eun-sung (Lee Yoo-young) is a French translator whose apartment has a plumbing blockage and needs to crash with him.

She’s a bit manic-pixie-dreamgirl and just makes demands and takes over his life and he just lets her do so. He’s always taking care of her, and she’s a mess, so this is good for her. Truly not my favorite female character ever written.

But it was nice to see Kim Seon-ho as the main lead and there’s plenty of longing and struggles between them to articulate their feelings for each other. 

Two Cops

Not all efforts to watch shows with Kim Seon-ho worked out for me. This was a strained comedy about a detective (Jo Jung-suk) and a conman (Kim Seon-ho) who are mysteriously connected.

The conman ends up in a coma and his spirit can only be seen by the detective—and sometimes he is able to possess the body of the detective against the cop’s will. Both the conman and the detective have feelings for a journalist who is always meddling in the detective’s cases.  

I kept waffling between interest and not in this show.  Eventually it just got so overwrought that I struggled to finish it. I didn’t care about the mystery of who or what or why. It’s not threaded well. The twists and turns don’t build. It’s just plot for plot’s sake. It felt very bare.

There was zero chemistry to the romance and even the bromance between the conman and cop didn’t quite click. It was a waste of talented actors who I’ve liked in other things for sure.

Run On

Run On is one of those frustrating shows that has so much good stuff in it, but a dull lead character kind of flattens the enjoyment.  Yet, I’d still recommend watching for the great cast and a secondary romance that has all the zing.

A professional sprinter, Ki Seon-gyeom (Im Si-wan) has lived a privileged, insulated life, but his demanding father expects greatness from him and he’s currently the 2nd place sprinter in the country. He defends one of his teammates from bullying and rather than help cover this up to protect his team and career, he blows up his life to do the right thing. Once untethered from his life plan, he starts to try to figure out what he wants in life. 

He meets an English translator of movies, Oh Mi-joo (Shin Se-kyung). She has no money and speaks her mind. They are kind of fascinated by each other, and not sure what to make of their feelings for the other.

Ki Seon-gyeom’s agent, Seo Dan-ah (Choi Soo-young), who his parents expect him to marry, is decisive, rude, and unemotional. She has taken more than her fair share of shit from her chabeol father and expects she will be rewarded when he passes away.  

She is struck by a painting she sees in a cafĂ© and tracks down the artist behind it, Lee Young-hwa (Kang Tae-oh). He falls for her and she keeps him at arm’s length. For all her coldness, he is unmitigated warmth. She resists him and yet cannot stay away from him either.

My main problem with this show was Seon-gyeom is written as an idiosyncratic guy who doesn’t know how to interact with other humans on this planet. He’s so used to living with endless emotional pain he’s become numb (I assume this is the reason he’s a constipated boring guy) and now he’s learning to live again. Nothing flusters him, so he’s super boring to watch.  I don’t know why anyone would want to spend time with him. I struggled for 16 episodes. 

Meanwhile, I would have spent 32 episodes willingly with Seo Dan-ah who is emotionally withholding, self-involved, a diva, but still charismatic and sympathetic. She wants to do better and learn, but she’s not good at it. She’s not a bad person, even if she’s bad at being a human. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition and I could not get enough of her. 

Her family dynamics are 100% more interesting than Seon-gyeom’s.  Her family thinks she’s a lesbian (and don’t care really), but she still has to marry Seon-gyeom.  They are pretending her useless younger brother is older so he can take over the business.  And her youngest brother is a pop idol! I mean…so much more going on than Seon-gyeom’s boring politician dad trying to run for president while using his successful kids as props. Snooze.

And the love-hate dynamic between Seo Dan-ah and Lee Young-hwa is a much more electric romance. Add in that both performers Sooyoung and Kang Tae-oh are funny and really get at the heart of their characters' banter.  Truly just let me have a series all about them. I could watch them flirt and fight all day. I was immediately smitten by Kang Tae-oh who just brings this dynamic energy to the screen.  Nothing he does is expected and he and Sooyoung work well with each other. 

Meanwhile, I liked Oh Mi-joo and her efforts of self-improvement and her struggles with her self-worth. I like how her efforts to love herself get articulated. And Shin Se-kyung remains such a compelling actress to watch.  She has such an active mind and here you can appreciate how much of her character’s introspection runs across her face.

She and Seo Dan-ah develop a no-nonsense, unsentimental friendship which is also refreshing and unique. There’s also a gay character subplot that is handled well and kindly.

Lee Young-hwa is always super touchy-feely with other men in the show in such a warm, genuine, and embracing way. I loved seeing this kind of male affection normalized. 

There are a lot of outside-the-tropes work happening here, but  they not the primary driver of the show. Despite all this, it is worth watching for the performances from Shin Se-kyung, Sooyoung and Kang Tae-oh.

The Uncanny Counter

This supernatural show about a teenager who ends up joining a team of spirit hunters (who also run a noodle shop) is a stylish and action-packed drama. While I liked the spirit hunter characters, the teenager at the center was a bit of a dud for me. 

The show addresses violent bullying in schools (which was weirdly echoed by all the real-life scandals unfolding at the same time I was watching with certain entertainment figures being called out for being  bullies when they were younger).  There’s a deep sense of injustice in Korean society that these characters are trying to right—in schools, the police, and business.  But their spiritual overlords do not appreciate that at all and really want them to focus on catching bad guys possessed by evil.

The show is meant to have a bit of a Buffy fighting the Big Bad vibe and a Scooby gang to root for.  But oddly I got bored of chasing evil which just gets more evil over time.

In this show, Hell is a mud orgy.  Just sayin’.