What a weekend to be indoors! While “Winter Storm Jonas” wreaks havoc outside, I’m choosing my toasty bed for some drama watching. Madame Antoine and Signal are two dramas that start this weekend, as well as Neighborhood Hero. Haven’t gotten around to Neighborhood just yet, but I have to say these are some strong dramas coming from two cable channels. Both are done by writers I enjoy, so I can’t possibly lose out – right?
jTBC – Madame Antoine
For something that I thought was going to be a lighthearted comedy, Madame Antoine takes itself quite seriously. Sung Joon‘s character Dr. Choi Soo Hyun is a pragmatic psychiatrist who likes to experiment with love and the human psyche. He brings to mind his old character in Hyde, Jekyll and I; thankfully, he’s not as charismatic as Dr. Yoon Tae Joo, so he’s not as mistrustful. And he fails to bring his patients to his side because he lacks a bedside manner. Nevertheless he does make me feel a little uncomfortable because of the experiments he runs (playing with people’s hearts and all that), so he makes a good foil to Go Hye Rim (Han Ye Seul), a fortune teller who advises people with the help of the ghost of Marie Antoinette. Of course Go Hye Rim is a bit of a fraud, but she’s so good at reading people that she appears quite credible and well-liked.
The first episode starts out strong in establishing both characters. We learn quite quickly that Hye Rim has a daughter who goes to school abroad, and that Soo Hyun doesn’t have memories before he was six years old, possibly due to a traumatic event. Hye Rim does what she does to put her daughter through school, but Soo Hyun looks down on her for basically “conning” people. He believes in science and that therapy can cure people of their worries and fears, not some ghost and superstitious advice.
Of course, the two of them end up working in the same building, which is not good for either’s business. Eventually Hye Rim herself is conned out of a lot of money because of a bad investment, and she discovers belatedly that her best client is actually the chairman of LaBella Cosmetics – and that he’s really rich. She initially goes to him for money, tricking him into holding a memorial service for Marie Antoinette, but her conscience gets to the better of her. Because she knew him as a lovable grandfather before, she realizes she cannot just con him out of money now that she knows he’s wealthy. The chairman appreciates her honesty though and punishes her with a new job: she must now advise Soo Hyun with his cases, as the chairman invested in Soo Hyun’s experiments and wants someone he trusts to work with his new employee.
Of course Soo Hyun and Hye Rim are not happy about that, but Hye Rim accepts the job because she wants to prove him wrong. Treating people doesn’t always have to be a science. So Soo Hyun takes his revenge by using Hye Rim as the focus of his new love experiment without her knowledge. He’s going to make her the target of three suitors, but the problem is finding the right men to play the suitors. After all, she could read right through all of them with her talents.
So it’s a bit clear by the end of the first episode that he might make himself one of her suitors and trick her into falling in love with him. After all, they need to fall in love somehow right?
The only complaint I have about this episode is how slow it is. There are certain scenes that could have been trimmed or played out faster. It makes this romantic comedy take on a more mellow tone than I’d prefer, but I’m guessing since it is jTBC, it’s going for a more sensible type of romance, one that is more unassuming and quiet and not as outrageous as say… She Was Pretty. After all, Falling In Love With Soon Jung was not that zany either with the romantic comedy parts.
That being said, I have to say I was really impressed with the actors and with the writing. I enjoy Sung Joon, and he really ups the ante with his cad-like demeanor. Surprisingly, Han Ye Seul was a delight playing a single mother who is a little bit ridiculous and also incredibly smart. Her keen sense of observation and street smarts go head to head with Choi Soo Hyun’s book smarts. I’m not her biggest fan (she’s just okay in my book) but here I was actually quite entertained by her. Pacing aside, the drama was also written in such a way that it felt very confident, like it knew exactly what it was going to do over 16 episodes. It briskly set up the plot for the series and showed you the conflict, and it didn’t waste any time in introducing the characters. It’s opposite to what screenwriter Hong Jin Ah did with the last drama I saw of hers, King 2 Hearts, where I felt she took quite some time to establish the drama’s plot.
Let’s just say I am quite pleasantly surprised for the first episode of the drama, and would actually check out a few more episodes.
tvN – Signal
Quite the dark drama for tvN. I was definitely going to check out Signal (though I’m pretty sure I won’t recap it because I’d rather save my energies for Neighborhood Hero and Cheese in the Trap) because of the writer, Kim Eun Hee. She had done three dramas that I enjoyed immensely – Sign, Ghost, Harvest Villa – so I really wanted to give her a chance after that awful Three Days.
Suffice to say, there is still the element of ‘time-is-running-out’ in the first episode, but at least it’s handled a bit better than Three Days. After all, the first case (which is a cold case involving Park Hae Young’s former classmate’s kidnapping) will not be dragged out over 16 episodes. It is merely a device to introduce all the main characters together – Lieutenant Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon), Detective Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo), and Detective Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong) from the past. While Hae Young is rooted in the present, Soo Hyun and a few other detectives are the ones who can vacillate between the past and present, as they were in the police force the same time as Jae Han. Soo Hyun will be the link between the past and present in the event that the magical radio cannot be. And in case one gets further confused about what time period we’re in, the director uses an interesting stylistic choice of changing the aspect ratio of the past scenes and giving it a sepia tone.
The first episode is a long 1 hour and 15 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, it is quite intense as you watch Hae Young display his psychology smarts and profile the kidnapper in ten minutes flat. I remember my heart pounding as he convinces everyone in the room that the cold case is not dead, and that he and Cha should be allowed to investigate even if the chief disapproves. Lee Je Hoon is amazing here, and he has grown up so much, but there are times I feel he is too expressive during the really serious scenes between detectives. (It’s funny how both these dramas involve two scholars of psychology – but one wants to play with people’s hearts and the other uses it to profile criminals.)
Jo Jin Woong makes a very strong impression in his few scenes, and I feel an affinity to him even if I don’t know him very well. And that’s so important since he’s going to be the one anchoring the past while Lee Je Hoon anchors the present. Det. Lee Jae Han’s absence in the present time is also another huge mystery that will need to be resolved somehow. Kim Hye Soo meanwhile is quite believable as a tough detective, but I feel she’s a bit overshadowed by Lee Je Hoon at the moment. As for Jang Hyun Sung… please don’t be a bad guy. Right now he’s less than savory, but hopefully he’s not corrupt or criminally evil.
I know that Gap Dong also centered around the Hwaseong murders and it probably had its own strengths. However I do remember watching the first episode and it was so dark (visually and tonally) that I was turned off by it. I couldn’t bring myself to watch more. At least here, with Lee Je Hoon’s energetic performance, I am so curious and interested in what will happen next. The whole “talking to each other from the past through a 2-way radio” might be a bit unbelievable, and there has been no explanation for it just yet, but I think it adds a layer of fantasy to it that makes it other-worldly. You end up getting sucked into this world where it’s just possible to catch a killer you never thought you could. It may allow for some ridiculous twists down the road, but at the same time I cannot resist the theme of being able to turn back time and doing things right again.
I hope Kim Eun Hee doesn’t not falter – she tends to have really strong episodes in the beginning and then it sort of unravels towards the end. So I hope that the episodes remain taut and the storytelling clear.