THE SHORT VERDICT:
In true sibling fashion, Let’s Eat 2 looks kinda-sorta like the first Let’s Eat, but, like almost all siblings the world over, is really its own beast, with its own distinct personality and character.
The characters took a while to grow on me, but they ultimately proved to be a warm and endearing lot. And even though the food shots aren’t quite as glorious as the ones in Season 1, Show makes up for it this season, with less intrusive PPL in general, and even better, an improved, more cohesive narrative handle too.
While it may take a while for fans of Season 1 to come around, I eventually found Let’s Eat 2 to be just as warm, endearing and tasty as its predecessor.
THE LONG VERDICT:
I really liked the first season of Let’s Eat, so I was super excited to hear that a sequel was in the works. I imagined that I’d have another chance to visit with a bunch of characters that I’d come to know and love, and was therefore supremely disappointed when tvN subsequently announced that Doo Joon would be the only returning cast member.
Say what?? Oh noes.
How would that work, I wondered. Would the new season, with its almost completely brand new cast, manage to endear these new characters to me? Would it feel like I was, well, cheating on the original cast, if I liked these new characters??
As it turns out, while a brand new cast around Doo Joon – and a brand new loveline for his character to boot – wasn’t what I’d bargained for originally, it wasn’t all that hard to get on board, after all. And by the time the season was done, I was sincerely sorry to see it end.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
HOW SEASON 2 STACKS UP AGAINST SEASON 1
Right away, I could see that Show was gunning for a feel and atmosphere that is, in essence, similar to Season 1.
The elements in the setup are similar enough, with an apartment complex made up of neighbors who all live alone, and main characters who appreciate good food. There’s even a cute and clever little dog, sort of like a Barasshi 2.0, except this one’s a stray, though no less precocious and no less loved.
On top of these similarities, Show also loses no time in letting us know that there’s a foreboding perpetrator angle as well, which – again – is reminiscent of Season 1 as well.
Not gonna lie; even though Show served up all these similarities to Season 1, Season 2 took a while to grow on me. It took about 4 episodes for me to feel like these elements were meshing together properly, and it took about 8 episodes for Show to hook me properly, with its story, its characters and its heart.
Let me just say, though, that even though it was a relatively slow burn, that when Show eventually stole my heart, it stole it pretty darn good.
I loved the food p0rn in Season 1, and I must say that I am somewhat disappointed that the food p0rn in Season 2 is just not as glorious, somehow. Or perhaps more to the point, the food-gasm faces were just all-around less amazing.
In my mind, there are 3 factors contributing to this.
1. Everything’s more matter-of-fact
From the way the food is presented to the way our characters respond to the experience of eating the food, everything is just more matter-of-fact than what we got in Season 1. This season, the food scenes felt way less magical, which was a pity in my books, since I loved the food-gasmic take of Season 1.
2. The bickering
While the bickering between our resident foodies Dae Young (Doo Joon) and Soo Ji (Seo Hyun Jin) is played for laughs, the bickering really didn’t help. In fact, I felt like the bickering actually interfered with our food scenes.
I generally preferred any and all food scenes that were not prefaced by bickering between Soo Ji and Dae Young about the best way to eat that particular meal. Case in point, the rooftop meal scene in episode 5, which was really quite pleasant, until Dae Young and Soo Ji started bickering at the end of the meal, at which point I felt like the warm fuzzy food-induced mood was abruptly broken.
3. Eating by unlikable characters
Ok, this sounds like a strange point, but hear me out.
Almost all of our characters – with the exception of Dae Young, coz I already loved him from Season 1 – took a while to grow on me. Some took longer to endear themselves to me than others, and when characters I didn’t yet like participated in food scenes, I found that the food scenes would lose their appeal.
Like Taek Soo (Kim Hee Won), who was one of the hardest sells, character-wise. I found his character so annoying for leeching off Dae Young, that when the food scenes were of him and Dae Young sharing a meal, the sight of him chowing down actually took away from the appeal of the scene for me.
Of course, since all the characters eventually grew on me, this ceased to be a factor by the time I watched the final stretch of the show.
This wouldn’t even be a point, but for the fact that Season 1 went a little overboard with the PPL at times, which I found distracting.
I’m just happy with the way Season 2 has toned it down on the PPL. I mean, there’s definitely PPL in there, but this time, there weren’t actual scenes where I felt like Show had inserted a full-length CF and passed it off as story.
In general, I felt that Season 2 told a more cohesive story than Season 1, which is a big plus in my books.
While Season 1 got increasingly dark and creepy as the perpetrator arc got more attention, Season 2 managed to retain a consistent overall tone that felt homey and light, with a strong underlying foundation of heart.
The perpetrator angle
To be honest, when Show trotted out dark hints of a potential perpetrator in episode 1, I groaned. That was the arc that I liked least in Season 1, and I couldn’t believe that Show wouldn’t let it go.
Thankfully, Show was just teasing, and no one in our motley crew actually ended up killing anyone.
It annoyed me at first that Show kept teasing that angle, and repeatedly too, only to always reveal a fakeout instead. Once I decided, though, that this was one of Show’s quirks, I found the repeated dark teasing more mildly eye-rolling than flat-out annoying.
The narrative hook
Both Season 1 and Season 2 of Let’s Eat have similar elements, in that both shows have a slice-of-life flavor, along with an overarching narrative.
If memory serves, Season 1 went relatively heavier on slice-of-life, and lighter on overarching narrative, which is why my response to it had felt fairly scattered until I got deeper into the show.
In contrast, even though Season 2 did feel rather scattered to begin with, I felt engaged and interested in Show’s overarching narrative as early as episode 4, and felt ready for more.
I really liked the dynamic of Dae Young getting close to Sang Woo (Kwon Yul) in order to suss out how to get him to like Soo Ji, only to have Sang Woo end up liking Dae Young, insist they become brothers, and spend more time hanging out with Dae Young instead. This was definitely ripe for the mining, and Show did not disappoint. Plus, I found the bromance between Dae Young and Sang Woo fun.
By episode 8, my interest in the show had gone up even further, thanks to Soo Ji’s vulnerability coming to the surface, and Sang Woo’s unexpected change of heart.
I really enjoyed these two intertwining arcs, and felt more and more engaged the further I got into the episodes.
Show had a penchant for throwing red herrings at the audience, and while I don’t generally like the manipulative fakeout as a narrative device, I thought Season 2 dealt with this better than Season 1.
Perpetrator angle related
I feel like I need to mention the perpetrator angle again, coz when I say that Show used the fakeout device better this season, it doesn’t actually apply to the perpetrator angle.
Mostly, that just didn’t work. Show would play up Joo Seung (Lee Joo Seung) to be creepy, and have him shoot dark threatening looks in the direction of other characters, to lead us to believe that he might actually harm them. And Show always, always tries to turn that on its head, which is not a problem, except for the fact that all the glowering is extremely weird on hindsight.
See, I don’t mind a fakeout when everything still makes sense when the truth is revealed, but these ones, where things don’t make sense on hindsight, just feel cheap and not very clever.
Show generally did better with fakeouts that had to do with fantasies and dreams.
Also, special shout-out to the fakeouts in episode 8, which I thought were particularly well done.
The first instance is when Hye Rim (Hwang Seung Eon) is approached by a glamorous lady at the convenience store, who tries to scout her as a social escort. In another scene, we see that Hye Rim has quit her job at the convenience store, and no longer mans the counter there. We automatically assume that she’s taken the offer to be an escort – until we see her working her new job waiting tables at a noodle restaurant.
The second instance is when we see a scene of Sang Woo going to meet a very drunk Soo Ji, late at night. The scene then cuts to a morning bed scene, and we see two bodies cuddled in bed together, with one noticeably undressed. That leads us to think that maybe Soo Ji and Sang Woo had somehow landed in bed together – until we see that it’s really Dae Young and Taek Soo, rather than Soo Ji and Sang Woo.
To Show’s credit, both fakeouts are timed just right. It’s just long enough for us to wonder about it, before Show comes clean. In this way, the fakeouts felt fun, and didn’t create any narrative drag, which I really appreciated.
By episode 10, Show had become drama comfort food for me; not huge on plot, but nice and warm to relax to. It felt like catching up with a bunch of friends or neighbors, and I always felt happy before clicking on the day’s episode.
By episode 13, though, Show had transcended being mere comfort food, to becoming rather cracky comfort food, and I started to watch more than an episode a day, all while wishing that Show didn’t have to end. Like, ever.
Credit to the writing, which contributed a great deal to my enjoyment of the show. And credit too, to the cast.
OUR MAIN CHARACTERS
Yoon Doo Joon as Goo Dae Young
If I had to pick just one character from Season 1 to keep in Season 2, Dae Young would have been my pick, hands down. I totally went melty at him on my screen in Season 1, and he was definitely the glue that helped to bond the rest of the characters together as well.
I didn’t even realize how much I missed seeing Doo Joon in this role, but let’s just say that simply seeing him pop up on my screen in episode 1, telling people earnestly and indignantly the precise best way to eat fresh squid, made me grin from ear to ear. It was just so good to see Dae Young back, y’know?
I like that Season 2 basically keeps Dae Young as the same person that he was in Season 1. Familiar ticks and traits all come back into play – like Dae Young’s poor trash management, and his natural charm with the ladies – and it felt like a real reunion with an old friend.
As before, Doo Joon did an effortless job bringing Dae Young to life, giving Dae Young a sincere, matter-of-fact sort of charm and ease, while injecting him with shots of meaningful pathos when the need arose. Kinda like this:
Whenever Dae Young wore this soulful gaze, I melted.
Seo Hyun Jin as Baek Soo Ji
I have deep, deep affection for Seo Hyun Jin, from her roles in The Three Musketeers and King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang. I feel like she brings an earnest, endearing charm to her roles, and I was excited to hear that she’d be a main character in Season 2 of Let’s Eat. Especially since she ate quite heartily in King’s Daughter too, heh.
Even with my Seo Hyun Jin love, though, it took me a good several episodes to warm to Soo Ji as a character.
Maybe it’s coz Show made Soo Ji out to be antagonistic from the get-go. I didn’t like how she seemed to hate Dae Young’s guts and repeatedly tried to screw him over.
At the same time, I found her obsession with her weight quite troubling. Show plays her obsession for laughs, but I didn’t really find it funny, mostly coz I feel it’s an unhealthy sort of mindset to be propagating. I mean, Soo Ji is only 57kg (approx 125lbs), which is a perfectly healthy weight.
To Show’s credit – and to Seo Hyun Jin’s too – I eventually warmed to Soo Ji and grew to like and enjoy her as a character.
In fact, I found her growth arc to be a key narrative hook, as we progressed through the episodes.
While watching this show, I came across some viewer dissatisfaction with Soo Ji, with said viewers taking issue with Soo Ji’s obsession with wanting to marry Sang Woo, and being self-centered and unwise in the process.
In Soo Ji’s defense, while I did pick up on the self-centeredness and the lack of wisdom at points, I found her to be a character that was pretty understandable.
When Soo Ji is blindly thrilled by any little perceived development with Sang Woo, it makes little sense to us as rational, objective observers. Yet, I felt like I could understand her perspective. Coz when you’re infatuated with someone, you generally don’t think straight, and it’s true that many infatuated women (& maybe men, too) overthink every little thing that comes via the object of their affections. What more for Soo Ji, who’s had little experience in romance, right? Which is why, even though this did get somewhat tiresome at times, I didn’t hold it against her.
While I totally agree that Soo Ji was very unwise with her money while dating Sang Woo, and that she should have been more honest with him about her financial situation, as well as her likes and dislikes, I get that she behaved that way primarily because she felt inadequate in her own skin.
Ultimately, Soo Ji’s decision to break up with Sang Woo rubbed some viewers the wrong way, but when I considered that decision in the context of her growing into her own skin, I felt like I could sympathize with her.
Essentially, she was just a girl figuring out her own heart – and life in general – for the first time. Sometimes, as you do that, you make mistakes along the way, and you have to live with the hurts that you end up giving other people. When you figure out that you’re on the wrong path, it’s better to minimize the wrong and course-correct earlier rather than later.
In the case of Soo Ji’s relationship with Sang Woo, she realized how untrue she was being to herself and to him, and the kinder, wiser thing to do, was to end it then and there, and have it hurt for a while, rather than drag out the lie and end up with a lot more pain. Or risk ending up like Manager Hong (Jo Eun Ji), for example.
Ultimately, I felt like Season 2 was really Soo Ji’s story of growth and self-discovery, where her arc was less about finding the right man to romance, and more about finding the self-confidence to feel worthy in her own skin. That’s a trajectory that I can really get behind, and I’m actually glad that Show gave Soo Ji the chance to learn to accept and love herself as she was.
Kwon Yul as Lee Sang Woo
Having only seen Kwon Yul in his somewhat subdued role in She is WOW, I was pleasantly surprised to find him decidedly more interesting and engaging here.
Sang Woo is introduced to us as a distant sort of character, but we soon get a keen sense of his loneliness. I thought that loneliness was well-portrayed; it’s in the small moments, and Kwon Yul gives a subtle wistfulness to his gaze which works really well.
I liked how Show unveiled the different facets of Sang Woo to us, and eventually portrayed him wholistically as a pretty normal, good guy, in spite of his privileged background.
Despite Sang Woo’s inability to even remember Soo Ji’s name in the earlier episodes, I appreciated that the moment he decides that he’s interested to know more about her, he turns into a pretty sweet boyfriend – even if he does seem rather clueless about other people not having as much money as him.
I really liked that he sincerely made an effort to show Soo Ji more of the real him, while genuinely wanting her to show him more of the real her, too. In this sense, I felt that Sang Woo was an earnestly sincere boyfriend to Soo Ji, and that he wanted a true connection with her.
I liked, too, that he did his best to make her feel comfortable, like when he laughed at how the robo-cleaner ran away, and when he’d assure her that he found her interesting to be around.
On the downside, I found Sang Woo to be somewhat territorial. Like the time he kissed Soo Ji in episode 11, more to send Dae Young a message, rather than to genuinely be romantic. Or the time he insisted on eating the spoiled kimbap that she’d made, the moment he heard that Dae Young had eaten a piece that morning.
Still, despite his motives coloring his actions, I feel that this part of Sang Woo helps to make him feel like a real, normal guy, rather than a perfect second lead manufactured by dramaland.
Additionally, I really liked how Sang Woo cleared the air with Dae Young in episode 12. Instead of stewing for a long time over how he’d seen Dae Young leaning in to kiss Soo Ji at the campsite, Sang Woo brings it out into the open with Dae Young and settles it, while being clear that he likes Dae Young and wants to keep being close to him like before.
I really, really liked that. It made me feel like Sang Woo’s a very genuine kind of guy, who doesn’t allow girl problems to get in the way of his friendships.
All in all, Sang Woo’s a pretty great guy, and even though he eventually didn’t get the girl, I like how Show treated his arc. That in the time following the breakup, he didn’t close himself off as before, but continued to make friends and be happy. That’s not quite the same as having a girlfriend, sure, but that’s still an excellent – and perhaps, healthier – step in the right direction.
TREATMENT OF THE OTP [SPOILERS]
Some viewers were distinctly uncomfortable with Dae Young developing a loveline with Soo Ji, because they were still rooting for Dae Young to get back together with his love interest from Season 1, Soo Kyung (Lee Soo Kyung).
I get where they’re coming from, since Dae Young and Soo Kyung were a great pair in Season 1, and I missed that pairing too.
At the same time, I feel that it is actually quite fresh that dramaland is showing a dynamic that is more true to life: that romance doesn’t always last, but that there’s life worth living, and worthy love relationships to be had, even after the heartbreak.
I actually really liked the dynamic between our OTP.
1. Their comfort with each other
Given Soo Ji’s guardedness around Sang Woo, her ability to be completely at ease with Dae Young was refreshing and a nice contrast as well.
I like how Soo Ji and Dae Young are so comfortable with each other, that they would spend hours just hanging out on the couch, reading comics together (above).
2. The hyperawareness
We don’t get many moments of mutual hyperawareness between Soo Ji and Dae Young, but Show makes the most of the moments that it does serve up.
The way Dae Young and Soo Ji end up with their faces within kissing distance of each other in episode 11, during the tent collapse, is really well-played. It’s a short beat, but the moment is quite electric as their faces get to within inches of each other, and both Dae Young and Soo Ji register awkward hyperawareness in their gazes.
The moment is electric, and quite hot.
The other significant moment in episode 11, is when Soo Ji falls asleep on Dae Young’s shoulder after dinner, and Dae Young leans in, in a daze, and almost kisses her. Doo Joon really plays the moment well, imbuing Dae Young with trance-like longing and hunger, even, as he leans in towards Soo Ji.
Again, so electric, and so hot.
3. The poignant beats
Another feature I really liked in Soo Ji’s and Dae Young’s interactions, is the honesty between them. I love this scene in episode 13, where Dae Young tells a despondent Soo Ji her good qualities, and emphasizes that she is a nice girl who deserves to be loved.
It’s a really sweet and intense moment for both of them, and Dae Young’s words really hit Soo Ji like a ton of bricks.
I’d be overwhelmed too, if I was struggling to accept myself, and someone told me with such heartfelt sincerity, that I’m more than enough, and that I deserve to be loved.
Thud. So sweetly swoony, really, and so poignant too.
Another poignant beat that I enjoyed, was the one in episode 16, when Dae Young is checking through the videos from his car’s blackbox, and chances on a couple of videos of Soo Ji.
I love how he smiles to himself when he sees her dancing happily.
And I love that in another video, he sees Soo Ji pause mid-workout to gaze up at his apartment.
A puzzled Dae Young realizes that Soo Ji’s looking up at his apartment but doesn’t manage to connect the dots as to why. Still, I found this beat so sweetly poignant, that Dae Young finally gets a glimpse at how Soo Ji looks to him, when he isn’t looking.
4. The Kiss
Our OTP doesn’t actually get together until the final moments of the show, and while I’d have loved to see more of their couple interactions after they’d started dating, I felt that the way they came together was organic and true to not just their characters, but Sang Woo’s as well.
On a tangent, I like that Show positioned Sang Woo’s reveal to Dae Young, about the fact that he and Soo Ji had broken up, as a cathartic and healing experience for him, where he felt better for telling Dae Young. And while Soo Ji’s silence could be read as noble idiocy, I understand her choice to stay silent, since she believed Dae Young to be dating someone else. And I understand Dae Young’s choice to leave as well, since he believed that he was getting in Soo Ji’s and Sang Woo’s way.
With the truth revealed, Dae Young rushes to see Soo Ji, and after ribbing her for violating their contract by breaking up with Sang Woo, he matter-of-factly leans in, kisses her, and proposes, “Let’s date.”
When Dae Young pulls back from the kiss, he asks Soo Ji, “Even with this, do you still not know? Why I left?”
As Soo Ji processes it all, Dae Young clucks at how slow she’s being, and repeats, “Let’s date.”
I just love that as Soo Ji begins to register what this all means, that the happiest smile spreads across her face, and she wastes no time in pulling him close and kissing him right back.
That’s the confidence of a girl who knows that she deserves to be loved.
Afterwards, I love the cute little beat, where Dae Young extends his hand to a stomach-growly Soo Ji and asks what she’d like to eat.
I love the fun vibe of the moment, as she blithely takes his hand, and announces that she’d like ddeokbokki.
This scene left me with a huge grin on my face, it just made me so happy. I can just imagine this couple getting on together for a long, long time in their comfortably bickering way, while going on kissy snuggly food jaunts together, as a regular thing. <3
Even though the supporting characters all took a while to grow on me, by the time I finished the show, I felt like they were all real people that I could like, or at the very least, understand.
Even Taek Soo, whom I’d found appalling to begin with, became more likable and settled in to become a real part of the group. Manager Hong, which was the other hard-sell character for me, also became a lot more sympathetic as we grew to understand her context.
Special shout-out goes to Gran (Kim Ji Young), who nagged at everyone, but kindheartedly mothered each one of the neighbors like her own child. I particularly admired her for her persistence in being kind to Joo Seung, considering how regularly brusque Joo Seung was in response.
I really liked that while we started the show with everyone just minding their own business and living their own lives, that by the time we ended the show, they were all firmly and happily a part of a community, sharing not just food, but their lives as well.
Despite some viewers finding this show melodramatic, I actually found it a light, easy and enjoyable watch.
I really didn’t want this show to end, even as I raced towards the finish line. It was warm, comforting, and homey, and I grew to enjoy and like the characters. And I honestly wouldn’t mind hanging out with these characters and just watching them living, eating and making memories together, for a long, long time.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Takes a while to settle, but is, in fact, pretty great drama comfort food.
FINAL GRADE: B+