To be honest, I had a false start or two, when it came to watching this show.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t get into it enough to get through the whole of episode 1, which meant that this show was slowly but surely sliding off the mile-long watch list, and into drama oblivion for me.
And then my friend Jo started talking about how she really did like this show, overall. She assured me that it gets better after the initial episodes – in particular, that Shim Eun Kyung’s delivery gets toned down – and that I would very likely enjoy the show.
Well, whaddya know. Jo knows me – and my taste in dramas – pretty well, after all. 😉
WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
There were 2 main things that made it hard for me to get into this show.
The first was, I’m not into shows that are overly campy and OTT, and the first couple of episodes of this show tested my OTT limits quite soundly. The internal logic in this show seemed to be that there was none, and characters regularly behaved in nonsensical, illogical and completely OTT ways. It all felt a little intense to me.
Adjusting my lens helped with this, which I’ll talk about in a bit.
The other thing was, I found Shim Eun Kyung’s delivery of Nae Il overly exaggerated and broad.
I generally have a good opinion of Shim Eun Kyung as an actress (loved her So. Freaking. Much in Miss Granny), but I hafta say that I was really quite underwhelmed by her OTT take on Nae Il as a character, at least in the initial episodes. I found Nae Il’s behavior generally hard to watch, in all of its extremely-socially-awkward, cringeworthy, blithe glory. I also found it difficult to connect with Nae Il as a character, coz I felt I could neither understand her nor appreciate her odd behavior.
Thankfully, Shim Eun Kyung’s delivery settles into something relatively more restrained as we get deeper into the show, so that sort of fixed itself (except for Show’s finale episode, which I’ll talk about later).
THE LENS THAT HELPED
It helped a lot, to think of this show’s manga roots every time characters behaved in illogical or nonsensical ways. I realized pretty early on, that the plot and character logic in this show really only works with a manga lens on.
Like in episode 1, when Yoo Jin (Joo Won) furiously cleans Nae Il’s disgustingly filthy apartment himself, or when he drags her to the bathroom to personally wash her hair himself.
Or like in episode 2, when Nae Il immediately jumps into a cloud of happy stupor with Maestro Streseman (Baek Yoon Shik) just because he complimented her once, then promptly brings Streseman to Yoo Jin’s house to eat Yoo Jin’s food, unannounced, and then agrees to go to Streseman’s hotel with him.
Without a deliberate and focused manga lens on, it all makes no sense whatsoever. Thinking of it as a live-action manga though, it becomes a lot more acceptable.
Thanks to the manga lens, and thanks to Show’s general tone settling into a more restrained version of itself after several episodes, I eventually found myself getting sucked into this drama world. By around episode 6, I actually enjoyed visiting this drama world with each episode, which was a welcome surprise.
WHAT I LIKED
Joo Won as Cha Yoo Jin
Hands-down, Joo Won as Yoo Jin was THE highlight of the show, for me.
Yes, it’s partly a fangirl thing, coz I just can’t deny that Joo Won’s very lovely to look at and even rather swoony, but really, his appeal in this show goes so much deeper than that.
He grounds everything
In the midst of a manga-inspired world where characters behave in bemusing ways as a norm, Yoo Jin stands out as a character that’s played straight. When the other characters don’t make sense, he’s the character whose feelings and reactions make sense and feel normal.
In Joo Won’s capable hands, Yoo Jin’s character, played straight yet faceted, is what grounds the entire show and gives it an emotional center that’s easy to relate to. Because I cared about Yoo Jin, by extension, I cared about the world around him.
In the midst of lots of OTT campy in this drama world, Yoo Jin’s journey of resolving his inner conflict and angst, while learning to care not just about music, but about the people who play it, was one of my favorite storylines in the show.
He’s actually really nice
Despite Yoo Jin’s prickly aloof outer shell, we see flashes of niceness and gentleness about him from early on in the show. I loved watching those brief flashes of niceness and kindness in him grow into something larger and more consistent, as we got deeper into his journey.
There were so many occasions in the show, when Yoo Jin’s niceness stood out to me, in the midst of his grumpiness.
Like the time in episode 2, when he carried Nae Il even though he clearly didn’t enjoy it. And when he volunteered to accompany Il Rak (Go Kyung Pyo) on the piano, even though he didn’t have to.
Or the time in episodes 7 & 8, when Yoo Jin chooses to play with A Orchestra, because he’s told that that’s the only way he can protect S Orchestra.
Or the time in episode 11, when Yoo Jin gets through to Joon Hoo (Park Bo Gum), and shakes him out of his cello requiem fixation. Yoo Jin’s tough-love approach is very much in his prickly character, but it’s easy to see that he comes from a place of care.
Or, the time in episode 13 when Yoo Jin believes in Il Rak when Il Rak doesn’t believe in himself, and goes to Il Rak’s home to coach him daily. I particularly loved that Yoo Jin doesn’t belittle Il Rak’s emotional manner of playing, and in fact encourages Il Rak not to let go of his emotions, but to use them in his playing.
The more I saw Yoo Jin’s niceness playing out, the more I liked him. So yes, by series’ end, I liked him a lot. 😉
It’s in his eyes
Joo Won’s gorgeous bedroomy eyes are arguably his best feature, and he puts ’em to good use in the show. Not in terms of showing how swoony Yoo Jin is, but rather, in showing how kind he is.
Even in the early episodes when Nae Il really gets in his face in rather obnoxious ways, Yoo Jin typically responds with a softness and gentleness in his gaze. I felt so drawn to him, because of that.
Throughout the show, there is just so much vulnerability and feeling that Joo Won channels through Yoo Jin’s gaze – whether it’s compassion for a fellow musician, or encouragement to Nae Il – that I couldn’t help but love him.
And because I liked him, I wanted to see him succeed; I felt invested in his journey and his world, and that made all the difference for me, while watching this show.
The hodgepodge orchestra
There’s something about the story of the earnest underdog fighting hard to overcome obstacles, that gets me every time. I grew to really enjoy the underdog story of S Orchestra, and I really liked a number of themes that their journey brought to the surface. By extension, I grew to enjoy a number of key secondary characters as well.
Perhaps my favorite thing about spending screentime with the orchestra members, was seeing them forge bonds and help one another overcome their perceived limitations.
I loved that Yoo Jin helped Il Rak to break through his mental barriers to see that he’s a better musician than he thinks. Of course, I also love how Il Rak luffs Yoo Jin even more, as a result. Hee.
I loved, too, that the S Orchestra members nonchalantly show the A Orchestra members how to make time for their passion, even when official privileges aren’t available to them.
I also loved the grudging bromance between Yoo Jin and Yoon Hoo, as both boys push each other to do the needful thing. Yoo Jin pushes Yoon Hoo to suck it up and get surgery, and Yoon Hoo pushes Yoo Jin to suck it up and get Nae Il back. It’s reluctantly symbiotic, and I really like it.
In episode 15, Yoo Jin quite perfectly sums up the relationship among the orchestra folks in this beautiful voiceover:
“In an orchestra, dozens of instruments gather to make one sound. No, dozens of people gather to make a melody. Violin, viola, contrabass, trumpet – when they play their parts from each of their seats, Mozart sounds like Mozart, and Tchaikovsky sounds like Tchaikovsky. One by one, they must guard their places and play together to complete the music.”
Ahhh. So true, in music, and in teamwork as well. <3
Special shout-outs to:
Go Kyung Pyo, who shows great comic timing as well as lots of heart in his portrayal of the goofy, good-natured and slightly dim Il Rak;
Min Do Hee, who is adorable as Min Hee the tiny contrabassist with a big passion and a big appetite; and
Jang Se Hyun, who is endearing as the super enthusiastic and fiercely loyal timpani player, Soo Min – who also happens to idolize Yoo Jin.
Special mention to Il Rak and Shi Won (Bae Min Jung), for turning out to be quite the cute couple. I liked watching their cute couple antics, especially since those were often combined with mock-disapproval from Min Hee and Soo Min.
Here are some of the themes and ideas that resonated with me the most:
- The idea of enjoying and loving music, versus simply pursuing excellence in it. It’s so gratifying to see these underdogs press on in the face of any and all obstacles, not for the sake of ambition, but for the pure love of music, and to see them have fun with it, and infect others with their enjoyment of it.
- The idea of enjoying music, rather than simply striving to be technically excellent, which in turn gives the music that flows through your fingers, life and heart.
- The idea of second chances and new paths, that are just as good as old ones that you have to leave behind.
- The idea of needing not just skill alone, nor passion alone, but holding onto the best of both worlds.
- The idea of stepping out of your comfort zone, for your own good, as well as the good of others.
As our orchestra members banded together to face their difficulties head-on, and grew in the process, I couldn’t help but feel a vicarious sense of achievement and pride.
THOUGHTS ON THE OTP
To be honest, for a good stretch of the show, I didn’t think there was a whole lot of chemistry between Joo Won and Shim Eun Kyung. In fact, at about 7 episodes in, I didn’t actually care whether the writers planned to develop the OTP romance properly.
But as slyly as Nae Il grew on Yoo Jin, so did this couple eventually grow on me.
Of course, it did help a lot, that as we got deeper into the show, that their interactions mellowed out into something sweeter and more thoughtful, than the initial frenetic shouting and bickering that we got in the initial episodes.
Admittedly, we don’t get a lot of skinship with this OTP, but Nae Il and Yoo Jin connected in other, arguably more meaningful, ways, as they started to help and understand each other in their shared passion for music. I really liked that as they learned to understand each other, that they each grew and matured in the process.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
I enjoyed watching Yoo Jin becoming more understanding and empathetic as a result of his relationship with Nae Il. That he could be understanding of Nae Il’s nerves in episode 11, was growth, and growth that enabled him to empathize with his orchestra members too.
I really liked that despite Yoo Jin being “the smart one” in the relationship, that Nae Il taught him many things too. I loved the moment in episode 13, when Yoo Jin acknowledged that Nae Il had been right all along; that one should enjoy the music that one plays, so that those listening will enjoy it too. (I couldn’t agree more on this point, by the way)
What I really appreciated in our OTP’s relationship, is that this growth flowed both ways.
On her side, we see Nae Il stepping out of her comfort zone, to battle her fear of the stage and of competitions in general. It’s for Yoo Jin’s sake, sure, but ultimately, she’s the one who battles and defeats her demons.
Eye-rolling noble idiocy in episode 15 aside, we do also see Nae Il working through her personal desire to be near Yoo Jin, and choosing to do the bigger, more compassionate thing, which is to help him break free from his pain, and allow him to go wherever he wants to go.
In all of this, although we don’t get much in terms of skinship, we do see Yoo Jin and Nae Il learning to look beyond their personal desires in order to love each other with empathy and compassion. That that’s part of their individual journeys of growth and maturity, is just bonus.
Another bonus (and back on the skinship track), is that lovely, heartfelt backhug that Yoo Jin swoops in to give Nae Il at the end of episode 15. Aw, really sweet and swoony. Now just imagine if there’d been kisses too. <3
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
This show’s characters had snuck up on me and endeared themselves to me in the slyest of degrees over the course of its run, so much so that I found the finale episode – major chunks of which had been filmed in the beginning, when the production had gone to Salzburg – uncomfortably jarring and dissonant.
Once the scenes changed over to the ones shot in Salzburg, I found myself feeling some distinct drama whiplash, thanks to Nae Il’s character not having “settled” yet when these scenes were filmed. I was starkly reminded of why this show – and Nae Il’s character in particular – had been hard to watch in the beginning.
This effect was further aggravated by the fact that we had ended episode 15 on that melty swoony backhug that I just mentioned. To then now see Yoo Jin recoiling from Nae Il’s (admittedly cringeworthy) advances in the finale, after that heartfelt backhug, felt out of character. Worse, it felt like our OTP relationship had regressed in serious ways.
What. A. Bummer. This totally felt weird and off, and made the finale feel very uneven and stilted.
On the upside, we do get some warmth from the other characters, and that helped to create at least some cohesion in our final episode.
Thankfully, the orchestra’s finale performance in the school lobby reminds me all over again, of the stuff that I do love about this show. It hits the perfect sweet spot, of having everyone together, performing not for an audience, but for the love of music – and each other. Love. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A weak beginning and ending, mitigated by a heartwarming, mellower, more understated center stretch – and Joo Won’s gorgeous gentle bedroomy eyes.
FINAL GRADE: B-
I don’t actually remember hearing this song playing while I watched the show, but I couldn’t help but feature this MV. Coz, Joo Won. Being melty. With those gorgeous, swoony bedroom eyes. ❤️