Funny story, you guys. I actually never intended to watch Goong S, let alone finish it.
It all started a while ago, when I did my rewatch and review of Goong, and discovered to my delight that not only was there new squee to be had, given my better grasp of the Korean language, but even the palace politics were more interesting, given my sageuk exposure since first watching it years ago.
On Twitter, several friends wondered about whether there’d be a similar effect with Goong S, and sort of fun-challenged me to turn my now-better-informed eyes on this show, to see if any of that better insight was to be had with Goong’s spin-off. I didn’t take the challenge seriously, especially since, during the height of my Goong obsession, I’d dipped my toes in for a bit, and, jarred by this show’s differences and similarities to Goong, had dropped it like a hot potato.
To think that now, 8 years later, I’ve not only gone back to give this a try, but have actually finished it! Past Me would be shocked, I tell ya. 😉
SO DID I LOVE IT?
See, that’s the thing. I don’t love it. In fact, there’s a whole list of stuff that I found lacking in this show. But, because I was in a very particular sort of mood, and needed this show to fill a very specific need, this worked for me. But more on that later.
I will say that this show was a lot easier to watch this time around, compared to the previous time that I’d tried to check this show out. Back then, I was more familiar with the way American TV handled spin-offs. Like, how they’d take one character from a show and give that character his or her own show? I was sort of expecting that, I guess. Given my completely inaccurate expectations and my big love for Goong, I was completely thrown by this show’s similar-but-not sort of flavor. It felt like someone had stolen my favorite person and cloned him or her, and the cloning had gone very wrong and created a similar-looking monster with a completely different soul. 😛
This time around, though, I now understood much better what to expect with a spin-off season in k-dramaland. Essentially, this show is to Goong what Dream High 2 is to Dream High.. Similar concept, but completely different drama world populated by different characters.
First, let me give a quick overview of how this show stands, especially when compared to its cousin Goong.
THE GOONG S OVERVIEW
In principle, I do like the different point-of-view that we get in Goong S, in that it’s the prince who starts the show as a commoner and needs to get used to palace life, which is the direct opposite of the set-up in Goong, where it’s the princess who needs to adapt to palace life.
Another thing that’s different is that instead of a contract marriage sort of set-up, what we have is a budding romance between the prince and a palace maid.
Goong S manages to wedge itself in a weird space where it’s a lot campier than Goong, but also seems to take itself a lot more seriously than Goong. I’m actually not sure what happened there. But Show starts off with lots of painfully campy “comedy” and then somewhere along the way, starts to lose that comic bent, and spends a great deal of time focused on palace politics instead.
The palace politics
To satisfy the curious, yes, the palace politics in this show do echo the kind of court machinations that you see in sageuks. Sure, there’s a reigning Queen instead of a King in this show, but there’s plenty of angling for the throne by different camps, with matching scheming and sabotage to go with, and that’s definitely true to sageuk norms.
Sadly, the palace politics are very, very boring. Even sadder, the palace politics make up a very large chunk of this show’s focus.
Goong S is clearly less polished and less expensively produced than Goong. Everything – from clothing to accessories to sets – just looks and feels cheaper.
On a related note, the styling is also sometimes questionable. Like Kang Doo, who plays second male lead. He spends a big chunk of the show with hair that just looks bad. Worse, Show positions him to be the cool prince. Unfortunately, instead of cool, it just looks like he’s always having a bad hair day, and has lost his styling products and his comb.
That just doesn’t look like cool hair in any era, amiright??
Oddly, this drama world feels more retro than Goong, which was made earlier. When watching Goong, it doesn’t feel or look very dated, even today, but the datedness of this show is quite obvious.
The acting by our main cast is generally raw and leans on the mechanical side. In particular, Se7en, who’s our central character, is an earnest but unnatural actor. All series long, from the campy to the serious bits, I never found his delivery convincing nor anything near organic.
As our female lead and second male lead, Heo Yi Jae and Kang Doo are somewhat better with their deliveries compared to Se7en. Having said that, though, neither of them are actually good, delivering performances that range from serviceable at best, to mechanical and perfunctory at worst.
On the upside, it was quite novel seeing Park Shin Hye in an earlier role of her career, and playing the calculating second female lead, at that. Not only that, check out this bonus: Park Shin Hye being the aggressor in a kiss! Who’da thunk it??
I was rather tickled, and also a little bit impressed. The execution leaned rather awkward, yes, but I think maybe Shin Hye-sshi is better able to kiss than she’s been letting on in most of her more recent shows.
The chemistry among our leads isn’t anything to shout about, and our OTP in particular seemed to lack chemistry with each other. This meant that any OTP moments we got felt distinctly underwhelming. No feels here, from my experience.
WHY & HOW THIS SHOW WORKED FOR ME
Given how underwhelming this show sounds so far, you’re probably really curious about why I didn’t just drop it and be done with it, right?
See, after finishing – and savoring – my Goong rewatch, I actually found myself wanting more of that modern royalty sort of fantasy drama world. I wanted something Goong-esque, but I wasn’t ready for yet another rewatch (I’m gonna need more time before Watch #8, I think!).
Goong S fit the bill, since it served up exactly that modern royalty fantasy world that I felt in the mood for, and yet it felt fresh because it was a new story featuring new characters.
I used to be a little thrown by how the music in this show sounded very similar in style and tone to the music in Goong, in that it sounded like Goong, but wasn’t. This time around, I soon got used to it, and even ended up really enjoying the music quite well. The music became one of my favorite things in this show, no lie. I didn’t even mind when, in the later episodes, some instrumentals from Goong were actually used.
For quite some time now, I’ve had the habit of having a drama nightcap right before bed.
There’s a very specific set of requirements for a show to fit as a drama nightcap. It can’t be too exciting nor too deep, otherwise it would keep me awake. It can’t be too boring either, of course. Otherwise, why watch at all, right? There’s got to be at least something to keep me going.
Whaddya know, Goong S fit the bill quite nicely. I was rather surprised at how, once I got used to this show’s cheesiness, poor production values and not-great acting, I actually found it an easy and rather pleasant sort of drama nightcap. It didn’t require me to think too much, the fantasy drama world was different enough to be interesting without being too complex as to demand brain power, and the music helped me to unwind quite nicely.
Yes, it’s true that this show got more and more boring as it got into its later episodes. The battle between the two princes over who would be named Crown Prince is stretched over many episodes, and this arc honestly didn’t interest me much at all.
Which means that Goong S started lulling me to sleep quite nicely, every single night! 😄
Show kept it up all the way through to the finale too. I was having trouble sleeping that day, but the finale episode fixed that nicely. About 50 minutes into the episode’s 75 minutes, I was out like a light. Win!
Just goes to show that every drama probably does have its own unique value, eh? 😉
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Pretty decent drama nightcap. Not recommended for normal viewing, though.
FINAL GRADE: C+