If there’s one thing that Doctors has taught me, it’s that medical dramas are really not my thing.
I mean, I already knew, going in, that I’m generally not one to get at all excited about medical emergencies and the like. Still, the positive buzz and high ratings got me curious enough to dive in (sometimes I am too curious for my own good, I think!) – and when I eventually became bored with Show at large, Kim Rae Won’s strong, leap-off-my-screen warmth persuaded me to stay.
His deep velvety voice and crinkly, cozy-toasty smile didn’t hurt either.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review.
THE PROMISING INITIAL STRETCH
I hafta say, in the initial stretch, I sincerely thought that Doctors would be the show to change my lackluster experience with medical dramas. I really, really enjoyed episodes 1 through 7 (or.. thereabouts), and genuinely looked forward to the next episode every time I finished the one that I was watching.
Here’s a quick list of the stuff I liked in these initial episodes.
1. A strong, interesting heroine
Ok, so Hye Jung (Park Shin Hye) does start out as quite the crazy handful of a teenager, but once the character is allowed to settle a bit, we start to see how smart and strong she is, not only in the high school timeline, but in the present-day timeline too.
I love me a heroine who’s smart and strong, and I was thrilled that Hye Jung was proving to be not only book-smart, but also work-smart, and street-smart too. To top it all off, she was honest, not easily intimidated, and she wasn’t nasty to people, even when she was saying no. In short, I found Hye Jung pretty darn awesome, and couldn’t help wanting good things for her.
2. Engaging story-building
Show starts out with a bang, with Hye Jung singlehandedly subduing a bunch of gangsters while on hospital duty, before delving into Hye Jung’s backstory via a long high-school flashback. A cool, kickass heroine with a colorful backstory that overflowed with heart? I actually felt kinda hooked.
3. Relationships that I felt I could care about
Following Hye Jung’s journey through her turbulent teenage years, we get to witness the blossoming of some key relationships in her life. Show does a good job of bringing out the heart in these relationships, and I soon found myself caring for these characters and their relationships, especially Hye Jung’s growing bond with Gran (Kim Young Ae).
4. A warm hero
It’s true that I felt Show crossed the squicky line somewhat, serving up a bit of OTP hyper-proximity when Hye Jung was still in high-school. But, I did find Ji Hong a very attractive character, with a warm, steady sort of personality. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Kim Rae Won plays Ji Hong, and gets to be all warm, smiley and crinkly-eyed. After years of not understanding the Kim Rae Won appeal, I suddenly was all, “Ooh. I GEDDIT now.” *melt*
A quick tangent on the teacher-student attraction [MILD SPOILERS]
In episode 3, we hear Ji Hong in voice-over indicating that he was indeed attracted to Hye Jung while she was his student. It’s uncomfortable to hear, but it’s honest. It’s easy to dismiss the teacher-student attraction as wrong, but in Ji Hong’s defense, he didn’t actually act on it. And that makes a big difference. People have all kinds of attractions – often against their better judgment – and what separates the criminals / adulterers / insert other appropriate noun from the everyday folks, is that most people choose not to act on their inappropriate attractions.
Ji Hong did allow a camaraderie that was chummier than with his other students, and in that sense, that was a form of favoritism, but he never did allow his romantic attraction to Hye Jung to show, and that does count for quite a bit, in my books. [END SPOILERS]
5. Adorkable second male leads
In both timelines, we get pretty adorkable secondary male leads vying for Hye Jung’s attention, and I dig it very much. Ji Soo is pitch-perfect as Soo Chul, the slightly dim bad boy from Hye Jung’s high-school years, and Yoon Kyun Sang is freaking adorable as prickly-proud-adorkable-inner-marshmallow Yoon Do, Hye Jung’s Neurosurgery sunbae.
These two added a nice spot of fun and cute to the watch experience, and altogether, I felt like Doctors was on a very positive trajectory indeed.
THE REST OF THE SHOW
Sadly, Show turns a corner, and once we settle into the hospital context, starts drifting more and more into hospital politics, and slowly but surely, loses its grip on the character stuff – which was the stuff that I found most engaging, unfortunately.
By episode 9, Show firmly establishes itself in a cycle of hospital politics sprinkled liberally with protracted surgery scenes. Characters and their relationships start to feel like afterthoughts, almost, and instead, we spend a lot of time on multiple highly unnatural medical conversations. I mean, I get that the medical conversations are necessarily expository for the sake of the audience, but watching it all, I couldn’t help thinking that doctors don’t explain things to each other, nor state the obvious to each other, the way these doctors do.
Hye Jung’s characterization [MODERATE SPOILERS]
Overarching everything else is Hye Jung’s revenge mission, which felt overly long drawn-out. It felt like a niggling something that Show just couldn’t leave behind, and it would pop up every so often to add angst to Hye Jung’s life, before fading again into the background, still unresolved.
I personally felt like this entire revenge arc – or perhaps more specifically, the execution of it? – doesn’t sit well with the rest of Hye Jung’s characterization. Hye Jung’s painted to be a particularly level-headed person, and this revengey part of her just doesn’t feel like it’s part of the same person. In my mind, a revengey person would be more hardened and bitter, and this bitterness would show up more in other relationships.
The other thing that niggled at me, with Hye Jung’s characterization, is how, despite her emotionally-scarred state, she’s able to demonstrate a surprising degree of understanding of relationships. Like in episode 11, when Hye Jung requests Ji Hong to open up to her. On the one hand, she makes perfect sense and is completely reasonable in her ask. On the other hand, how does she even know what to ask for in a healthy relationship, and why is she even at all upset about it, when she says that she doesn’t believe in relationships? For someone who doesn’t believe in relationships and doesn’t seem to want to be in one, she sure is being assertive in pushing for one.
In this sense, Hye Jung’s characterization felt quite unnatural to me, and all the minor-ish mismatches eventually added up in my head, and ultimately made it hard for me to get on board with her character arc as a whole.
All in all, slowly but surely, I found myself feeling rather bored, as I progressed deeper into the show.
I hafta admit, there were times when I considered dropping this show, since it mostly felt like not a lot happened with each passing episode. Despite the lack of major plot movement, though, I found that there were juust enough silver linings in this one, to keep me hanging on till the end.
Here’s the quick list.
Likable supporting characters
Weirdly, there seemed to be an inverse relationship between my interest in the main arcs of the show, vs. my affection for the secondary characters. The more I lost interest in the show’s main plot (or even most of the side-plots, if I’m being honest), the more my affection for the secondary characters came to the fore. This was one of the biggest things that kept me going, in spite of myself.
I liked Tae Ho (Jang Hyun Sung) for his solid, matter-of-fact, principled outlook. He doesn’t play politics, can see it clearly when it shows up, and firmly doesn’t bow to it. In a hospital riddled with political players, Tae Ho felt like a breath of fresh air.
Shout-out too, to Kyung Joon (Kim Kang Hyun) whose nervous mother hen-like way of bustling around is suitably hilarious. I also liked Young Kook (Baek Sung Hyun) for his understated steady vibe.
My favorite in the bunch, though, has to be Kang Soo (Kim Min Suk). His earnest outer cheer, combined with his inner struggles, made him more compelling than his colleagues. [SPOILER] In particular, I enjoyed how Show treated his brain tumor arc. I found it touching to watch Kang Soo work hard to figure out his best life and live it, even as he fought the pain and disappointment of being diagnosed with a brain tumor. The touches of bromance between him and his younger brother (Yeo Hoe Hyun) were also cute. I also found it sweet how the entire department of neurology banded together in concern for their maknae. Aw. [END SPOILER]
Adorkable Yoon Do
I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Yoon Kye Sang is amusingly adorkable as Yoon Do.
Yoon Kye Sang’s got a great comic touch, and it’s put to fantastic use in this role. Even as I grew bored of show’s main plot, Yoon Kye Sang continued to make Yoon Do endearingly dorky, demonstrating some of the best reaction faces in the entire show. His touch of sheepishness and general sense of discombobulation and skittishness around Hye Jung was also very funny.
[SPOILERS] Besides his crush on Hye Jung, Yoon Do also brings the laughs when he becomes the unfortunate, unwilling host for Pa Ran (Lee Sun Ho) and In Joo (Yoo Da In), who decide to camp out in Yoon Do’s apartment despite his protests. From his hapless objections to his grudging acceptance, Yoon Do is good-natured and endearing through it all. I thought it was really sweet of him to buy cup ramyun just because In Joo has asked to eat it. Aw.
On another note, I had to admire Yoon Do for handling himself with class. Like the time he refuses to take advantage of the time that Ji Hong is away in episode 12 to get close to Hye Jung, and the time he tells Seo Woo (Lee Sung Kyung) not to let him walk all over her, while encouraging her to basically live the life she wants, since she’s not 18 anymore and therefore not necessarily subject to her family’s whims. In the light of his gigantic dorky streak, I found this touch of class all the more endearing. Double aw. [END SPOILERS]
Warm hero’s still warm
Ji Hong continues to be the focused, warm hero all the way through, which I liked. One of my favorite Ji Hong qualities, is his steadiness, particularly as a surgeon. We see it again and again throughout the show, in surgery after surgery. There’s just something about that calm, not easily ruffled steadiness that really appeals to me.
Romance-wise, I really liked the softness in Ji Hong’s gaze when he looks at Hye Jung. That did a lot for me, in adding subtext to a loveline that was written to be relatively muted compared to most lovelines in prime-time kdramas. Of course, let the record show that Kim Rae Won is very capable of delivering the sensuous kisses, when the occasion calls for it. Ahem.
Small tangent on the OTP
You’ve probably noticed by now that I don’t actually list the OTP as either a plus or minus in this show, and that.. actually sums it up quite effectively, heh. The OTP never felt like a driving plot point in our story, and never felt terribly exciting (to me, anyway) at any single juncture of this show.
Still, this OTP’s daily sort of interactions and progress had a muted sort of everyday appeal, and it was actually rather refreshing to have an OTP that talked things through with minimal angst.
Some engaging side-arcs
Show settles into a rhythm where there’s always a case or two of the week, and those cases may or may not help our doctors to learn about themselves and grow. I will admit that I wasn’t always interested in the cases of the week, but there were several that did manage to genuinely engage and move me.
Specifically, I really liked the case involving Im Ji Yeon’s cameo as a national archer Lee Soo Sung in episodes 7 & 8. [SPOILER] I felt the awake surgery was well done, in that the scene of Soo Jung being able to draw a bow again brought tears to my eyes. The execution of the scene was excellent, and really tapped effectively into my emotions. [END SPOILER]
Special mention too, for Nam Goong Min, who was really good in his cameo as a single father. I fully believed his struggle as a dad who didn’t have the resources, but truly wanted to do his best for his kids.
The cases that managed to strike a chord with me really did add a nice touch of emotional resonance to my watch experience.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
Show stays true to the majority of its run, and serves up more doctoring and more surgeries in its finale, with some romance and closure on the side. It’s a pleasant enough hour, but when I ask myself if it was worth spending 20 hours of my life to get to this point, Past Me honestly feels a little sheepish towards Present Me for not being wiser about my drama time spendage.
I knew that Hye Jung exacting revenge on President Jin (Uhm Hyo Sup) wouldn’t be Show’s endgame, since Show was always more interested in being nice, and our heroine couldn’t end the show on a vengeful note. So the sudden humanizing of President Jin wasn’t surprising, but it did feel staged and convenient. The whole dilemma about whether or not Hye Jung should assist Ji Hong in the surgery also felt contrived, to me. If she’s as professional of a doctor as she’s been made out to be, she wouldn’t have refused to do it in the first place, is what I’m thinking.
I did rather like the truce that Hye Jung arrived at, though, with her father. That felt true to her character, and felt like a reasonable way forward for them, with a touch of acknowledgement.
I also liked the fact that we got glimpses of steps forward for other characters, like Seo Woo and Young Kook finally taking official steps into romantic territory, and glimmers of romance sprinkled among the other residents.
All in all, it was a pleasant if unexciting hour – which seemed a fitting end to a pleasant if unexciting show.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Show gets off to a pretty strong start, but soon subsides into mostly just being pleasantly boring all around.
FINAL GRADE: C+