One of the struggles that I keep mentioning to my friend Timescout, is finding the just-so, perfect balance between just watching what I want to watch, and liking what I like, and paying attention to positive buzz on – and therefore trying out – dramas that I wouldn’t normally have on my radar. Sometimes, that curiosity serves me well, and I end up finding gems that I would’ve otherwise missed (OMG I freaking loved Money Flower, and My Mister, and neither of those were really on my radar to begin with). Other times, though, I’ve lived to regret my curiosity, when the show in question just doesn’t grab me the way it’s grabbed other people.
So here’s the thing. Originally, I was going to give Your House Helper a pass, since the premise didn’t appeal to me that much. But then I saw a fair number of comments floating around, saying that this one is surprisingly good, so I felt almost compelled to give it a chance. Long story short, I had to work to get into this one, and while it had its moments in the middle stretch, by the time I got to the end, I have to confess, I felt a tad underwhelmed. Not underwhelmed enough to give this show a terrible review, but underwhelmed enough to feel like I could’ve maybe spent those drama hours better elsewhere.
I don’t know if I’ll ever find that elusive balance between having the gumption to fly solo, and wanting to follow positive buzz so as not to miss any of the good stuff, but I’m certainly gonna keep trying. In the meantime, let’s dive a little bit into my experience with this show, shall we?
Disclaimer: Like I said, lots of folks liked this one, so your experience might vary from mine.
WORKING TO GET INTO IT
The first time I actually felt like I was getting into this show, was at the episode 9-10 mark, which means that I spent the first 8 episodes of my watch trying to like it, and not quite succeeding.
Because of Show’s rather scattered way of introducing our main characters, I spent the first 2 episodes feeling completely unclear of our setting and our characters. I wasn’t feeling it much, I wasn’t sure whether I liked the leads, and I had no idea what this story was supposed to be.
Still, because Show hinted that our characters would likely become housemates, I hung in there to get through to the final set-up. I was hopeful that once the housemates were in place, that things would become more coherent and more interesting, possibly in a way reminiscent of Age Of Youth, a share-house drama that I loved.
Basically, I didn’t enjoy episodes 3 & 4 either, and while watching them, still wasn’t super clear on who was who, but I hung in there for the hope of better days – well, episodes – to come.
BRIGHT SPOTS IN THE MIDDLE STRETCH
Was I rewarded for my patience? Well, sorta. Things became relatively more engaging once I got my head around who was who. And, it helped that our titular house helper (Ha Suk Jin) was finally starting to wear a kinder, less prickly expression around the girls, when before, he’d just been stiff and grumpy.
At this point, I was also more able to enjoy Show’s bright and cheery Spring palette, and the happy OST. For a while there, things started to really feel like they were looking up, with this show.
Here’s a quick run-down of the things that I found myself enjoying quite well, at least in the middle stretch of the show. To Show’s credit, there were moments when I felt pleasantly surprised by how much I was enjoying this drama.
The friends living together
I was right; the moment the girls started living together in the same house, was the point where I finally felt more engaged with this show. I like the share house concept, and the unrushed, personal, slice-of-life vibe this show served up within its share-house concept appealed to me. Show kinda-sorta felt like A Poem A Day in its everyday vibe, except that this story felt like Age Of Youth’s simpler, less robust cousin.
[MINOR SPOILER] I liked the fact that the girls already know one another from before, so once the misunderstandings and past grudges have been cleared up, there’s already a sense of relationship and care among them, even though they’ve just moved in together. In that sense, I felt like we got to the good friendship stuff earlier and faster, than if they’d been strangers. I also really liked the idea of them inadvertently fulfilling a teenage promise from before, to live together in adulthood. Aw. [END SPOILER]
Ji Woon softening up and accepting the offer of community
Here’s my thing with Ha Suk Jin. I’ve loved him in stuff before (see 1% Of Anything), but generally, I do feel like he’s getting typecast, and it’s not doing him any favors, in my opinion. Maybe I only happened to watch the shows where he plays grumpy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only so many times that I can watch someone be grumpy and prickly, before I start to wonder if they are capable of much else. That’s probably part of the reason why I didn’t take to Ji Woon as a character very quickly. I just found him a tad too stuffy and aloof.
However, by around the episode 11-12 mark, I noticed that Ji Woon was starting to twinkle a little bit, around the housemates, and I liked that. Without actually making a big statement about it, Show was allowing Ji Woon to soften up and slowly but surely accept the girls’ offer of community. Seeing Ji Woon’s softer side, and witnessing the strengthening of bonds within this community definitely contributed to my enjoyment of Show’s middle stretch.
The loveline between Lawyer Kwon and Sang Ah
Among Show’s various lovelines, I found myself most entertained by the romance between Sang Ah and Lawyer Kwon (Go Won Hee and Lee Ji Hoon).
[VAGUE SPOILERS] It just never got old for me, that Lawyer Kwon is really just a big smitten dork, trying – and failing! – so hard to impress Sang Ah, who really just wants to hide from people because she doesn’t want anyone to know her real situation. Basically, the harder he tries, the harder she runs away, which is something I found highly amusing. Plus, I did genuinely think that they would make a cute pair, and I looked forward with anticipation, to the time that he’d actually get to rise to the occasion and be a real knight in shining armor. [END SPOILER]
STUFF THAT I FELT NEUTRAL ABOUT
Ji Woon’s loveline with Da Young
With Ji Woon and Da Young (Bona) being our key characters – he’s our titular house helper, and she’s the owner of the share-house – it’s drama law, almost, that there be a loveline between the two. To be honest, though, this loveline didn’t capture me much.
[VAGUE SPOILERS] On the upside, there were rather entertaining moments to be had, as Da Young became more cognizant of her feelings for Ji Woon, and therefore awkwardly hyper-aware of his presence. Additionally, Show allows hints of Ji Woon softening towards her in spite of himself, as he starts to prioritize helping her over other matters. I rather liked these moments. [END SPOILER]
On the not-so-upside, I personally didn’t feel much chemistry between the two actors, and therefore this loveline didn’t feel all that natural nor believable to me. I didn’t hate that it was there, but it wasn’t exactly a highlight of my watch either.
Hye Joo’s storyline
Technically speaking, Hye Joo (Jun Soo Jin) is a supporting character, since she doesn’t live in the same house as the other girls. I did like that we saw her often, since she’d visit the girls and hang out with them. I also appreciated that we got some insight into her personal situation.
[SPOILER] Hye Joo’s situation is a hard one; turns out that Chul Soo (Lee Do Kyum), the guy that she’s living with, is not her boyfriend after all, but a guy that she’s liked for a long time, who’s been rejected by his family for being gay. She provides him with shelter and support, because he has no one else, but her heart bleeds every time he does something boyfriend-like for her, while his heart beats for some other guy. Ouch. That’s a hard thing to keep up. Her love for him will never be fulfilled, and yet, she feels that she needs to keep being there for him. Oof, that’s gotta hurt. [END SPOILER]
I’ve got this arc in this section not because I didn’t find it meaningful or important; it was just hard to watch Hye Joo force herself to smile, while she was crying on the inside.
NOT-SO-BRIGHT SPOTS IN THE LATER STRETCH
If I had to summarize Show’s missteps as one singular flaw, it would be that more often than not, it reached for simplistic reveals and solutions for the various arcs that it presented. So while I felt that most of our storylines were decently fleshed out in terms of their conflicts, I felt underwhelmed by their eventual reveal &/or resolution.
Here’s a quick spotlight on the various ones that niggled at me.
So Mi’s storyline
From fairly early on in our story, Show indicates that So Mi (Seo Eun Ah) has a debilitating fear of men. We see her react in pretty extreme ways, with specific men as well as the male population in general, and we are not told why until much later. I seriously wondered what terrible things had happened to her, to make her this way, and I also wondered why she was so very secretive about it, that she wouldn’t talk about it even with her own mother or her closest friends.
[SPOILER] The thing is, when Show finally gives us the full story on it – that So Mi has a phobia of men because her half-brother had kissed her when she was a teen – it felt quite simplistic, to me. Additionally, it seemed to me that she seemed ok with some men, while terrified of others, and that felt inconsistent to my eyes.
Afterwards, when So Mi overcomes her phobia via amateur therapy sessions with bartender Ga Ram (Yun Joon Suk), it feels too simplistic and magical to be true. I found it quite hard to believe that Ga Ram, with nothing to back him up besides his good intentions, would be so successful in helping So Mi overcome a phobia that had been ruining her life for years. [END SPOILER]
Ji Woon’s backstory
From the very beginning, Ji Woon’s background and personal history is shrouded in mystery. No one knows where he came from, or why he does what he does, cleaning houses and sleeping at the bar, and the one person who knows, flatly refuses to talk about it. Because Show has everyone walking on eggshells around Ji Woon’s story, I got the impression that the details of said story would be very dark, complex and painful.
[SPOILER] So when we finally learn the details of Ji Woon’s backstory in the later episodes, I found it less dark, less complex, and less believable than I’d expected. In fact, I found it quite strange, to be honest. I mean, he’s so guilty about his client committing suicide that he goes straight to the bridge to also commit suicide? That’s really extreme. And then, he goes home with the woman who talks him off the bridge with a quick, flippant little sentence, then cleans her house while she’s out at work that night, and then promptly starts living with her, when she comes home in the morning? Uh. That’s weird, to me. And then, one day, she disappears from his life, and that’s why he’s cleaning houses and living in the bar?
I mean.. after all that mystery around Ji Woon’s backstory, this felt like an anticlimax to me, to be honest. [END SPOILER]
The sexual harassment arc [SPOILERS]
In episodes 19 & 20, Da Young gets sexually harassed at a work dinner gathering, which in itself feels quite simplistic. I mean, guy sees birth control pills fall out of her bag and therefore assumes she’s easy and decides it’s ok to force the moves on her?
But ok, I did find it satisfying to watch Manager An (Lee Min Young) punch Assault Guy out. Plus, it was also good to see Ji Woon rushing back from his trip out of concern for Da Young, and caring for her.
What I didn’t understand was the cleaning crew approach, to getting justice for Da Young. I mean, the girls going undercover as cleaning crew, and putting up posters in the Assault Guy’s office, and putting a file on sexual assault cases on his desk? Really? I mean, yes, it all resolves when Ji Woon shows up and claims to have spoken with the vice president about the #MeToo movement, and Assault Guy’s conscience is too much for him to bear, and he and Ji Woon talk it out on the roof, together with Da Young.
Um. I wouldn’t have seen this thread of logic if Show hadn’t demonstrated it on my screen. And having seen it pan out on my screen, I still don’t see how these characters could have thought that putting posters on the office walls would have done anything to help their cause.
That said, I’m grateful that this sexual harassment arc didn’t take over the entire show, as some side stories tend to do.
The OTP connection
I’ve already mentioned that I don’t feel like Ha Suk Jin and Bona have good chemistry. However, this point isn’t even about the chemistry.
Basically, I found that there was a very odd lack of passion / emotion in how Ji Woon and Da Young begin their relationship. [SPOILER] I mean, it’s sweet the way he asks Da Young if she would be ok to have him as a boyfriend, but after her shy nod, this newly minted couple doesn’t even have a celebratory hug? Or at least a shy hand-hold? Instead, they move right into him teasing her about the porridge she’d cooked him? That’s.. quite deflating. [END SPOILER]
For a loveline that is supposedly the main loveline (since it’s between the main characters), this felt more like an afterthought than any kind of main event. Additionally, this OTP remains just as tepid as a couple, for the rest of the series.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
It should come as no surprise that Show wraps up everything in neat, happy, rather simplistic bows.
Essentially, Hye Joo and Chul Soo make up over dinner, and go back to being good friends and business partners; Ji Woon makes peace with his mysterious ex; Manager Go (Jo Hee Bong) gets treatment for his stomach cancer, and receives a healing visit with Ji Woon’s mysterious ex; Lawyer Kwon helps Sang Ah launch her own jewelry brand, and Sang Ah presents him with couple rings that she designed; So Mi gets over her phobia of men and makes peace with her family; Da Young finally feels ready to clear out her dad’s things, and Ji Woon helps her through the cathartic process; Ga Ram pursues his music, with So Mi as the president of his fan club; Manager An gets her job back, but ends up starting her own agency with Hoobae Who’s Crushing On Her, and they hire Da Young to join the team.
Everyone gathers at the house for a celebratory barbecue, and then, as the spring rain interrupts their party, our characters all make their smiley exits, posing for the camera in pairs, much like musical actors would do for a stage production.
As for me, I ate up the happy bows with mild enjoyment, kinda in the same way that I, a person without much of a sweet tooth, would eat a dessert served with earnest anticipation by a first-time host who is not a master in the kitchen – politely, and with as much appreciation as I can muster. Which is basically a roundabout way of saying, Show’s ending was sweet, and pat, and nothing to really shout about. But Show had good intentions, and overall, it was.. not bad.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Has its sweet and feel-good moments, but ultimately, the overly simplistic treatment of.. many things, does not do Show any favors.
FINAL GRADE: C++