Flash Review: Stove League

Let me get what I think are the two biggest questions out of the way: No, you don’t need to know a thing about baseball, in order to enjoy this show. And no, you don’t even have to like baseball, in order to like this show. Would you get more enjoyment out of this show if you actually already love baseball? I’m not sure, to be honest. Sometimes knowing too much can be a bad thing (if you’re a doctor you probably roll your eyes at the details in medical kdramas, and so on), but I’m guessing that understanding how baseball works would probably help you appreciate the nuances that I missed.

I went into this show without much knowledge or interest in baseball, and I’m coming away with only marginally more knowledge about and interest in the sport, and yet, I found myself enjoying this show very well, and wholeheartedly rooting for our characters, often without actually truly understanding the full details of what was happening on my screen. That’s quite an accomplishment on Show’s part, I’d say.

Also, for the record, I’ve felt rather neutral about Nam Goong Min for a while, even as everyone else has grown hearts in their eyes for him, and here, I finally actually really like him.

Lots of happy surprises overall, yes?

WHY THIS SHOW WORKED FOR ME, IN A NUTSHELL

Thinking about it, there are 3 key things that made this show work as well for me as it did.

1. It’s an underdog story

I love a good underdog story, because I just reallyreally want said underdog to succeed against all odds, and Stove League gives me that, in heaps. The individuals in our story tend to be underdogs themselves, and the team itself is the pitiable team that keeps coming in last in the league. There was someone to root for, practically everywhere I looked.

Which means that for me, at least, the hook of this show is an emotional one. And that’s probably why, even though I didn’t (and still don’t) know anything about baseball, had little interest to learn more about baseball, and generally didn’t fully understand the baseball details of what was going on on my screen, I still managed to enjoy my watch.

Show is pretty good at making the emotional journey the core, and having that core stand front and center, with enough gist of the context, to make it feel sound. I didn’t need to understand everything in detail in order to feel for our characters and our underdog team, and that’s pretty great.

2. Show’s sometimes almost investigative tone

There’s a bit of an investigative quality about this show that I really enjoyed.

Our protagonist Seung Soo (Nam Goong Min) is our investigator, unruffled, methodical and coldly analytical, and the object of his investigation, is how the Dreams ticks; what is going on really, with the people that make up the team, as well as the people who influence the team. He is suspicious of everyone, and gives no free passes to anyone; he investigates everyone equally, and draws his conclusions in a meticulous, logical manner.

As he makes progress in his investigation, the layers of all the various characters are peeled back, and I, for one, found it all very fascinating, because this is an operation that undertakes the unveiling and understanding of people, their secrets, their motivations, and their ambitions. I was completely absorbed by this.

3. Show is consistent

What makes this show stand out from the average kdrama, is its consistency. In tone, emphasis, pacing and engagement, Show remains consistent, switching up its focus each episode or so, to give us an increasingly deeper and broader view of the world of the Dreams, while also giving us a deeper and broader view of the people who live in that world. We get deeper glimpses into our mainstay characters, while still getting introduced to smaller, sometimes incidental characters in the broader drama world.

It felt pretty great to feel like I was in confident, deft narrative hands, all the way to the end.

PS. I thought it’d be good to mention that this show benefits from being binge-watched. Our story goes pretty broad in terms of characters and drama world, and when I left this show for a bit, sometimes I had a bit of trouble getting re-situated in our story.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

As before, I’m sharing the OST here, just in case you’d like to enjoy some background music while reading the review. Enjoy:

STUFF I LIKED

Nam Goong Min as Seung Soo

If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’d probably know that I’ve, historically speaking, not been a fan of Nam Goong Min. Before everyone fell in love with him, I’d found him mostly rather vanilla and bland (most of his roles looked about the same to me, like the one in I Need Romance 3). And then, he’d gone dark (like in The Girl Who Sees Smells), and I was pretty ok with that. And then, he went zany (like in Beautiful Gong Shim), and everyone just loved him zany, and I.. just generally don’t do well with zany. Which is why I’ve been left in my own odd duck corner while everyone else has woken up to the Nam Goong Min love.

Imagine, then, how absolutely refreshing it’s been for me, to watch Nam Goong Min in this role. He’s not a serial killer, nor is he zany, nor is he boring. He’s delightfully restrained, and his character Baek Seung Soo is layered and interesting, and this is hands down my favorite outing that I’ve seen of Nam Goong Min’s, so far. This works out really well for me, since Seung Soo is our protagonist, and everything basically unfolds around him.

From the moment we’re introduced to Seung Soo as the Dreams’ new GM who’s tasked with turning the sinking ship around, I found him intriguing. I loved that he was and remained completely unfazed by the fact that he wasn’t familiar with baseball, and by the fact that no one seemed to welcome him. He appeared to have a clear idea of what to do, despite the discontent and protests, and I was very curious to see what that plan was. And as Seung Soo went about doing his thing, I found my loyalty to and empathy for him growing, all the way to the end.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I like the idea that Seung Soo is surprising everyone with his quick learning curve, his shrewd decisions and his effective negotiation, with the trade of Lim Dong Gyu (Jo Han Sun) for Kang Doo Ki (Ha Do Kwon).

E2. I’m intrigued by Seung Soo’s even-keeled self control, given how Dong Gyu is being violent and threatening. What’s he made of, that he doesn’t even flinch after he’s been beaten up by the thugs sent by the player that he’s trying to trade?

E3. I wonder what makes Seung Soo the way he is. Is he really some sort of sociopath that’s missing an emotional chip? How does he stay so perfectly serene and placid, even when people are throwing insults – or even punches – at him? Curiouser and curiouser.

E3. It does seem like Seung Soo gives people the benefit of the doubt. When MD Kwon (Oh Jung Se) says loudly at the team dinner that Manager Ko (Lee Joon Hyuk) had turned down his offer to be Head Coach, Seung Soo bluntly – but blandly – points out to him that Head Coach Yoon (Lee Eol) had been right there, and would have probably heard him. There’s no malice in his tone, just matter-of-fact, unembellished fact. And when asked why he said that to MD Kwon, Seung Soo replies in his serene manner that he thought perhaps MD Kwon didn’t know. How very interesting. Most people who would have brought it up to MD Kwon, would have probably done so in an accusing manner, assuming that MD Kwon did that to intentionally disrespect the Head Coach. But Seung Soo doesn’t. Interesting.

E8. Seung Soo is very, very shrewd. After everything is over, he contacts the reporter asking for an article to be written, and the next thing we know, Management is backing down and offering more money to the players. Offering his own yearly salary for the benefit of the players really hit the holding company’s reputation hard, ha.

E9. We get a great deal of insight this episode, into the burdens that Seung Soo carries. The guilt around his brother Young Soo’s (Yoon Sun Woo) condition and his father’s (Jeon Young Woon) failing health too; the hospital bills; his mom’s (Jung Young Sook) growing frailty; the sorrow and pain over the child that he and his wife (Kim Jung Hwa) had lost; his failed marriage.

It’s such a heart-pinching thing, to know that beneath the stoic, expressionless, unruffled calm that I’ve come to admire, even, in Seung Soo, lies so much personal pain from wounds that are still open and tender. This makes me root even harder for Seung Soo to succeed in turning the Dreams around, and making GM Kwon and his ilk eat their smug words.

Also, how tender and bittersweet, to know that the reason Seung Soo always takes photos of his meals, is so that he can show them to his mom, to let her know that he’s eating well, and to also comfort himself, that she’s still hanging in there, and still able to care.

E10. Seung Soo is shrewd, there’s no doubt about it. The entire way he went about the off-season training issue, knowing that his actions would create a ruckus, and knowing how others would react, and playing it such that everything played out the way he intended, is such a good demonstration of his ability as a chess master. At first, I was quite appalled at how he told the coaches to keep offering training, without stepping out to tell everyone that he’d endorsed it, but eventually, it became clear that he knew what he was doing all along.

E10. The scene where Seung Soo asks his ex-wife whether it’s ok if he lives happily while enjoying work, is so full of pathos. He looks so tentative as he asks it, which tells me that he doesn’t see happiness as a right, and more as a luxury that someone like him can’t dare aspire to. How sad, that he’s borne this type of guilt and burden all this time, but how hopeful, that he’s at the point where he’s able to think about happiness again.

It’s also pretty great that Seung Soo asks Young Soo if they can talk about work at home, under the pretext that Seung Soo’s neglected Young Soo’s department at work. This is pretty darn huge, since Seung Soo had been so against the idea of Young Soo taking the job at the Dreams in the first place. Young Soo has proven himself fully capable of the job, and Seung Soo is, in his own way, acknowledging Young Soo’s capability.

E11. Seung Soo seems to be reaching the end of his patience with MD Kwon, being rather short with him during the meeting where MD Kwon drops the bombshell that the training trip to Australia has been canceled. I’m thinking that most other people who’ve cracked by this point, and gotten aggressive with MD Kwon. Kinda like the way MD Kwon cracked and got aggressive with his cousin. But Seung Soo manages to keep his even keel, and I’m impressed.

E12. It’s testament to Seung Soo’s character, that even though he’s (secretly) scheduled to leave the Dreams when the season begins, that he’s still full on concerned with all aspects of Dreams’ success, including the list of people invited for the ceremonial pitches.

E12. Seung Soo actually losing his cool and raising his voice at MD Kwon, is something I saw coming, but which is still rather startling to witness, since Seung Soo’s always been so even-tempered.

E13. Seung Soo musing to Manager Byun (Park Jin Woo) that he always gets into the same problem is very intriguing to me. “I happened to grow attached to people as I worked, and it always caught up with me. Because I wasn’t obedient, people around me ended up like this. I’m sorry.”

That says a great deal, about how much Seung Soo has put down roots in the Dreams. He’s always come across as logical and even-tempered, but compared to his initial arrival at the Dreams, where he was quick to ask Se Young (Park Eun Bin) if she trusted Manager Ko and whether he truly was trustworthy, he’s now himself quick to trust Manager Byun when Manager Byun is taken in for investigation for bribery.

E13. When MD Kwon tries to get rid of Jae Hee (Jo Byung Gyu) for being rude, Seung Soo speaks up for Jae Hee, and then later, tells Jae Hee that the transfer to the Scouting Department is his idea. Seung Soo puts himself out there to protect his people. Not only does he protect Jae Hee from being fired, he protects Jae Hee from being crushed by the idea that his transfer is a low-blow political move by MD Kwon, which it actually is. But Seung Soo reframes it and helps Jae Hee to see the growth potential of his new role instead. That’s such a good boss thing to do.

E13. I like the idea of Seung Soo initiating a plan to bring Dong Gyu back into the Dreams, after he comes clean about his overseas gambling scandal. That’s very gracious and humane, and also indicates that Seung Soo finally understands the emotional part of Dong Gyu’s desire to retire from the Dreams and not somewhere else.

[END SPOILER]

Park Eun Bin as Se Young

I have a pre-existing affection for Park Eun Bin, mostly from Age Of Youth and Age Of Youth 2, so I was glad to see her in this show as well, rocking a character who’s much less quirky, and considerably more earnest, in comparison – I thought, anyway.

Even though Se Young is listed as our female lead, in this drama world, she’s more like a supporting character to Nam Goong Min’s protagonist. I think that’s important to mention here, in case you’re a huge Park Eun Bin fan and have Expectations, around narrative room given to her.

That said, I very much enjoyed Se Young as a character. I really like how passionate she is, and how she lives her life in a way that honors her beliefs. I also really liked her for how heartfelt she is, in everything that she does.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E7. Se Young throwing the glass and glaring down catcher Seo Yeong Ju (Cha Yub), who’s being arrogant and difficult, is quite dramatic. She’s usually speaking up on behalf of the players, so to see her react so strongly like this, makes me wonder if she’s really empathizing with Seung Soo now.

E10. It’s a significant thing, that Se Young knew that what Seung Soo was pushing for appeared unreasonable, and yet chose to follow his instructions and stand on his side, even before she understood what he actually had in mind. This shows how much she’s come to trust his judgment, and I think it’s pretty great, that he’s earned such an unquestioning trust from Se Young.

E11. When the Dreams staff go around trying to gather external help for the team’s Spring training, I love how nicely Se Young puts it, when she talking about the money issue with celebrity conditioning coach Lee Jun Mo:

“This is the best we can offer. The reason we can’t offer more is because we don’t have more. It doesn’t mean this is how little we need you. I know how much you make. But I heard that your real dream was to work for a baseball team. If that eagerness is larger than the deficit, please work with us.”

That sincerity, appealing to his passion, is something that I can buy would get him in the heart, and lead him to say yes, for the Spring training.

[END SPOILER]

The roving spotlight on the characters

Show does this thing where it shifts the spotlight to a different character every episode or so, while keeping its overall main focus on our key characters. The effect that this had, for me, was a slow but organic-feeling expansion of my drama world.

I liked becoming more acquainted with the characters over the course of the story, and as more and more of them came into focus in my head as individuals with their own backstories, rather than semi-faceless people dotting the background, my drama world felt richer and more interesting as well.

Here’s just a really quick spotlight on just two of the character spotlights.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Gil Chang Joo

E5. I’m generally not a fan of storytelling that purposely omits large chunks, only to do a big reveal at a later point in time which is supposed to be shocking, and then go back in time to retell the story, with previously omitted large chunks included the second time around. This feels manipulative and not very clever, to me. It also feels overdone and overused in Dramaland in general. So I wasn’t very impressed when I realized Show was doing it this episode, with the reveal that their guide was actually a dormant player who’s even better than the free agents they’ve been traveling around to meet and negotiate with.

However, to Show’s credit, as reluctant as I was to jive with this narrative device that I didn’t care for, I couldn’t help but become engaged by Gil Chang Joo’s (Lee Yong Woo) story, and feel for him. That’s some skillz, I have to admit.

Young Soo

E6. This episode the focus is on Seung Soo’s brother, and it’s pretty hard to watch the lead-up to the accident, in the flashback, because you just know it’s coming, so every word that comes out of Seung Soo’s mouth, that actually contributes to the accident, just makes me go, “Noooo” in my head. Which is very effective, I must say, because I feel like I can understand why Seung Soo would blame himself for it, all these years later, and why he feels strongly about protecting his brother with all of his power.

It’s quite refreshing, though, for a kdrama to have a character with a disability, who is well healed and mentally strong after putting his past behind him, and is actively seeking to find new meaning in life – without trying to hide from his past. It’s pretty amazing that Young Soo has developed a love for baseball now, which is the very thing that put him in a wheelchair to begin with. And it’s even more amazing, that he’s found a way to apply his newfound talent in metrics to his knowledge of baseball. Win, and win. And he’s the one persuading his brother to leave the past behind and live life instead of being trapped in a prison. How different and refreshing.

[END SPOILER]

The heartwarming team stuff

My personal favorite arc in this show, is the growing unity within the team of staff.

There’s some of that among the players too, but we spend more time with the staff who work to keep the Dreams running, and Seung Soo’s influence in gathering this group of stagnant, discouraged people who don’t really see much point to their work, into a team that’s motivated and passionate around shared purpose and beliefs, is just extremely gratifying to watch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. It’s satisfying to see Seung Soo already start winning people over. The first time Se Young speaks up for Seung Soo in front of her other colleagues was quite the satisfying moment, given that she herself had been personally protesting vehemently to Seung Soo regarding his plan to trade Dong Gyu. Even though she still didn’t understand his plan, she had accepted his reasoning; he’s the GM whether he’s experienced or not, and doesn’t need her permission to do his job. Nice.

E3. I like how Seung Soo doesn’t jump to conclusions, and really sees things and people for what they are. The way Jae Hee was so stunned to realize that Seung Soo could see him working hard while not asking for additional pay, says a lot. People have basically been boxing Jae Hee up as a nakasan who’s just there as a hobby, and he’s been playing along because he feels unable to say anything else, and here is Seung Soo, who, after a mere few weeks on the job, sees him so penetratingly. It’s no wonder that Jae Hee immediately cleaves to Seung Soo like a baby duck to his mother, and asks to tag along when Seung Soo heads out of the office.

E9. It’s really heartwarming to see the team band together to fight for Seung Soo’s right to come back. It speaks so loudly, to the impact that he’s had on the team as a whole, not only in terms of actual changes and progress, but in terms of igniting a hope within them that they had long felt was way out of their reach. The way everyone gathered round to welcome Seung Soo back with cake, popping party favors, and actual cheering, is so heartwarming to see.

Seung Soo walking right by after blowing out the candle on the cake is just so typical of him, and the team knows it too, because when Se Young conveys his thanks at the celebratory dinner which he doesn’t actually attend, everyone cheers in response. To me, this shows that they know him. They’re not taking offense at his reticence; they’re cheering at the small but significant indication that he’s grateful. Aw. I think the growing mutual acceptance and affection between Seung Soo and the team, might be my new favorite thing in this show.

E9. It’s great that Young Soo’s talents and skills are being recognized, and he’s not being dismissed as the disabled guy &/or just Seung Soo’s brother.

E11. I like the idea of Seung Soo and his team taking a good look at what made the Dreams successful in the past, and going back to those basics. I also like the idea of going back to the individuals who’d contributed to that success, and sorting out the things that need to be sorted, and bringing them back to help the team again, if only for the Spring training season. It’s a little convenient that they all said yes, especially in the case of the conditioning expert who’s now a celebrity coach, but I like the overall effect.

E12. It’s pretty great to see the targeted training yield results, with the Dreams players performing so much better during the friendly game with the Vikings. I also rather like that they won the first game, and then willingly spent the second game helping Yoo Min Ho (Chae Jong Hyeop) regain his pitching confidence, thus losing to the Vikings. It feels nicely balanced overall, but I have to admit I feel rather wistful that the help they enlisted for the Spring training will now no longer be part of the team.

E14. I like that the staff all have grown to trust Seung Soo, and instead of assuming that they’re right and he’s wrong about a proposed decision, they are much more open to working to understand his reasoning. That shows how far Seung Soo has come in their eyes, in just a few short months.

I also like that our Marketing Manager Mi Sun (Kim Soo Jin) saves the day, racking up enough money in ad revenue, to make GM Kwon’s protest about money moot, in the case of rehiring Lim Dong Gyu. All she’d needed was a reason to dust off the drive and passion that she’d shelved for years, and Seung Soo’s small nudge was all it took, to unleash her drive all over again. Love that.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

The corruption & political stuff

Corruption and politics are not my favorite things, and we do see a fair amount of both things in our story. However, I do see them as means to an end; they act as catalysts to character and relationship development, and ultimately, we do also get to know our characters better.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E7. Ex-scouting manager now-agent Ko is very annoying to watch, which means that Lee Joon Hyuk’s doing a great job being hateful and sleazy.

E8. It was pretty satisfying to see the team manage the salary negotiations despite ex-manager Ko’s stubborn efforts to be a spanner in the works. His petulant flipping over of the coffee cup was – ugh – aggravating to watch, especially since it wasn’t done in a fit of pique, but in a power move meant to demonstrate to Jae Hee his superiority. So, when he fails to muck up the salary negotiations as planned, I was pretty satisfied.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED LESS

Oh Jung Se as MD Kwon

Oh Jung Se does a great job playing MD Kwon, bringing his different layers to life. MD Kwon is quite the multi-faceted character; he’s our resident baddie who does everything in his power to sabotage Seung Soo, and he’s pompous, privileged and power-trippy, but he’s also cowardly, servile and pathetic around those who have more power than him. I kind of feel like Oh Jung Se is perfect for the role.

I just.. didn’t like MD Kwon as a character much at all. Show works to humanize him and make him more sympathetic in later episodes, but I guess his earlier actions left a much stronger impression on me, because I still didn’t like him, by the time I finished my watch of this show.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. How interesting, that the director is asking Seung Soo to do as he’s done, implying that he’s looking to disband Dreams eventually. What’s up with that?

E8. It’s really so hard to do your job, when the people who hired you to do the job, are also intent on sabotaging you, every step of the way. That’s the position that Seung Soo is in, and I don’t envy him, one bit. I’m so aggravated every time GM Kwon pulls a sly move to undermine Seung Soo’s efforts to do his job.

E10. We get a deeper glimpse at MD Kwon’s private struggle, and it’s becoming clear that his life is far from a bed of roses, although he’d like everyone else to think that he’s perfectly privileged. The way he snaps at his cousin (Hong In) is quite disturbing, smashing his cousin’s hand repeatedly on the table after winning the arm wrestling match he’d suggested, and then bashing him in the face repeatedly, until he’d drawn blood and then some. Yikes. That’s a lot of repressed anger.

E12. MD Kwon making an excuse to let the CEO (Son Jong Hak) go, shows just how little loyalty counts in his world. The CEO was loyal to him for years, but with one word from the Chairman, loyal (albeit shady) CEO is being thrown under the bus so that MD Kwon can take over his place and torment Seung Soo directly.

E13. It’s paralyzing to have your boss try to sabotage you all the time, but that’s exactly what’s happening here with MD Kwon. MD Kwon even goes to the KPB to lobby for harsher punishment for doping players, because he suspects that Kang Doo Ki is using drugs. It’s a relief that Kang Doo Ki is clean after all, and no one on the Dreams team was doping. It’s also satisfying to see MD Kwon’s nefarious intentions bite the dust, at least this time.

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

This penultimate episode felt like a bit of a rollercoaster, in the best way. I felt like I was in confident, deft hands, even as I held on for the ride, with zero idea of if or when Show might take a sharp left turn or tip me over the edge for a sudden dive.

With Kang Doo Ki suddenly traded away from the Dreams, Seung Soo seems to finally reach his wits’ end, and takes a bit of time off work, just for a bit. Which is when the rest of the Dreams staff step up and come together to figure out what they can do, to fight the injustice of the situation. I couldn’t help but feel moved, as each one of them put ideas on the table to further their cause, unconcerned if the risk was their own jobs. It all feels very courageous and selfless, and as I watched them, I felt their earnestness and passion, and I couldn’t help but marvel a bit, at just how far they’ve all come, since we first met them. Even the players get into the act on their end, boycotting practices in protest over the unfair trade.

As Doo Ki leaves with his things, Seung Soo stops to express how sorry he is for how things turned out, and Doo Ki moves me, saying in his characteristically stoic way, that Seung Soo shouldn’t feel sorry; that Seung Soo’s been protecting so many thing and people, and he was just one thing that fell off, and Seung Soo shouldn’t suffer for it, because he has to keep protecting everything and everyone else. Aw. I just love Doo Ki. He’s such a reserved man of so few words, but he’s all loyalty and heart. I wouldn’t mind watching him be the star of his own drama.

Our team’s efforts pay off and Doo Ki comes back to the Dreams, to everyone’s delight, including mine. Yess. It’s so gratifying to see that the efforts of the so-called “little people” have reaped the result they were aiming for, and that they managed to bring Doo Ki, whose heart has always been with the Dreams, back to home ground.

But, just as these things fall into place, MD Kwon announces that the Dreams will be disbanded. Ack. But at the same time, Seung Soo approaches Chairman, and offers to sell the Dreams, if given some time. I’m suitably invested, and want Seung Soo to succeed, and find a new home for the Dreams, so that they can all pursue a new future together.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

In the end, Show serves up a finale that is satisfying, but also, bittersweet.

I’m pleased and relieved that the Dreams manages to get sold as Seung Soo promises, and gets to remain intact, both in terms of staff and players. The exuberance and joy of the staff, when Seung Soo and Se Young return to break the good news, is palpable, and it warmed my heart so, to see them be so happy, hugging one another and cheering out loud, because they get to stay together. Aw.

On the other hand, I can’t help wishing that Seung Soo didn’t have to leave. Given his track record of repeated team victory followed by team dissolution, and given that I now know that Seung Soo’s far from being unfeeling despite his stoic, even appearance, and in fact, cares a great deal for the people around him, I just want him to catch a break for once, and get to stay with the people he’s come to actually like being around, and sink his roots, and grow a found family of sorts, while enjoying his work. After all that he’s been through in his life, what with losing his wife and child, and carrying the heavy burden of guilt over his brother’s handicap and his father’s ailing health, I honestly just want Seung Soo to settle down somewhere, and be happy.

Seung Soo and MD Kwon seem to come to a truce of sorts, and while it seems rather overly simplistic to me, Seung Soo’s reminder this episode to MD Kwon, about MD Kwon’s father and the baseball memories he and his dad had shared, seems to galvanize MD Kwon in a new way, and MD Kwon basically cuts himself off from Uncle Chairman, returning the money that had once been lent to him for his college education, with interest.

Also quite oddly, Seung Soo and MD Kwon appear to become friends of some sort, as we see at the end, that MD Kwon is the one who recommends Seung Soo for a new job. I.. honestly find this about-face quite strange, and not something that I saw coming, given the tension between the two men all drama long. But ok, I get the idea that MD Kwon wasn’t evil, and had his own hang-ups and history, that caused him to choose to behave the way he did. But, I do think Show could’ve done a better job of making his turnaround feel less abrupt.

Time skip later, we see that the Dreams has made it to the championship finals, playing against the Sabres. It’s heartwarming to see the team in good spirits, and holding their heads up high, proud of their team. We don’t get to see the outcome of the match, but either way, it’s safe to say that the Dreams team has come a long way from where we first met them, and I’m pretty confident that better days are ahead of them, as they continue to work together and support one another.

As for the man who was the catalyst who brought them here, I’m rather disappointed that Seung Soo wasn’t among the spectators at that championship match, cheering them on while perhaps munching on some hotdog combo named after Kang Doo Ki or Lim Dong Gyu. That would’ve been a nice full circle, I thought. Instead, we see him listening to the commentary on the radio, while on his way to interview for the new job that MD Kwon recommends him for. I’m disappointed that Seung Soo is forced to move on, but I’m comforted that he’s comforted, that he’s not leaving a team in shambles for once, and is actually leaving, having protected them to the end, and propelled them towards a brighter future than they could’ve dreamed of, before. And, I’m heartened that he will bring that piece of history with him, as he ventures forth to work his magic (and hopefully finally sink some roots) with another team that needs his help.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Consistently solid and engaging, and heartfelt to boot.

FINAL GRADE: B++

TEASER:

MV:

39 thoughts on “Flash Review: Stove League

  1. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: Who are your favorite supporting actors – and will they ever get to play lead?? | The Fangirl Verdict

  2. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: What are some dramas that would make my day better? | The Fangirl Verdict

  3. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: What are some dramas the man in my life might be willing to watch? | The Fangirl Verdict

  4. putri novianti (@putrinopi)

    wah so happy that you reviewed Stove League, and on the right moment its just when i’m finishing this drama <3
    I watched SL without knowing anything, it's just one of kdrama account on twitter says this drama is a drama without love story and it's very good.
    when i first watch this i expect this will be drama about that poor bad ranking team through heavy and strategic exercise and become champion, i expected will watch countless baseball match πŸ˜€

    not complaining though, i love this drama, Baek Seung So is so cool and sad at the same time, the way he feels about his brother and his dad, ep 12 scene when he talked yo Young So after Young So interviewed on his team, and that he lost his baby, the scene when he hold Kill Chang Jou's baby uff T__T
    I would love him as my boss, i love that he really do anything for his team, including post their embarassing video on TV, so that they practice harder, and also when they camp training and he said, 'if we win, it's all because of you that trained so hard, if we lose, it'll be my fault forr making you all to a place like this to train' SIR, PLEASE TAKE MY HEART WITH YOU!
    But sometimes he also cute, i remember when he ask Se Young 'am i bad at expressing my self?'"thank you for your trust'*cough* cutee!
    I Love Jae Hee and Young Su, esp when they became the comentator on the game vs Vikings, Jae Hee the cheerfull one and Young Soo the smart one with all the fact and data <3
    I

    Although it's very sad that in the end he can't stay with Dreams, but am i just assuming but i think i see Se Young as the GM right? if thats the case then i approve, because we know how Se Young loves Dreams,

    Anyway thanks for your review, as usual i agree with all of it πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Dear putri, I’m so sorry for this late reply! πŸ˜› I’m so glad to know that this review came out at the perfect time for you, and that you ended up loving this drama! πŸ˜€ Indeed, Seung Soo is such a special character.. I love his consideration for his team members as well. Sometimes his actions were hard to understand, but once you grow to know him, you just know you can trust him. <3 And YES, Jae Hee and Young Soo commenting on the baseball match was really fun. They make a great pair! Also, you're right, Se Young became the new GM, which was fitting. It's just.. poor Seung Soo had to say goodbye to them. 😭😭😭

      Reply
  5. HoneyMoon

    Oh hi fangurl!
    I’m so curious about the reason you chose to watch this drama!
    You’re not a fan of Nam Goong Min , nor a fan of Park Eun Bin!You also are not a fan of baseball πŸ˜‚ so how did you find this drama good to try?!
    I have watched Doctor Prisoner which I really liked it because of the protagonist character ,He’s not a white character, nor a black oonehe makes mistake and he’s more like a real human.
    But for stove league, I’m not sure if I enjoy it because the main character seems to be a completely white personπŸ˜… how do you think?

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there HoneyMoon! πŸ™‚ To answer your question on why I decided to check out this show, I have my Twitter pals to thank. I saw quite a few of them remarking that they were pleasantly surprised by how good Stove League was. That’s just the kind of thing to get my attention, coz I’d happily step out of my drama comfort zone for an excellent drama. Which is why I put Stove League on my list. πŸ™‚

      I personally liked Nam Goong Min’s character in Stove League a lot; my favorite role of his that I’ve seen, so far. I’d say give it a try, and see if E1 grabs you. I was nicely engaged pretty quickly, so if you’re not feeling by the end of E1, then maybe this one’s not for you. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  6. Storyteller

    Show gave me Moneyball vibes — the Dreams’ team uniform was even green and gold, similar to MLB’s Oakland A’s. πŸ™‚

    A couple of comments on Show’s final third (having casually followed baseball):

    1. The Lim Dong Gyu trade — find it hard to believe that Seung Soo conveniently forgot the salary cap hit by taking on Dong Gyu. The ad revenue from Mi Sun’s work should been done pre-trade.
    2. Agree that MD Kwon-Seung Soo rift could have been resolved by Ep 12-13, with Seung Soo on-board until the season’s end.
    That would have allowed viewers to see Seung Soo’s magic at the trade deadline to position his team as title contenders. A deep playoff run would have been a more convincing sell to new ownership to buy the team and retain all players and staff.

    Good to see Se Young’s implicit promotion to GM, she was always the logical successor to the role.
    The scene (Ep 15) where she shut down Sabres management recruiting her to jump ship was hilarious. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Thanks for weighing in with some baseball insights, Storyteller! πŸ˜€ I definitely missed that, about Mi Sun’s ad revenue work being weirdly timed in our story. I also much prefer your version of events in point 2! I imagine that would’ve made the finale even more satisfying to watch.

      Se Young does blossom nicely in the GM role.. though I’m still rather wistful that Seung Soo was not able to stay on with the Dreams. πŸ˜”

      Reply
  7. Larius24

    I really liked it .. I mean Nam gong min doesn’t do anything halfheartedly so – it had to be good πŸ™‚

    Things I didn’t like:
    – just like you the political stuff
    – park Eun bins’ character
    – the last episode

    Otherwise definitely recommend it even if you have no clue about baseball just like me πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Nam Goong Min was so excellent in this! I do think I’ve become a new fan. πŸ˜‰ I’ve heard that Doctor Prisoner is a good watch, but I haven’t tried it myself so far. Just putting it out there, in case you’re thinking of watching more Nam Goong Min dramas. πŸ™‚

      As for the last episode, I really would’ve liked to have actually seen the championship match play out. I get that the idea is that no matter whether they win that match or not, that the Dreams has come a long way, and that’s what’s important. But.. after all that preparation, it would’ve been pretty great to see them actually play and win, and to have Seung Soo cheering them on in the bleachers, while chomping on a Kang Doo Ki hotdog and a Lim Dong Gyu burger πŸ˜€ I would’ve much preferred that ending, tbh!

      Reply
      1. Larius24

        Completely agree with you on the ending. I feel like a lot of time was wasted to convince that one guy to buy the club as it it without changing anything.
        But a season 2 is in talks so maybe we will get a better ending there πŸ™‚

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Oh! Is Season 2 in talks?? I didn’t know! πŸ˜€ Although, my gut tells me that they’d probably keep Seung Soo and change the world around him, to a new team that needs his help.. which is cool and all, but what about our closure for the Dreams?? 😭

          Reply
          1. Larius24

            I hope seung Soo is in season 2 … he is the biggest reason I watched the show
            Maybe they will show what happened it the first episode of season 2
            Let’s just hope for the best πŸ™‚

            Reply
  8. Kay

    It does sound like you really enjoyed this one quite well πŸ™‚ And your breakdown of it was really good. The only element I may not love is the the “investigative” side. But I like baseball, underdog stories, lots of heart, and Nam Goong Min so this sounds like it may fit the bill πŸ™‚

    On another note, maybe you could help recommend me a drama. I’ve seen quite a bit, so that’s always the challenge. But I’m looking for comedies these days, and it’s always hard to find ones that I truly love since I’m a bit picky in that department. My favorite kind of comedy is quite opposite of yours so you also may not have completed many I would like. I like really zany and over-the-top comedies like Modern Farmer, Eulachacha Waikiki, and Surplus Princess. Usually involving an ensemble of really quirky characters. Many rom-coms have some comedy like that, but I’m looking for something where it is more throughout and just crazy like the ones I mentioned. I’d appreciate any potential ideas πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there Kay, great to see you! πŸ˜€ If it helps, the investigative flavor is concentrated more in the earlier episodes, and it isn’t overpowering either. Hopefully that helps you overcome any aversion you might have for the investigative tone I mentioned! πŸ˜… I didn’t know you like baseball! How fun, that you’ll be able to understand the baseball technicalities which flew over my head! πŸ˜‰

      Hm, in terms of zany, OTT shows, I’ve heard good things about Fiery Priest and Shopping King Louie, though I can’t personally vouch for either of those shows. At the same time, I feel like you might enjoy a J-drama that I’ve just started checking out because someone suggested it to me. It’s titled This Guy is the Biggest Mistake in my Life, and it’s immediately weird and rather wacky, yet I find it entertaining. The only thing is, if you apply any kind of serious lens to it, it becomes very problematic, and I think anyone who wanted to, would be able to write an essay on why the dynamics are problematic and such. But, if you’re able to look past all that, it does seem like just the kind of zany, rather bizarre funny that you’re looking for. Plus, the episodes are just over 20 minutes each, so it’s in small bite-sized easy servings. πŸ˜‰

      Reply
      1. Kay

        Oh yes, baseball is the only major league sport I enjoy, so I would definitely appreciate the technicalities of it πŸ™‚

        Well, you’re spot on with the Shopping King Louie rec as that is one of my top 10 favorite dramas of all time, and the comedy is pretty right on for what I enjoy. That one also benefited a lot from Seo In Guk and Nam Ji Hyuk just nailing their roles and being all kinds of adorable too though, hehe.

        I have heard Fiery Priest is pretty zany, so maybe that would be a good one to give a whirl. The jdrama sounds like it has potential too. And no worries, I have a special skill when it comes to dramas of being able to check my brain at the door and am rarely too bothered by unrealistic type stuff including plot holes and logic fails. The only time that kind stuff gets me is in super serious dramas that go for realistic and then fail, lol. Most dramas don’t fit that description, so I’m usually pretty good. So I think I will add that to my list too and see how it goes. Appreciate the recs! πŸ™‚

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Ooh, I could benefit from some of your special skill, Kay! πŸ˜† Being able to check your brain at the door can be really useful sometimes! For This Guy Is The Biggest Mistake In My Life, I think you’d need to be able to look past a lot of political incorrectness, for example, the male lead fetishes being the female lead’s slave, and does some outright creepy things, which is played for comedy. Some people wouldn’t be able to accept that, because Show is normalizing creep behavior, and eventually, romanticizing it as well, since he’s romantic endgame, but if you can switch off that part of your brain, it really is quite the outrageous and hilarious watch. So far anyway. I’m only 2 eps in. πŸ˜… But I’ve heard it’s hilarious to the end, and the eps are short, so it might be worth a try! πŸ˜‰

          Reply
          1. Kay

            Haha, t’s ironic that you recommended This Guy is the Biggest Mistake in My Life since it has some iffy stuff in it. I’m watching I Picked Up a Celebrity on the Street right now, which is also a comedy, and it does a similar thing with a girl thinking she murdered a celebrity, prepares to dispose of the body, realizes he’s alive, and then holds him hostage.

            Of course, they develop feelings for each other while he’s being held captive, and the drama also sort of “romanticizes” the situation. It’s not even a Stockholm Syndrome type situation. It’s just silliness. It’s all so absurd and completely unbelievable though that I don’t really have any issue with it. It’s just an okay drama as a whole, but I usually think the crazier the better! hehe πŸ™‚

            Now I watched Psychopath Diary a couple months ago which also used a lot of very dark comedy, and I loved it. That one had some very dark humor around murder yet they have you really rooting for Yoon Shi Yoon who wrongly believes he’s a psychopath. That kind of subject is definitely not for everyone, but it had a great mix of silly and thrills that made for a really good time πŸ™‚

            Reply
    2. Georgia Peach

      Kay, I can vouch for Fiery Priest….Kim Nam Gil is great! And Shopping King Louie is just very good too. Seo In Guk and Nam JiHyun have super chemistry. And SIG does fantastic Kkisses! πŸ˜‰

      Reply
      1. Kay

        Oh that’s good to know! Another recommendation for Fiery Priest is definitely a plus πŸ™‚ And Shopping King Louie is one of my all time favorite dramas! I completely agree about Seo In Guk and Nam Ji Hyun’s fantastic chemistry. They are just too cute in that drama πŸ™‚

        Reply
  9. phl1rxd

    Hi Fangurl – I really liked this show and I liked it because of the baseball. Having spent many hours on various sports field over the years (my son played every sport in the universe except soccer) I am quite fond of baseball. There is nothing as sweet as the sound of a wooden bat hitting a baseball. So for me the baseball story was the best part. I am also a fan of Nam Goong Min. Dare I say it? This was a home run for me!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there phl!! <3 I'm so glad you enjoyed this drama, and as a baseball fan too! πŸ˜€ That's so cool, that you were able to enjoy all the baseball stuff in this show, which I wasn't quite able to. Glad to hear from an informed source, that the baseball is on point in this show (versus how the medical stuff isn't usually on point in medical dramas 😝)! And yes, Nam Goong Min was really excellent in this, I liked him a lot – which is a first for me! πŸ˜€

      Reply
  10. Widya

    Aha, we have something in common. And that explains a lot about why I always love your blog, whether you enjoyed a show or despised and left them. I, too, love love love an underdog drama! There is something about underdog-ness (is there such a word? haha) that stirred an uncanny interest in me.

    And yes, your review here just sparked my interest to watch Stove League. As I am now in an unexpected semester break due to covid-19, I have more time to spare. There’s a growing list of drama to watch, but I think I will definitely put SL on the top of the list.

    Stay safe kfangurl! We’ll get out of this covid-19 mess together, nicely and unharmed!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Well hi5, Widya!! πŸ˜€ Yes, a good underdog story always gets me in the heart, so even though I know nothing about baseball, I found this story easy to engage with. I hope you’ll enjoy it too! <3 You stay safe and take care too, my dear! 😘

      Reply
  11. seankfletcher

    For me SL was out and out a terrific story. It was reminiscent of the many times I have had to walk into an organisation and deal with similar issues and orchestrate the changes. I will say this: Seung Soo went about things in what I consider the right way (i.e. new school re leadership and management) as opposed to Seung Hyo in Life who went about things the wrong way (i.e. old school re leadership and management) – to which I have also had plenty of exposure including saying it is not the way to do business. Both were extremely good caricatures in any case.

    The level of humanity in SL is considered and refreshing at the same time. The watcher is given time to digest the circumstances for each person affected, even the presenter of the baseball sports show, who comes to realise that all is not what it seems and just maybe she has a responsibility to skew things favourably towards Seung Soo instead of leading the media attack. I found Se Young refreshing too. I would consider her quite professional and then there is how Seung Soo did get Mi Sun out of her I am only here to do my job each day” funk.

    One of the pleasing aspects about SL is that you do not need to know a single thing about baseball and thus, is reminiscent of the very good shows and movies that do the same re baseball and other sports. I remember making a comment somewhere else where I said re the penultimate episode “we are now at the bottom of the ninth innings.” Someone responded had they missed the game in that episode?

    Seung Soo is Nam Goong Min’s best role by far, and he has played some fine roles of late. I hark back to the continuity error in the final episode where the final cup of coffee he has in his office has more in it when he went to drink it than when it was poured for him. Why it jumped out at me I have no idea, but there you go in anycase.

    All of a sudden there is a dearth of shows to watch including a number of cdramas that are quite good. However, I am keeping my list reined in and enjoying Memorist (though not to start with), Find Me In Your Memory (delightful characters), A Piece of Your Mind and Eccentric! Chef Moon – I think there might be a theme happening here. I must say Rugal looks fascinating and I am about to finish Kingdom 2.

    I hope all is well with you kfangurl and your readers in this COVID-19 world. I am very much a part of the fabric in dealing with the pandemic in my part of the world, keeping communities safe and perhaps one of the lucky few who can continue to do what I need to do (except it’s all things COVID related!) Be well and stay safe.

    Reply
    1. Widya

      Stay safe @seankfletcher….. hope things get better in your part of the world… I am actually a fan of your comments hahaha….

      Reply
      1. seankfletcher

        Hello Widya, thank you for your comments! I do wonder if I make sense at times πŸ™‚ I guess that’s the great thing about kfangurl’s blog and in particular with what is happening at the moment. Things are at an interesting point where I am. We have a good plan in place at home and I am allowed to travel further afield where others are not. Please stay safe and well.

        Reply
    2. kfangurl

      Oh wow, thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts, despite being busy helping your community deal with the pandemic. That’s a full-time job and then some, so I’m honored that you took some time out to talk dramas with me! <3 Please stay safe and take care during this very strange and trying time.

      You're so right, the best shows are able to be accessible to the average viewer, without need for viewers to know anything much about the sport in question. Stove League kind of reminds of 2009 movie Invictus, which I've seen several times, and which has succeeded in making me tear up, every. single. time.. Stove League doesn't quite achieve the same level of emotional engagement for me, but it was still very solid. I'm so glad to have caught Nam Goong Min in this role; it's SUCH a refreshing change, I think, after the zany and dark roles which have shot him into the spotlight lately. I'm curious to see what he takes on next. πŸ™‚

      I'm amazed that you're still able to fit in some good drama hours, despite being what I imagine to be very busy with managing COVID-19. I'm glad, though, because this means that you're getting some down time and that's so important, in keeping things sane and in perspective. In keeping with your current thoughtful theme, I've heard some excellent things about I Will Find You When The Weather Is Nice.. Probably worth a look, if you've got some room on your drama plate. πŸ™‚

      Reply
      1. seankfletcher

        At the end of the day, if we can’t share our thoughts about dramas and other points of interest, what else is there to do at the moment πŸ™‚ (Yes, I know there are plenty of other things to do). I have to admit that, on some days of late (because I am at home, except when I have to journey out to undertake a number of key tasks), I am still in my bedroom attire until the evening. Things are unrelenting πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Mind you I do make myself presentable for any on-line meetings. As for the Formal Friday movement – excellent #FormalFriday, but it is still Hawaiian Shirt Friday for me.

        Invictus is a great movie. I have watched it at least twice. It is an emotional movie – what transpired was a great thing. Even the machinations are on point. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

        Yes, I am enjoying I Will Find You When The Weather Is Nice. It is a very poetical story with great imagery. So much so, it has caused me to track down and revisit certain poets and poems. It has even made me think about my collection of poems and where I might have put them. I can still visualise some of them, but I probably consigned them to the bin of inevitability some time ago (despite them being considered, in the most part, quite worthy).

        Perhaps my favourite drama at the moment is Find Me In Your Memory. Is is so nice, it is beautiful, it is funny and the chemistry is delightful. The FL is fearless and the ML is like “what just happened?” Love it!

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Hehehe.. I guess that’s the upside of working from home, being able to stay in comfortable clothes all day, even if those happen to be pyjamas! πŸ˜€

          I was shocked actually, by how moved I was, by Invictus. I know nothing about rugby, nor do I have interest to learn about it, and yet, I found myself feeling SO MUCH, for our characters. We use it as a leadership resource and so I watch it at least once a year for a particular workshop that we run, and something like 9 watches later, it still gets me in the heart, every time. Shockingly good! 😝🀩

          Wow, that’s so cool that When the Weather is Nice has inspired you to revisit poetry! That sounds pretty amazing, and I can’t wait to get started on it too! πŸ˜€ I didn’t have Find Me in Your Memory on my list before, coz the premise sounded rather tropey, but I’ve heard quite a few good things about it, so I’m probably going to change my mind and put it on my list as well. Plus, you make it sound pretty awesome – I do love a fearless FL, even better if her awesomeness flummoxes the ML a little bit! πŸ˜…πŸ˜†

          Reply
    3. phl1rxd

      Hi Sean! Agree that this is Nam Goong Min’s best performance to date. It may be that this character is more in sync with his own personality. I missed the coffee cup completely. Good catch! (no pun intended)

      I am going to peek at the dramas you mentioned above. As I now have to home-school, finding time to watch dramas has actually become harder. I am grateful for my KDramas as they are truly a welcome escape from the harsh realities of what’s going on here in the US and in the world. I intend to check out Find Me In Your Memory this week and I will take your comment on Memorist to heart and hang in there.

      Looks like you have taken a leap back into your past life so yes Sean, there is time travel. Hope you and the family stay safe! Praying for everyone!

      Reply
      1. seankfletcher

        Hello phl, I quite like Nam Goong Min, although he had a clunker with The Undateables. I think he should continue his transition to meatier type roles.

        Well, I did do some amazing things in my past life and was involved in things that most people would never have to deal with. Anyway, it did help make the world a better place for some at the time.

        Yes, Kdramas are a welcome escape. I do have visions of what shows will look like in future or what they will be about as it is a little surreal watching dramas that are “normal” in our slightly abnormal existence right now. It’s good that you are able to home-school for now. Our youngest is undertaking his schooling on-line.

        Here’s to the good things to come, that we all do stay safe and well, and the current round of Kdramas continue to be enjoyable!

        Reply
        1. Georgia Peach

          On the note of having time on our hands to watch our back log of KDramas….my friend hoped for me that I could get β€œcaught up” on my watching. My reply was….”Please, Lord, don’t let this plague last that long!” Happy watching everyone but the world needs for this to be over. Sadness for those that have lost loved ones. πŸ˜”
          And I just finished Stove League last night. Thanks for the review and comments. Love me some Nam Goong Min. Anyone remember him in A Dirty Carnival with Jo In Sung? Loved me all the characters in this show. KDramas do it best!

          Reply
          1. seankfletcher

            Hello GP, Yes, the world does need this to be over. You have a great friend there! I think one of the most important things at the moment is that it is okay to chill out and not overdo the “to do list” at home. However, it is going to take time for a whole range of issues to be worked through, even when we are back being out and about. I am undertaking some scenario planning at the moment, and although enjoying the challenge, its extremely demanding stuff πŸ€’

            When I look at my top ten list, I do have a representation from all except a Tdrama. It’s hard to put a new one on that list, so I have a special mentions list as well, and that’s just as difficult. However, Stove League is now firmly in my Top Ten. Then there is the “planning to watch list”… πŸ€— I will take a peak at A Dirty Carnival (seeing it is a movie).

            What I really like about Kdramas is the variety of settings for a story, even if some of them are a bit tropey! I hope you are safe and well too πŸ˜€

            Reply
  12. Nancy Chua

    i liked this drama a lot, for the emotion and portrayal of roles, but i do got bored with the talks of basefall, which i don’t know anything about. Overall, it was a good watch

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Glad you enjoyed this one too, Nancy! πŸ™‚ I did occasionally zone out when it came to the baseball stuff that I didn’t understand, but I think Show did a good job of still making it easy to grasp what was a good thing or a bad thing for the team, and whether to feel happy or disappointed, with each development. I was pretty ok with that, and didn’t really mind that the baseball details were flying over my head. Definitely a good watch overall! πŸ™‚

      Reply

Leave a Reply