Overall Rating: A-
Subtitles: I do not remember anything about the Viki subtitles which means they were probably very good–only the weird stuff tends to stick out so we take non-memory as a positive sign here.
Brief Synopsis: Two people whose lives have been shaped by the media (and really one particularly dark instance) end up as adoptive uncle and niece and grow up to pursue lives as reporters. One of them has Pinocchio syndrome which makes her hiccup when she lies and poses a unique challenge to her dreams of becoming a famous reporter. Part rom-com, part thriller, part commentary on the nature of news media. Watch it on Viki here.
**Full show spoilers below the image. If you do not wish to be spoiled, do not proceed**
Ending Type: This definitely counts as a happy ending though I can’t say I was totally satisfied? They kind of took you through the ringer on the “will they or won’t they” and then we got a “won’t they” time jump completed by about 2 seconds of “oh wait it’s all fine now” right at the end and I was just??? I needed more.
Characters: The characters were the strongest part of the show for me–they were all wonderful and varied and dynamic and I cared about all of them even if they only had a couple minutes of total screentime. Seriously there were so many good groups of characters, from the family(ies) of our leads to the reporters at each of their stations to the police at the local station where they did most of their work. Just fabulous all around side characters, bless them all. I will talk about six in detail, but will give some love to our favorite police officer and to grandpa–y’all rock my socks off.
So definitely the main, main character was Choi Dal Po/Ki Ha Myeong (Lee Jong Suk). He was a surprisingly dynamic and flawed character despite the early indication that he was going to be a solid and consistent hero type figure. We first meet him in a really bad wig (seriously whose idea was this? who OK’d it? why thought people would want to look at that for TWO ENTIRE EPISODES?) as a high school student competing in a game show trivia type of competition against the head of his high school class. We learn he is a lazy and disengaged student and that no one believes he should be on the show or that he has any chance. Yet he rocks it, up until the end when it’s clear he hands the winning answer to his opponent. Through this whole series we learn that he’s a genius-type character who has read every book in the library and may or may not have a photographic memory? But he only entered the competition because he wanted to confess to his niece (same age, adopted) that he liked her. Thankfully he doesn’t, and years later he gets a haircut and is determined to help her become a reporter. Along the way he also becomes a reporter, is super mean to her during an interview so he loses her chance to work for the same company as him, and goes on a quest to find his birth brother and eventually becomes involved in the revealing of a wide-scale cover-up that changed his life sixteen years before and continues to impact people in the present. Overall he was a nice, ideals driven, morally upright character. For the most part he took care of the people around him, but he had a tendency to do big and drastic and sometimes stupid things when he was emotional. I admit I am not Jong Suk’s biggest ever fan–I never have a problem with him but I’m never totally sold on his characters either? Overall I think his growth arc was nice but it was not nearly as compelling as some side character arcs.
Dal Po’s niece/girlfriend/future wife (we will get to this later), Choi In Ha (Park Shin Hye), was one of the stronger female leads I’ve seen even if her character did not get the attention she deserved nor any kind of real growth arc. Yes, as kids In Ha and Dal Po were a bit at odds with each other, but in the high school story line we do see her standing up for Dal Po and going out of her way to help him and be there for him despite their very sibling-like fighting back and forth. Later in life she retains that loyalty and just sheds the teenage angst. She is consistently doing the right thing and going out of her way to care for the people in her life, even when they let her down. Her love/hate relationship with her mom was probably the best example of this–even though she actively worked on a case that would prove her mother’s guilt she wanted to believe in her mother until the end, and when they start to work together I was truly touched. I really enjoyed her character and I was a bit disappointed that her passions and career were sort of pushed aside in the narrative to make room for Dal Po’s.
Yoon Yoo Rae (Lee Yoo Bi) was a fun and quirky secondary female lead but overall there wasn’t much to her character or story. She was great comedic relief and we ship her so hard with Cap (FOR REAL THOUGH), but otherwise she was just sort of… around.
The most interesting of the four, imho, was Seo Bum Jo (Kim Young Kwang). We meet him as a classic chaebol heir who doesn’t have a ton of real world experience, is adored and doted on by his mother, and sees very serious situations as games. For 16 years he’s had In Ha’s mom’s cellphone and fell for her while reading the messages, so he decides to become a reporter to get to know her better. Reality hits him pretty quickly when they are sent out on assignment and he’s thrust into the real world in a pretty harsh way, but he handles it with a lot of grace. That establishes him pretty well as a good dude in a weird situation, and as the season progresses you see him become really invested in the mystery the main four are tackling, you see him make friends and care about In Ha in a wonderfully raw and sweet way, and then crisis hits. I loved that, even though I kind of believed in him and knew he’d stand up to his mom in the end, I was never quite sure. There was always that tiny bit of doubt, and the sacrifices he was willing to make in the end in order to make her see the error in her ways were really intense. By far the most feeling I got in this show was from him and his storyline, and Young Kwang really killed this role. He was freaking awesome.
Our two captains at the competing news companies (Lee Pil Mo and Kim Kwang Kyu) were also excellent nuanced characters who clearly cared for their subordinates and cared about uncovering the truth but understood the magnitude of what that meant and had their moments of wavering. They were different enough that it didn’t feel like two people in the same role on opposite sides, but at heart they were both excellent mentors and I loved them.
Song Cha Ok (Jin Kyung) was a fantastic villain with a wonderful and slowly built redemption arc. She was formidable and poised and when she started to break down and change her tune and work against the powers that she had been appeasing it was a beautiful thing to behold.
Relationships: I am only gonna talk about two here because they were the two I have actual thoughts about beyond, “Yes that was nice,” or “oh that was fun” (LOOKING AT YOU, CAP AND YOON RAE).
First In Ha and her mother, Cha Ok. From the very beginning we known that In Ha is obsessed with her estranged mother and desperate to become a reporter to be like her. You can guess, from the lack of contact over sixteen years, that mom does not share this longing and obsession. Their first interactions are truly heartbreaking, as Cha Ok shuts In Ha down and tells her she can never be a reporter because she’s a Pinocchio. There is no warmth to her and In Ha’s reaction was really raw and painful. I felt the show really set them up as adversaries and I was shocked, actually, when Cha Ok started to thaw and the two began to work together. While I don’t believe they’ll ever have a healthy family relationship I was touched by the warmth that grew between them and the trust they had at the end.
And then we have our main romance between In Ha and Dal Po. And I will say this: there is no lack of sweetness between these two and the genuine care they had for each other was really excellent. Their background and the fact that they lived with each other and were super comfortable with each other also created this really nice dynamic between them that delivered some truly warm and beautiful scenes and moments. BUT THEY ARE RELATED. Like not just jokingly “haha we grew up together I call him uncle” like no actually he was adopted legally by her grandfather, they lived in the same house because they were family, they saw each other as family and treated each other as family, and sometime in adulthood In Ha kind of had a crush and Dal Po’s lifelong crush could not let that go. So despite her father/his brother’s protest they decide to be together and like up until the end the fact that they are…. literally….. related is not really addressed. Like other characters mention that they don’t seem to treat each other like uncle and niece, but up until they go to ask grandpa for permission it’s more like a funny plot point and not a real legitimate thing that is like…. concerning. I don’t know, I am just not overly nuts about family romance story lines. And yes in the end the adoption was revoked and everything was in theory fine then? But for the entire show they are…. family. I cannot be the only person in the world who found this to be weird and uncomfortable right?
High Points: The pace of this show and the sub-plots and main mystery (WHICH TIED TOGETHER YAY!) were top notch. I was really into this show and very invested in the final outcome of the fight between the four idealistic reporters and the huge conglomerate trying to cover up its own crimes. I also felt like the general relationship dynamics in this one were great. A lot of really strong character portrayals and realistic scenarios. This is one of the few where neither main crc had any kind of money, too, and I felt like that made the whole show feel more grounded. Lots of great stuff here, and a very fascinating premise (even if I kind of felt like In Ha’s Pinocchio syndrome was not actually critical to the story).
Low Points: Not a big fan of family romances and I wasn’t overly sold by the way the plot tried to drive our two mains apart in the second half. Once they’d established their feelings and relationship I would have preferred they just worked as partners on the main mystery instead of having weird and sometimes out of character back and forth fights and doubts.
Final comments: You know, this is a really good show. I feel like I didn’t do a good job of expressing that properly but it is very interesting, very well written, and tackles some big topics. My personal hangups re: the main couple did not detract from my enjoyment of the show much, if at all. I was still obviously rooting for them, too. Just can’t say this was a slam dunk for those reasons. However, I definitely recommend, especially for a modern thriller without a lot of action. It’s a good weekend binge type show.