Fall binge watching: Prime Minister and I

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I’ve started up on Prime Minister and I.  In the photo above, Male Second Lead, Female Lead, Male Lead, Female Second Lead, and Male Lead’s Brother-in-Law.  Some initial notes:

  • In a variation on convention, the brain tumor goes to a supporting character, Father of Female Lead. The Brain Tumor imposes a 6 Month Time Limit, a dramatic clock that is the main engine driving the plot forward.
  • There is a Dead Spouse, of the Male Lead, driving his plot and that of supporting angry relatives.
  • There are 3 Adorable Kids, or at least 1 Adorable and 2 Rotten, of the Male Lead.
  • There is a quadrangle of sorts, where Male Second Lead and Female Second Lead are played by assistants of the Prime Minister.
  • Rotten Mother-in-Law type character is played by the Male Lead’s Brother-in-Law’s wife.
  • Male Lead’s Brother-in-Law seems to have a thing for Male Lead’s Secretary.
  • Male Lead’s Secretary is a bit of a cold fish but has been pining for her boss since she was 15. This makes her a legitimate part of the quadrangle.  Male Lead’s Male Assistant has the hots for Female Lead, who is 10 or 15 years younger than Male Lead and the same age as Male Lead’s Secretary.
  • Male Lead’s Secretary is a dead ringer for Heather Locklear.  You be the judge:

Update (*spoiler*)

I finished it, all 17 hours.  Dragged towards the end.  I concur with the dramabeans recap. The romance between male and female lead is capped by a 1-year interruption, for the female lead to become an author and write a children’s book.  Come to think of it, so was the previous K-drama I reviewed.  In both K-dramas, there was barely any “skinship” chemistry between male and female lead, to the extent that one wondered what teams the two leads were playing for.  Seriously.  Zero skinship, zero chemistry, but a lot of solicitous companionship, followed by See You Next Year.  I didn’t buy it.  In the end it all seemed rather aimless, and it seemed like the writers of the show simply ran out of ideas and weren’t that thrilled with the characters they’d created.  It seemed like a formal and dull exercise.  The dog ate it.  A lot of weird plot ideas were hashed out and shoved into the final cut.  But they didn’t add up to much, the plot was going in 4 different directions and no particular direction.

I guess it’s just my fault for watching this kind of junk.  It is somewhat relaxing and it was somewhat engaging at the beginning, but in the end, I felt like I was presented with a picture of a delicious hamburger, and then I got just a slightly stale hamburger.  And so on to the next.

 

Summer binge watching: She Was Pretty

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This beautifully photographed, plotted and acted standard K-Drama centers around a standard K-Drama love quadrangle.

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On the ladies side are two roommates.  One, an unhappy rich girl, is conventionally pretty and slick.   She has horrible rich parents, a mean father and wicked stepmother, and they depress her.  The other, an upbeat poor girl, is conventionally unglamorous, and, for a single woman at 30, spinsterish by Asian standards.  The conceit of the show is that she is no longer as pretty as she was as a child.    Here’s their most extreme version of the unglamorous look.   Compare it with the lady in the bottom right of the first photo above to get an idea of how much they let the makeup artist go to town:

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The other half of the quadrangle is an uptight, thin executive who was the fat child romance of the conventionally unglamorous girl, and a motorcycle-riding reporter who is probably the secret rich guy that is heir to the business that the uptight thin executive is running.  Here’s our uptight exec:

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Here’s the uptight exec in Fat Child mode along with Unglamorous when she was the Pretty Child:

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Here’s our cool motorcycle dude:

 

In a missed-meet-cute, Uptight Exec doesn’t recognize Unglamorous after looking for her and longing for her.  In embarrassment, she substitutes her Conventionally Pretty friend to meet him.  Of course, Exec and Conventional strike it up.  And, of course, in a second massive meet-cute, he becomes the stern, dickish boss of his child love, without realizing that she is who she is.

I’m only 3 episodes in (true binge watch, to 2 AM, it’s 8AM now and I’m in the car dealership getting a busted mirror fixed, no relation to the binge-watching, my garage is tight).  Initially I thought the story arc would be that, after the usual 14 episodes of berating each other, the childhood lovers would reunite.  I now sense that the plot will be more sophisticated than that (I will update this post with a score on my predictions after I finish the remaining 5 episodes):

  1. The childhood loves will come to appreciate and respect each other as adults.  They will lay to rest their former love.
  2. The thin executive will hook up with the slick unhappy roomate, and do some serious attitude adjustment of her rotten parents.
  3. The cool secret rich guy will hook up with the conventionally unglamorous girl.
  4. Unglamorous will, over the course of the remaining 5 episodes, start notching up her style sense and using makeup, and by the conclusion, a full Cinderella transformation will be completed.
  5. Both couples will live happily ever after.
  6. No brain tumors or amnesia in this one!   Just straight character development.

I love this show.  I thought I’d watched all the available K-Dramas and there was nothing but dreck left.  Last night’s 3 hours of bliss were a huge relief.

Update 1: *Spoiler Alert*

OK I finished episodes 4 and 5.  At the end of episode 4, Cool Secret Rich Guy was confirmed as such.  Before that happened, in scene with Unglamorous, he tells her he likes hanging out with her because he reminds her of his dead younger sister.  Then, in a voiceover narration, the Gods of Drama hint rather heavily that Cool will actually go with Conventional.  This means that we will have to suffer through another 11 episodes of simmering before Exec and Unglamorous are railroaded into being a happy couple.  Or this could be simple misdirection from the Gods of Drama, trying to confuse us away from thinking that the awesome chemistry between Cool and Unglamorous is actually awesome chemistry.  We’ll see!

Update 2: *Spoiler as well*

I’m up around Episode 9 or so.  They are still doing the Terrace House thing: Two guys A and B and two girls C and D go on healthy largely platonic dates.  They are all kind of friends but don’t really know each other that well.  Sometimes C and D both like A and sometimes C and D both like B and sometimes C likes A and D likes B and vice versa and everybody’s keeping their cards to their vests.  It’s kind of fun, but I’m ready for some denouement.

Of course, this being around episode 9 of a standard 16-hour arc, male lead is starting to warm up to and appreciate female lead.  There was a medical scare, but thankfully for this series, just a tummy ache.  It appears that everybody in Korea goes to the hospital and gets and IV drip for a tummy ache.  Koreans are mad about IV drips.  And as I’ve noted before, the most pornographic thing they can think of is a car logo, so all the car logos have little fuzzy bras on them.  I think Male Lead is driving a Lincoln.  Male Second Lead rides a motorcycle, of course.  He is zany and comic relief, but wiser than all of them, and, they don’t know, richer than all of them.  Whether he gets one of the girls, or whether this sourpuss drama will leave two characters with no matchup, is anybody’s guess at this point.  On Terrace House, very few of the players actually paired up.  It’s a wonder that Asia is populated.

Also, finally, around Episode 9, as Male Lead and Female Lead definitively warmed up , Female Lead went from Unglamorous to Smart Career Woman.  All they had to do was wipe off the freckles they’d painted on, rather cubistically, take off the fuzzy wig, and put her in a skinny dress.  Ta da!  Complete surprise for everybody! Not.  We knew this was coming, like clockwork.   She was really much more beautiful before the conventionalizing makeover, as Male Leads beach photos attest.  (Yes, Beach Date, walk along the shore, lighthouse, dog, adorable camper van.  You got it.)

Update 3: *Spoiler*

OK I’m around Episode 12 now.  Female Lead and Male Lead are now firmly established in Honeymoon Phase.  Male Supporting has been elbowed to the side but continues to, well, support.  Female Supporting has a diminished role and hasn’t been hooked up with Male Supporting yet.  Female Lead has the attention of both Males.  I think it’s rather unfair to Female Supporting.   The dramatic logic has now become rather conventional and has totally lost steam for me.  I was hoping for a more intelligent resolution.  We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not hopeful at the moment.  Cast and photography continue to be attractive.  I just don’t know how much more simpering and mugging I can take on the part of the entire cast.

Update 4: Almost done *Spoiler*

OK I’ve got one episode left.  Recall our dramatis personae:

  • Unglamorous/Smart Career Woman
  • Conventionally Pretty/Unemployed Trust Fund Girl
  • Uptight Exec/Stern But Dull Softie
  • Cool Motorcycle Dude/Deus Ex Machina

By the end of Episode 15, Unglamorous and Uptight are engaged and with some hesitations worthy of a 14-year-old (she is supposed to be 30 years old in the series), she consents to stay over at his place to do the deed.  We’ve seen this on Terrace House, so we can imagine that once they get started they continue to be physical.  However, this is not shown.  I’m not complaining: Terrace House didn’t show it, and I know that Korea does have sexy-time movies and cinema with more “modern” plotlines.  That’s not my point.  My point is that, even within the bounds of K-Drama’s charter, these two people have no chemistry whatsoever.  I just don’t buy it.  Who does?  Well, the two girls, who call each other “wife” and sleep together (chastely) and hug and kiss each other (chastely).  The two guys, who swap underwear and snap towels at each other.  Or the opposite pairing:  Conventionally Pretty and Uptight Exec hit it off earlier in the series and that felt natural and mature.  Cool Dude and Unglamourous hit it off and spent warm time eating, drinking and playing together, and that felt natural and mature.  Casting off Conventional and Cool and jamming Uptight and Unglamorous together just feels stupid.  They have one episode left to redeem themselves, but I’m disappointed.  Even within K-Drama, one can hope for an occasional correct pairing and intelligent outcome to the setup.  Not this time.  At least there were no brain tumors or amnesia episodes.

They are leaving us with a cliffhanger going into Episode 16: Uptight is going back to “America” for a year.  Will Unglamorous wait the year?  Oh come on, of course she will: I’ve seen 3 K-Dramas end this way, and there will be a stuffy reunion and a happily-ever-after scene of the couple holding hands while reading magazines on the hilltop patio of their weirdly constructed concrete mansion with gardens planted in the middle of some otherwise dense Seoul neighborhood.  I.e., you have the patio and the mansion in frame, and you jiggle the camera slightly left or right, and you’ll see a Stop sign, cars parked on the street, and a bicycle chained to a newspaper box.  Kind of like that.

Update 5: *Spoiler*

Finished it.  Meh.  The last episode was an hourlong rehash of cute moments from prior episodes interspersed with bits of happy present-day married life followed by the inevitable jump forward 3 years to close on the child of the happy couple crossing the street under Daddy’s watchful eye and looking and sounding exactly like Mommy.

I guess when you decide to take a pack of Twinkies off the shelf and bite into it, you have to own the flavor sensation and nutrition effects that result.

Every character finishes properly aligned, except that Female Supporting Lead still looks like a sad Mr. Data.

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Male Supporting Lead, after a close-cropped haircut and sharpening of his sideburns, looks like a narcissistic, solitary and somewhat creepy tech exec just leaving a personal training session at a fancy gym in Chelsea.

Summer binge watching: London Spy

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This is a 5-part miniseries with two or three topics and some ludicrous plot twists.

Topic one: It’s a long meditation on gay romance and gay living.  So, five hours of gay.  A lot more gay than, say, Queer As Folk, which is pretty gay.  Really really gay.  The main gay character is played by an actor who is Gay In Real Life.  The older male supporting gay character is played by an actor who is Not Gay In Real Life.  Still, the older guy looks and acts pretty gay in this show.  Because he’s an actor, I guess.   Or do all actors cross the lines at will?  Or only the good ones?  I don’t know.  The older guy nailed it.  The really gay in real life lead character didn’t look that gay.  You learn something new every day!

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Topic two: It’s a murder mystery.  Based on something that Really Happened.  Centered around (**spoiler**) what turns out to be a fantastically contrived and elaborate form of execution.  I really didn’t buy that part, and I was kind of annoyed by it.  The plot has the British Government doing fantastically elaborate things to scare or kill somebody that would leave a paper trail a mile long and are way more than it would seem necessary to actually scare or kill somebody.  Who would approve the budget for that, when simpler means suffice, for some very low-profile targets?  Oh OK, maybe the Russians, but even what they did was not so elaborate.  Or for a high-profile case maybe.  In this instance, I didn’t buy it, thus interfering with the Willing Suspension of Disbelief which is essential for the enjoyment of pop entertainments such as this one.  And after all that, it ends with Charlotte Rampling simpering off to victory in a classic motorcar with the undaunted hero, after playing the kind of wretch she was born to play for all of the rest of the show.

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Topic three.  It’s about neural nets and data science.  What?  (*spoiler*) It’s a lie detector!  We can’t have that, all the world’s governments would kill to supress such an invention!!  Queue moody music and weird plot twists!!!

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Oh, come on.  Anyway, I watched it. The main takeaway?  When the special edition 10-tumbler movie version of this amazing Cryptex flash drive comes out, it’s on my Christmas List:

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Summer binge watching: A Very Secret Service

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I found this show to be uncomfortable to watch because of uneven tone.  On the surface it is a light comedy.  One level down, a biting satire of French society, which depends on the reading of 100 early San Antonio novels for context.   And some knowledge of la guerre d’Algerie.  The disturbing layer below that, is that the characters will sometimes do things which are so surprising and awful that they abruptly shift from light comedy to hard drama.  I don’t mind a dramedy, in a longer series, where the shift is more gradual, but abrupt shifts are annoying because they interfere with the willing suspension of disbelief that drama depends on.  That takes this one down from 5/5 stars to 3/5 stars.

 

Summer binge watching: The Night Manager

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Beautifully photographed, gorgeous actors, and dull.  That’s right, The Night Manager.  For me, spoiled, as it was for other reviewers, by an unbearably implausible meet-cute in Episode 2.  Apparently, this will get the lead actor the Bond role, for his ability to simper vacantly through many a tight situation.  Or maybe not?  Also his girlfriend and other actors think he’s a twit?  I’m just saying.  I put the time in.  Written a little differently, this could have been a great show, that’s all I’m saying.  With the same cast.  So I put it on the writers.  One of them should really have known better, but I guess he really doesn’t do that much TV.