Do not say you cannot keep it up! : Looking at the first 40 episodes of “You’re The Best Lee Soon-Shin”

Hello this is a Korean in America. Today, we’ll be looking into the show called “You’re The Best Lee Soon-Shin”.

While for most of my readers, the K-drama format most familiar would the miniseries format which runs for 16 to 25 episodes. In most cases, these shows are aired during the week for 2 consecutive days except for the week ends. However, there are other formatted shows running on Korean television. There is the sitcom format that got its start really after Korea got introduced to “Friends”. There are the daily soaps that run every day except for the weekends. During the weekends, it is common that longer running series which run for 50 plus episodes would be shown. “You’re The Best Lee Soon-Shin” is one of these shows scheduled for a 50 episode run.

One of the issues K-drama has is that there is not enough plot in the whole series.  It is common for a K-drama to be based on the foundation of just a premise and the involvement of star actors and not necessarily and specific overall theme or message. Thus, a lot of the plot is made up on the fly. While this is not that different from how American shows’ do it, the problem lies with the preferred format of the shows. The episodic format used by American shows makes it easier to work with a flimsy foundation. Having a different plot every week lets the show try out different things and helps the actors develop their character.

On the other hand, K-drama prefers a serialized format although some shows are episodic. It is also a fact that K-drama tend to be melodramatic to the degree that many call them a soap opera.  The combination of these facts results in a focus on the plotline with heavy emotional tones. Thus, it is important that the plot be strong out of the gate. However, this is not true in many cases. In many cases, a series only really seems to have enough plot to fill half of its air time. For a typical miniseries, you have about 15 hours’ worth of airtime to fill. The rest is padded out with more slice of life type of content revolving around the side characters who are usually family members and act as comic relief. The problem is that these two elements do not always mesh together well as the pacing of the show just slows down to almost a crawl. A 16 episode romantic comedy could resolve this with having the main characters mess around each other. If the characters have enough chemistry, it works. This is one of the reasons why K-drama moved from 1 to 1 relationships to love triangles, and now to love quadrangles (square). The more characters you have, the easier it is to fill in the air time.  

For most successful K-drama miniseries, this is not that evident. However, when it comes to full-series that run for 50+ episodes, it is difficult to hide since only the number of episodes change and not the manner to which the creative approach the shows. You still have a central plot at the center that only last for about 5 episodes and slice of life elements surrounding it. The problem is that the ratio between main plot and padding is much higher compared to a miniseries. The more successful K-dramas do not really have a central plot and rather just follows the many subplots that happen to a family.

“You’re The Best Lee Soon-Shin” is not one of these cases. It has a central plot following the adopted youngest daughter Lee Soon-Shin and the mystery surrounding her birth and adoption. I do have to say that I was interested at the beginning. While the main character Lee Soon-Shin does not break the mole for this type of character, her portrayal was interesting enough. 

Both of her adopted and birth mothers were played by veteran actresses who did a good job with their roles. Even the other side characters were not unwatchable. The main reason why the first 10 or so episodes were watchable was the fact that the show kept its focus on the central plot. Even the subplots related to the side characters were reactions to the central plot. As a result, the whole series had cohesion.

This changed after about the 12 episode mark. The central plot just halted to a stop and the subplots just went on their own merry way. It would have been not as much of a problem if the subplots were actually interesting. However, they are made from the most cliché  K-drama cloth. A much larger problem is with the main characters. What do you do when you have to fill in the time with your characters but cannot make them do anything of consequences? You make them whinny, indecisive, bland! In essence, the pacing of the show destroyed the characters. 

This is especially true with the male lead. At first, he was a typical K-drama character but had some interesting going with him. But after 20 episodes, he feels duller than a “Twilight” Vampire character. He even looks paler!

The most descriptive evidence of the pacing problem is when you try to impose a 3 act structure to the series. While this is not necessarily always doable with a K-drama, I am doing this to make a point. I am currently in 44 episodes into a 50 episode run. And the show has barely gone into the 2nd act. This means that 80 % of the show is setup. At the moment, I could not believe that this series has a 50 episode run. It feels like a 100 episode series just from the progress made.

So should you watch this show? I cannot recommend it as I only have a few episodes left and do not feel the need to spend more time with the series. If the show ends where I think it would end, the show could have been finished in a tight 10 episode run as with a J-drama series.  

Score: C

Series Streaming Link: Good Drama Net


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