Doctor Slump

Doctor Slump’s Chaotic Couple May Cure Your Drama Slump

Doctor Slump feels both fresh and nostalgic to me. Fresh because we rarely see romcoms in k-dramas without a high level of external conflict any more, and it’s very tiring to turn on a romance and barely get any couple moments until late in the second half. Nostalgic because this show brings me back to the mid-2010s when building the relationship and giving us ample sweet moments was the point of the romcom.

I don’t mean to say that we don’t get good romances any more, but far too much of the screen time gets taken up by characters and machinations that are unrelated to the relationship, and this has become the norm in dramaland for some reason.

I strongly believe that this is why people get mad at murder romcoms. It’s not that we can’t see why an external conflict is added to the plot; but we can’t see why it has to be given such a large chunk of the storyline when all we want are more couple moments that cement the romance in our hearts!

And so Doctor Slump, with Park Shin-hye and Park Hyung-sik as its lead, feels like it was written for viewers like me, who miss the gentler pacing of dramas that allowed love to blossom gradually and organically.

Romance that’s immediately believable

Writer Baek Sun-woo has clearly written Yeo Jeong-woo (Park Hyung-sik) and Nam Ha-neul (Park Shin-hye) with a lot of love. Both leads have strong individuality and drive, yet when they meet up, they immediately feel like lost halves of each other.

The audience is never left to wonder why these two would fall in love. The only question is how they managed not to all this while.

You got the same sense with Park Min-young and Park Seo-joon in What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, another drama from Writer Baek’s pen. But if that’s not a drama in her resume that fills you with confidence, then consider A Poem A Day, an underappreciated little gem about physiotherapists, where an unexpected romance quietly gains force until you couldn’t look away.

Both dramas reassure me that the writer won’t mess up a romance. She takes great care to build her characters into people first, so that when they fall in love, it feels more real.

This casting was genius

So much of what I love about Ha-neul and Jeong-woo’s budding friendship comes from years of loving the actors playing them. Park Shin-hye has always had an exceptional grasp of roles with an introspective bend (think Flower Boy Next Door or Pinocchio), while Park Hyung-sik has a gift for both chaos and stillness (think Strong Woman Do Bong-soon and Happiness).

Watching them playing adults who’ve been beaten down by the world but haven’t lost their sense of self is cathartic.

I’d never thought to pair these two in my mind but now that I see them together, I feel like we would have missed out if this drama never happened.

GIF credit: dramalatte

Back in 2013, when The Heirs was airing, Park Hyung-sik played a witty, insightful friend to Lee Min-ho and Park Shin-hye. In that period, it would have been hard to imagine Shin-hye’s heroine being paired with Hyung-sik. He didn’t have the cruel, careless edge that leading men of the chaebol variant needed to possess.

A decade later, he’s the perfect fit for Nam Ha-neul. His Yeo Jeong-woo is kind and competent, witty and clever. He’s an older version of Jo Myung-soo from The Heirs. He didn’t have to change the kind of character he plays best to be the right man to romance our girl.

Park Shin-hye’s style of playing romantic female leads also hasn’t changed much in this time, but writing in dramas has matured and allowed her Ha-neul to be a full human being and not just a collection of romcom tropes.

So while the gap between Eun-sung and Ha-neul is that of better writing and decade of maturity, the gap between Kim Tan (Lee Min-ho) and Jeong-woo is that of an entire social change.

Their friendship feels earned

Something I love is how comfortable the two are playing friends. Park Shin-hye came into fame at a time when female leads were rarely allowed platonic male friends. When she had one in The Heirs, he was barely there for her, and that entire arc was devoted to exploring his girlfriend’s unfounded jealousy over their friendship.

Thus it’s been lovely to see Nam Ha-neul slip easily into a comfortable friendship with Jeong-woo.

With a history of intense competition in school, the two had seen the worst sides of each other. They had been petty, boastful, resentful, immature at a time when their academic achievements felt life or death.

It didn’t matter that Ha-neul’s mother was loving and Jeong-woo’s parents negligent, the two chose to put their all into their race against each other, and it was a time of pain and intensity that had clearly etched itself in their hearts.

I love that when they reunite they almost immediately start arguing over who beat whom back and how many times back in school.

Having seen the meanest and pettiest side of each other already, Ha-neul and Jeong-woo were not starting from the same place most couples in dramas begin. They had no need to hide their worst weakness or humiliations. They had watched each other struggle, fall, get up and fight again many times before.

As the episodes go on, we find out that they had also had moments of compassion for each other in the past, a few instances when they had quietly cheered each other on.

So, it felt right and natural that at a time when the two felt like their wings had been clipped at their zenith, they chose to free fall in each other’s company. Others may judge or doubt them, but Ha-neul and Jeong-woo knew each other better.

The romance is budding now!

It’s early days for the romance. I like nothing more than letting feelings simmer a bit on the back burner as the bond between the leading pair is quietly strengthened.

So long as I am not expected to spend a large chunk of the episode watching the bad guys hatch their evil plot or irrelevant characters play out their shenanigans, I have infinite patience for a romance to unfold. Just keep giving me ample scenes of Ha-neul and Jeong-woo hanging out together and opening up to each other honestly.

The one romantic subplot I am a bit eager to watch take off though is that of Bin Dae-young (Yoon Park) and Lee Hong-ran (Kong Seong-ha).

Dae-young as the earnest sunbae to Jeong-woo, who loves and envies him, is a character I always enjoy having on my screen. I badly want him to be friends with Jeong-woo, and I suspect this is likely to happen faster if he begins to court Lee Hong-ran, who is besties with Ha-neul.

Jeong-woo really does need true friends, and I think Bin Dae-young may be the right person for the job. His admiration and affection for Jeong-woo seems genuine, and unlike his parasitic ex-friends, Dae-young never doubted that Jeong-woo was innocent.

The slump!

We have long seen that dramaland is a lot more comfortable with their leads suffering from some form of mental affliction instead of a physical one.

But even with mental illness, dramas don’t want to commit to too much imperfection or ambiguity. No matter what kind of trauma or disorder it may be, the cure is ultimately true love.

I don’t expect Doctor Slump to diverge wholly from this tradition; however, I’m happy to see that the story is at least willing to say there aren’t any quick fixes.

Ha-neul is clinically depressed, and while she’s on medication and attending therapy, the underlying cause of her condition may need a long time to address. A lifetime spent denying herself and suppressing her needs would not be overturned with a few late night karaoke rounds with Jeong-woo.

However, a good start is walking away from her toxic workplace, admitting her condition to her family and gaining their support, and finding a friend who can sit with you in stillness and run with you when you’re tired of sitting down.

A solid start but a foggy future

Doctor Slump has had a great first quarter.

The minor nitpicks I have about Jeong-woo being framed by a shadowy figure is not pressing enough for now. I can overlook it cause the story is so much more about how Ha-neul and Jeong-woo overcome being shunned by their social circles than what caused the fall to happen.

The writing of this drama has so far avoided many traps of predictability. This is something I love about the story, yet it’s also what worries me about where we’re headed.

I know the basics of what we expect to happen: Ha-neul and Jeong-woo fall in love and get their careers back on track, while the naysayers around them shuffle away in shame.

But how does this come about?

If the story was entirely about the two getting to know each other during this down time in their careers, I would be less tense. However, it’s episode 4 and they are already best friends. With 12 more episodes to go, I fear we have a lot of scope for extremely unnecessary conflicts to make an appearance on our plate.

Let’s pray that doesn’t happen, and the writer who gave us such great friendships in her other works continues to explore the strength and warmth you can find in the person who knows the best and worst of you in detail.

11 thoughts on “Doctor Slump’s Chaotic Couple May Cure Your Drama Slump”

  1. I am VERY SLOWLY progressing through this one and loving it. I think the high point was still the text from the mom and the subsequent hug shared by the leads at the end of ep 2, but every episode has been a joy. You were spot on in this review, as usual.

  2. When I started this, I thought it wasn’t going get anywhere that I would want to continue with it. But I am happy that it has improved and looks to be a fairly balanced relationship. I am only hoping there is no white truck of doom in their future.

  3. I haven’t hit play yet as I’m waiting to figure out when school uniforms are no longer in use. My tolerance for adults in school uniform is now zilch. šŸ™‚ If I skip the first two episodes are we solidly in adult territory? -Rachel/sgwordy

    1. Ha. Not quite. They’ve been showing us short scenes from their school days, and keeping us in current day 90% of the time. We’ll probably keep getting a few flashbacks in the upcoming weeks. šŸ˜„ I’m not a huge fan of 30+ actors in school uniforms either, but somehow it works with these two. Possibly because they are only giving us small doses.

  4. Wait, this is from the writer of A Poem A Day?? I’m absolutely starting this right away. APAD’s leads have one of the cutest, healthiest and most believable romances I have ever seen in kdrama. I won’t say the drama as a whole is absolutely amazing or anything, but it is very good and its insistence on taking typical drama tropes and portraying them with a realistic bent is still refreshing even in 2024.

    1. Yup. Which is why I have hope that the romance will stay grounded till the end. šŸ¤žšŸ˜„ Of course, she also wrote My Roommate Is A Gumiho, which had a romance with plenty of mainstream toxic tropes. (Though even there her friendships were solid and real.)

      1. …why must you give me hope, only to dash it to pieces?

        Jokes aside, I just finished up 2019 thriller “Watcher” and am ready for something fluffy and sweet. Excited to start this, maybe today!

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