In a nutshell: It’s a quiet story, taking the slice-of-life route and avoiding the usual rom-com tropes. (Issues are talked about rather than avoided and left to fester into a dramatic, angst-filled, explosion. Shocking, I know.) But it’s also cleverly hilarious and there were many moments that had me laughing delightedly. Which is especially impressive as it also explored, with a great deal of grace and tact, social anxiety and they way it can trap a person into a protective shell. And all blooming from the seeds of a fairly simple beginning: A woman lives alone in her apartment, quietly peeping on the cute guy across the street, until one day… she gets caught.
Spoilers towards the end — I’ll warn, but keep an eye out.
The Romance: This was where the story went most into uncharted territory. The two leads are unusual for the genre. Go Dok-mi (Park Shin-hye) is this close to becoming a shut-in but she’s not so much timid as terrified and it means she will throw up a barrier of either harsh words or cold avoidance to protect herself. (At one point she describes herself as the witch of the piece, not the Rapunzel one of the characters paints her as.) Enrique Geum (Yoon Shi-yoon), on the other hand, is bright and bubbly and and eager to make friends with one and all. (At one point he has to point out that he’s not, actually, a magical elf and does have challenges and defeats.)
So it’s got the “opposites attract” motif down cold, but with a nice gender-twist. Dok-mi is attracted to the lightness and laughter Enrique brings, while he’s attracted to the grounding and contemplation she brings. And because the two characters tend to be honest with each other and talk things through (though it does take effort) the plot is less misunderstandings and emotional confusion and more the slow growth and nurturing of their feelings. Which makes for a rather sweet and refreshing love story.
The Comedy: The comic beats are pitch-perfect. Using a range of humor, from dry subtlety to over-the-top pratfalls, the comedy forwards the plot, enriches the themes, and even gives character insight.
For example, roommates and web-toon creators, Oh Jin-rak (Kim Ji-hoon) and Dong-hoon (Go Kyung-pyo) are Dok-mi’s neighbors. Jin-rak has been keeping silent watch over Dok-mi and he’s not very pleased to have a giddy usurper banging on her door. But he’s not exactly sure how to go about stopping Enrique. So his attempts (with advice from Dong-hoon) are usually amusing. (Bonus: It’s through them we meet the most hilarious web-toon editor ever (Kim Seul-gi). She manages to steal every scene she’s in. And you love her for it.)
Or there’s the villain of the piece, Cha Do-hwi (played with a willing embrace of the ridiculous by Park Soo-jin), with her Greek-chorus of best girlfriends, doing her utmost to woo a very unwilling Jin-rak.
The Social Anxiety: I very much appreciated the lightness of the comedy and the freshness of the romance as the drama tackled Dok-mi’s social anxiety. Because that is a topic that could easily get too heavy and dark for me to watch. On the other hand, being a romantic-comedy, it would have been easy for the way fear kept Dok-mi trapped to get belittled with an easy fix. By keeping the rom-com elements as flavoring, and centralizing Dok-mi’s healing, the story dealt with the issue honestly.
Spoilers to follow!
Unfortunately, it’s also how the drama lost some of its viewers. Because, for the most part, the romance part of the story was done before Dok-mi fully grappled with her fear. Which I think was a necessity (Dok-mi needed to trust Enrique’s love for her and Enrique needed to know she trusted him, for them to face Enrique’s fans together), but it meant that viewers were left feeling the story was over. And then it kept going.
For myself, I adored that it kept going. (If they’d kept Dok-mi’s social anxiety as simply an aspect of her past, I would have been annoyed, frankly). And I thought the drama handled that element of the story well. It called back to the original trauma Dok-mi suffered. It came from a well foreshadowed plot-thread (Enrique’s fame was used to attack him in the first episode — for fans to have ignored Dok-mi would have meant that plot-thread was awkwardly dropped). And it became a catharsis for Dok-mi to realize she really was stronger now, for Enrique to see that she was stronger now, and for them to move forward together.
(The bobble on the drama’s part was, I think, in layering that story-thread in typical rom-com cliff-hangers. It made it seem like a wrench was being thrown into the love story. Marathoners will, hopefully, not be as bothered.)
But other than that slight bobble (which didn’t really bother me, honestly), this is an excellent drama. A delightful romance and comedy wrapped around the story of a self-imprisoned woman’s reemergence into the world.