In a nutshell: A fun and breezy drama that takes popular romance tropes (like first loves, or opposites attract) and lovingly breaks them down to see what makes them tic. Episodic in nature, it mainly revolves around the agency’s entertainingly diverse pool of cliental. There is an overarching warmth as the agency staff stumble into their own love-lessons, but we never quite achieve full burn. The central romance maintains its surface-level sweetness, never heating into the sort of scorching, life-altering, love story that leaves its mark long after curtain fall. It’s a summer flirtation — fun while it lasts but cooling off quickly at season’s end.
What it does right: The show has a delightful time shining a spotlight on familiar romantic-comedy cliches. Obviously created with rom-com fans in mind, they invite the viewer to share the fun. Cases are styled as homages to popular dramas (like Pasta) and movies (like Chilling Romance). The more Korean rom-com’s you’ve seen, the more enjoyment you’ll have spotting the many references seeded throughout the drama.
There’s also fun to be had in spotting the various cameos. There’s a healthy mix of popular actors and talented unknowns filling the lead-roles of each case, or mini-drama, and the large cast of supporting characters take full advantage of their brief time on stage.
Because the cases themselves only span an episode or two, our Dating Agency staffers become an important emotional anchor — keeping us tied to the drama’s world. The growing pains of high schooler, Arang (Jo Yoo-woo) — the agency’s chameleon-like spy, the humanizing of robotic Moo-jin (Hong Jong-hyun) — the agency’s mechanical genius, add depth and pathos to the otherwise brief and breezy client files.
Each case also provides an opportunity for the more philosophical aspects of romance and love to be discussed (or more accurately, argued) by our two lead characters Byung-hoon (Lee Jong-hyuk) and Min-young (Choi Soo-young). Bickering as foreplay can be a dangerous trope. It’s a short, swift slide from cute and entertaining into screechy and annoying. Fortunately, that particular fall never came. It helps that both characters are written as strong and confident — neither side bulling the other. It also helps that they both seem to fully enjoy themselves, relishing the opportunity to lock horns with a worthy opponent.
Unfortunately, the romance remains at that surface, flirty level. Entertaining but easy, sweet but superficial. And that leads me to…
What it does wrong: As much as our two leads discuss the nature of love and truth, artifice and sincerity, they never really discuss themselves. We get to know their philosophies but not their depths — their characteristics but not their soul.
Min-young is immensely likable. And she effects a great deal of change in the people around her — helping them break out of shells, heal from past wounds, start towards their dreams. But she herself doesn’t have anything to let go of or accomplish. Without a sense of her past or future she’s very much of the “right now” — which means there’s no real arc to her character.
Byung-hoon does have a past but it never tips into the kind of character-growing, depth-giving weight I’d expected. This despite the mysterious hints and foreshadowing (many provided by the fascinatingly creepy second-lead, Seung-pyo (Lee Chun-hee)). Which means that, in the end, Byung-hoon doesn’t have much in the way of a character arc, either. He does go through a small amount of change, but “small” is the key word here.
A good illustration of the issue is the crisis in the third act. It’s foreshadowed throughout the drama — so it’s not a sloppy, last second, addition. But, other than the fact it happens to them, it has no real personal tie to our main characters. It’s not a past wrong come back to haunt them. It’s not an inevitable obstacle to future dreams. It’s exciting as it happens but, once it’s over, it leaves our characters essentially unchanged.
The final episode does end with our characters in slightly different places than they were when we first met them. But it’s minimal. At most, a minor adjustment into changes they’d begun before we met them. Which means that, while the story is fun, it isn’t particularly memorable.
In Conclusion: Of course, a drama doesn’t necessarily need to be memorable. Sometimes an easy, fun watch is exactly what suites the mood. What Dating Agency: Cyrano does right, it does well. It’s a lot more like a sitcom than I’m used to with Korean dramas, but it’s an entertaining sitcom. While the players are on stage they’re an enjoyable bunch and when the curtain falls… simply walk away.