In a nutshell: A black comedy that, true to its genre, dives into the darker side of human nature and pokes satiric, borderline tasteless, fun. All vices are on display and our main characters are right in the thick of it. The plot keeps to a brisk and frothy pace, with a surprising strain of sweetness offsetting the bitter and lifting the story up towards hopeful and positive. (Unusual in a black comedy and an addition I appreciated.) This might be one of the more risqué and corrupt takes on marriage and family you’ve seen in a Korean drama, but my gosh it makes for an entertaining watch.
The Family: The wife: a celebrated, beloved, top-tier actress. The husband: a nationally admired and respected news anchor. At the pinnacle of their careers, their life is perfect. Everyone wants to be them. But that’s the well-maintained surface. Before the first episode is over we peek beneath the facade and learn the husband’s having an affair, the wife is aiming to have an affair, and the son is a chronic high school dropout. They’re united in maintaining their facade and not much else. Then things start to go wrong.
The genius of the storytellers is that, as this dysfunctional family deals with one crisis after another (many of them very much self-inflicted), I found myself… not rooting for them necessarily, but certainly sympathizing. (Okay — sometimes I rooted for them. But I felt really bad while doing so!)
Part of it was the characters themselves. As we get to know them, they do become more sympathetic. The son, Min-kyu (Jin Young), isn’t the brightest bulb and his troublemaking instinct runs deep but there’s an innocence to him. The wife, Jo Ah-ra (Oh Hyun-kyungb), can be greedy and selfish but she worked hard to get to her position and she’s working hard to keep it. The husband, Jung-han (Park Sung-woong), can be cold and cruel but he’s carrying a massive secret and, as his story unfolds, we realize how much of a burden its been.
Each with their own separate storylines, they bang into and ricochet off of each other, before eventually weaving together. As they interact with their world — whether its Min-kyu pursuing his hot mystery girl, Ah-ra struggling with being an aging actress (or pursuing her hot neighbor), or Jung-han maneuvering through cut-throat office politics — the story gives them time to unfold into something more than their first, off-putting, impression.
Their World: The other stroke of storytelling genius is way the world our characters move through is presented. It’s a satiric (though I suspect, sadly, not all that far off) take on the intense scrutiny celebrities live under. Anytime there’s even a whiff of scandal, cameras and photographers descend on their home. And they’re surrounded by people who seem to have an almost gleeful desire to see them fall. (Representing the fickle public is a delightfully comedic trio that serve as a Greek Chorus — praising the family at one moment, ripping them to shreds the next.)
In such shark-infested waters, needing to live up to such frankly impossible standards, it’s easy to start sympathizing with a particular shark. Cleverly though, the show never expects us to forget that these are sharks we’re looking at. And ones that chose these particular waters, for that matter. So it’s less feeling deep sorrow at the troubles they’re encountering and more seeing it all as one big, bloody, food fight and wanting your bruisers to win it.
The Normal World: To underline that point, the show gives us representatives of the regular world — people who take little to no notice of celebrity shenanigans because they’ve got their own challenges and worries to deal with. It helps put our family’s struggles into perspective — that the brass ring they’re striving for really isn’t the only measure of success.
In Min-kyu’s storyline, his dream girl (Yang Jin-sung) has a lot more going on than just being an object of pursuit. Ah-ra’s hot neighbor (Han Jung-soo) is married — not an easily dismissed complication — and his wife (Ahn Sun-young) does not get brushed to the background. Finally, there’s Ji Sung-ki (Kwon Yool) — brought in on Jung-han’s storyline but quickly interlacing with them all — and his dark past.
The moral ballast they provide is what keeps this drama darkly intelligent, throwing their shadows over the farcical games our main characters are playing and turning this comedy black. By raising the stakes to something higher than celebrity status, the story itself becomes something deeper than a satirical peek into celebrity lifestyles.
(I did bump up against a cultural wall with the gay storyline. However, there’s a question and answer in the very beginning that includes a stutter, and I’ve since realized that the stutter was important. I’m at the point now where the positive aspects of this storyline outweigh the troublesome ones.)
In Conclusion: Funny, delightfully risqué, She is Wow delivers an entertaining yet sharply pointed critique aimed at the personality cult of celebrity. And yet it also manages to throw in a point or two about the importance of family without devolving into sentimental treacle. Not the usual sort of drama and definitely worth a peek.