Hmm hmm hmm, this one was interesting. ‘The Good Bad Mother’ premiered on April 26 and 27 and I made sure to tune into the first two episodes after watching a bunch of its oddly fascinating and interesting teasers. Starring Ra Mi-ran, Lee Do-hyun, and Ahn Eun-jin, the drama centers around a mother and her son’s complex journey to healing and repairing their broken relationship. Lee Do-hyun (The Glory) plays Choi Kang-ho, a successful and wealthy prosecutor who resented his mother for her strict and harsh parenting but has to return home to live with her after an accident that he got involved in. Ra Mi-ran (Reply 1988) plays Jin Young-soon, Kang-ho’s mother: a pig farmer and single mother who raised her son by herself after the tragic death of her husband. Ahn Eun-jin (Hospital Playlist) plays Lee Mi-joo, Kang-ho’s childhood friend and ex-girlfriend who reunites with Kang-ho later on in life.
Heading into the drama, I was quite excited for it. I was intrigued by its odd teasers that was quite different from a lot of other typical teasers to a drama. Plus, I liked the cast and I thought the premise was interesting as well. I’m weak for anything that has to do with parental or family relationships (‘Crash Course in Romance’, for example, was phenomenal at highlighting this aspect in its drama) so I knew the healing journey that Kang-ho and Young-soon would embark on to repair their damaged relationship was going to be good. Though I can’t say that the drama can’t head into that direction later on in its episodes, I was hoping for more after finishing episodes one and two.
That’s not to say that episodes one and two were greatly disappointing or that it was the worst thing I had ever seen. I’ve seen plenty of worse and it definitely wasn’t as crazy as ‘Kokdu: Season of Deity‘ so I plan on continuing to watch this drama in the future. But the reason as to why I say that I wanted more from the first two episodes was because you could tell that episodes one and two was strictly foundational. Nothing more, nothing less. The first episode alone made it clear and obvious to you that it was sort of speeding through things so that it could be a step closer to setting everything up and laying out the foundation. Here were your main characters, here were the supporting characters, here was the backstory, here were some limited flashback scenes of Kang-ho’s upbringing and childhood, here were the villains, and this was where Kang-ho was in the present. Then episode two focused primarily on our characters in the present and Kang-ho wanting to cut off his relationship with Young-soon by getting adopted by his “father” (AKA the man who killed his actual father). Then he got into the accident that will then force him to go back home to live with his mom in the countryside. To put it simply, episodes one and two was a little too fast-paced for my liking.
I’m not opposed to when dramas do this and I can get along with the time jumps or the fast-forwarding if the drama calls for it and I feel as if it makes sense. But ‘The Good Bad Mother’ was one of those dramas where I wanted it to slow down and show us more of Kang-ho and Young-soon’s mother-son relationship. A big part of the premise is about Kang-ho and Young-soon healing and repairing their broken relationship and the drama showed us bits of Young-soon’s harsh and brutal parenting on young Kang-ho. She punished him after he got into a fight and she made sure that he studied and studied only. No time for any fun, no time to do anything else. So I understood why Kang-ho resented his mom growing up and why they didn’t have the best relationship.
But there was this disconnect in Young-soon’s personality as a pregnant mother to a single mother raising Kang-ho as well as the way that Young-soon raised Kang-ho. It was a little hard for me to understand and comprehend Young-soon’s change in personality from when she was pregnant to when she raised Kang-ho as a single mother. She was sweet and kind and caring when she was pregnant with Kang-ho and it seemed as if she got along with others just fine. Then we fast-forwarded to when Kang-ho was in elementary school and she suddenly became very harsh and strict with him. It was as if we jumped from 0 to 100 when instead, I wished the drama showed us her change in personality in intervals.
It should have given us more scenes and moments of Young-soon raising Kang-ho by herself and why she felt the need to be more stern and strict with him. Did he continue to get into more trouble? Were there other incidents of him getting bullied by other students or kids of villagers for not having a dad? Did people underestimate him for having a single mother who’s a pig farmer? Was she always this harsh and stern with him from the get-go or was there some kind of situation that caused her to treat him this way over time? Young-soon was strict and stern with Kang-ho out of good intentions: she wanted him to study hard and go on to become successful in life so that he could live a different life compared to hers. That part I understood. But I wanted the drama to show us more of her raising Kang-ho as a single mother and the reasons as to why Kang-ho grew to resent her growing up. The premise centers around Kang-ho and his mom’s relationship and their journey to getting along again, but if the drama doesn’t do a good enough job of showing us what caused that resentment in the first place, then it’ll be challenging for me to become invested.
And so the drama forced viewers to just kind of go along with the resentment part where Kang-ho would seek parental figures elsewhere rather than with his mom. We watched as he worked with Mr. Song and Mr. Oh – the two guys who killed his biological father and even had his mom sign the adoption papers so that he could get adopted by Mr. Song. I’m assuming the two guys will continue to play a role in the drama because if they weren’t going to be that impactful, I think the drama could have still shown Kang-ho becoming a successful prosecutor living by himself, doing his own thing, and then somehow getting into an accident without them. If they weren’t going to be that impactful, the drama wouldn’t have needed Mr. Song and Mr. Oh in order to still have the same end result and conclusion for Kang-ho’s story. I’m also curious as to whether Kang-ho knew the backstory behind the two guys. He was aware that Mr. Oh had met with his father back then, but was Kang-ho aware that they both played a role in the death of his father and so he was on some sort of revenge plan? Or was he actually genuinely interested in having Mr. Song serve as his father figure and adopted father? This sub-plot in the drama was quite interesting to me and there were quite a few questions I had while watching it all unfold.
I view ‘The Good Bad Mother’ as a realistic, slice-of-life family drama so I’m actually quite excited for the upcoming part where Kang-ho will live with his mother again under the same roof. I assume that this will be where the drama’s greatest strength lies, where the drama will improve and get better, and why everything I was a bit hesitant about in the first two episodes might not be all that big of a deal in the first place. I have to remind myself that the first two episodes was just setting up for the situation where Kang-ho will live with his mother again which is the premise of the show. Now that Kang-ho has gone on to become a successful prosecutor, Young-soon has been perceived differently from her village neighbors but she also treats Kang-ho differently. Kang-ho also obviously treats his mother differently and holds no warm or fond feelings towards her. It’ll be heartbreaking to watch them attempt to repair their broken relationship. It won’t be easy and it’ll be interesting to see what words or actions persuades them to start caring about each other again.
Though there were a few things in the first two episodes that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, the drama did present and introduce a few wonderful aspects. One of them being Kang-ho and Mi-joo’s relationship that we got glimpses of in the first episode. It’s a shame that the second episode was already focused on the present because Kang-ho and Mi-joo obviously were not together or even in touch by that time (and they were also at two very different phases in their lives). I’m hoping for more flashbacks at this point (of a lot of things) but especially of Kang-ho and Mi-joo’s relationship which I found endearing. Not only do they share the same birthday as they were born on the same day (literally side-by-side) but that also meant that they grew up together and were childhood friends. Then they developed a crush on each other and eventually got into a relationship.
There was a specific scene in the first episode where Mi-joo came to cheer on Kang-ho on the day of his CSAT but he ended up skipping the exam due to an incident that Mi-joo got into. He accompanied her to the hospital and when she woke up, she was horrified at the thought that he was with her at the hospital instead of in the classroom taking his exam. This scene was my favorite scene in all of episode one. Ahn Eun-jin’s acting was so realistic and heartbreaking and Mi-joo felt so bad for what she did. Then it was so sweet how Kang-ho reassured her that it was all okay and that he was more worried about her instead. The CSAT can wait as he can always take the exam the following year. Mi-joo though? She was more important to him.
I also really liked Young-soon’s neighbors in their village who were all so fascinating and hilarious in their own ways. Perhaps the thing that I enjoyed the most about them was that 1) there weren’t too many of them which can oftentimes make it hard to keep track of who is who and 2) they each have their own distinct personality or traits. Often times, dramas love to incorporate a handful of supporting characters without really differentiating them from one another or making each character stand out in their own way.
‘The Good Bad Mother’ works efficiently and creatively here in that each of the neighbors are easily recognizable two episodes in. You have the village head and his wife who’s a bit ditzy and too honest for her own good. Then there’s neighborhood kid Sam-sik’s parents where his mom is a bit jealous of Young-soon and desires to have a son as successful as Kang-ho. You also have Mi-joo’s mom who’s a single mother raising Mi-joo’s two kids. Even the very first scene with the village neighbors was gold: you went from the neighbors preparing to kick Young-soon out of town to getting along with her because she’s pregnant to helping her give birth. It was absolute chaos as the female neighbors were with Young-soon while the male neighbors were outside (the village head on the phone calling for assistance was great LOL. Kim Won-hae is great with his ad-libbing and his comedic acting is always so good!). Then there was also the scene where they all went to the high school to find Kang-ho and Mi-joo locked inside of a storage room on campus thanks to mischievous Sam-sik. As you can tell, I enjoyed the dynamic shown with our Jou-ri Village villagers and they were easily one of the brightest spots so far in the drama.
Though I wanted to see more scenes of how Kang-ho’s resentment towards his mother piled up over the years, there was a particular moment in episode two that won me over. It was towards the end when Kang-ho and his girlfriend was driving back to Seoul after having visited his mother. Mom had placed some mung bean pancakes in the back of his car that he made for her which Kang-ho’s girlfriend complained about during the drive. Kang-ho then pulled the car over and threw the pancakes out over the edge of the cliff. Then the camera panned in and focused on Kang-ho’s face expression after having thrown away the pancakes and it was just so so good. Maybe this was just my interpretation of his reaction but it felt as if he for a second despised this situation that he was in. It wasn’t that he regretted throwing out the pancakes or that he had second doubts about what he did. But rather, it felt as if he hated that he ever got to this point of resentment towards his mom. Maybe there’s a part of Kang-ho where he just wants to love and be loved by his mom. He never wanted to arrive at this point in his life and in their relationship where they didn’t get along or where he didn’t like her. Him throwing the pancakes out was a sign of all the anger and frustration that he held inside towards his mom but maybe it was also a way of him wishing that things weren’t this way or that things hadn’t gotten this bad. Having his mom sign the adoption paper just right before didn’t help either. I’ll be honest – I felt a bit underwhelmed with episode two until this specific scene happened and then I immediately felt better about the episode. This scene was the scene for me in episode two.
All in all, similar to its title, ‘The Good Bad Mother’ had its good and bad (which wasn’t actually all that bad really). I really enjoyed watching the scenes of young Kang-ho and high school Kang-ho so I wished the drama had shown us more of that. A little bit more background information and story would have been nice and would have helped me gain a better understanding of Kang-ho’s resentment towards his mother. But there were also some good things about this show including its characters and their entertaining dynamic with one another. ‘The Good Bad Mother’ might also be one of those dramas where I’m not as satisfied as I wanted to be with the first two episodes but then I grow to like it and eventually warm up to it. Now that the foundation has been set-up and we’ve approached the situation where Kang-ho will soon live with his mother again, hopefully this is the starting point in the drama where things get better and go up from here.