This is the first time I’ve been moved to write a review of a single K Drama. It’s also the first time I’ve cried when a drama ended. I didn’t cry because of how it ended, but because it ended. That’s a mark of how very special Yeah That’s How It Is has been for me. Before I get into the reasons why, I’m going to start with a lament.
Ratings show that this exceptional drama was watched by almost no one in Korea. It was watched by even fewer international viewers. I have a very strong aversion to watching dramas streamed. I will only watch dramas streamed as an absolute last resort, if they are not available at all for download, and assuming the streaming sites will even let me – the two biggest don’t. It seems the overwhelming majority of international viewers take the opposite position. The only way most international viewers will watch dramas is if they are streamed. If a drama is not streamed they will not watch, period. This means that for them, if a drama is not streamed it effectively does not exist. In a guest piece for couch-kimchi I wrote about taking the road less travelled, but on my Twitter timeline of over 400 , I was 50% of this drama’s audience. That really was the road less travelled. It saddens me that no streaming sites picked up this drama, consigning it to the abyss of nonexistence for all those international viewers who will not download dramas to watch.
My fan’s lament out of the way, onto the celebration. And there is so much to celebrate. Of the 160 or so K dramas I’ve started, Yeah That’s How It Is is probably the very best I’ve ever seen. It did pretty much nothing wrong. Ironically, my aversion to watching dramas streamed is partly rooted in the inability to fast forward them, while this drama which I downloaded required almost no use of fast forward at all. The big ratings winner among weekend dramas during the period that Yeah That’s How It Is aired was Five Children, which had many, many fans on my timeline. Many of them also tweeted advice to skip certain storylines or fast forward through sections. This is standard practice among experienced viewers of K Dramas. We all know that in many cases, K Dramas are unwatchable without the a significant use of the fast forward function. Not so with Yeah That’s How It Is. There was one character whose loud ranting dialogue I did fast forward at times, when I was not in the mood for noise, but in the end those apparently unbalanced rants proved to be yet another example of the drama’s excellence.
Yeah That’s How It Is is a slice-of-life drama. I would say it is THE slice of life drama. There is absolutely no makjang. There were no cheating spouses or exes, no birth secrets, no amnesia. The only thing that happens in the 54 episodes of the drama is life. Ordinary, everyday, relatable life. All of the characters are believable as real people, even the one who seemed most like a cliched OTT bullying drama Mum. Im Ye Jin’s character was hysterical and screaming a lot, and when watching the drama in the wee small hours of the morning I would often fast forward her scenes simply because I couldn’t handle the noise. She seemed so OTT it was like she was off her meds. As it turned out, she literally was. Her character turned out not to be another one in the endless conveyor belt of shrieking harpy K Drama Mums, but rather someone with a diagnosed and treatable medical condition, whose behaviour changed when she resumed taking her medication. That’s life.
Every character in the drama was very well written, and easy to accept as a real person. There are two main age groups represented in the drama. Three brothers and their wives in their late 50s to early 60s, and a group of half a dozen cousins and friends in the thirtysomething bracket. With my own age being neatly between those two groups, I found both very relatable. I also loved the simple genuineness of the relationship between the grandparents. The ever-reliable Lee Soon Jae and Kang Boo Ja gave me an aspirational image of what I hope my own marriage will be like in another 30 years.
I know that not many people will read this. I also know that because of the “no download” rule, of the few who do, even fewer will watch the drama. So I’m going to take some time to celebrate some of the standout individual performances from this exceptional ensemble. Not a recap, but a tribute to excellence, a public shout out to hard-working professionals who’ve had some of their very best work almost completely overlooked. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude to the writers and cast. I will start with the character who was the most fun:
Wang Ji Hye as Yu Ri delivered an outstanding performance, partly reflected in her overwhelming dominance of my screencaps from the Drama. Her character was a spoiled only child of a wealthy mother who fell hard for the eldest son of the central Yoo family. Yu Ri was an irrepressible force of nature. She had no filters. She said whatever she was thinking whenever she was thinking it. What makes the role and performance remarkable is that she was impossible not to like. She did not come across as an unlikable brat, but as a lovable sprite. There was no malice, no scheming no disingenuity. She had the innocent candour of a child, and a smile that made everything okay. No one was spared from her blunt candour, including herself. For someone who’s often been overwhelmed by the complex hierarchy of Korean family titles, watching her innocently bulldoze her way through them was a delight.
There are some similarities between Yu Ri and Wang Ji Hye’s role in Protect the Boss, but in this longer form drama her character was much better developed, less whiny and much more fun. I have never seen a character exactly like hers in any drama and doubt I will again. Kudos too, to the way her marriage was portrayed. Jo Han Seon‘s doctor character was often annoyingly stiff and inflexible, and I’m not sure if he ever complimented anyone for anything in the entire Drama. He shared his mother’s self-centred self-righteousness, as well as her seeming inability to express compassion, though without her incessantly whiny martyr’s complex. Despite his many unappealing traits, exchanges like this one rang true as carrying the mark of real affection between him and Yu Ri.
Yoo Se Hee
Yoon So Yi as Yoo Se Hee had the most complex character and role. Yoo Se Hee married in her early 30s after falling in love at first sight for the first time at that age. A year later she discovered that her husband had deceived her. Prior to the revelation of his deception, the drama did an excellent job of feinting, with scenes clearly designed to suggest that his betrayal was of the clichéd standard variety. It really, really, wasn’t. I have never seen this storyline used before. I ranted and raged so much when the scope and magnitude of what he did was revealed. It took my breath away. It also set up by far the most complex and challenging arc in the drama. The relationship between Yoo Se Hee and Na Hyun Woo was exceptionally well written, if the subtitles are any guide, and Yoon So Yi’s delivery of those lines was pitch perfect every time. I look forward to seeing more of her work, and hope that she is fortunate enough to get more roles as good as this one.
Na Hyun Woo
Kim Yeong Hoon as Na Hyun Woo also deserves commendation. He played a slimy repellent character in the Korean remake of Fated to Love You, but what his character did in this drama was so much worse. As a result, he spent 80% of the drama giving a virtuoso performance in penitence, while most of the characters continued thinking of him as the dream husband, the perfect man.
Lee Ji Seon
I first saw Seo Ji Hye in Punch. In that drama she had a very restrained secondary role, In this one she was one of the key characters, again playing a restrained role of a very different sort. Bereaved just 15 days into her marriage, she lived with her father-in-law for the five years since. Once again, theirs was a relationship I have not seen portrayed before. A complex, subtle balance of sympathy and symbiosis, family and friendship.
It definitely didn’t hurt either that this very attractive woman got to smile and laugh A LOT, something she never did in Punch
Yoo Min Ho
Noh Ju Hyeon as Ji Seon’s father-in-law delivered a masterful lesson in low-key realistic acting. He also had a strong arc. The unusual pairing of a live in widow and father-in-law was only part of his story. The depiction of his finding love again in his late 60s was superbly done. It was a delight to see a K Drama recognise that people of any age can form romantic relationships and then have to deal with the consequences, however surprising they may be.
Despite singling out some of the highlights, there really were no weak roles or performances in this Drama, the whole ensemble delivered. Nam Gyu Ri may not have been first choice for her role, but she totally owned it, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next project. Likewise with Shin So Yul, whom I’ve liked since Reply 1997. As in the case of the uptight doctor and his “woe is me” mother I didn’t like all the characters, but they were all real people, to whom I reacted as I would if I met them in real life. In all the characters, the mix of traits shown, both positive and negative, appealing and less so, was very authentic.
I cannot end my paean to this drama without some “thank you”s. First, a very big MERSI to Victor. My partner in crime on Twitter, and the only person watching it on my timeline, he never let up in singing the praises of this drama from its beginning, constantly urging me to watch it. It’s thanks to him that I did, catching up with it just four weeks before the end by dint of a massive binge watch of 40+ episodes in nine days. I am in his debt.
All (or, both) international viewers also owe a debt of gratitude to the subbers at VIU. I know much is lost in translation, that subtitles can give only a hint of the original language dialogue. That said, the subs were so good that I was left in awe of how good the original dialogue must have been. Without the hard work of the VIU team, I would have missed this gem, so thank you, VIU.
The other heartfelt 감사합니다 goes out to SBS. A couple of years ago that network made a pledge that its weekend dramas would be makjang free. That pledge has hurt the ratings of SBS weekend dramas. Hurt them a lot. This drama had ratings which are now considered mediocre for a cable network. Ratings in the 4 to 5% range normally signal doom. With ratings that low, most viewers would expect a range of disastrous consequences from massive rewrites to huge episode cuts, even possibly cancellation. SBS did none of that. The drama did lose six episodes from its originally scheduled 60, but the (credible) reason given was because of scheduling conflict with the Olympics. Most critically, the network did not interfere with the drama’s storyline at all. SBS stuck to its no makjang promise, and the result was that we few, we happy few, were treated to a rare glimpse of what K dramas can be. If anyone at all who didn’t watch it has read all the way to the end of this tribute, and if slice-of-life dramas are to your taste, then I urge you to watch it. Find a way to download it and you will not regret it. Yeah, that IS how it is.