The Undateables (Handsome Guy and Jung-eum) is a romantic comedy about two dating experts coming together to help find love for a group of people deemed undateable. While the drama recycles typical K-drama tropes, it doesn’t feel completely redundant. Yet despite its modern take on female characters, it still reuses problematic female character stereotypes.
Hoon-nam (Namgoong Min) is a wealthy dating guru who looks at relationships in calculating ways. He is a deadpan character who expresses his emotions in the nuances of his facial expressions. Opposite to the male lead, played by rom-com queen Hwang Jung-eum, is Jung-eum, a dating consultant who has given up on love for herself. As is common for this actress, she tends to annoyingly exaggerate her emotions and does more slapstick comedy. The personalities of the two protagonists are fairly common in the romantic-comedy genre, and there’s nothing groundbreaking.
Unlike other romantic dramas, the focus isn’t entirely on their relationship, but on them working together to bring other people who are down on their luck with love. For instance, they work on helping a woman with facial recognition disorder to gain confidence and pursue love on her own. While their methods are different, there’s no struggle or fighting between them on how to bring two people together. Instead, they teach other and try to figure out the best route together. However, they don’t always get along perfectly, as Jung-Eum’s klutzy mannerisms tend to cause friction between them. For the most part, their interactions are flirty and comedic.
The plot takes a turn in episodes 13 and 14, when Hoon-nam makes a bet with his cousin suggesting he can woo Jung-eum using his techniques. It diminishes the likeability of his character, and his interactions with Jung-eum going forward seem insincere. It’s difficult to root for their characters coming together when his intentions are impure. It’s especially jarring when previously their relationship was developing organically as they worked together.
On the surface, there isn’t anything terribly new with this K-drama, but it does have some modern aspects. For example, Hoon-nam’s mother (Shim Hye-jin) takes control of her life after her husband’s infidelity is publicly revealed. She creates a bucket list, and is seen accomplishing goals she wasn’t able to do before because she was a doting wife and mother.
Additionally, Jung-eum doesn’t play the coy and prudish female counterpart. While she’s given up on love, she still takes the initiative by flirting with Hoon-nam and surprising him with a passionate kiss. She’s not upset that this doesn’t lead to a romantic relationship between them, and is still able to separate pleasure from business.
Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, there’s almost always a second male lead. Choi Joon-soo (Choi Tae-joon) is Jung-eum’s best friend who is so deep in the friendzone that her father is absolutely fine with them living together. She goes as far as to call him a brother because they’ve known each other since they were kids. Joon-soo doesn’t evoke second-lead syndrome in the viewer, because he mostly only shows brotherly love for her. Even when he realizes he may have feelings for her, he only expresses it by being petty and jealous. Due to this, his character fails to bring any real tension or competition to show.
Unfortunately, The Undateables also features a attempted suicide scene in which Jung-eum’s friend and former coach jumps off a bridge. The whole scenario is treated as a joke, and romanticizes Coach Yang’s (Oh Yoon-ah) almost fatal action. She never seeks any treatment or therapy, and still obsessively pursues the man who broke her heart and drove her to depression. While the other female characters are praiseworthy, Coach Yang is, in contrast, treated as a lovesick pushover. It’s also disappointing to see a serious topic treated as a comedic device.
Overall, The Undateables uses common K-drama characterization, but rounds out some of their female characters by also making them strong-minded. Ultimately, it’s still your basic romantic comedy, and it’s mostly good for a light-hearted laugh. Hopefully, the plot refocuses on finding love for the list of undateables, and creating natural chemistry between the leads.
(Note: This was planned as a mid-series review, but due to the airing of local election results, episodes 15-16 were pre-empted, and only episode 13-14 aired in the week of 11 June. Hence, this review focused on episodes 1-14.)
(Images via SBS)