Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 13 -| Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 14 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 15 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 16 -| Review Score – 3/5
To say Backstreet Rookie got off to a bad start would be an understatement. Some controversial and outright questionable romance between a minor and adult made headline news for all the wrong reasons. Between this and the stereotypical depiction of Jamaicans, SBS’s latest Friday/Saturday night drama looked to be out for the count.
Despite picking itself up from that swift right hook, this Korean drama constantly feels like it’s wobbling around the ring. The groggy, formulaic 16 episodes that follow plod along with various half-baked subplots and some tired and cliched love triangles that ultimately hurt what integrity the show may have built until that point. While the humour is good and the ending suitably warm and wholesome, there’s an undeniable disappointment that comes with this too.
The story itself begins in the past, as we’re introduced to hopeless romantic Dae-Hyun. Following his girlfriend’s apathetic break up request, he finds himself the romantic love interest of a street girl known as Saet-Byul. This high school girl gives no illusion around her feelings and this sequence ends with her kissing him.
From here, the story skips forward as we follow these two separate characters going about their lives. Dae-Hyun works at a convenience store with her parents but the relentless work hours force him into finding a part-timer to help with the work.
Lo and behold, Saet-Byul rocks up and starts working with him. Given her affection toward him and Dae-Hyun’s girlfriend Yeon-Joo back on the scene, things escalate into a love triangle between the three. As the season progresses, this love triangle is complicated further by a famous star known as Ji-Wook (puppy) having eyes for Saet-Byul. At the same time, Director Seung-Joon tries to woo Yeon-Joo and tear her away from Dae-Hyun.
Interspersed around these stories are various other sub-plots. Jamaican loving Dal-Sik is an erotica writer and also Dae-Hyun’s best friend. As the season progresses, a love/hate relationship with Daet-Byul’s best friend Geum-Bi flares up and becomes the comedy relief for the melodramatic main narrative.
There’s also another storyline here involving Saet-Byul’s sister Eun-Byul auditioning for a girl band and finally Dae-Hyun’s parents have the spotlight for their marital problems. There’s an awful lot going on here and unfortunately Backstreet Rookie buckles under the sheer weight of this messiness.
The biggest problem with this slice of life drama though is the sheer lack of imagination. Many episodes tick by with simple episodic problems resolved without another mention. Other times, big problems or roadblocks for our characters are easily resolved in a contrived and unbelievable manner. Yeon-Joo for example, runs out of story material near the end but is kept around constantly until the finale.
By comparison, Saet-Byul’s sister has a competent enough sub-plot that’s all but resolved 4 episodes before the end. From here, we barely see her again for the rest of the show. Infact, a lot of this drama is wrapped up by episode 12 but still somehow keeps going before stumbling over the finish line.
Stylistically, the show uses a lot of cartoonish cutaways and expository text on-screen to heighten the humour. It does work relatively well though and it all feeds into the comedic layers to this drama that actually work quite well. Green gas fart clouds aside, most of the humour is on-point and Dal-Sik’s scenes nail that blend between silliness and slapstick nicely.
Unfortunately Backstreet Rookie just isn’t a very memorable drama. It’s a show riddled with problems from the start and it never really recovers from that questionable opening that had everyone talking. There are a couple of nicely implemented scenes and a few twists late on but nothing that justifies 16 hours of your time.
Instead, this is a disappointing effort, especially on the back of The King:Eternal Monarch. A shame for sure but this is one Korean drama you won’t be returning to in a hurry.