Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 11 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 12 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 13 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 14 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 15 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 16 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Korea and easily dwarves any other sport. Picking up the pieces left by Hollywood’s motion picture Moneyball, baseball returns to the small screen with Hot Stove League. Depicting the turbulent time between baseball seasons, Stove League seamlessly weaves character drama with political and societal issues in a cleverly written and engrossing 16 episode series.
At the heart of this story lies a team in complete disarray – Dreams. From power struggles and bickering in the board-room through to divided hierarchies and a megalomaniac star player, Dreams finish the league in bottom place and round out their awful season with a befitting show of unsportsmanship behaviour infront of their fans. Watching from afar is Seung-Soo, a man brought in to change the fortunes of this team.
With right-hand woman Se-Young by his side, the drama combines a serialised approach to its overarching plot, with episodic chapters sprinkled in to help get to know each of the different players. These episodes hone in on a specific character or characters, ranging from the scouting manager right the way over to a rookie pitcher or the old-guard that have been at the club for years.
These allow for deeper characterisation to seep into this drama, as they (and us) start to come around to Seung-Soo’s unconventional way of thinking and managing.
Spicing things up are the Board Of Directors, and in particular the Junior Managing Director, Mr Kwon. Throughout the show he constantly throws curveballs and obstacles for our General Manager to overcome. From cancelling training trips abroad to cutting salaries in order to line the pockets of the company, there’s an intriguing power struggle at the heart of this one that ties everything together as it races toward the climactic resolution.
The various different characters are multifaceted, with enough depth to make them competent and endearing in their own way, with the individual stories interwoven through this doing well to add some weight to the drama. Even Dong-Gyu, who begins as a cliched, arrogant antagonist grows into something far more interesting as the season goes on.
Stylistically, the series does well to pepper in just enough baseball action to keep things exciting but those expecting a lot of action on the pitch will almost certainly be disappointed. Aside from a couple of episodes late on, most of the drama here takes place backstage and away from the bright lights of the stadium, reinforcing the Stove League notion.
That’s not a bad thing though, quite the opposite, and this Korean drama does a wonderful job fleshing out its ideas and stories in a way that you never really miss the sport action.
With some good acting, a strong story that blends both episodic and serialised chapters together and prospects of a second season on the horizon, Hot Stove League is a really solid and well written Korean drama. Even if you know nothing about baseball, this character-driven series does a great job bringing you into this world and understanding all the different concepts. Having said that though, there’s enough here for baseball enthusiasts to enjoy too, with a lot of stats and terms thrown up throughout the episodes, culminating in a solid and well written series that hits a solid home run.
Verdict - 8/10