Despite slogging all her life and finally becoming a doctor, Nam Ha-neul’s (Park Shin-hye) abusive workplace and backbreaking workload has driven her to the point of depression and suicide. Yeo Jeong-woo (Park Hyung-sik), on the other hand, falls from grace when a simple surgery goes wrong and lands him in the middle of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Having lost most everything, he moves into a rooftop apartment right above Ha-neul’s. And so the bitter rivals from high school meet each other again at the lowest point in their lives.
Once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up, right? With no one to rely on but each other, Ha-neul and Jeong-woo gingerly strike up a new friendship as they navigate their way out of their slumps, which in turns becomes a heartwarming story of reconciliation, self-discovery and second chances. Park Shin-hye and Park Hyung-sik are the proverbial sun of this complex network of relationships – as both high school rivals and adults, their dynamic radiates warmth, assurance and humour.
Kudos to writer Baek Seon-woo, who understands just what the show’s leads excel at – whether it’s Park Hyung-sik’s naturally endearing humour or Park Shin-hye’s grounded charm and penchant for making her characters incredibly grounded. It makes for excellent interactions between the duo, such as when Jeong-woo finishes second in his exams and faints out of shock, or when Ha-neul bursts out into tears upon receiving her mother’s unconditional support during a depressive episode.
Despite leaning on each other during their lows, Ha-neul and Jeong-woo avoid the quick and sudden co-dependency that might prompt questions about the authenticity of their slowly blossoming relationship. Yet, the development of their unlikely friendship is weighed down by tired tropes surrounding their past – if you didn’t already see it coming Jeong-woo held a candle for Ha-neul in high school.
It dilutes the show’s impactful story, which has so far treated mental health issues surprisingly realistically and sensitively. As Ha-neul’s spirit and health takes hit after hit in an abusive workplace, it’s easy to sympathise with her, especially as she finds herself dreading the very career she had worked herself to the bone for.
But that all leads into the real highlight of Ha-neul’s storyline: the refreshing dynamic between her and her mother Kong Wol-seon (Jang Hye-jin), which brings to life a quintessentially Asian cultural dynamic that is as relatable as it is heart-wrenching. Like many Asian parents, Ha-neul’s mother – at first, at least – takes her depressive diagnosis as a personal slight against her sacrifices, but eventually turns into a caring parent whose ways might be a tad overbearing, but she’s got the spirit.
While Doctor Slump is no My Liberation Notes, the K-drama is nevertheless an engaging, fast-paced watch, especially if you’re a sucker for witty banter and newfound friendships. The rivalry between the leads is only the beginning – it’s worth sticking around to see how this “slump” ends.
Doctor Slump airs every Saturday and Sunday on JTBC, and is also available to stream on TVING and Netflix.