‘Good Manager’ shines by doing away with office TV tropes

March 31, 2017
This image captured from the finale of "Good Manager" shows lead actors Namkoong Min (L) and Junho of idol group 2PM. (Yonhap)

This image captured from the finale of “Good Manager” shows lead actors Namkoong Min (L) and Junho of idol group 2PM. (Yonhap)

This image shows a highlighted scene from the finale of "Good Manager." (Yonhap)

This image shows a highlighted scene from the finale of “Good Manager.” (Yonhap)

This image captured from the finale of KBS 2TV's "Good Manager" shows actor Namkoong Min as the show's anti-hero protagonist Kim Sung-ryong. (Yonhap)

This image captured from the finale of KBS 2TV’s “Good Manager” shows actor Namkoong Min as the show’s anti-hero protagonist Kim Sung-ryong. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, March 31 (Yonhap) — When watching television comedies, there are times when you are almost certain that the writer had a blast working on it. You can imagine the creators chuckling while trying out different variants of wit or throwing impossibly far-fetching goof ball scenarios and tinkering with it to make it work somehow.

KBS 2TV’s “Good Manager,” which ended its 20-episode run, is one of those comedies. It makes viewers both laugh and gleefully salute at the writing that humorously pokes fun of itself and eerily lampoons South Korea’s capitalistic society today.

Thursday night’s finale of “Good Manager” recorded a 17.2 percent nationwide viewership, according to Nielsen Korea on Friday. The figure stood at 17.8 percent for TV-viewing households in and around the capital area.

Though having an ensemble cast, the brunt of the show is carried by actor Namkoong Min, who plays Kim Sung-ryong, an accountant at the fictional TQ Group and a genius at misappropriating corporate funds for personal benefit.

Kim, who used to cook accounting books for gangsters in the rural Gunsan region, is hired by the group’s prosecutor-turned-CFO Seo Yool, played by idol singer Junho of 2PM, under questionable circumstances — his predecessor being hospitalized in a failed suicide attempt — to do all the dirty work for TQ’s chairman.

But a string of coincidental events — saving the wife of his hospitalized predecessor and protecting striking union workers from being laid off — inadvertently makes Kim a hero within the company, leading him and his righteous colleagues to save the company from going bankrupt.

Lead character Kim Sung-ryong is what makes “Good Manager” good. He’s a street-wise genius accountant who knows the ins and outs, along with all the loopholes, of the accounting law.

At first, Kim seems deranged, unstable and hyperactive. But through several incidents, he is revealed to have a big heart, can’t stand bullies and always fights for the underdog.

On paper, it may sound like he’s a typical anti-hero, to the point of being conventional. But how Kim Sung-ryong is fleshed out through Namkoong — via snappy and witty dialogue, and quirky mannerisms — is what saves “Good Manger” from what could have been an average run-of-the-mill white collar crime comedy.

It’s the perfect amalgamation of character creation and acting, as well as the first major break out work for Namkoong, who’s persevered in show business, mostly in supporting roles, for 18 years.

Namkoong’s powerhouse performance is equally matched with Junho’s maniacal character of CFO Seo Yool in equal weight and strength. Seo, the mastermind of TQ’s corruption, is the show’s main antagonist throughout most of the show but later has a change of heart.

The show has a way of poking fun at itself, in a very meta-narrative way. For example, in the later part of the series, Kim Sung-ryong tells Seo Yool about how he got captured by TQ chairman’s henchmen and almost got murdered, but says that he never really struggled but only acted as if he were struggling.

Then he yaks, “I’m going to win an award at the end of the year.”

Seo Yool replies, “You can’t win because it’s too early in the year,” an apparent commentary on dramas aired early in the year being shunned during the end of the year award season.

In form, the show is a one hour per episode drama series, with an overarching plot of a corruption conspiracy connecting the entirety of it. But “Good Manager” by and large has a rhythm of a half-hour comedy show, thanks to its witty dialogue, and with each episode sufficed by stand alone story lines.

The show also touches on subjects of mass layoffs and other societal issues regarding fierce competition. But “Good Manger” never forgets that its, first and foremost, a comedy and keeps the cringe-inducing schmaltz, often ridden in other office TV shows, such as “Misaeng,” to a minimum.

As much as the plot of “Good Manager” is about underdogs, the show itself has pulled off one of the bigger upsets in recent Korean TV history. Many observers expected it to be crushed by “Saimdang, Memoir of Colors,” the epic 30-episode SBS TV show that brought actress Lee Young-ae of the famed show “Daejanggeum” back to TV for the first time in 14 years. Expectations were indeed shattered.

After the finale, stars of the shows took to their social media to bid farewells to fans. Namkoong wrote, “Its really the end now. Thank you for all the love” on his social media, while Junho posted a photo he took with Namkoong and let fans know that filming of the show ended just several hours before Thursday’s finale.

The Wednesday-Thursday series will be followed by “Mystery Queen,” starring Kwon Sang-woo and Choi Kang-hee, next week.

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