Second Lead Syndrome is back, people: How ‘The Golden Spoon’ is breathing fresh life into a stale archetype

Episodes 1 and 2 of The Golden Spoon are hands-down the best premiere episodes I’ve seen recently. Which says a lot because I watch a…perfectly healthy amount of dramas, I swear.

Honestly, it’s doing too many things right to talk about all of them, so I’ve picked only one element of the drama to talk about today: that is, how The Golden Spoon presents its chaebol character, Hwang Tae Yong (Lee Jong Won).

In the words of our main protagonist, the character of Tae Yong is “the golden spoon of golden spoons.” His dad is filthy rich, so naturally I was 100% ready for an aloof, cold, self-entitled snob. You can imagine my surprise, then, when sweet Tae Yong walks up and he’s…genuinely kind. Wait, what? It’s laughable what a shock this was to my system because viewers are almost conditioned at this point to expect a jerk when introduced to a K-drama’s rich boy. But no, Tae Yong is this sincerely sweet kid who loves reading webtoons and even stands up for our main protagonist when he’s being bullied. Oh, and get this — he doesn’t abuse his wealth and connections. Mind-boggling, I know, yet The Golden Spoon has introduced a breath of fresh air in Tae Yong. He’s a far cry from the trope most son-of-a-CEO male leads typically fall under.

In fact, so many TV shows and dramas from all across the globe get this entire character type backwards by presenting viewers with a rich jerk first and then explaining his calloused behavior with family problems, probably in the hopes that these factors will soften viewers into sympathizing with said character (which typically works, interestingly). Then we see the hypothetical character’s good traits as time goes on, and eventually he becomes a fan favorite — or something along those lines. Sound familiar? It really should, because we’ve all seen it dozens and dozens of times.

In contrast, let’s take a look at how The Golden Spoon introduces Hwang Tae Yong:

The first time we hear him speak is when he stands up for our main protagonist, Lee Seung Cheon (Yook Sung Jae), who’s being ruthlessly bullied right after his best friend’s funeral. This shows viewers Tae Yong’s kind heart and sincerity right off the bat.

Next, we get to know more about him as we see his home life, particularly the rather frightening dynamic he has with his dad. (Excuse me, I mean his father…if you know, you know.)

Later, in an emotionally-charged scene, viewers watch Tae Yong throw Seung Cheon under the bus with a malicious lie in front of the school administration in what an outsider might see as typical chaebol cruelty. But here’s the thing: we, the viewers, know that the lie he tells is not because he sadistically desires to betray Seung Cheon, but rather because he’s backed into a corner and is protecting himself the best way he knows how — by obeying his father.

Since The Golden Spoon has already established who Tae Yong is as a person, his status comes secondary and is not the defining trait of his character. We see the struggling kid first, not the entitled aristocrat. And thus, viewers are able to watch this scene completely understanding Tae Yong’s motivation and genuinely sympathizing with him.

And to be clear, I’m not criticizing other dramas for using the tried-and-true formula of the wealthy, cold male lead — it clearly works. I’m just praising The Golden Spoon for doing something different that, in my opinion, works even better. Because Tae Yong is already an extremely likable character that viewers will absolutely want to root for. And we’re only in the premiere episodes! It astonishes me at what a simple change this is to the norm, yet how much better it works than what we are used to seeing. Even if we are looking at this creative choice on a superficial level, the decision to present him how they do pays off because things that are different stand out — simple as that.

See, The Golden Spoon gets it. It’s doing its characters right. And this is just one character; they’re all brilliantly written and acted, I just don’t have the time to get to each one. I simply wanted to address what the drama is doing with Tae Yong because of how much it took me by surprise. Now that Seung Cheon has swapped parents with Tae Yong, I’m super curious to see how each boy changes internally, and how the dynamics shift with those around them.

Also, can anyone name something more wholesome than Tae Yong enjoying his webtoons with freedom? Didn’t think so.

This might sound melodramatic, but The Golden Spoon strikes me as a groundbreaking drama. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it is, but something about the drama feels like it’s on the cusp of a shift in Dramaland — a turning point. Because it’s not just the dynamic characters that will grab your attention — the drama’s entire world comes alive with vivid cinematography and the jaw-dropping use of its soundtrack.

The Golden Spoon is the breath of fresh air you didn’t know you needed, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you want a drama to throw yourself into immediately — and with abandon, reckless or otherwise — you’ve found it.

Let’s give credit where credit is due! If you’re not aware, The Golden Spoon is based off a webtoon of the same name by author HD3. So, if you’re interested in checking out the original story, here is a link to that.

Thanks for stopping by!

If you’d like to check out more of my work, look a little lower on the page to see a couple of my latest posts. And/or follow my blog to stay updated.

Currently watching: If You Wish Upon Me, Seasons of Blossom, The Golden Spoon

All-time favorite drama: Sakura no Oyakodon: Season 3

As always, happy drama-watching, friends.

Feature image source: MyDramaList

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