A Jarring Jumpstart: ‘The Good Bad Mother’ ep 1 review

The moment that CGI pig wriggled in glee while falling in slow-mo towards a gleaming puddle should have been my cue to obliterate my original expectations for this drama — but I didn’t take the hint, so I truly have no one to blame but myself for the utter astonishment I felt during the premiere episode of Netflix’s currently-airing Korean drama, The Good Bad Mother.

I have both positive and negative things to say, so let’s start out with the negatives in order to end on a high note today.

This review will include spoilers for episode 1 of The Good Bad Mother.

Things I didn’t like:

The quick and drastic tonal shifts

Brace yourself for emotional whiplash because the pace with which this drama switches tones is rapid. In the first episode alone, we go from adorable lovey moments between two pig farmers, to arson and murder, to slapstick comedy, to gut-wrenching mother-son confrontations. It’s a lot.

Maybe the drama is finding its footing; maybe it’s some bizarre big-picture scheme that will come together as it airs. But as an initial impression of a series, the patchwork of mismatched vibes was too much for this particular hour-and-a-half.

An example of a sequence that really threw me around emotionally was when a group of disgruntled townsfolk rush to the home of one of our protagonists, guns drawn as they prepare to run her off the land. Moments later, the women are bonding over their pregnancies, giggling and all; this turns into arguing which escalates to hair-pulling and shouting. Suddenly, one woman goes into labor and gives birth; as soon as that baby is out, the other woman does the same. And before we can catch our breath, the drama does a time skip to years later which immediately features ultra-hefty subjects like bullying and domestic abuse.

This all happens in a matter of minutes.

Now, some of these moments are played for laughs, absolutely. But some aren’t. And while there’s nothing wrong with a brisk storytelling pace, the quick flip-flopping of such varied overall tones comes across as jarring.

The Mom

This is a hard pill to swallow for me because I was very excited when I saw Ra Mi Ran as the leading lady. But right now, I dislike her character — more specifically, I strongly dislike how she treats her son (played as a child by Lee Kyung Hoon and as a teen and adult by Lee Do Hyun). And I don’t understand how she got here from where we left her when she gave birth.

I want to preempt this point by saying that it would be outrageous to expect her to be 100% okay after her husband was murdered and she lost any semblance of stability and balance in her life. I also want to acknowledge that she doubtless went through incredibly tough times as a single mom. I just want to be very clear that I do indeed feel the appropriate amount of empathy for her in regards to what happened to her family and the struggles she went through raising her son alone.

That said, I think the the character of Young Soon could have been built up more. I get it, the drama is called “The Good Bad Mother;” obviously things are not going to be rosy and perfect in this mother-son relationship. But I was bothered by the lack of display in how Young Soon goes from seemingly hopeful and excited to be a mom to this bitter, cold soul who restricts her son’s food and doesn’t allow him to play with other kids.

If she’s that way now, fine — but show us how she got here. Give us reason to root for her or at least empathize with her on some level. It’s hard to accept that she’s just like this now when we aren’t given the history to back it up.

Did life beat her down so much that she started becoming embittered towards her child? She seems to have decent intentions —for example, wanting him to grow up with more power than she felt she had. So, when did she cross the line into obsession as she forced her dreams onto her son?

I don’t know if this is coming across how I want; basically, I felt that the jump between how she is when she gives birth to how she is when we meet her years later happened too quickly, and she was far too different. It’s kind of the tonal shift problem, in a way.

I hope the drama will fill in the gaps in her story; at this point, it will have to if Young Soon is to have any chance at redemption.

The dumb-dumb villagers

This isn’t a big deal, but it’s a personal pet peeve of mine that I felt petty enough to include: I hate the trope of sheep-like villagers adapting this mob mentality where all rationale goes out window and they decide to attack whatever is new or different. Is it possible to have a village where people are kind and open-minded? It’s just a tired universal trope that I could have very happily done without.

And now for the positives!

Things I liked:

Sam Sik (Yoo In Soo)

Yoo In Soo is such a versatile actor, and his talent for comedy shines in this drama. He was easily my favorite part of the episode, using both physical comedy and timing to drive his too-few lines home. I believe his character got the only real chuckles from me this episode; he was a beam of light amongst what I thought were otherwise comedic misfires.

(To clarify, I don’t fault the other actors; these talented individuals doubtless made the best of what they were given. A lot of the jokes not landing for me came from the tonal-shift issue and my own preexisting expectations—which, again, is no one’s fault but my own.)

This mother-son confrontation

Lee Do Hyun and Ra Mi Ran were huge reasons I started this in the first place — I was excited to see their mother-son dynamic play out, and this scene delivered on that. It was moving to behold and I look forward to seeing more of their scenes together as the episodes air and our story progresses.

One specific aspect of this conversation that I highly appreciate is when Do Hyun’s character calls his mom out on living vicariously through him while projecting her own insecurities onto him. He hits the nail on the head when he tells her:

You told me to become a powerful man and help those who are weak and in need. But no. You were just frustrated to live as the weak. You just wanted to get that power through me.

Episode 1, The Good Bad Mother

I wasn’t expecting a scene like this so early on, so I was pleasantly surprised by his forthrightness with his mother. I think it’s just the solid stepping stone their relationship needs for the drama to begin unravelling the history between these two.

The Dad

Cho Jin Woong always blows me away with his performances, and his portrayal of Young Soon’s husband who never gets to meet their son is no exception. The way he adds such depth and charm to the patriarch of this little family sets a firm foundation for understanding our mother-son duo later on. Though not his largest role by any means, Cho Jin Woong delivers an engrossing performance as always.

The main couple

Okay, by the time it got to these two, I was slightly miffed by the negatives on this list, but even my cynicism couldn’t withstand the cuteness. They are extremely adorable together and the actors have palpable chemistry. We haven’t seen too much of them as a couple yet, but this is an aspect of the drama I’m certainly looking forward to watching play out.

Mi Joo’s (Ahn Eun Jin) bold coyness balances Kang Ho’s subdued stoicism perfectly. And to her credit, she also elicited a genuine chuckle from me during the scene where she and Kang Ho are locked in the room together; she’s initially distressed, but, as the news hits her, warms very quickly to the idea of being locked in a room with the guy she likes. It’s gold.

My advice if you want to start this drama: clear your expectations. Wipe that slate clean. Then perhaps you won’t be as taken aback as I was.

Regardless of expectations, however, I still think this episode was pretty weak in terms of a premiere. Here’s to hoping it hits its stride soon because this cast is too spectacular to use on mediocre execution.

All of that said, you bet I’m going to be watching the next episode. While the negatives on this list are mostly general aspects of the drama, I noticed that the things I liked about it were details — characters, performances, moments.

I might not have liked the premiere as a whole, but if there is enticing human connection to be found in a drama, you bet I’m here for it with the shameless and unbridled glee of a puddle-hopping pig.

Thanks for stopping by!

And as always, happy drama-watching.

Follow my blog to stay updated or check out my other posts listed below.

All-time favorite drama: Sakura no Oyakodon: Season 3, Weak Hero Class 1

Currently watching: The Good Bad Mother, Reflection of You


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