My Relationship with Hospital Playlist

One thing regular readers will notice about this blog that I seldom expend time on dramas that I don’t enjoy. I watch more dramas than I blog about because while some dramas are entertaining enough as a temporary diversion, they aren’t worth the time or energy to wax philosophical about. I’m a slow writer and I take my time to find the right words so I don’t have the luxury of wasting time on things that are painful to watch, or merit any kind of analysis of.

Hospital Playlist is the only drama (so far) that I’ve ever been committed to blogging about weekly. I don’t do it for every single drama because I just don’t have the time. It’s true that Hospital Playlist attracts a disproportionately large audience compared to other dramas that interest me but I also judge it to be a well-written enough drama to make the effort. Popularity is never a criteria with me. To that end I am supremely happy that Hospital Playlist still works for me and that there’s an intersection of tastes among us.

Writing a good story in whatever medium is never easy. My first instinct is to always give the writer(s) the benefit of the doubt. Contrary to what people think, I don’t like to be critical of a drama because it takes a lot of effort to get something made. I doubt very much that writers set out to write a bad script and directors set out to produce a badly executed drama. Certainly not from the South Korean entertainment industry where funding is limited. Obviously behind-the-scenes political wrangling can taint a good product but the difference between a good script and a mediocre one is generally obvious. Hospital Playlist cannot with any justification be accused of being executed based off of a prosaic script. It seems to be that the approach of the show is unique to the extent that it garners a whole range of some times very contradictory criticisms. It’s not just that slice-of-life storytelling is an acquired taste but that there are aspects to it that will never satisfy an audience ravenous for a particular way of doing romance.

To my mind Hospital Playlist is a great series because it consistently demonstrates a good balance between the relationships among the regular characters and the inner workings of the hospital. The genre is absolutely clear to me. I am mindful that each week I’m watching a medical drama and that patient stories are par for the course. In fact I would go so far as to say that patient stories are one of the pillars of the series. So I’m befuddled when I read the comment that Episode 9 or 10 contained “pointless patient stories” on one platform and then I read that on another denigrating one or all of the romances. Obviously people watch the show for all kinds of reasons but if someone tells me that they like the show but they’re not interested in the patients, well I’m left wondering why they’d be committed to watching a hospital drama. (Pardon me if I come across somewhat patronizing)

Take the table tennis tournament for instance. There’s been some push back on that because it seemed irrelevant to some viewers that so much time was given to it. Well, not to me. In my most recent podcast with absoluteM, I mentioned that the point of the table tennis tournament was to showcase other departments or individuals from the hospital that aren’t normally part of the drama’s staple. It is suggestive too that they are being seen through the eyes of Ik-jun mainly but the other four make an appearance all throughout the competition witnessing the craziness. Apart from being clever, it’s a highly creative way not only to make reference to the recent Olympics but spotlights other unsung heroes of the hospital in a hilarious and memorable way. One of the messages in that entire sequence is that the hospital is much more than just the five friends and their surgical specialisations. There’s also Radiology, Nuclear Medicine and Orthopedics which are hugely significant branches in properly organized contemporary medical institutions. Moreover, the difficulty (or absurdity) of conducting such a competition during working hours serves to show that medical staff don’t have the luxury of taking time off to have a little fun and bonding time when there’s always an emergency in the offing to disrupt matters. The pregnant nurse married to a medic from Orthopedics is still on the job when she could at any time go into labour. It is illustrative of that pesky thing called “unpredictability” that surfaces for these professional men and women.

It’s the same thing with the supposed group excursion to Mt Seorak by the Five. Despite all the best planning in the world (Jeong-won’s incredible eye for detail is both admired and gently mocked here as well), it’s hard for doctors to maintain the kind of work-life balance that most of us might be more accustomed to. The genius of the show is that it’s done in humorous fashion but the message is a serious one. They get paid the kind of money that they do because of what’s demanded of them. It’s not just a profession, it’s a vocation. This doesn’t include another conversation about the huge element of risk involved in medicine which is why their pay tends to be more generous.

My husband used to comment about all the hours I was working doing preparation on Sunday nights at home for classes the following day or week. No one gets rich off teaching (unfortunately) and as I say to him, not everyone can do it. Not only do you have to have the skills for it, you have to have the temperament and the passion. The term I unabashedly use is “calling”. The belief that there’s some transcendent force outside of myself compelling me to do things that brings little financial profit even if I feel rewarded in other ways.

The story of the two friends who are looking to be approved as donor-recipient in the latest liver transplant story is different from the others. The focus is given to the rigidly strict vetting process to determine suitability and legitimacy. What I especially relished was how we caught a glimpse of their friendship through the sarcastic jibes that to anyone who doesn’t know any better they would have doubts about the strength of their relationship. The vetting process and the consultations assured us that these two guys are confident enough in their relationship to say the sorts of things no one would say to a stranger. Despite the invasiveness of the process, the two men take a cheerful view of things. Moreover the task of collecting photographs as evidence of the relationship is a salient reminder to the audience that we can never have exhaustive proof of facts that we accept but that there must be enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt.

I’m almost never bothered by what the show doesn’t do with the characters and the romance because that’s not the focal point of the show. Shin Won-ho et al’s filming techniques are fascinating in that regard. Often when certain characters are highlighted during private moments they are framed through windows or openings of one sort of another. It is as if to say that the audience is invited to catch glimpses and take peeks of events as outsiders looking in so there are seldom long stretches of dialogues or monologues available to us. What we do have are snapshots of very select points of view because the storyteller here is much more concerned with a bigger story than the romances that seem to cause so much angst to so many.

The more I think about Jun-wan and Ik-sun’s ongoing back and forth, the more I’m inclined to believe that it was a repudiation of the noble idiocy trope rather than an affirmation. Her apology is indicative of that. It is simple, straightforward and factual. There’s no drama. No fireworks. All it is is a peek into what it was she was thinking at the time and she didn’t try to make excuses except to say that her judgment was clouded by good intentions that went awry. We won’t be getting the Ik-sun drama of regret but I am convinced we were given enough for Jun-wan to be able to say with equal frankness that he’s not over her either. I don’t think the drama is saying that noble idiocy is a right course of action. But I do think that it is saying that idiocy can be forgiven if there’s real love — one that is tested by time and suffering. Like the prodigal son who doesn’t deserve his father’s forgiveness, forgiveness is not predicated on the son’s worthiness but on the father’s great love for his son.

Jun-wan and the wayward Ik-sun are irrelevant on some level. So are the WinterGarden. Ik-jun and Song-hwa. The bear couple. Or Jae-hak and the missus. But the message is in all likelihood the same. It’s love. Not the Romeo and Juliet type of mad youthful passion but something that goes deeper so that words like “deserve” are rendered meaningless. As one of my readers noted astutely last week, there are echoes of Christian Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the thirteenth chapter. “Love is patient, love is kind… it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” She mentioned it in relation to Jeong-won’s disposition towards Gyeo-ul but it could apply across the board with some justification.

Hospital Playlist resonates with me even when I don’t entirely know where it’s headed. The reason seems to be because it holds to a message that transcends all the chatter/noise of discontent of our time. With an extraordinary consistency our five friends act as windows and megaphones in the larger narrative from which a much needed message is declared to foster generosity of spirit, forgiveness and forbearance.

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