Check-in Review: After Wrapping Up Season 2, “Penthouse” Continues to be a Soapy Oasis on Korean Television

No spoilers. For the Good Ol’ Review of Season 1, click here.

Having just wrapped up its second season, Korean drama Penthouse (펜트하우스) has proven that it is a force to be reckoned with. And the formula? Engage viewers in a wild, nonstop roller coaster of a ride through soapy plotlines and shock and awe twists and turns brought to life by a talented cast that relishes and embraces the outrageous camp. And best of all, it is a fun ride. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll get angry. But you enjoy it all.

Characters coming back from the dead. Evil personified by moustache-twirling villains. “Gotcha!” moments from handsome heroes and beautiful heroines. Growing up watching American soap operas like Days of our Lives and Passions with my grandparents and aunt, I think I may be immune to almost absurd twists and turns. Nothing that pops up on Penthouse will surprise me. But therein lies the broad appeal of what has become a blockbuster series.

Korean daily dramas that typically air in the morning or early evening usually get a bad rap from some in the audience. (Maybe mostly non-Korean viewers.) But there’s a reason these series rate much higher, attracting sometimes twice or three times as many viewers than the marquee primetime dramas that usually garner the buzz at home and get the Netflix streaming slots abroad.

The greater Korean public, perhaps not as young an audience as those typically catered to by the 10pm or later dramas, love the soapier stories they get in these daily dramas. There are certainly makjang primetime series. But the difference with Penthouse has been its committed embrace of its cheese and camp. That’s an important distinction to make.

Many of the heavy, straight dramas in the marquee timeslots usually tend to try and maintain a sense of grounded seriousness. And many have been hugely successful, both commercially and creatively.

But what Penthouse has done is to take the over-the-top plots and scenarios usually seen in the pre-evening news timeslots, gloss them up and turn everything up a notch or two. That includes everything from the language to the violence to the sex. Penthouse carries itself with a slicker and glossier presentation that takes everything soap fans enjoy earlier in the day and adds some spice that can draw in viewers who may otherwise not be keen on those same morning and early evening series.

With far less episodes compared to those daily dramas, Penthouse also moves at a far quicker pace. And even as Penthouse approaches at least 44 episodes by the end of its planned third and final season (roughly 2/3 worth of episodes of the usual daily drama), the twice a week, hour-long format allows for it to be more fast-paced and action packed.

You won’t have an episode go by without something big or shocking happening to one or more of the characters. And it’s those twists and turns that keep viewers coming back for more.

Penthouse is far from groundbreaking. Pretty much every single plot is something you’ve seen in some shape or form before. Each character is drawn from a basic drama archetype you could spot a mile away.

But Penthouse is able to sprinkle in legitimate bits of sincerity and character development that help provoke a truly emotional reaction. Seeing the ups and downs of each character is one of the biggest appeals for a story like this. It may be difficult to watch your favorite character suffering. But if you invest the time in suffering right along with those characters, most of the time you will be rewarded with the most satisfying and sweetest revenge. Or at least, seeing your favorite hero and heroine getting a one-up on their adversaries. Even if only for a small, but meaningful victory. For now. Those are moments worth relishing.

Half the battle for any series is getting the audience to actually care about the characters and/or what’s happening. And Penthouse has this uncanny ability to absolutely do that, whether it’s in quieter moments or the most outlandish moments.

Penthouse‘s magical combination of ingredients, coupled with much of the recent primetime landscape seemingly blending together in a colorless haze, make it a deliciously irresistible soap opera oasis. And with the show’s “Anything goes” attitude, one could certainly see the potential for the series enraging and engaging audiences past its upcoming final 13 episodes.

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