Disney+’s Rookie Cops (너와 나의 경찰수업 /You and My Police Class) is an interesting series. Centered around freshman students at a police university, the series is well positioned to tackle many different topics and themes such as coming of age and college life. Not to mention the pursuit of justice and happiness in a less than fair world. But the series somehow does not bring everything together in the most seamless way, holding it back from being something great. However, its charming cast carries the series on their shoulders to result in an ultimately satisfying, though somewhat unmemorable time.
Full disclosure, I came into Rookie Cops after having watched KBS’ Police University last year. And so it’s difficult not to compare the two since their basic premises share many similarities.
Yet at the same time, it is a wonder, however, that both series could be so similar, yet so different at the same time.
Both series are character-driven stories. Everything circles back to the main characters, their relationships and their decisions.
Police University centers around the buddy cop-dynamic of Cha Tae Hyun and Jinyoung’s characters as their respective goals intersect in a surprising way with the backdrop of slice of life coming of age hijinks of students in between adolescence and adulthood. It had a refreshing take on justice and law enforcement, especially through the eyes of the young people working to become honorable members of the force.
Rookie Cops, meanwhile, begins centered around a group of freshman students at a public police university as they navigate the rigorous training and schoolwork while taking part in the usual trappings of youth such as friendship and love. Almost 2/3 through the series, however, focus abruptly shifts to familiar tales of corruption and the chase of a psychopath final boss.
Rookie Cops almost feels like two separate series at times, even if both hypothetical series and their stories are actually done quite well on their own. It’s the rough intersection of the two stories that is probably the series’ biggest misstep. Reaching Episode 16, it looks almost unrecognizable compared to Episode 1. And the series’ saving grace is the goodwill fostered by the endearing and charming cast of characters. That is, the eight young men and women we would come to know over the course of the series.
It’s just unfortunate that much of the final arc, especially the action-filled finale, feels far too contrived compared to the rest of the series. Having a “just go with it” feeling when watching a series is not a bad thing. Sometimes it is best to just hop along for the ride. But when Rookie Cops started out one way, it’s hard to suddenly turn around and accept them doing it completely different the rest of the time.
Rookie Cops begins with familiar high school themes. (Though of course, with a college-aged twist.) Bullying, school violence, hazing; the first couple of episodes introduce us to our eight aspiring police officers through this familiar and still-timely storyline. Once that is taken care of, the series goes down the school life checklist. Everything from difficult classes to falling in love to a big focus on a school sports festival; all of these plot threads allow the characters to establish themselves and thus endear themselves to the audience.
And thankfully so because once the series abruptly introduces the series’ main antagonist, the school life-aspect of the series becomes almost irrelevant. The series could’ve just as well had eight regular, non-police university friends acting as amateur sleuths as they face the series’ villain. And even then, it isn’t until the penultimate episode when the friends actually even realize they have a criminal to catch.
It’s that disconnect between the struggles of college life and the ultimate chase of the antagonist that holds Rookie Cops back from being a truly great series. But again, it’s the characters that save the day.
Again, I hesitate to compare. But Police University was able to balance its character-driven slice of life stories about the students with the series-long overarching mystery. A mystery that unfolded in a way that reached an unexpected, but satisfying conclusion.
Rookie Cops, meanwhile, definitely did a good job at the slice of life stories surrounding the students. The first 2/3 of the series play out almost as vignettes. The first one focusing on the prospective students’ difficult orientation and a hazing scandal before officially becoming students at the school. The next vignettes deal with the students adjusting to life at school, forging connections with each other and the aforementioned sports festival.
That’s all well and good as the relationships that are developed during this time help to carry the series once it shifts into its latter part. This is where we are introduced to Jo Hansol (the always great Kim Kwon), the wealthy and charismatic CEO who (as we are told immediately) is actually a psychopath criminal and creep.
That’s also fine. However, the last third of the series takes the focus away from the students we had been following for around ten episodes and instead focuses on building up Jo Hansol’s criminal resume. All leading up to the group of friends very suddenly getting yanked into his orbit in the penultimate episode where they (without the help of adults) plot and execute his downfall.
Again, it bears repeating. Both halves of this story are fine on their own. But Rookie Cops never brings them both together in a seamless or natural way. It’s not a spoiler to say that the kids are ultimately successful. And the series, which is actually set in 2017, quickly fast forwards to the present just as abruptly as other moments of the series.
It’s a bit disappointing and even perplexing as the ideas and themes that should have complimented each other instead work against each other.
Thankfully, the cast does the heavy lifting in order to make these 16 episodes worthwhile.
Kang Daniel, a charismatic singer and performer, makes his acting debut here in the lead role of Wi Seung Hyun. The son of a police commissioner and a top student, the role actually deals with a lot of the heavier moments in the series paired with the more lighthearted and fluffy moments as well. As talented as Kang Daniel is, he might have needed a bit more experience. It helps that the series is more of an ensemble rather than a star vehicle for him. But with the so-so writing for Seunghyun, Kang Daniel didn’t necessarily have the best opportunities for a standout performance. But it’s a solid and promising start for him, nonetheless.
It’s also similar for the usually wonderful Chae Soo Bin. Her role as Ko Eun Kang feels too much like a role that you might have expected from her earlier in her career. Chae Soo Bin is capable of more than what the role required of her, which is surprising and unfortunate. She’s still charming and likeable, as she always is. But I honestly feel like the role is a bit of a regression for her.
While Kang Daniel and Chae Soo Bin are very much the leads of the series, Rookie Cops is much stronger and fulfilling as an ensemble. The chemistry between our eight friends is really the main event here.
Kim Wooseok, Min Dohee and Chun Youngmin all deliver as “husband material” Seo Bumju, feisty and fierce Woo Juyoung and lovestruck ulzzang Shin Ahri, respectively. Their experience in many supporting roles definitely comes into play as they are able to contribute to the ensemble while still able to make each of their characters standout on their own.
But its performances by Lee Shin Young, Park Yoona and Park Sung Joon that really standout.
Since his breakout role in Crash Landing on You, Lee Shin Young has played the charismatic bad boy with a heart very well. And he is able to take it a step further as Kim Tak. His scenes with his grandmother particularly really hit the mark, especially as the truth about their family’s tragic past is unfurled.
Park Sung Joon as the always positive Yoo Daeil is very much the heart of the series. The loveable goofball emerges as one of the series’ most engaging characters. And Park Sung Joon’s endearing and charming performance is a big reason that is able to happen.
Park Yoona, meanwhile, again shows that she is deserving of a lead role of her own. As the quiet and self-reliant Gi Hanna, Park Yoona is able to take the character and make her perhaps the series’ deepest and most multi-faceted character. Her story is certainly the fullest and most engaging across the 16 episodes. And it’s actually her character that has a personal story and development that spans the entire series.
Special mention needs to go to Kim Kwon and Kwak Si Yang as well. Kim Kwon is always the charismatic scene stealer, especially in series where he turns out to be the antagonist. He too proves time and time again that he deserves bigger and better roles as well.
Kwak Si Yang as Kim Tak’s brother Hyunsoo also plays a major part in the story. In his short time on-screen, Kwak Si Yang is able to lay what is essentially the series’ main foundation for its final arc. And that helps result in the most affecting and emotional moments of the entire series as well.
The cast really saves the day for Rookie Cops. Though there’s certainly a well-meaning aura about the series, it’s hard not to overlook the shortcomings. Especially when all the makings of a truly great series are there, but unfortunately mishandled somewhere along the line. Perhaps in execution. Still, the cast’s hard work help to ultimately make the series a satisfying and worthwhile watch in the end. Even if it might fade away in the future.