If ever there was a series whose title is ripe for a pun-infused critique of it, it is SBS’ Why Her? (왜 오수재인가 /Why Oh Soo Jae?). Because as you’re watching and definitely after you’ve finished the 16 episodes of the drama, you’ll be asking yourself “Why?” Or maybe the more appropriate question is “How?” How could a series with such a strong cast and a seemingly strong start end up half-baked, undercooked and thoroughly contrived.
Why Her? sees Seo Hyun Jin as the title character Oh Soo Jae. She is (at first) an ambitious and self-righteous attorney at TK Law, the country’s biggest and best law firm. I say “at first” because after a few episodes, Soo Jae’s entire personality and demeanor changes at the drop of a hat. And it isn’t in the way of the familiar “corrupt lawyer sees the error of their ways” story. Soo Jae as a character twists into whatever the heavily plot-driven story asks of her.
Which then brings about what is the series’ main problem. Its plot and overall theme devolves into a meandering mess. It is a mix of everything and ends up being about nothing. And that of course provokes a strong tonal whiplash both narratively and visually.
It is not a character piece. It is not a full-on revenge drama. It is not a case of the week procedural law drama. It is not a full-on romance drama.
It is a mix of different things and a mish-mash of different concepts that never come together in a seamless or free-flowing way. There are elements of each idea and on their own can be interesting and engaging. But none are ever fully explored or supported with any depth. The series is never committed enough to one or two of those ideas to fully develop,
The romance angle especially between Oh Soo Jae and Hwang In Yeop’s Gong Chan (with Bae In Hyuk’s Choi Yoon Sang as the requisite third wheel) feels shoehorned in, especially when it appears right at the start of the series. Yet, the romance angle is never really needed to further any overarching plot throughout the series. Instead, the romance comes across as forced, which in turn seems to have affected any sort of chemistry needed between Seo Hyun Jin and Hwang In Yeop.
The series’ main plot thread concerns Oh Soo Jae trying to somewhat clear her name after the apparent suicide of a client. Though the case is officially closed early on, thanks to the usual corruption behind closed doors, Soo Jae is demoted to become a law school professor. That’s where she meets Gong Chan, Yoon Sang and an eager group of fellow law students who slowly and sloppily come together to somehow piece together the mystery surrounding that first episode death as well as Gong Chan’s tragic past.
The key to finding the answers seems to lie with the head of TK Law Firm, Choi Tae Kook (Heo Jun Ho). And it is quite obvious early on where this story is headed.
As the mystery unfolds, the answers actually don’t seem that hard to find. Yet it takes all 16 episodes to uncover the truth for the characters that unsatisfyingly gets rolled out in the most inexplicably convenient way possible.
There is no sense of rising tension. Instead, the conflict is laid bare with really no twists or surprises to speak of. It seems like the pieces are already in place for us the viewer, but not at all for any of the characters. The series then merely has to go through the motions until the far from exciting climax.
That kind of story could work if done right. That is, the audience knows what the characters don’t. And the excitement lies in the characters’ reactions and decisions which ultimately drive the narrative.
That’s absolutely not the case here on Why Her?.
The series ends up not being satisfying as there is never much struggle or any hurdles to overcome. Especially when a contrived, last-minute “twist” in the penultimate episode leads to a flood of exposition that makes up what is supposed to be the series’ climax.
The title Why Her? or Why Oh Soo Jae? would seem like a meaningful starting point for a character-driven series about a multi-faceted woman named Oh Soo Jae. A series that would look at where she’s come from, how she got to where she is today and what she will do to change her future moving forward.
That would be a great series. Why Her? is not that series.
And that’s a shame considering the strong cast.
Seo Hyun Jin has more than proven herself with many diverse roles in the past. And Oh Soo Jae had the potential to be another standout performance for her. Unfortunately, the writing does not provide her many opportunities for that. The writing holds her back from delivering what could have been a powerhouse performance. Especially as the title character.
Hwang In Yeop and Bae In Hyuk, both talented and charismatic young actors who are more than ready for lead roles themselves, unfortunately come across as afterthoughts. And at times, almost like unnecessary pieces in the story. Especially for Hwang In Yeop who is supposed to be the leading man to Seo Hyun Jin’s Soo Jae. The contrived romance angle does no one any favors. And in fact, the series might actually have been less of a mess had there been no romance angle to speak of.
Veteran actor Heo Jun Ho as the obvious antagonist Choi Tae Kook perhaps gets the best material if only because his villainy is quite obvious from the start. And he is the only actor who manages to elevate the weak material given to him. That’s not to say the story is stronger because of it. But the series saves itself from being a complete waste thanks to Heo Jun Ho’s commanding performance. You almost want to root for him merely to give the supposed-main characters something to do. Sadly, he too gets unfortunately shortchanged in the climax.
A supporting ensemble including Lee Joo Woo as Soo Jae’s assistant and right-hand woman Song Mi Rim as well as Nam Ji Hyun, UP10TION’s Lee Jin Hyuk and the always great Kim Jae Hwa as Chan and Yoon Sang’s law school classmates are totally wasted as mere plot-devices. That is instead of them all working on solving cases and sleuthing around and being the humble, hard-working contrast to the corrupt elites they should be bringing down. A law procedural with this ragtag group of law students helping poor grandmothers get their money back from scammers or fighting to bring a victim’s assaulters to justice? That would be a wonderful series.
But again, Why Her? is not that series. Even if they dip their toes in such stories a few times in the 16 episodes.
Why Her? starts off strong, but ends with a thud. The series never realizes its full potential and instead squanders every opportunity that presents itself very early on. A strong cast is wasted on a haphazard plot-driven narrative that itself is flimsy on its own. Never being able to fully commit itself to what it wants to be, Why Her? leaves you wondering Why? indeed.