The 2017 tvN series Prison Playbook (슬기로운 감빵생활 /Wise Prison Life) is an enjoyable, heartwarming and endearing slice of life story about convicts, their families and the corrections officers tasked with keeping them in check. Quite an interesting combination, yet the series easily delivers a wide range of emotions to tell engaging character-driven and relatable stories about life, family and friendship. A stellar ensemble cast is the strong glue that holds all the pieces together for what is a complete and satisfying series.
Kim Je Hyuk (Park Hae Soo) is a popular all-star pitcher about to make the big leap into the American major leagues. But his burgeoning career comes to a screeching halt when he is sentenced to one year in prison after being convicted of assault on a man who had attempted to sexually assault his younger sister.
Though Je Hyuk is a talented baseball player, he is a bit clumsy and less adept at everything else. Nonetheless, he has a kind heart and must quickly adapt to life in prison where he meets an array of different characters on both sides of law. That includes his childhood best friend Lee Joon Ho (Jung Kyung Ho), who is a prison guard at the facility Je Hyuk is detained in.
From former gangsters and drug offenders to white collar criminals and petty thieves to corrupt, self-serving administrators and compassionate officers; the Seobu Penitentiary is home to a colorful cast of characters forming almost a small (and confined) community. For many characters, bonds and friendships are formed. And together, they help each other get through their daily lives while learning about themselves and trying to find hope in what can otherwise seem like a hopeless situation.
Most of Prison Playbook takes place within the four walls of the prison. As we meet each character and learn about their respective stories, we also see them facing the politics and hierarchy within the compound. Moments out in the real world help support those stories and add the necessary depth to each character as the layers to their own personalities and their steps forward are peeled back.
Prison Playbook does an excellent job being able to balance some very emotional and dramatic turns with an overall lighthearted and positive tone. It very much plays like a slice of life, though quite unique from the usual hometown or school/workplace settings of similarly character-driven stories.
Each episode can run close to and around 90 minutes. And though that may seem dauting at first, the episodes fly by. The ample time allowed to fully flesh out each character and story, while giving each the proper amount of development and depth really helps to make every episode worthwhile. The series is more about the characters and their response to what can be biting critiques at the justice system and law enforcement. But having that opportunity to really develop each character allows for many satisfying conclusions. Though certainly some bittersweet, albeit realistic ones as well.
The wonderful sense of community, friendship and family is powered by a well-rounded script. But it is strengthened by the excellent cast and their perfect chemistry.
Park Hae Soo and Jung Kyung Ho lead the large ensemble. And having the focus centered on Park Hae Soo’s Je Hyuk helps to make each story of the other characters feel relevant engaging.
Park Hae Soo does a great job in the forefront, immediately endearing the sometimes aloof, but talented and kind-hearted Je Hyuk. Essentially making him the heart of the series, the characters around him are able to draw upon him to branch out on their own when it is their chance in the spotlight.
The cast made up of veteran character actors and talented young newcomers deliver with every scene. And there’s never a dull moment during the series with such a strong ensemble. You find yourself caring about each character’s story, thanks in part to the strong performances. And with the effective pacing and development of those characters, it is easy to get caught up in the exciting and fun emotional journey each one embarks on.
Prison Playbook is truly an enjoyable series. Perhaps the series’ tone and story might feel unexpected at first, but it quickly settles into an engaging and captivating ride. With the perfect amount of comedy, drama and heart, Prison Playbook is a refreshing and emotionally impactful series.