JTBC’s The Good Bad Mother (나쁜엄마) might just be my favorite Korean drama of 2023. I challenge anyone to not shed some tears at least once during the series’ excellent 14 episodes. And that’s tears from the series’ many emotional stories or from laughing so much at its welcome and well-placed humor. Ra Mi Ran and Lee Do Hyun deliver masterful and captivating performances, leading a strong ensemble cast as they help bring to life a truly breathtaking and beautiful story.
The series’ title refers to Jin Young Soon (Ra Mi Ran), a single mother who raised her only son while running her own pig farm. After a devastating tragedy, Young Soon decides to be strict with Kang Ho while raising him. But that causes him to grow up to be a cold-hearted prosecutor and becoming estranged from, who he calls, a “bad mom.”
However, a sudden accident leads to Kang Ho needing to return to his rural hometown and the care of his mother. And the two of them embark on a journey to heal their relationship and themselves.
That relationship is at the and simply the heart of the series. The mother-son relationship between Young Soon and Kang Ho is the focal point of the story and the driver of all other stories as well. The series’ emotional warmth comes from their relationship and how they are able to deal with and overcome the pain and scars they have had to endure in their lives.
Those pains and scars are caused by nefarious and evil actors. And a big part of the series is uncovering, exposing and then seeking justice from those involved.
However, the series is at its most engaging when focusing on Young Soon and Kang Ho’s relationships. And that’s with each other and with their neighbors in the small farming community. The series being able to be a character-driven narrative helps to support many thoroughly satisfying and fun moments involving this small community.
The slice of life-infused portrait of rural life and the different personalities that can both clash as well as become a second family to many is such an excellent source of diverse story. Sometimes dipping into amusing minutiae or other times tackling deeper and more difficult topics, whether it is these characters’ own stories, or the intertwined dynamic of their lives; The Good Bad Mother uses the ensemble cast of characters to their full advantage. And again, helps to make much of the series’ emotional punches land. And ultimately, make the final episodes all the more emotionally satisfying.
One of those neighbors is Mi Joo, Kang Ho’s childhood friend. As the series progresses, we learn more about their relationship, especially as adults. And that relationship is one perfect example of how the series is able to quietly lay the groundwork for those satisfying conclusions.
Even if there are a lot of story beats you may come to expect, it doesn’t make the experience of seeing those moments eventually play out any less impactful. It is thanks to how the series is able to unfurl the story and the characters with the perfect pace and creative writing that you will be shedding tears both for heavy dramatic moments and for the lighthearted and hilarious shenanigans in this small village.
The Good Bad Mother maintains a great balance between drama and comedy. It rarely goes too far in either direction. But the series certainly stretches to as much as it can do in a way that makes sense for their story. The series features some incredibly heart-stopping dramatic moments. But there are also hilarious one-liners and amusing absurdities. There is no tonal whiplash here. All the realistic and humble emotions come together to effectively build this fully-realized world.
Imagining yourself as one of the farmers, their family or Young Soon and Kang Ho themselves; it is hard not to get sucked right into this farming village. You can experience life in this tightknit community. You can feel the interesting dynamics between the characters. And these characters and their stories are very relatable, allowing that connection to be formed between us the viewer and the characters on screen.
Again, the larger ensemble cast has a charming chemistry that helps to fully realize what is a very vivid world. But Ra Mi Ran and Lee Do Hyun, especially, just deliver breathtaking performances. Both are tasked with such varied material, that it would be a challenge for any actor. But both are able to handle that challenge effortlessly.
The mix of emotions that these two experienced actors can make you, the audience feel should be part of a masterclass in acting. You hang onto their every word and every expression. Just in awe of what they are able to bring to life with every scene. And they more than make their case for delivering two of the best performances of the year.
It is not often you can come across a series like The Good Bad Mother. Having all its pieces come together for an engaging experience, getting you to feel all the different emotions through both refreshing and familiar stories; it really is a major accomplishment. A perfect ensemble cast, pitch perfect writing and directing and a warmth and sincerity not often seen in a television drama; The Good Bad Mother has it all. And it certainly warrants discussion as being one of the year’s absolute best.