A person can get a pretty good idea of the many faces of this show by looking at its many titles. One title is "Female Gangster Hye Jung", which explains its lead female and the dramatic center of the first quarter of the drama. Elsewhere, the show is known as "Doctor Crush", a title that, while cringe-worthy, sells the central idea of medical professionals figuring out how to work a love life into their already busy and dramatic lives.
However, here on MDL, this drama officially goes by its best and most appropriate title "Doctors". If you're looking for a straightforward, romanticized show about what it really means to be a Doctor, this is the show. If you want lots of action, lots of drama, and lots of clichés, you're in the wrong place. While it starts very fast, this is ultimately a very dry, low-key show that bucks typical drama conventions in favor of telling a "more realistic" story. Does that make it less interesting than other popular dramas? Perhaps. But it doesn't make it valueless. There's a lot to like here.
You're not going to find a kdrama story quite like this one very easily. While it's a romance, they don't drag the will-they-or-won't-they all the way until end. While there's a love triangle, it's a very sharply angled isosceles: one of three arms of the triangle is really short and it's clear from the beginning that it has no chance. While it's a drama, it has no mustache-twirling villains, only complex characters that make serious mistakes and end up hurting others simply because they struggle to face the reality of their wrongdoing.
These things aren't necessarily going to work for everyone, but for this reviewer, they all combine into an enjoyable and, most of all, refreshing experience. The flip side of this is that often times the plot seems to lack teeth; it doesn't grab you and hold on, forcing your heart to come with it. While the first few episodes are action-packed and energetic, the show mellows out immensely toward the latter half, eventually getting to the point where the directing felt almost lazy. This show is largely a leisurely stroll, which can be very pleasant but simply is not the experience we're set up for in the first quarter.
The main romantic pairing quickly becomes the driving force of the show and remains such for the entire 20 episode run. However, it's not your typical kdrama relationship full of peaks and valleys and Noble Idiocy. It's clear the writers wanted to tell a more sensible and realistic romance story, for better or for worse. The combination of almost complete focus on this one relationship while simultaneously making that relationship feel very "normal" definitely results in an end product that lacks dramatic punch and hurts the secondary plot threads. Those secondary threads, however, are delivered with the same understated feeling as the main plot. If you want "larger than life" storytelling, you're not going to get it here at all.
On a random side note: at one point, about halfway through the story, we're teased with a possible side romance with one of the nurses, but that plotline goes literally nowhere and is completely dropped by the end of the show. This kind of sloppy handling of the material makes me wonder how much of the script was being rewritten during filming. It is possible, though, that it was simply a matter of a needed actor/actress suddenly becoming unavailable.
Definitely the strong point of the show and possibly the only reason it's as popular as it is. The four leads all do a great job. PSH is as good as ever, which is kind of surprising since she's never done a role quite like this one. You'd think she'd have some yips or letdowns for her first time branching out into a new character type, but nope. She's lovely and wonderful, and her portrayal (like most of this show) is especially strong in the early episodes.
Kim Rae Won, who plays the first male lead Hong Ji Hong, is one of the most charming actors I've yet to discover in kdrama. A great voice, interesting face, and lovely smile, he performs the first lead here perfectly. I can't imagine another actor playing this odd and unique role, a character who values self-control and communication above all. Imagine that, in a kdrama! Compared to the usual selfish and emotionally infantile male leads we often get in typical romances, the Hong Ji Hong character is a most welcome change.
Yoon Gyun Sang seems to be very popular, even if he perpetually looks like he's had an allergic reaction to something. Although I didn't like him much at all, at first, he won me over by the end. A good performance to go with yet another unusual character. if you ever wanted to know what it's like to be on the losing end of a love triangle IN REAL LIFE, his story is basically that. It's worth seeing.
Last but not least, we have Lee Sung Kyung. Although her character is the trope-iest one (mostly just your typical Mean Girl trope, but with a more sympathetic twist), it really doesn't matter too much because.... well, I'll be honest, Ms. Lee is ridiculously attractive. Seriously. She's surrounded by beautiful women and even among them she stands out. I'd love to see her in a role where she can smile more.
All that being said, the supporting cast here is strong enough on their own to make the show worth trying. My two Honorable Mentions for the Supporting Cast go to:
1. Baek Sung Hyun as Yeong Kook, who I dubbed "Dr. Glasses". He starts as a very odd and (somewhat) forgettable character, but when the writers found an interesting hook for his character, Sung Hyun took it and ran with it. Sung Hyun seems to be particularly skilled at delivering subtext with his eyes.
2. Of course, I have to mention my new crush (I get one almost every show), Pyo Ye Jin, who plays a character I affectionately referred to as "Nurse Cutie Pie". Although her role is very minor, her portrayal was stellar. You'll never tire of her smile. The writers gave one big scene to her character early on and, after she utterly blew it away with her adorableness, they wisely gave her at least one speaking scene in every episode after that. Ye Jin is 24 years young and would be great in a starring role in the future. I may soon watch my first ever Family drama because of her.
Strong but standard kdrama fare here. Lots and lots of vocal themes, so there won't be too much repeating. In fact, they re-use themes here at just the right pace; enough to get the songs in your head, but not so much that they start to annoy you. Special mention to the tracks "It's Love" and "No Way", which are the best of the best here. If music is a deciding factor for you, just listen to those two tracks to get a good sense of the quality of "Doctors" in this category.
Unfortunately, there's no getting around the fact that there is absolutely very little RWV here, especially the closer you get to the climax. While most kdramas try and build toward a climax that is exciting and satisfying that you want to see over and over, this one does the opposite. Early episodes are full of exciting character moments, culminating in perhaps the most rewatchable scene of the whole show involving a rooftop, a helicopter, and the best romantic character reunion ever.
However, toward the latter quarter of the show, almost every episode can be described thusly: "two or more characters chat about plot with each other, then someone gets a phone call, they answer it, then it cuts to another scene where there is more chat about plot, and then someone gets a phone call, they answer it, and they cut to a new scene where they chat about plot, and then YOU GUESSED IT, someone gets another freaking phone call and the cycle starts over."
All of that does not make for a high RWV score, as it's bad enough to sit through the first time.
Despite being better than most kdrama in many areas, this only gets a solid 8/10 from me, and no more. It has too many issues to justify anything higher, despite how strong it is in other areas. However, on the flip side of that, it's way too good to be lower than 7.5. If you're looking for a solid 2016 drama with a great cast that delivers lessons about communication, professionalism, and relationships, you won't go wrong here. Just don't expect the plot to blow you away.