4 Reasons Why “Secret Royal Inspector & Joy” Should Be On Your Winter Watchlist

The zany posters for “Secret Royal Inspector & Joy”‘ promised fun and cheer with a dash of political intrigue, and the drama sure has delivered. Taecyeon and Kim Hye Yoon delight in this fun comedy that steers just far enough from overt grimness to be a breezy watch. Eye candy aside, here are some reasons for why “Secret Royal Inspector & Joy” should be on your winter watchlist!

Note: the below is spoiler-free so read without fear!

1. The reluctant hero

Ra Yi Eon (Taecyeon) would really rather not be a royal inspector. So it’s a rather rude awakening when he goes from spending his days creating magnificent culinary creations to the applause of his two menservants Yook Chil (literally 67) (Min Jin Woong) and Goo Pal (literally 98) (Park Kang Sub) to being assigned the most deadly job a clerk of the Hongmungwan (Office of Special Advisors) can have.

Royal inspectors are in charge of ferreting out corruption (or rather enabling it, depending on how the wind blows), which often results in a painful death. Thus, Ra Yi Eon decides to eschew justice altogether and treat the job as a food tour across Joseon. Naturally, this doesn’t work out as planned. What’s so fun about his character is that he’s genuinely an ordinary guy. There’s nothing flashy to him per se. He’s no swoony muscle man (the character of course, not Taecyeon!), no medical genius, or Sherlock 2.0. The comedy isn’t overplayed to make him goofy, and he comes across as a levelheaded, slightly shy man who’d do anything to just chill. Of course we have a secret past and an explanation for why he is that way, but that’s for the show to impart!

2. The feisty divorcee

Kim Jo Yi (Kim Hye Yoon) has had it with men and their mothers. After being married for far too long in her opinion, she petitions the local magistrate for a divorce with the support of all the town’s women. Save her mother-in-law of course. Chance and some skullduggery have her running into our royal inspector where she’s promptly smitten and furious that she’s smitten, so she treats him like she’d treat any other man, by being blunt and keeping her distance.

Refreshingly, despite the whole meet-cute with Yi Eon, Jo Yi’s priority is herself and her freedom. The strip of cloth cut from a man’s clothing and granted to his ex-wife upon a divorce is called a nabi, a homonym for butterfly in Korean. Like a butterfly, she wants nothing more than to set out into the world and forge her own destiny, no matter where it takes her. It’s a real bother then that she keeps getting unwittingly embroiled in other people’s problems.

Jo Yi is hilariously blunt and smart as a whip, often coming up with solutions before those around her have even noticed the problem. Thus, it’s all the more frustrating for her to be stuck in a town that she can talk circles around. She has her flaws, of course: a dash of recklessness, an inability to bite her tongue even if it would serve her, and more good intentions than are often helpful. But Kim Hye Yoon’s smile lights up the screen, making her a delight to watch.

3. The dry humor

If you thought this show’s humor would verge on campy, think again! There definitely are a few of those moments, but much of the humor is actually quite dry, resulting on wordplay and situational humor than body humor or tired gags. It feels like a much less campy version of “Strongest Chil Woo” (for everyone who still remembers that drama). The characters take what they see and run with it without overdoing the moment. It’s hard not to smile along especially because Yi Eon’s exasperated face never gets old, as does the way this nobleman gets reduced to sheer panic around Jo Yi at times.

Classic sageuk tropes are used and cleverly played with. The bad guys aren’t bumbling idiots and see right through our inspector’s plans at times but then fail to catch other traps in other moments. Everyone’s pretty ordinary, their machinations feel hilariously flawed and human, and their jokes don’t have to try hard at all.

4. The social commentary

Despite all the levity, this show is still a sageuk, and that means political commentary in some way, shape, or form. We start off with a bang with divorce and go progressively darker from there. But these weighty topics are handled with a surprising degree of care, proving that comedy doesn’t have to be insulting or condescending to make a point. People in this show grit their teeth and survive. It isn’t all doom and gloom. They’re capable of laughter and joy and don’t spend their days plotting revenge.

There’s still a weariness to their days that’s palpable through the screen, and there’s no denying they’d all rather be doing something else. Yet, where most sageuks dig through the screen to wrench at our hearts with immense depictions of suffering (that are no doubt realistic), this drama chooses to show its suffering in a quieter way, no less relatable, but perhaps a little more watchable after a long day at work. “Secret Royal Inspector & Joy” doesn’t paint our lead duo as the answer to Joseon’s problems but as a lens through which we viewers can see them and understand that any amelioration of these problems will always be temporary.

Bonus: The Crown Prince

The Crown Prince (Lee Joon Hyuk) is wonderful to look at. And he’s in this drama. That makes it all the more worth seeing.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a blanket, a mug of hot chocolate, and settle for a feel-good, relatable drama on navigating justice in a wild, wild world that’ll put a smile on your face. You won’t regret it!

Hey Soompiers! Are you watching “Secret Royal Inspector & Joy” already? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she works as a lawyer, fangirls over Ji Sung, and attempts to finish up the greatest fantasy romance of all time. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!

Currently Watching:  “Chimera,” “Jirisan,” “The King’s Affection,” “Dr. Brain,” “Dali and Cocky Prince,” “Melancholia,” “Happiness,” “Secret Royal Inspector & Joy,” “Hellbound”
Looking Forward to: Ji Sung’s next drama

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