Opinion: Is “Producer” Better as a Workplace Mockumentary or as a Romcom?

When “Producer” first premiered, it presented itself as something unusual: a drama/variety hybrid. Set in a fictionalized version of the KBS variety department, it followed the lives of two veteran producers (played by Cha Tae Hyun and Gong Hyo Jin) and one new hire (Kim Soo Hyun) through the eyes of a documentary crew. “Producer” even boasted two directors, one with drama experience and one with variety experience, to work on the show’s two distinct aspects.

The result, in the first few episodes, was a genuinely unique viewing experience, miles away from the typical K-drama. The pace was relaxed, bordering on sluggish, as we slowly got to know our main characters (who also include the idol Cindy, played by IU) and the environment they inhabited. More than a K-drama, these first episodes felt reminiscent of “The Office”—the focus wasn’t romance or dramatic confrontations, but rather the quiet rhythms of work life and the intricacies of interacting with coworkers, subordinates, and bosses. These episodes also had many interview segments in which the documentary conceit was openly acknowledged—for example, at the beginning of the first episode, when Tak Ye Jin (Gong Hyo Jin) damaged Baek Seung Chan’s (Kim Soo Hyun) car, only to realize the incident had been recorded, she requested that the cameraman destroy the footage, thus protecting her from liability (he refused).

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These first episodes met a mixed reaction, and the result has been that as we progress through the 12-episode run of “Producer,” it is leaving its mockumentary roots behind (the characters still give interviews, but there’s no more acknowledgement of the documentary device) and turning into more of a standard romantic comedy. The workplace setting is still important, but its function has changed—before, “Producer” was about the KBS variety department, and the positions our main characters occupied in that department. Now, “Producer” is a drama about Baek Seung Chan, Tak Ye Jin, and Ra Joon Mo (Cha Tae Hyun), all of whom work at the KBS variety department. It’s a subtle but important difference.

Viewers of “Producer” seem to be split into two categories: those who prefer the original, mockumentary style, and those who think it’s improved since becoming more of a romcom. Personally, I’m torn. On the one hand, I love a good romcom, and I think “Producer” fits that description. All of the possible pairings are fun and sweet (personally, I’m rooting for the Seung Chan/Ye Jin loveline, though I fear I’m going to be disappointed!), and the performances, writing, and directing combine real pathos with smart, sly humor for a truly winning final product. I’m invested in this story—I want to see Ye Jin happy, and I want Cindy to find a true friend to save her from her crushing loneliness. I like this version of “Producer.”

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But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the original style. “Producer” the quirky, offbeat workplace mockumentary felt so fresh and different. I loved the focus on the structure of the variety department specifically because it was like nothing I’d seen before—you don’t have to look far to find a drama about a gruff older woman and the puppy of a man who worships the ground she walks on, but how many dramas will devote an episode to the excruciating process of telling a venerated actress (a cameo by Yoon Yeo Jung) that her variety program has been canceled? It’s not a question of which version of “Producer” is better. I regret the loss of the first version of “Producer” because it was trying something new, and that made it special.

What about you, Soompiers? Are you watching “Producer”? Which version do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!

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