The Weekend Binge: "Political Fever"
It’s safe to say online searches for Going to the Blue House Like This spiked on the day the 58th Baeksang Arts Awards nominations were announced, as non-Korean k-drama fans scrambled to find out about the best drama nominee that seemingly came out of nowhere. Also known by its English title Political Fever, the 12-episode black comedy was released on South Korean streaming platform Wavve in November, and was well-received by the domestic audience for its satirical yet realistic take on politics.
In a year with many outstanding k-dramas, we of course had to check out the drama that edged out a number of internationally loved series for a chance to compete at Korea's most prestigious awards show.
Former national athlete Lee Jung-eun (Kim Sung-ryoung) is appointed Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. A political novice with a clean public image, she isn’t expected to do much but remain scandal-free as the sitting president rides out the year left in his term.
An unexpected turn of events thrusts her into the limelight, making her a dark horse for the upcoming presidential election. With the help of her closest aides Choi Soo-jong (Jung Sung-gil, Mad for Each Other), Shin Won-hee (Lee Chae-eun, Nobody Knows), and Kim Soo-jin (Baeksang Best Supporting Actor nominee Lee Hak-ju, World of the Married), she must juggle an inordinate number of crises while ensuring the safety of her beloved dog Stallone (and that of her husband, who is second priority).
South Korea has seen a boom in the number of streaming platforms in recent years, with local players such as Wavve, KakaoTV, and Coupang Play competing against global giants like Netflix and Disney+ for subscribers. While it's hard (and expensive!) for k-drama fans to keep up with all the new platforms, this new era does have its advantages. The freedom from sticking to the traditional formats of terrestrial TV allows Korean showrunners greater creativity and flexibility in storytelling. Political Fever was obviously designed for streaming. Cut into twelve 30-40 minute installments, each episode ends with a large “TO BE CONTINUED” bumper, lending the series to easy bingeing. Narratively, it is really just one seven-hour show.
Unlike conventional episodic series where conflicts are wrapped up at the end of an episode or two, the number of problems Lee Jung-eun must deal with accumulate until they become just one ginormous sh*tstorm. There’s a lot (maybe too much) going on: while our straitlaced heroine originally just sets out to create a council to investigate sexual assaults on athletes, she gets side-railed by, among other things: the kidnapping of her pseudo-intellectual husband Kim Sung-nam (Baek Hyun-jin, Happiness), the machinations of a cunning rival (Bae Hae-sun, All Of Us Are Dead), North Korean relations, harassment from a right-wing church leader prone to groping his male brethren, and malicious press.
With so many different threads going on, Political Fever often feels chaotic and moves at a pace so frenetic that it's sometimes hard to keep up with the subtitles. Kim Sung-ryoung capably portrays Jung-eun's grace under pressure, and is solid as the moral center of her office as the bizarre series of events unfolds.
However much Political Fever ventures into absurdist comedy territory with its hilarious, sometimes dark situations, its humor is very rooted in reality. For example, while most of k-dramaland exists in an alternate pandemic-free universe, Political Fever is set squarely in a world complete with catastrophic Zoom mishaps, mandatory mask requirements, anti-vaxxers, and meetings interrupted by a hazmat-wearing task force.
This was a critical hit in South Korea, and it’s easy to see why. Although I'm pretty sure some of the jokes were lost on me as an international k-drama fan with minimal knowledge of Korean politics, it was still immensely entertaining.
Political Fever is available on Viki, in select territories.
STREAM: If you love political satire.
SKIP: If you find dark humor too upsetting.