Updated: Sep 10, 2022
The 16-episode drama Never Give Up (literal title There is No Goo Pil-Soo) is one of those feel-good slice-of-life dramas that you take in slowly to fully appreciate.
Most synopses of the drama focus on the budding friendship between mid-lifer Goo Pil-su (Kwak Do-won), who runs a chicken restaurant, and Jung Seok (Yoon Doo-joon, Let's Eat series), a promising start-up tech guy. That's only partly true.
There’s a lot more going on with Goo Pil-su’s wife (played by Han Go-eun) who runs into an old crush, his son (played by Jung Dong-won) who struggles with his social status and studies, and his landlord (played by Park Won-sook) who brings them all together albeit mysteriously at first. And that’s just the other half of the story. Jung Seok has his inner demons to take care of, a life to build, a possible romance, and a score to settle.
Never Give Up focuses on the joys and struggles of several generations (the elderly filled with regret, the mid-lifer on the verge of a crisis, the young adult facing the harsh realities of life, and the adolescent coming to terms with his identity), and attempts to deliver the same comforting message: that no one is ever too old to turn over a new leaf or to chase a dream so long as, as trite as it sounds, “one never gives up.” There are other things the drama wants its audience to think about, too, like how we define neighbor, community, and family. While the themes are a little cheesy, they are standard fare to one accustomed to the k-drama slice of life. Even the teenagers here are likable and not angst-ridden.
Goo Pil-su (played by Kwak Do-won, who has a prolific film career playing interesting characters but hasn’t starred in a drama since 2013's Good Doctor) brings all the characters together. He is the hardworking middle-class man who charms everyone around him and embodies their unspoken desire to live a good, decent, and meaningful life no matter how unfair it can become. I must admit that Kwak and his portrayal of overly optimistic and cheerful Pil-su made me cringe at times until I realized that that’s precisely the tone of a dad-joke—cringey, but still lovable. And that may well be applied to the whole series. Some moments are heartwarming and sincere and others will bathe you in secondhand embarrassment.
There are no scene-stealers in this drama; everyone gets a chance at the spotlight. Its strength really is in its desire to drive home the point that ordinary people have their stories, too. But having said that, I must also warn viewers that the drama is slow and must be consumed slowly as well. (And yes, I am well aware of the irony of telling people not to binge-watch… the weekend binge!) But just as the fastest and shortest route isn’t always the best, some dramas really aren’t meant to be taken in all at once.
I doubt Never Give Up will become a modern classic like the beloved Reply series or ENA network's other more popular recent release, Extraordinary Attorney Woo, but it’s still worth your time—especially if you want to be reminded that good guys don’t always finish last.
16 episodes available on Netflix