What does it take for stars to keep their good image?
2022 tvN office rom-com Sh**ting Stars gives viewers a behind-the-scenes peek at managing an actor’s reputation. Oh Han-byeol (Lee Sung-kyung, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo) is the proficient public relations (PR) head of Starforce Entertainment. She is committed to maintaining the squeaky-clean image of her agency's actors, especially that of Gong Tae-sung (Kim Young-dae, Penthouse), South Korea’s most sought-after male lead with a massive global fan base.
Well-respected and hardworking, PR team lead Oh Han-byeol (Lee Sung-kyung) is always on call and has almost no time to date. As a master communicator, she has established good rapport with other industry professionals, within and outside her agency. This includes her boss, Starforce Director Choi Ji-hoon (Han Do-kwoon, Penthouse), her subordinates, and her colleagues—talent managers Kang Yoo-sung (Yoon Jong-hoon, Penthouse) and Park Ho-yeong (Kim Yoon-hye, Vincenzo), corporate lawyer Do Soo-hyeok (Lee Jung-shin of CNBLUE, My First Love), and reporter Jo Ki-bbeum (Sojin of Girl’s Day, Alchemy of Souls).
She has especially honed her crisis management skills while handling a “scandal” involving her agency’s hottest but hot-tempered Hallyu star, Gong Tae-sung (Kim Young-dae). It turns out she and Tae-sung have known each other since college and had conflicts in the past. Will they ever stop bickering, or will she someday be embroiled in a “dating scandal” with the actor (and stamp out the fires herself)?
While the series suffered from low ratings, I enjoyed watching Sh**ting Stars, which provides a good balance between the serious PR work that could make or break a star’s career and the fun interactions between the characters.
The PR behind the scenes was refreshing, especially since it did not necessarily involve outright deception. Han-byeol first confirms the information with the actor in question before releasing a well-thought-out press statement. While showbiz reporters are typically depicted as unethical, reporter Ki-bbeum checks facts and sets things straight, and in one instance, rescues corporate lawyer Soo-hyeok from malicious rumors. Of course, there are still characters engaged in shenanigans. Another k-drama workplace gem is the Starforce director showing some leadership and management skills. Han-byeol's boss Ji-hoon is far from perfect, but he does plan for succession, holds regular cross-functional metrics-based meetings, and shows up ASAP during major crises. He takes calculated risks by promoting Ho-yeong from bodyguard to manager, listening to his trusted manager Yoo-sung's inputs—this is justified later with Ho-yeong's high sales performance. The scarcity of strained working relationships within Starforce comes as a welcome surprise. After all, the agency employees already have their hands full from the PR fires they have to put out from time to time.
Contrast that harmonious Starforce teamwork with the constant childish bickering between Han-byeol and Tae-sung. She tries her best to avoid him but the top-tier celebrity can’t help but be in the news more often than he intends to. Their spat may have gone on for too many episodes, but once they make amends, it’s sweetness overload from there. Between the communication virtuoso Han-byeol and the lovestruck Tae-sung, there is no room for misunderstanding. The only complaint I have is that their chemistry is rivaled by many others—her adorable friendship with reporter Ki-bbeum and rookie manager Ho-yeong, his relationship with frenemy lawyer Soo-hyeok, his bromance with his charming talent manager Yoo-sung, and the romance between four (up to maybe six) other couples. Yes, it’s a romance fest!
The k-drama briefly touches on the mental health of actors and other people in the industry. As the South Korean public demands high moral standards from its actors, singers, and other entertainers, a celebrity caught on a date or found to be from a non-traditional family could be mired in a “scandal.” The PR professionals working on these crises are forced to work overtime and, sometimes, they quit the industry altogether. Worse, the actors involved suffer from trauma, experience broken relationships, or are driven to self-harm.
With its careful treatment of the pensive, peppered with interesting cameos (Moon Ga-Young and Kim Dong-wook of Find Me in Your Memory, Uhm Ki-joon and Bong Tae-gyu of Penthouse, Lee Sang-yeob, and THE Choi Ji-woo), meme-worthy scenes (Kim Dae-gon's character calls “Yooo-naaa!”), and BTS references, minus its Africa savior trope, this fluffy TV show is ready for binge-watching anytime on a lazy weekend.
Sh**ting Stars is available on Viu and iQIYI, 16 episodes.
Stream If: You are looking for a light, feel-good rom-com in a workplace setting.
Skip If: You don’t want to keep track of too many couples. Trigger warning: Suicide