We’ll be doing these First Impressions reviews occasionally on the blog—not full weekly coverage, but just a review of Episodes 1-4 to get a sense of a drama’s story, tone, and direction. If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that I will watch anything Lee Jae-wook does, so it’s probably no surprise I picked up this show. It’s not high art by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fluffy, whimsical, highly entertaining rom-com with a satisfying blend of silliness and heart. Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol knows what it is and leans into that unapologetically. In short, it’s the stress-relief drama I need right now.
I firmly believe that a drama takes four episodes to fully establish its identity; two to get all the exposition out of the way, and two to properly set up its story and character dynamics. Do Do is a bit slow at the latter; what plot there is moves at about the pace of molasses, and the story is extremely tropey and obvious. But, like writer Kim Min-kyung’s previous work Shopping King Louis, the goofy tropes and over-the-top performances are grounded around an earnestness that makes the show feel like more than the sum of its parts. And it doesn’t hurt that every frame is full of beauty, whether of the gorgeous cast, the lovely seaside setting, or the random shots of wealthy people and their environs that punctuate every episode.
Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol is the story of Goo Ra-ra (Go Ara), the only daughter of a rich widower who has had every privilege except the mother who died at her birth. (The name 라라 can also be romanized as La-la, wherefrom spring a multitude of puns.) She’s played piano all her life solely to please her dad, and as the drama opens, she blows her graduation recital by playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (the inspiration for the drama’s title) instead of her planned piece. She amiably goes along with the marriage her dad arranges for her, but his company fails on her wedding day, Ra-ra’s fiancé leaves her at the altar, and Dad dies of a heart attack.
Witnessing all this is Sunwoo Joon (Lee Jae-wook), who by chance ended up delivering Ra-ra’s bridal bouquet. She doesn’t know him, but it was pretty obvious to me that he recognized her. They meet again when they both end up in coastal town Eunpo, where she runs into him (literally, with her car). He’s fleeing his rich family and a mysterious past; she’s following the dubious leads of a social media account named dodosolsollalasol, which she’s convinced herself has some connection to her dad.
What follows is a hilarious repeating sequence of Ra-ra “borrowing” money from Joon for everything from hospital bills to food to lodgings, him grumpily agreeing but instantly doing everything she asks for and way more, and her easily promising that she’ll pay him back once she has money.
By the end of Episode 4, these two are firmly ensconced in a little community full of colourful side characters and an unfortunate second lead, Cha Eun-suk (Kim Joo-heon). Dr. Cha is a newly divorced orthopedic surgeon who also attended her wedding, and now coincidentally works in Eunpo. He makes himself tiresome by inserting himself often and without any self-awareness into Ra-ra’s life. I find him creepy and overbearing, which is a shame because I really like Kim as an actor.
We also have Joon’s neighbors, hairdresser Sook-kyung (the estimable Yeh Ji-won) and her obnoxious daughter Ha-young (Shin Eun-soo), who become Ra-ra’s roommates once Ha-young realizes that she’d prefer that to seeing Ra-ra move in with Joon. That doesn’t stop Joon from building Ra-ra a literal room of her own at his place, though, which at this point is basically a castle for her dog, Mimi. AND HOW COULD I FORGET MIMI. This little fluffball of a puppy is Ra-ra’s only remaining family, and she inspires squeals of joy every time her adorable self shows up onscreen in one of those ridiculous little outfits. I had a hard time believing she was a real dog and not a toy.
Two core elements really sell this show for me. Firstly, I’m anticipating a growth arc and found family story for the main character similar to Shopping King Louis. Louis was similarly sheltered and ridiculous, but like Ra-ra, he was always good-natured even when he was harming others with his oblivious selfishness. Ra-ra is naive because she was raised wrapped in cotton wool and glittering luxury; she has no concept of money or the work required to earn it, which is why she borrows sums that would make an ordinary person sweat as if they’re mere pocket change. (I mean, they were pocket change for her.)
But she also has an open, loving heart, a sincere willingness to listen to others, and the discipline born from becoming proficient at something that she has little real talent for. The choice not to make Ra-ra a piano prodigy, when so often dramas about musicians take their innate talent as a given, is a really interesting one that gives her generic spoiled-princess character layers it wouldn’t otherwise have.
And then there’s Joon, who initially appears to be a Candy with his itinerant life and multiple part-time jobs, but turns out to be from the same rich circles as Ra-ra, although of course he neglects to mention that. He’s clearly running from his old identity, and I’m guessing the boy in the picture with him is the deceased Kim Ji-hoon, whom he also thinks of in the last moments of Episode 4. Clearly he feels some kind of guilt or responsibility for his friend’s death, but given dead bodies showing up on the beach and murder walls starring Ra-ra’s Instagram feed, there may be more to it than a simple tragic accident.
There’s something about Joon’s deadpan super-preparedness, his ability to do and survive seemingly anything, that gives Joon a strong presence despite his sparse words and rare smiles (or maybe because of them). And of course, Lee Jae-wook’s nuclear charisma would make even the most boring character stand out like a tiger among housecats. He can say more with his eyes than some actors can with pages of dialogue. And the fact that Ra-ra so clearly owns Joon body and soul is an adorable contrast to his tough, silent persona.
That brings me to the second reason I fell for this show—the relationship between its leads. As a baseline, Go Ara and Lee Jae-wook have great chemistry, and they’re both doing so well in these roles. I can’t help but compare this pairing with Park Bo-gum and Park So-dam in Record of Youth, who at least in initial episodes had better-written dialogue and a more interesting meet-cute than Ra-ra and Joon. But there’s something about Hye-joon and Jung-ha that makes them work better as friends for me. As much as I loved them individually, I found myself losing interest once they started falling in love.
In Do Do, the chemistry is organic and dynamic. Even the super hokey trope of Joon being caught shirtless leaning over a sleeping Ra-ra in a totally innocent misunderstanding got me cracking up. One barely-there smile from him when she’s not looking has me about to faint. The dialogue and plot of Do Do are simple, but the feelings shine through strongly. And the two have a wordless rapport that’s a credit to both the actors’ performances, and the way the characters have been written to just make sense together.
There’s something both funny and incredibly touching about the relationship between these two lost souls, which Ra-ra explains beautifully to Dr. Cha. She can freely allow Joon to do things for her that from Dr. Cha would make her feel uncomfortable and obliged to him. On one hand, this is problematic, because so far Ra-ra’s relationship with Joon has been extremely one-sided. That’s where I hope the growth will come in, with her eventual realization that she’s spent her whole life receiving things from people as though it was her due, and that she needs to change.
But on the other hand, it speaks to a feeling of parity between Ra-ra and Joon that she absolutely doesn’t feel with Dr. Cha. The running gag of her description of their relationship as “debtor-creditor” is funny because it’s so totally inadequate. Obviously (to everyone but our oblivious heroine) Joon is completely fine with this arrangement between them. He acts put upon by all the favours he does her, but he also treats her like an equal. He listens to her and respects her wishes. And in many ways they’re alike: two rich kids suddenly alone in the world, except Joon has had longer to take his knocks and figure out how to survive. That’s likely another reason he’s so patient with her cluelessness.
Dr. Cha is always acting from a position of power—not only as her doctor, although that’s reason enough for him to never approach her personally. He treats her as a delicate thing to be protected, ignores her wishes in favor of his own, and then pretends it’s all for her sake. He’s honestly giving me Nice Guy™ vibes. Not to mention that he lies to Ra-ra constantly, hiding that he was at her wedding, that he’s friends with her fiancé and concealing her presence here from him, even that he can already play piano. No wonder she doesn’t trust him.
It strikes very differently from Joon’s reticence about his past—Ra-ra knows he has secrets, and she respects them and doesn’t push. It’s one of the ways in which this drama feels like a bit of a throwback, although personally I’m glad that Dramaland has largely moved on from the pushy second lead with no respect for boundaries.
Most of those classic tropes are more nostalgic than irritating, though. Like Ra-ra’s bottomless suitcase of pretty things, which was such a staple for homeless heroines in the early 2010s that I named my erstwhile K-drama blog after it. Or a heroine fallen from great wealth to poverty due to her rich father’s company going bankrupt and/or being taken over by an evil secretary. Even Ha-young’s fixation on Joon as her future husband feels a bit dated, and only escapes being distasteful by the fact that Shin Eun-soo is an actual, adorable teenager and charmingly balances the realistic brattiness of a 17-year-old with more endearing qualities like her loyalty to her mother, or the way she finds herself reluctantly falling under Ra-ra’s spell.
One thing that is emphatically not a throwback though, and which I LOVE, is how gentle Joon’s grumpiness with Ra-ra is. Even when she makes him really mad, he can never quite bring himself to yell at her. It’s such a difference from the usual aloof, stiff male lead who secretly loves the heroine but shouts and blusters to hide the fact that he knows what feelings are. Joon just gently tells her to stop, and leaves. And then that little dimple pops out again when she’s not looking.
I love that he’s an actual soft boi from Episode 1, where he drops to the curb outside her house and, unbeknownst to her, is moved to tears by her farewell piano performance for her dad. That was a beautiful moment, and it also showed us that Joon doesn’t need a woman to help him rediscover his heart. He’s already got a lovely one, and he’s ready to accept her into it.
I’m definitely going to continue watching this—for Ra-ra’s unabashed optimism and heart in the face of losing everything, for Joon’s I-love-you-but-I’ll-die-before-admitting-it act that’s fooling literally no one but her, for the cotton-candy gorgeous framing of every single shot, for MIMI!, for the way this drama balances silly comedy with heartbreaking pathos perfectly. For the mindless joy it gives me, in these exhausting times.