I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect From Familiar Wife (aka The Wife I Know), tvN’s new time-travel drama, but so far, so cute. We have a husband who is unfairly henpecked (in his opinion) by his shrill, red-faced wife, and an unplanned encounter with his past makes him wonder what could have been. Just as he decides that he wishes he’d done things differently, he gets an unusual opportunity to change everything. The setup is solid, so let’s dive in and see if the execution can live up to the hype!
EPISODE 1: “There’s a monster in my bed who beats me.”
A car drives down a lonely, desolate road, while the radio reports on a nearby star that’s rapidly turning into a black hole. Scientists worry about the effects this black hole will have on Earth and its gravitational pull on the moon, anticipating earthquakes, tsunamis, or worse. The driver pays at a toll booth, then suddenly, the car disappears.
At a different time, that same car weaves through heavy traffic towards Incheon Airport as the driver scrambles to grab his ringing cell phone from where it’s slid out of reach. A voice laments the strange nature of the world, such as why forced winter strawberries taste better than summer ones, or the fact that it costs three cents to make a penny.
The driver causes an accident while reaching for his phone, and as he tries to rouse himself, the voice muses, “Among all the strange things in the world, the strangest is love. You marry because you love each other to death, but you end up becoming enemies you want to kill. You run into many enemies in your life, but the strongest and most atrocious one is…”
The driver picks up his phone, which is still ringing shrilly, to reveal the caller: “My Wife.” His eyes roll back in his head, and he passes out as the plane he was rushing to catch takes off.
Sixteen hours before the accident.
A baby cries until its mother rouses to comfort it, while the father helpfully hides under his pillow. Later, Mom kicks Dad out of bed, literally, so he can feed the baby while she takes care of the toddler. Dad seems pretty bad at this, and the baby obviously knows it.
They both wake in a panic later when the alarm doesn’t go off. They fight to get ready for the day, each blaming the other for their lateness. Mom tells Dad to take the kids since they missed the bus, but he shrieks that he’s already late, and she fires back that she’s late, too.
Dad, whose name is CHA JOO-HYUK (Ji Sung) runs at top speed all the way to his job as a loan officer after missing his train. He sneaks in like a ninja, even grabbing a used coffee cup from the trash to make it look like he’s been there a while.
Joo-hyuk nearly makes it to his desk before his supervisor, MANAGER BYUN, yells at him to stop, aware of what he’s doing, and even notes that his friend was helping him sneak in. He tells Joo-hyuk that this is his third strike, resulting in points off his upcoming evaluation, plus extra points just because.
The branch manager arrives and asks what mistake Joo-hyuk made today, but he calls Manager Byun a perfectionist and gets Joo-hyuk off the hook. He jovially invites Joo-hyuk to go bowling after work, and Joo-hyuk collapses in his chair, already exhausted.
Later, Joo-hyuk goes to the roof with his coworker JONG-HOO (Jang Seung-ho), where they complain that Manager Byun is just frustrated because he’s not getting the promotions he wants. Joo-hyuk sighs that he’s exhausted, and Jong-hoo blames it on the kids keeping him up, though he says that one day he’ll miss these times. He has twins who are talking now, and he hilariously mimics their tiny voices asking endless questions.
Jong-hoo lifts Joo-hyuk’s spirits with some movie impressions, and Joo-hyuk gets into his own portrayal of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Jong-hoo praises his flexibility, which leads to an awkward splits competition (owie owie owie), ending when Joo-hyuk rips his pants, HA.
Joo-hyuk goes back to work and begins to see customers, but one customer creates a fuss when his number is skipped over because he was in the restroom. The customer gets so loud that he’s escorted out by security, but throughout the encounter, Joo-hyuk keeps his cool.
Later, he tells the employee next to him, Kim Hwan (Cha Hak-yeon, aka N from VIXX), to stop primping and take some of the cash customers. Hwan complains haughtily, but he negotiates to go home early in exchange.
Joo-hyuk’s wife, SEO WOO-JIN (Han Ji-min), is having an equally frustrating day at her job in a skincare clinic. She texts Joo-hyuk to pick up the kids after work, but Manager Byun is picking a fight with the cash department over some missing money. One cash team employee remembers belatedly that she asked the loan team for help, which leads to the discovery that Hwan made a huge error while exchanging currency.
Manager Byun wants to know why Hwan isn’t there, which lands Joo-hyuk in hot water for letting him go early. He’s ordered to fix the mistake, but he learns that the customer just left for the airport. That’s how Joo-hyuk ends up racing for the airport while Woo-jin tries to reach him about the kids.
When she can’t get ahold of him, she asks to leave work early, but her boss yells at her that this will screw up a huge group reservation. Woo-jin grows furious when Joo-hyuk still doesn’t answer her calls, unaware that he’s in the hospital recovering from his accident.
He wakes to find Hwan kicking his hospital bed. He says he had the car sent to a shop and even paid Joo-hyuk’s hospital fee — with Joo-hyuk’s credit card, naturally. Hwan reports that the client has left the country, blaming Joo-hyuk for his mistake by making him do the exchange in the first place. LOL, Joo-hyuk’s face.
Hwan says that Manager Byun is furious and threatening to string them both up in front of the bank. Joo-hyuk searches for his phone to call Manager Byun, but what he finds on it is a serious of increasingly angry texts from Woo-jin, wanting to know why he’s not picking up the kids or answering her calls.
He stumbles out of bed and runs home, forgetting all about work. As he runs, he thinks, “Socrates once said ‘If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.’” Joo-hyuk tells himself that he’s a philosopher as he bravely enters his apartment, where he’s immediately whacked in the face with a flying stuffed animal.
Woo-jin orders him right back out again, throwing anything she can get her hands on. When Joo-hyuk tries to explain, she threatens to staple his lips closed, screaming at him to shut up at the top of his lungs. She tells him how she had to run to pick up the children while the teacher called and he wouldn’t answer the phone, wanting to know why he couldn’t send a single text.
She shrieks that she didn’t give birth to their children alone, asking why she has to do all the work caring for them. Joo-hyuk tries to calm her down, but when he says he just now saw her calls, it only makes her angrier after having tried to reach him for hours.
She starts to laugh crazily and unleashes a string of obscenities, then goes to the kitchen for more things to throw — this time it’s a crab leg that was slated for dinner. It grazes Joo-hyuk’s cheek before making a perfect bulls-eye in a dart board.
Joo-hyuk gets out as ordered, and ends up scarfing ramyun at the Common Sense Bar, where Jong-hoo joins him. Jong-hoo tells SANG-SHIK, the bar’s owner, about Joo-hyuk’s terrible day, and Sang-shik sighs that in some ways, being a business owner is a lot less stress than office work.
As they chat, Joo-hyuk finds a crab claw in his soup, which gives him flashbacks. He slams down the crab claw and declares, “I want a divorce.” He explains that he’s scared of Woo-jin’s emotional switches, and that she’s no longer the cute, sweet woman he married.
He describes some of Woo-jin’s classless behaviors, like using the toilet while he’s taking a bath and refusing to cook for him anymore (and hissing like a snake when he asks). Jong-hoo says that’s just how married men live, defending how much mothers have to do for their children.
Joo-hyuk says that he’s tried to be understanding of all that, even admitting that his lack of competence makes Woo-jin suffer. But he also says he can’t take her “intermittent explosive disorder,” which is what he calls it when Woo-jin loses her temper and screams at him. She does it in the store, turning bright red with fury and letting loose with loud profanities when he loses their place in line because he forgot something.
Trying to find a silver lining, Jong-hoo says that at least she doesn’t beat him up, but Joo-hyuk sobs that she’s totally violent. He asks desperately if he should have to live with a woman like that for the rest of his life, but all his friends can do is sigh in sympathy.
In the morning, Branch Manager Cha reminds the team that if a robber ever comes to the bank, to just give him money and not risk their lives. There’s also a team dinner after work, paid for by the bank president, so he asks the loan department to make sure their paperwork is all in order by the end of the day.
Manager Byun calls the loan team together, and Hwan has a cute little fit that his manicure is interrupted. Joo-hyuk meekly promises to make sure team performance is up today, prompting Manager Byun to show them that their ranking has dropped among the Seoul branches. Manager Byun orders Joo-hyuk, Hwan, and Jong-hoo to hand out flyers and bring in business during their lunch hour (hee, Joo-hyuk gives Hwan the majority of the flyers).
Hwan pouts and refuses to help, offering to write an apology letter instead of passing out the flyers. Joo-hyuk asks how he’s so brave, and Hwan is all, “My family is rich, though we only own two buildings in Gangnam.” LOL.
Joo-hyuk tries to get rid of flyers by stuffing them in a nearby apartment building’s mailboxes, but that only gets him in trouble with security. He’s recognized by a tenant as he’s being shoved out of the building, and he freezes when he sees her.
She thinks he’s forgotten her and reminds him that she’s LEE HYE-WON (Kang Hanna) from college, but I’d say from his slack-jawed expression that he remembers the beauty quite well. They go to lunch, where Hye-won explains that she’s been in the U.S. for a while and just recently came home.
Joo-hyuk seems touched and a little awed by how much she remembers about him, and the way she loads up his plate like a doting girlfriend. He goes quiet, and admits that it’s been a while since someone looked out for him, and she laughs at his pitiful puppydog expression.
Hye-won tells Joo-hyuk that her music career was going well in the States, but she missed her family and Korea, and even him occasionally. Joo-hyuk chokes a little at that, but he recovers enough to say that it sounds like she was lonely.
She mentions that she heard he’s married, and that his wife is very pretty, and admits that she’s a little jealous, since she used to like him. That revelation puts Joo-hyuk in a daze, and nearly gets him in trouble at work again.
He spends the afternoon remembering Hye-won’s voice saying “I liked you” over and over again, and wondering how he never knew that the girl he liked, liked him back. He remembers those days when he was young and in college, and he had a job filling the snack and drink machines on campus.
One day he’s mesmerized by the lovely sound of someone playing the cello in a classroom. It’s Hye-won, and Joo-hyuk falls for her music as much as her beauty. Someone bumps into him as he watches Hye-won play, causing him to accidentally dive headfirst into the classroom. He apologizes nervously to Hye-won and quickly leaves, missing her amused smile.
He sees Hye-won on campus again on another day, surrounded by admirers, and Sang-shik, who’s his college roommate, informs Joo-hyuk that she’s a sophomore, and the beauty of the music department. Sang-shik immediately notices Joo-hyuk’s infatuation and advises him to give up on her, but instead, Joo-hyuk joins the music club just to be near her.
On her birthday, Joo-hyuk plans to confess with a single rose, but he gives up when he sees another guy delivering a huge bouquet. He overhears Hye-won say that she’s missing a signing event by her favorite cellist, so he scurries to the event to get the musician’s autograph. He takes it to her later, pretending that he just happened to run across the event and wishing her a belated happy birthday.
Later, Joo-hyuk’s little sister, JOO-EUN (Park Hee-bon) delivers him some food from home, reeling at the mess and stench in his room. He tells her lovingly that she’s put on weight, and she snaps at Sang-shik, who’s pretending to be asleep on the floor, to get up.
He pops up and introduces himself, and Joo-eun orders him to put some clothes on before she goes blind. Both guys lunge at Joo-eun when she notices something in the closet, but they’re too late — their extensive porn collection ends up all over the floor, and they both blurt out, “They’re his!” Surprisingly, instead of being scandalized, Joo-eun just asks if she can borrow a few magazines. Oh. Ooooh.
Running late seems to be the default for Joo-hyuk — he’s late for class again, but he screeches to a halt when Hye-won calls out to him. She invites him to a recital with her tonight, and Joo-hyuk is so happy that he barely notices when he’s nearly run over by a deliveryman on a scooter.
He’s on Cloud Nine all day, and spends a long time getting prettied up for his big date (awww, he even polishes his sneakers!). He ends up on the bus with a mousy little high school girl, unaware that she’s his future wife. Woo-jin gets groped by a creeper, and she grabs the jerk’s hand and calls him out loudly while Joo-hyuk watches, but the jerk insists he didn’t do anything and nobody on the bus can back up Woo-jin’s story.
Joo-hyuk speaks up that he saw the guy grope Woo-jin, and soon the passengers are demanding that the driver go straight to the police station. The groper is arrested and Joo-hyuk quickly leaves, worried about being late for his date with Hye-won. Woo-jin tries to thank him, but he’s already gone.
The concert is in progress by the time Joo-hyuk gets to the concert hall. The next day he apologizes to Hye-won, but she turns down his offer to buy her dinner to make it up to her. As he’s heading back to class, Woo-jin finds him and offers to buy him lunch to thank him for saving her, but he declines.
He tells her that her skirt is too short and tries to leave, but she follows him to his part-time job at an ice scream shop like a bouncy little puppy. Praising Joo-hyuk’s strong arm muscles, Woo-jin invites Joo-hyuk on date after date, only to get turned down every time. But she’s relentless, and when she offers to pay him to tutor her in math, he can’t resist the money.
Of course she’s not the slightest bit interested in studying, preferring to discuss things like kissing with her handsome tutor. Frustrated, Joo-hyuk asks what she wants to be when she grows up, and she says matter-of-factly, “Your wife” (while brazenly exposing her collarbone, hee).
She tells Joo-hyuk plainly that she likes him and puts his hand on her head, then announces that the top of her head is an erogenous zone, LOL. Joo-hyuk goes bright pink, and although he tries to scold her, Woo-jin just giggles at how cute he looks.
The phone rings, then Woo-jin’s mother starts to wail — her father has died unexpectedly, and Joo-hyuk goes to the funeral to pay his respects. He’s upset by the sight of Woo-jin sobbing, and when he goes to leave, she clutches his sleeve and begs him to stay.
Back in the present, Joo-hyuk is at the team dinner where Jong-hoo asks what’s bothering him today, but Joo-hyuk waves him off. A drunk Branch Manager Cha announces that he and Joo-hyuk are like brothers, and Jong-hoo asks when Joo-hyuk is going to tell him that they’re not actually of the same Cha lineage.
Apparently Joo-hyuk has been lying about it to gain favor, and he argues that Cha isn’t a common name so they’re all connected somehow. He says that with his current situation, he needs all the advantage he can get, even if it means lying about his family.
Jong-hoo tries to calm him, but Joo-hyuk lashes out, drawing attention to himself. Jong-hoo smooths it over as a lover’s quarrel, but Joo-hyuk whispers that he hates Jong-hoo, his wife, and this job. As the night goes on and Joo-hyuk gets drunker, he ends up at a karaoke bar, singing terribly, and his coworkers guess that something is going on with him.
Joo-hyuk drags his drunk butt home and makes it to the bathroom just in time. Woo-jin just whisper-yells at him not to wake the kids, then bans him from their bed in case his drunken state makes him snore. He shuffles to another room, calling himself crazy for marrying that evil woman.
He bursts into frustrated tears when his contraband video game system refuses to work. His muffled whine turns into real sorrow as he wonders how he never realized Hye-won’s real feelings for him.
Joo-hyuk is barely awake on the train the next morning, so he doesn’t register the doomsayer yelling about the nearby black hole creating a wormhole in space and time. He rouses in time to see the guy collapse, and he’s the only one who offers to help the man to his feet. The doomsayer puts two 500-won coins in Joo-hyuk’s hand, looking completely sane just for a moment, then goes on his way. Joo-hyuk notices that one was minted in 2006.
At the end of the workday, the loan team get word that a team member’s mother died, but everyone makes excuses to get out of the funeral tomorrow. Exhausted, Joo-hyuk stretches widely, and Manager Byun assumes he’s volunteering to attend the funeral. He does his duty, then calls his mom after the funeral and promises to visit his parents soon.
The funeral was a long ways away, and Joo-hyuk feels tired and woozy as he drives back to the city. His radio seems to be malfunctioning and he sees a double moon, and as he approaches an intersection, he sees a billboard that says, “Your life can change, too. Get a fresh start.”
He approaches a tollbooth, which he doesn’t remember passing on his way out of town, and he pays the toll, but the machine doesn’t register his coins. He notices that it only takes 500-won pieces, so he tosses in the 2006 coin from the doomsayer on the train, and this time it works.
Joo-hyuk continues on his way, but nothing looks familiar and his GPS goes haywire. Suddenly the car accelerates without his input, and Joo-hyuk panics when he realizes he can’t brake or steer. He screams, and the car disappears.
Joo-hyuk wakes up at a pounding on the door and a voice calling out, “Oppa!” He looks around and realizes that he’s in his old dorm room, Sang-shik asleep on the floor and Joo-eun knocking at the door. Dazed, he lets Joo-eun in, and she hands him the food she brought as he wonders why this seems so familiar.
He realizes what day it is just as Joo-eun dumps his porn out of the closet. She asks to borrow some of the magazines, and he sees the date on the calendar: June, 2006.
Familiar Wife is a little darker than I anticipated, but I like the setup so far, which feels realistic and painful with its depiction of Joo-hyuk’s dissatisfaction at how his life has turned out. There are still funny moments, which feel more gritty and High School King of Savvy-like than bright and Weightlifting Fairy-ish (more on that later), but I appreciate that the show isn’t making light of the misery and regret Joo-hyuk is feeling. He’s kind of a terrible husband, though it’s not deliberate and I think he believes he’s doing his best, but that’s the beauty of it all — he has no idea how much he’s contributed to his current situation. I can’t wait to see the horror on his face when he realizes how much of his life is his own dumb fault.
I fully expected this show to present Joo-hyuk as a well-meaning man who works hard to be a good husband, but whose picky, shrieking wife never gives him the benefit of the doubt. I’m happy to see that things are a lot more complicated than that. Joo-hyuk is a good guy, and he does his best as he understands it, but he’s not as thoughtful or helpful as he could be (example — his only taking care of himself and leaving Woo-jin to get the kids and herself ready for the day). On top of that, he’s got pretty unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a family… he truly believes that his wife should take care of the kids, work a job of her own, AND have dinner waiting on the table for him at the end of the day. I don’t blame Woo-jin one bit for turning shrewish and screamy under those circumstances, because she’s doing most of the work and still being judged lacking. Neither of them are bad people, or even necessarily bad spouses, but they just get angry and fight instead of sitting down and talking about expectations versus reality.
I wondered what it was that Joo-hyuk originally saw in Woo-jin, and then we got to see her as a teenage girl, and holy moley, it’s no wonder he couldn’t resist. She was a firecracker, a girl who knew what she wanted and set out to get it without playing coy games or pretending to be what she wasn’t. Now I wonder what on earth Joo-hyuk did to her to make her so angry and resentful, though I imagine that years and years of unrealistic expectations and thoughtless behavior can turn even the brightest spirit dark. It actually hurt to see what Woo-jin was, because she was so happy and bouncy and optimistic, and the thought of that spirit being stamped out is painful. We know that Joo-hyuk is a good man at his core — we’ve seen him repeatedly be the only person to offer help to someone in need — but neglect can change a person as thoroughly as outright abuse, under the right circumstances.
It’s no wonder Joo-hyuk is so blown away by his reunion with Hye-won, the way she starts flirting and doting on him right away. What Joo-hyuk fails to understand is that Hye-won is like that, not because she’s a nicer person or likes him more than Woo-jin, but because she doesn’t have Woo-jin’s years of history with him. Nobody can remain as romantic as a new couple all the time for years on end, and if Hye-won was juggling a job, two small babies, and an irresponsible husband, I doubt she’d still be beautifully put-together and sweet as pie, either.
I gotta admit, while I generally only give passing notice to a show’s behind-the-scenes crew (writer, director, etc), when it comes to Familiar Wife, 95% of my excitement is because the people behind this one have been responsible for some of my all-time favorite dramas. You tell me that the writer of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju, Oh My Ghostess, and High School King of Savvy (source of my very favorite drama quote, “You’re just needlessly tall!”) banding together with the PD of Shopping King Louis to make a supernatural drama starring Ji Sung, and I’m so in that I’ll probably never get out again. This also means that my expectations are sky-high, but I have faith that this band of merry creators can meet, and even exceed my expectations.
This first episode was all setup, so I’m looking forward to diving into the second episode where hopefully I’ll find some back-in-time school shenanigans and omg-what-have-I-done regrets back in the present. Is it too much to hope for to see Joo-hyuk and Hye-won married in the present, and Hye-won turned into the shrewish wife while Woo-jin is the glamorous one that got away? I’d love to see that, and watch Joo-hyuk realize that it’s not that he chose the wrong woman, but that it was his own selfish actions and borderline neglect that would cause any woman to turn angry and resentful. Overall the show looks like it will be sweet and funny, but also a little wistful as Joo-hyuk tries to regain the life, and wife, he didn’t appreciate when he had them.