Marriage Not Dating is an exhilarating journey with fun as its best synonym. It takes the overused premise of contract relationship and sprinkles it with refreshing characters, hilarious hijinks and great execution which is fresh as mint. It stays away from melodrama for most of its run and has a lovely couple at its center.
The basic premise is about a man Ki Tae who wants to remain a bachelor. Due to his mother’s pressure, he makes a deal with our heroine Jang Mi to act as her lover. We can see this miles before what’s going to happen next — they fall in love for real. Adding to this are their friends and family and we get a cute show which keeps things light but not frivolous.
This is actually one of the remarkable things about Marriage Not Dating. It balances lightness with heart and depth of characters. The tone of the drama is quirky and zippy. The show continues to throw priceless hilarious nuggets even when the story gets serious. The comedy is at times slapstick. Ki Tae is not the typical cold jerk but is actually very normal as he laughs and does mischiefs, his only problem is to want to remain alone. Our heroine is on the opposite side of spectrum with never wanting to be alone. Both share this common thread of their said behaviour with respect to their childhood experiences. Their constant bickering and then enjoying with each other is great to watch. And when they come together, well, they set a wonderful example for a couple as they openly discuss their problems and concerns.
Also the drama doesn’t make a big deal about physical closeness in a relationship. It’s very gratifying to see how Ki Tae starts yearning for Jang Mi’s company as it was all different when he met her. Plus, he understands the value of being with others. Jang Mi is one of the most funny and vivacious female leads who wears her heart on her sleeves. She always acts impulsively and her relationship arc with Ki Tae’s mom is brilliantly drawn. In fact, the drama effectively portrays the families of the two leads and how both help in healing their in-laws’ wounds.
I also loved the way this drama had an episodic pattern wherein each episode started with a future scene and then knocking us down with a feather with the real reason for that particular action. It is a very innovative and humorous tool they have added, subverting our speculations each and every time. Another good thing is the nice wrap up of all stories at the end with leaving no loose ends for anyone.
Talking about the rest of the characters, I really enjoyed Hoon Dong, Ki Tae’s friend as well as Jang Mi’s ex. He started off as a total jerk but then as the drama progressed, he had this nice trajectory of some growth and he became a great comic relief. Unfortunately the rest of the second leads fell flat for me for most of the part. Yeo Reum was pretty harmless and I loved his bromance with Ki Tae — they were adorable. But then the show made sudden jumps with his role: he was all jealous and tried to shatter Jang Mi’s relationship with Ki Tae but then after a few days, he became so understanding and supportive — which was a good thing but a bit abrupt.
Another sore point is Se Ah’s obsessiveness track. She is too selfish and weird and then she also changes abruptly. Well, I never cared for her anyway. Lastly, Hyun Hee was another unlikable girl but then she actually became better later on. So while I was expecting a great character ensemble, despite all romantic musical chairs, the show didn’t satisfy me on this front.
Also there is this phase in between where the leads are running around circles with their feelings which gets tedious to watch. Once they confess their feelings, it’s all rainbows and unicorns and sparks and cuteness. Yeon Woo Jin and Han Groo have this crackling chemistry and the two complement each other quite well and one can see how comfortable they are with each other.
Marriage Not dating benefits from superb cast. Yeon Woo Jin stole my heart with this one. He is an effortless performer with an easy charm. I like that without any eccentricity tropes, he acts Ki Tae very naturally. Han Groo has firecracker energy and is cheerfully unpretentious. She displays a wide range of expressions and is a total delight to watch. Kim Hae Sook is her usual competent self, giving a nice mix of a tough mother-in-law as well as showing vulnerability as well. Jung Jin Woon is pretty but he only knows one expression and that’s to smile. Huh Jung Min delivers a great comic performance while Sun Hwa is just okay in her thankless role. All other veteran actors playing different family members of our leads are absolutely brilliant.
The background score is well placed and gives a very chirpy feeling. Despite minor quibbles, Marriage Not Dating is a fun offering and a feel-good show to a tee.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10