“Bubblegum” opens on a broadcast of radio DJ Oh Se Young (Kim Jung Nan) reading texts from lonely listeners in voiceover, as we’re treated to a montage. Starting with Park Ri Hwan (Lee Dong Wook) changing a light bulb, we see a baseball player throw a pitch, a high school student ripping up a test, a woman stuck in traffic, followed by another woman stuck in traffic. Finally, we’re in the radio station, with Se Young and producer, Kim Haeng Ah (Jung Ryeo Won). Haeng Ah passes Se Young a note, which Se Young reads on the air, suggesting that listeners flash their light in time with the next song.
While the song plays, Haeng Ah watches the city with her co-workers, to see who has taken their suggestion. One floor above, morning news anchor, Kang Suk Joon (Lee Jong Hyuk) watches the same scene.
Haeng Ah and Suk Joon have just broken up, and Haeng Ah moves her things out of his apartment in the rain. She flashes back to their last moment, when she told him she was leaving and he said they’d talk later, and to all the moments where she was waiting for Suk Joon by herself. Back in her own apartment, Haeng Ah tries to cheer herself up.
The next morning, Ri Hwan drives to work listening to Suk Joon’s news show, with his co-worker Kwon Ji Hoon (Lee Seung Joon) sleeping in the back of the car. Ri Hwan is a doctor of Eastern medicine, and his first patient of the day is a high school baseball pitcher, who can’t play. Ri Hwan can tell immediately that the baseball player is not sick and the teenager eventually confesses that his coach had asked for a bribe, and he didn’t want to ask his mother for the money.
As he’s driving, Ri Hwan gets a call from the security guard at Haeng Ah’s building, asking when she’ll pick up the kimchi Ri Hwan left for her. Ri Hwan calls Haeng Ah, knowing that something is up, but she lies and tells him that she’s eaten his kimchi already, and that she’s too busy to see him. Ri Hwan lets it go and hangs up.
Instead, Ri Hwan intercepts Haeng Ah on his way out of the restaurant of Aunt Gong Joo (Seo Jung Yeon), whose wrist he’s treating. When Haeng Ah still won’t tell him what’s wrong, Ri Hwan lets it go and leaves. Inside the restaurant, Haeng Ah reverts to her childhood while she gets the third degree from her uncle, Aunt Gong Joo and her teenage cousin. But she is able to avoid their questions about her relationship status (and misses a delicious meal) when she gets a phone call from her her co-producer, No Tae Hee (Kim Ri Na).
It turns out that Se Young is refusing to come to work since her dog is feeling poorly. Haeng Ah and Tae Hee promise to take care of the dog at the station, but it turns out that Se Young just wanted someone to drive her to the dentist and hold her dog while she is there. The dentist, Hong Yi Seul (Park Hee Von) kicks Haeng Ah and Tae Hee out, and they end up waiting in the hallway with the dog.
After they leave, Yi Seul receives a visit from her glamourous mother (Park Joon Geum, of course), who dresses her down for being dowdy (see what I did there?), then throws Ri Hwan’s picture on the table, presenting him as a suitable and scandal-free candidate for marriage. Yi Seul can barely muster the enthusiasm to fight back, and just tells her mother that she has a patient, then leaves. Instead, Yi Seul sits alone in the other room to brood over her mother’s words.
Ri Hwan drops by Haeng Ah’s workplace to give her some medicine. He tries again to figure out what’s going on with her, but she attempts to hustle him out the door instead. They make it as far as the elevator when they run into Park Sun Young (Bae Jong Ok), Ri Hwan’s mother. Haeng Ah withers under Sun Young’s icy glare, but Ri Hwan is oblivious to the tension. Haeng Ah flashes back to her childhood when her uncle took her to live with Sun Young, and to overhearing Sun Young telling someone that she would kick Haeng Ah out if she and Ri Hwan became more than friends.
Unsurprisingly, the conversation between the two women turns to Ri Hwan. Sun Young warns Haeng Ah about being too familiar with Ri Hwan, causing people to misunderstand their relationship. Sun Young points out that Ri Hwan’s current dating candidate is sensitive, because she was dumped by her fiancé for another woman. Haeng Ah readily agrees with Sun Young, but their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Tae Hee, who calls Haeng Ah away for work. As they go back to the studio, it becomes clear that Tae Hee just got her out of an awkward situation, since she doesn’t like Sun Young’s attitude towards Haeng Ah.
That night, during the broadcast, Se Young receives an email that turns out to be a suicide note from a failing high school student, Lee Ji Na. The production team goes into high gear trying to track Ji Na down, as Se Young continues to talk to her on the air. The two women confess everything terrible about their own lives in an effort to commiserate with Ji Na. Ri Hwan, who is listening to the broadcast, drops everything and goes running. In the meantime, Ji Na calls in to the station, and Se Young frantically tries to keep her talking. Finally, Ji Na is rescued from the rooftop, and they go to commercial break.
The station manager, Jo Dong Il (Park Won Sang) comes rushing into the booth to point out how bad the situation is. Haeng Ah and Se Young already know, having revealed their entire pathetic lives over the broadcast.
When Haeng Ah gets back to her apartment, she’s immediately confronted by an angry Ri Hwan, who demands to know why she wouldn’t tell him that something was wrong. Haeng Ah points out that she doesn’t have to tell him anything, and that his attitude is overbearing. He ends up in her apartment and tries to help her clean up, but the first box he picks up turns out to be her underwear and maxi pads. Their embarrassment over what she does with her maxi pads is interrupted by a phone call from Suk Joon. When the two of them wrestle over the phone, it becomes obvious that Suk Joon is the guy she just broke up with.
Ri Hwan is appalled at Suk Joon and wildly imagines that Suk Joon was beating Haeng Ah. Haeng Ah finally explains that she was just tired of not being a priority in Suk Joon’s life, since she was the one who liked him more. When Haeng Ah realizes that she left her mom’s bracelet at Suk Joon’s place, Ri Hwan resolves to go get it, but she talks him out of it. Unable to let it go, Ri Hwan follows Suk Joon into his apartment and confronts him.
As the two men face off, Ri Hwan flashes back to his childhood, when he confessed to Haeng Ah about playing with another girl on a trampoline, since the two of them had made a promise to tell each other everything. Haeng Ah throws him out of the house, leaving Ri Hwan unable to give her a bracelet that he’d taken from his mother to give to her. Haeng Ah’s father comes home and sympathizing with Ri Hwan, gives it to her in his place, telling his daughter that it’s a bracelet just like her mother’s.
Well, I can’t say I’m hooked on “Bubblegum” quite yet, though I’m enjoying the mellow tone. The story-telling isn’t bad either, as we got through a lot of setup this episode, without feeling too rushed. I’m not sure what’s coming next, but since we’ve been given a good road map already, I’m assuming we can expect a fair amount of tears mixed in with what looks to be a fairly sweet, slow-moving romance.
Our characters so far have been pretty interesting, with Ri Hwan as an observant guy who can’t help but take care of everyone around him, and Haeng Ah as someone whose facade of cheer seems impenetrable, even to herself. It’s telling that the only time she dropped her smile was with Ri Hwan, who practically had to force her to open up to him. I can’t say I’m rooting for this couple yet, but I do like their dynamic.
However nice it is to see Park Joon Geum’s familiar face, I’m holding out some hope that this drama doesn’t descend to the level of an evil mom keeping them apart. It would be nice to see two adults get together for their own reasons, rather than the usual mess of fate and families. Even if neither of those adults can handle the scary presence of a maxi pad.
Also, how cute is Lee Dong Wook when he’s not overacting?