What Keeps Me Calm: Watching 'Hospital Playlist'
As this beloved medical drama approaches its finale, I briefly examine why it means so much to me. I hope, with all my heart, that you’ll find healing from it, too
Welcome to What Keeps Me Calm, a series of movies, television shows, albums, books, and other works of media that are comforting us during these incredibly stressful times. On particularly sad and disheartening days, there’s nothing better and more consoling than to turn to our favorite things to read, watch, and listen, as these offer a respite from the hardships we face collectively and individually.
As I write this, I’m thinking two things:
- We finally got a new episode (the drama took a break last week), and
- That was the penultimate episode. The first of the two we have left.
Whenever a drama I’ve truly fallen in love with is on the verge of wrapping up, I get a little sad. The thought of not tuning in to Hospital Playlist—of which we even got to enjoy two full seasons of—every week makes me extra sad. Why? There are a million reasons, the main one being that I just don’t want it to end.
On the surface, Hospital Playlist looks just like any medical drama. With the brilliant minds of Shin Won-ho and Lee Woo-jung at the helm, it’s anything but. The duo’s previous works include Prison Playbook and the Reply series, K-drama classics with high ratings and loyal followings. Whether they’re bringing us into the world of a ragtag bunch of inmates, an assortment of families residing in the same neighborhood, or, in this case, a group of doctors who have been best friends since their medical school days, director Shin and writer Lee are particularly adept at making us feel like we are part of it all. That we, who are watching through our screens, belong. And as the stories unravel, they are ours just as much as they are the characters’.
Hospital Playlist follows the lives of five doctors employed at the Yulje Medical Center. Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk) is an assistant professor of general surgery and a single father to his only son. A total Mr. Congeniality type, he is popular among his colleagues and patients due to his cheery disposition and zany antics. Gruff and grumpy Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho) is an associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery. Hidden beneath this prickly exterior is a soft side that only his close friends and a few patients are privy to. Ahn Jeong-won (Yoo Yeon-seok), an assistant professor of pediatric surgery, is Prince Charming in scrubs and a white coat. Handsome and wealthy, he also has a heart of gold that endears him to everyone. The introverted and socially-awkward Yang Seok-hyeong (Kim Dae-myung) is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Aside from hanging out with the gang, his priority outside of work is his mom, who he cares for a great deal. Rounding out the group is Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do), an associate professor of neurosurgery, the lone female and a standout in her field. She loves to go camping during her free time and is the only one who can rival Jun-wan’s voracious appetite.
Oh, there’s band practice at Seok-hyeong’s house at the tail end of each episode. The drama’s leads—aka the 99s, referencing the year their characters graduated from medical school—had to learn how to play their respective instruments, as each performance is filmed live. They can all carry a tune, too! (Fun fact: Song-hwa is a terrible singer, so actress Mi-do, who has a lovely voice, has to play pretend in these scenes.)
But what is it that makes Hospital Playlist the gem that we all say it is? To start, it’s a healing drama in every sense of the term. Week after week, we’re introduced to different patients with different stories. Most of the time, it ends well; the surgery is a success and they’re discharged when they’re well enough. But not all endings are happy ones. Sometimes, there’s nothing that can be done to save the patient, and the characters are forced to face reality. When they grieve, we find ourselves grieving with them. It’s easy to empathize; we’ve all lost loved ones in some way, in some form. The drama also gently reminds us that healing—whether it be physical, emotional, or psychological—is a process. That it’s okay to not be okay.
And then there are the relationships: romantic, familial, and platonic alike. It’s a no-brainer that the dynamics between and among the main five are one of the anchors of the drama. There’s something comforting about seeing them come together in any capacity, whether it’s band practice, a karaoke session, or even a quick lunch in Song-hwa’s office. I particularly enjoy scenes featuring Ik-jun and Jun-wan; they bicker like children when left in each other’s company, and I’m always in stitches from laughing. When Song-hwa and Seok-hyeong share the spotlight, it’s usually contemplative conversations filled with nuggets of wisdom that I take to heart. Roomies Jun-wan and Jeong-won have their fair share of hilarious interactions, but there’s a unique understanding between the two as well. There’s Ik-jun and Song-hwa, too—but I will hold my tongue so you can digest their story in your own time.
Also, please be informed that Ik-jun’s relationship with his son, U-ju (Kim Jun) is THE BEST. He has U-ju’s number saved on his phone as “My Universe” and would move mountains for him. What more can you ask for?
The romance plot lines aren’t the focal point of the drama, but they add so much heart and contribute immensely to individual character development. These aren’t presented through the typical K-drama romance lens, but are so rooted in reality that you or someone you know may be involved in similar situations. Ever had a crush on your work superior? Ever felt you had to hide your relationship from even your closest friends? Ever fallen in love with your best friend? Hospital Playlist has you covered.
Much has been said, but I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface here. While Yulje Medical Center is where most of the action takes place, it is simply a microcosm of the outside world. People come, people go; some recover, some pass on. Yet life goes on. We go on. This is perhaps one of the most significant bits of wisdom Hospital Playlist wishes to leave us with. It’s even more sobering to reflect upon now that the drama is approaching its end, especially to those of us who’ve followed it closely—Yuljems, let’s all hold hands—week by week. We don’t want to part from the characters and the stories that give us comfort, especially given the current state of the world. But all good things must come to an end.
To those who are just about to discover Hospital Playlist, I’m excited—and a little envious, I’ll admit—for you. Have the absolute best time.
Check out the last edition of What Keeps Me Calm, featuring the world of YouTube Fitness. What Keeps Me Calm is published on Fridays.