The magic of Hospital Playlist lies in its normality. While in other hands, a hospital-based drama might focus on the extremes of life and death that happen in the operating theatre and wards, under Shin Won-ho’s (Reply 1988, Prison Playbook) control it mostly drifts along with only small peaks of action.
That was the case at Yulje Medical Centre in the hit first season of the tvN show (globally distributed by Netflix) and is still the prevailing mood in its second instalment, too. It’s difficult to elevate the everyday to something that doesn’t feel mundane, but Hospital Playlist season two mostly pulls it off. There are opportunities to dive into sensationalism – like when the tables are turned on one of the five doctors and bandmates at the heart of the series and they become a patient in urgent need of treatment – but instead, the crew bypass them, choosing instead to hone in on themes of human connection, relationships and friendship, and the minutiae of life.
When we last saw Yulje’s finest at the end of season one, new love and new chances were in the air. The caring, kind paediatric surgeon Ain Jeong-won (played by Yoo Yeon-seok) admitted his feelings for resident Jang Gyeo-ul (Shin Hyun-bin), charismatic transplant specialist Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk) made a proposition to his best friend and brilliant neurosurgeon Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do), while tsundere cardiothoracic surgeon Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho) was packaging a ring to send to his secret girlfriend, Ik-jun’s sister Ik-sun (Kwak Sun-young). Stiff and detached gynaecologist Yang Seok-hyeong (Kim Dae-myung), meanwhile, was faced with the decision of whether to leave his job and take over his late father’s company.
Seok-hyeong’s situation aside, those storylines become the dominating arcs in season two, while the gynaecologist also gets his own romantic narrative too. It’s heartwarming to watch their blossoming love lives – and the struggles of some partnerships do add some much-needed tension to proceedings – but somehow this aspect of their lives taking centre stage dims the spark of season one a little.
What works well in season two, though, is how the characters grow from their previous portrayals. As the episodes progress, we come to know the interns and residents more intimately, to the point you really start to root for the younger doctors. Of the musically bonded main medics, it’s Song-hwa who sees the most development this season, her role offering up different, deeper sides to her rather than just the supreme, strong surgeon. She’s still just as passionate about her job (and still as present, despite moving to Sokcho last series), but she’s sillier, softer, and more sage, and shines all the brighter for it.
Of course, the tie between Song-hwa, Seok-hyeong, Ik-jun, Jun-wan and Jeong-won has always been music and that’s no different here, regardless of what’s happening in their lives. Their renditions of songs in Seok-hyeong’s basement are still a touching highlight of each episode – even when Song-hwa is allowed to screech along – providing relief for the characters and a gentle ending to each chapter for viewers.
To get to the very end of Hospital Playlist, though, is to do battle with some unnecessarily long episodes – a handful clock in at nearly two hours each – but there are plenty of satisfying moments along the way to keep you going. In typical fashion for this show, the finale wraps things up quietly, the show floating off into the sunset in as anti-climactic but sweet a way possible.
So far, it doesn’t seem like a third season will be forthcoming – the producers behind the series have said there are currently “no specific plans”. It would be a shame not to revisit Yulje in the future but season two tenderly ties up its loose ends in such a way that, like the doctors sending healed patients back off into the world, ending here feels like a natural and gratifying conclusion.
Hospital Playlist season 2 is streaming on Netflix