[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Special Affairs Team TEN" (Seasons 1 and 2)
By Vasia Orion | Published on
OCN's dive into the crime genre has produced a few solid shows over the last few years. Since all of them are within the investigative and crime genre, their premises are what the channel relies on to entice viewers and freshen things up. Although mostly no more than gimmicks, these features do bring another dimension to crime fighting. Han Jin Woo's fight with his past and himself ("God's Quiz"), Min Tae-yeon and his larger-than-life vampirism ("Vampire Prosecutor") etc. "Special Affairs Team TEN" is ironically not 'special' in any way. There is no real gimmick here. What this drama relies on instead is a more realistic and cold approach to crime.
The TEN team is created to investigate the toughest murder cases which have a very low rate of arrest. Yeo Ji-hoon (Joo Sang-wook), a cold, but intelligent detective now working as a professor, Nam Ye-ri (Jo An), a detective of 4 years who possesses great observational and profiling skills, Baek Do-sik (Kim Sang-ho), a veteran detective with great intuition and an active personality and Park Min-ho (Choi Wooshik), a rookie with good reasoning skills are the ones hired to form the team.
One thing which makes the drama different is that, while other such series go for endearing characters and creating a lighter atmosphere between the heavier crime parts, "Special Affairs Team TEN" is not aiming to offer a "casual" tone and set of characters. Instead, the series relies on the different skill set of the team members and what those can offer to the team and in solving the cases. There is of course group activity, but the bonding is not as present as it is in other OCN works.
Adding to that the fact that Ji-hoon is mostly just a surly and unapproachable person 24/7, it is very hard to sympathize with anyone beyond Do-sik and Min-ho, who are the ones that carry the more normal human moments. This feels like an attempt to keep things a bit more cool and professional, but the problem is, it just comes off as cold. Characterization is an issue with such series, which are still struggling to find their formula in Korean drama. So the fact that these characters often feel too distant can be an issue.
That said, what it lacks in buddy bonding the series makes up for, at least in Season 1, in its subplots. A rarity among even other industries, what makes "Special Affairs Team TEN" great is that the mysteries are not spoon-fed to the audience. With a lot of crime shows, the slowest of viewers are usually taken into account, meaning there are moments when the supposed professional characters need to go dumb and struggle with things many viewers already know. This series actually has viewers work for it and it keeps the mystery alive, making it an exciting watch for those wanting to use their brain a bit more than with most dramas.
The problems start at the less exciting 'Special Affairs Team TEN Season 2'. While there is more of an attempt to bring a personal touch and more bonding into the group, it feels one season too late. The mysteries are also suffering a bit, with many of the individual cases feeling convoluted and a bit too unnecessarily complicated. This is always an issue with OCN's multi-season works. Trying to raise the bar means they often go for the far-fetched.
"Special Affairs Team TEN" might not have the easygoing tone other OCN works do, but its first season and to a lesser degree, its second one offer some really nice cases to be solved and engage the viewer in thinking about those possible solutions in ways and a scale different to the channel's other works. While the lack of an easy to sympathize with main character ensemble can make a more emotional approach difficult, if the writing becomes a bit more focused and the group bonding continues, we are in for a bigger emotional connection and exciting crime cases in Season 3.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'