Hoo boy, this show, y’all. It’s not at all what I thought it would be. I watched it because there’s no new Midnight Diner, and Mystic Pop-Up Bar looked to be offering the same balance of food porn and plot based on the trailers. But instead it’s the kind of show that twists and contorts at the oddest moments. One scene, it’s saying, “Oh, I’m just a silly slapstick comedy! Look at these exaggerated movements and facial expressions! Hear those cartoony sound effects? So wacky!”
But then an instant later, the show punches a hole in your chest, rips out you heart and goes, “Are these heart strings? You mind if I pluck out a few sad chords?” It then proceeds to play the saddest song possible, and it’s brutal. There was one episode where I was sobbing with two fistfuls of tissues to catch my tears, and I thought maybe I was just being too sensitive. But I glanced at my hubby, and he was ugly crying too. And he don’t cry for nothin’ y’all. So consider yourself warned. If you come for the laughs, be prepared to cry as well.
With that warning out of the way, Mystic Pop-Up Bar is about an traveling bar owner, Weol Joo, who has been sentenced by the devil to help 100,000 people settle their grudges or face soul oblivion. She does this by entering their dreams and sussing out the best strategy for healing their spiritual wounds. Weol is actually pretty close to reaching her goal, but she’s also begun dragging her heels on solving her last few cases. So the powers that be give her a deadline: finish those last few cases, NOW.
Weol encounters a young man, Han Kang Bae, who has a unique ability: people spill their darkest secrets to him with a single touch. Han considers this power a curse, and Weol promises to help him get rid of his abilities if he helps her find the last few clients to erase her debt to the devil.
That’s the basic premise, and it works to give a core cast reasons to do their thing around an array of constantly changing actors. Some are great comedians, hamming up their roles, but others are simply great actors, able to dispense laughter and tears with equal measure. Alongside Weol and Han in the regular cast, there’s the bar’s “manager,” Chief Gwi; Department Head Yeom, the local incarnation of death, the devil herself, and a lonely security guard who comes in a bit later in the season. All of them are fantastic and endearing, so much so that when the season ended, I began looking up news sites to see if anyone had announced a second outing.
I think it helps that there’s no way to know which way an episode is going to go. Most start off playing up the comedy, but as soon as the new client’s grudge is revealed, the episode might go light, dark, or very, very sad. I’m really not kidding on this point, as several episodes blindsided me with how sad they got, and for a show full of old school sound effects like sproings and tin whistles, it’s those sadder moments that stuck with me. Granted, I also liked the lighter episodes where I got to laugh all the way through, but I appreciate a show where they can hit me in all the feels just as quickly.
Near the end of the season, there’ an added twist of an unexpected protagonist who I want to spoil, but won’t because it’s so good to be surprised as suddenly as I was. But it turns out that most of the core cast are more related than one might expect at the start, and those final episodes seem to relish tossing in one twist after another.
I’m going to keep the review nicely short and spoiler free, giving Mystic Pop-Up Bar 5 enthusiastic stars and recommending it to everyone who likes comedies and having their hearts extricated violently by sudden plot reveals.