So I had fully intended to post a review of Partner Track before now, however, the first season launched in full on Netflix on the 26th August, for reasons I’d rather not elaborate on, August is a very hard month for me, and I had taken some well deserved time away from the site. So I had earmarked the review to go up in November, as part of my own little NaNoWriMo challenge to post at least one piece of content each day for all of November, as a way of coming back from my hiatus with both guns blazing.
Unfortunately when I was putting the finishing touches on the post this morning, I discovered that Partner Track has been cancelled. As you’ll probably see in the review following this introductory paragraph, I think this was a huge mistake, and I hope that some vocal and visible fan support can bring it back…much like what happened with Lucifer. I urge all fans of Partner Track to post across all social media with the hashtags #SavePartnerTrack and #UncancelPartnerTrack so that hopefully we can save the show.
Anyway, before we move on properly let me share some important pieces of information about the show, as I said above, the show aired on Netflix, and was developed by Georgia Lee (noted for writing and directing the 2006 movie ‘Red Door’, as well and writing and directing several episodes of The Expanse and The 100). The series was based on a 2013 novel of the same name by author and lawyer, Helen Wan. The series follows the story of a young Asian-American woman, Ingrid Yun, who is on ‘track’ to become the first minority female partner at a large and prestigious corporate law firm. In the book, she is Ingrid Yung, and is Chinese-American, whereas in the television series, she is Korean-American (I assume due to the Korean heritage of the lead actress).
Very quickly before we move on to discuss the cast, and then dive into the review properly, I went ahead and read the book prior to the release of the series, and in the next couple of days it’ll be going up as well for your enjoyment. I do strongly suggest, especially if you liked the series, that you go back and read the book. I will also be seeking an interview with the author, no promises or guarantees as she’s a very busy person but hopefully I’ll be able to treat you to an interview with the author as well.
Okay, so first up, we have the sensational, Arden Cho, as the main character, Ingrid Yun. I’ve talked about Cho on the site previously, and you can check that out here. Alongside her, we have her two best friends, and fellow lawyers, with Alexandra Turshen as Rachel Friedman and Bradley Gibson as Tyler Robinson. Next up, we have Rob Heaps, as the incredibly sweet love interest, Nick Laren, and Dominic Sherwood, as Jeff Murphy, another potential love interest, as well as someone from Ingrid’s past. As a rival for her position as future partner (at Parsons, Valentine & Hunt), we have Nolan Gerard Funk as Dan Fallon, and rounding off her work life, we have Matthew Raunch as Marty Adler, the managing partner at the firm, and Ingrid’s adorable paralegal Justin Coleman (played by Roby Attal).
Okay, now let’s dive right into the review. Since I was just talking about cast, I’ll start off with casting. First off, and it will come as no surprise to our regular readers, but I thought Arden Cho was an incredibly strong pick for this role. She’s super talented and intelligent, and this comes across in her portrayal, but perhaps what most impressed me, was her ability to show the complex vulnerability of Ingrid’s character, not just the aspects that draw on their shared experiences as both women, and persons of colour but more specifically, the supreme competency coupled with severe anxiety and doubt that come with always trying to be perfect. I never watched her do anything throughout the show that felt disingenuous, it all had this air of believability and authenticity to it.
I really liked the best friends as well, because they also felt genuine, not just to the narrative, but also to themselves. They didn’t exist just to prop up the main character, and in fact when Ingrid does something that upsets them, it causes a very real rift in their friendship, and one which is not easily smoothed over, until Ingrid does some introspection and realises that she is perhaps not be the best friend to them. It’s far more real than supporting characters in other shows, who you could fully believe go into suspended animation as soon as the main character leaves the room. A real story and a good story, considers that everyone is living their own life, which just so happens to interconnect with others, and that to truly have a fruitful and healthy relationship you need to understand that.
Anyway, Alexandra Turshen who plays Rachel is so vital and confident and funny, and yet even though it would have been easy to ignore it, in favour of more of the central plot, they had her acknowledge that she was unhappy with where she’s ended up in life, and seek to find something more fulfilling. I’d argue that never has an office skit ever been so instrumental in changing someone’s life. But yeah, as I touched on above, she’s a fully realised person, living her own narrative that doesn’t always align with what Ingrid needs or wants. I like that she has that, and more importantly, she’s not bad at her job either, she’s highly competent, resourceful and no afraid of a little challenge, but because she’s got different priorities, we see her coast at her job, as do her employers, and as such she isn’t rewarded with her own Partner position, which is the incitement to begin to look inside and find out what she wants from life. I’ll probably elaborate on this further later, but I also loved her relationship with Justin, it’s a little bit awkward at times, due to their polar opposite personalities and outlooks, and while by the end of the first season, they are separated, he also helped to push her. Plus they did have some absolutely precious moments together too.
Bradley Robinson as Tyler was also perfect. He’s driven, intelligent, confident, and uses his natural charm and charisma to his advantage. But he also acts impulsively at times and makes mistakes. He had, what I’m sure many people would consider an ideal life, with a supportive partner, parents who are involved and interested in his life, and a wonderful job that he’s good at. And yet, the inverse to all of those act as a catalyst for change through the show. Sure, he has a loving and long term partner, but their life is also full of artifice and engineered events, as his partner is a political candidate, as someone in the public eye, this influences his relationship immensely. Having parents who care about you is awesome, but they apply too much pressure that Tyler ends up so anxious just about attending a dinner with them. Finally his job, he’s really good at it, and he seems to love it, but at the same time, especially to rise any higher he needs to compromise his own morals and comfort level. We see his struggles to find identity and we go on a journey of self discovery with him. While I do not condone cheating, I feel that Tyler’s journey is also very real. We see someone being suffocated under the weight of expectations, to the point where he literally does not know what he wants. He has so much passion and potential, and all of it is at risk of being squashed beneath a life planned out ahead of him that he simply doesn’t want. Bradley did a magnificent job of showing all of that, of capturing a rawness and sense of discontent with where he is, and a confusion, about not knowing what the next step is. I like that he suddenly didn’t know where to go, and that he had the confidence to start again.
So those are what I’d consider to be the three main characters, for reasons pertaining to expediency as I don’t want this review to be too long, I’ll round off by talking about Jeff Murphy (played by Dominic Sherwood) who is probably the next most important character to the overall plot. He is one of two potential love interests on the show. He’s amicable, charming in the sort of self-effacing way they made Hugh Grant seem like in movies in the noughties, and he had inner depth and vulnerability that was portrayed very well by Sherwood. I think he provided a feeling of risk and danger and excitement into Ingrid’s world. But as I’ve kind of talked about before, he wasn’t a one dimensional character. He had his own internal motivations that informed choices he made. Now, the first season ended things on a cliffhanger, whether Jeff betrayed Ingrid and scooped her promotion out from underneath her. Whether or not he did, is less important to me than why he might have done it. It would be easy to say he was just a snake in the grass, or that he was a bad person, or any of a whole host of reasons but I think that from the tidbits we learn, as he’s remarkably taciturn about his personal life. That he wants this job because it represents security. He had a lower class upbringing, sacrificing and providing for the family at a remarkably young age. As someone who has also been raised paycheck to paycheck, with real struggles with poverty, I can understand Jeff’s desire to do literally anything to never go through that again. We are obviously inclined to see this through Ingrid’s eyes only, she is after all the main character but the show makes sure to frame things in such a way that we know why people do what they do, and where they are coming from. If he did indeed betray her, and at this stage we don’t have the full story, It would be easy to understand why he did it, even if it is still a poor way to behave. I think Sherwood really did the role justice, adding in just enough nuance and energy to his scenes, so that we can see despite seeming confident and unflappable that he has experienced trauma and difficulties which to this day inform his decision making.
Moving on from the casting and characterisation, I’d like to discuss one of the main features of the story, the love triangle, and the love interests of Ingrid Yun. I’ve never really been a huge fan of love triangles, I think conceptually they can create an interesting story, and of course they are fraught with drama, but they don’t excite me because I always end up feeling bad for someone. Maybe it’s because I was lucky enough to have already found my soulmate, but I feel and hope that love and romance are more clear cut than the books and the movies all make it seem. Now don’t mistake my comments above as me thinking Ingrid made the wrong choice, I am by no means Team Nick, but I would also like to add that I am not Team Jeff either. I think both men have their charms, and either could have made a suitable love interest for Ingrid, but at the same time I don’t think either of them really worked. With Jeff, they had passion and excitement, he was a memory of a spark, that once reignited burned brightly. With Nick, he was sweet, and kind, and they had their own passionate moments. But he was also like a fairytale, although unlike a fairytale, they didn’t have a happy ending. If I am being completely honest, I don’t think either were meant to be with her long term. It is because of that I have decided that I am Team Z instead. Zi-Xin Min, more commonly just called Z, was far more suited to Ingrid. He’s handsome, clever, passionate, sweet, not afraid to be challenged, and is guided by his own principles. I think that he and Ingrid align in a much deeper way than with either Jeff or Nick, and yet she and Z never shared any specifically romantic scenes, nonetheless I still felt chemistry between them and if a season 2 does manifest I’d really like it if they at least explored the potential between the pair. As I talked about above, Ingrid is not the only important character on Partner Track, the show makes the effort to explore the romance and relationships experienced by Rachel and Tyler. So despite him obviously vibing with her from the start, Rachel takes a while to come around to Justin, he’s just sort of present being cute and flirty, while she’s very candid and forthright, which seems at odds with his friendly and often kind of goofy demeanour. Opposites attract however, and they end up doing the deed in a canoe. Despite a certain level of discomfort due to her higher position in the office hierarchy, they do begin seeing one another, and I think he provided some additional clarity for her. I think in the end they are too opposition at their cores to last long term, I mean they don’t even survive the full season. But Justin helps her to find the confidence to pursue a path of greater fulfilment than the one she’s currently on, and in turn, I think she helps him to sort of look introspectively at his own life and wants. Now I talked above about not being super happy with a certain choice Tyler makes in the series, but I understand why he ended up where he did. Plus honestly, his scene performing at the piano was breathtaking, I literally had chills afterwards. But despite having someone in his life, a long term, committed partner no less. He realised that he wasn’t satisfied. Sure I think personally, I would suggest trying to work on issues in a relationship rather than calling it quits but it is television so I’ll forgive some sins. He recognised his own plans no longer aligned with those of Anthony and rather than string him along, or hurt him anymore than he already had, he decided to cleanly cut the cord, and deal with the emotional fallout as maturely as possible.
I don’t just want to focus on the romantic relationships. Partner Track, also deals with working relationships, like dealing with big egos like Dan Fallon, and the competitive nature fostered by a big corporate law firm. Particular working underneath a demanding and relentless boss like Marty Adler. The show focuses on the trials and tribulations of working in such an environment and striving, this is especially important for Ingrid, as she has additional hurdles to her success, specifically those dealing with gender and race, and the inherent barriers that this can place in front of people. I think the show does service to this aspect, it doesn’t wave a magic wand and pretend that prejudice doesn’t exist, and that internal bigotry isn’t prevalent. In fact, it goes to considerable length to show that people in places of power and privilege are well aware of it, and instead make token gestures to appease people while still benefiting from the hardwork and effort of the very same people they attempt to keep down. A good example of this being in episode 7 when Ingrid wins an award, this should have been a highlight of her career, only eclipsed by earning partner, and yet it is turned into an attempt to control a narrative. Forcing Ingrid to not only compromise herself but damage her relationships with her closest friends. It’s honestly heartbreaking to watch, because you see everything unfold in front of her, how if she’s just quiet and does as she’s told she’ll be rewarded, and yet in doing so it perpetuates the cycle. It’s very powerful and very nuanced.
I think it also shows the pressures that can be instilled in children by parents really well, Ingrid is a prime example, her pursuit of perfection, is perhaps the most core of her values, and yet we see the impact it’s hard on her personal relationships, we see how it has caused her younger sister to grow up feeling undervalued and unsupported as Ingrid soaked up all of the praise. Her parents seem like loving people, and yet they forced an untenable level of pressure upon both of their children. We see a similar issue arise with Tyler’s parents, they obviously love their son, but they want a specific life for him, and any deviation from that is poorly received. I had to pause the episode during the dinner scene with his parents as it brought up a lot of issues for me regarding whether or not I was living up to the expectations of my own parents. So romance and parents, work life and home life, all important. But before we move on, let’s talk about friendship. We see right off the bat, how close the trio are; Ingrid, Rachel and Tyler. They all take an active interest in one another, and support each other. However, as I’ve said before, they aren’t just one dimensional characters, so their relationships are suitably strained by things which happen in the story. Firstly, Ingrid begins to neglect her friends, as she focuses on both the final push for partner, and also the love triangle developing between her, Nick and Jeff. This is very understandable and believable, they acknowledge this and to an extent understand. It’s only when Ingrid makes the choice to explain away the situation between Dan and Tyler that they officially begin to pull away. It isn’t something that’s easily fixed, and I kind of like that it isn’t just magically fixed with a sorry, it’s very real that people are hurt by your actions, and that it may take some time to heal. It’s very authentic and adds to the believability of the narrative as a whole. Likewise Tyler and Rachel both have their own situations going on, and just don’t have the emotional bandwidth to see Ingrid through her current problems, and as such it’s understandable that she feels somewhat abandoned as well. I think Partner Track’s biggest strength is in these relationships, and in it’s very real portrayal of people, and how they would react in real life, not just how might be best for the story.
So I’ve covered the casting, characterisation and the interpersonal relationships at play in the series, and these all are huge aspects of the show. I want to quickly discuss Partner Track in regards to the law, before I provide my rating and overall thoughts.
So at its heart it’s a show built upon relationships, it deals with the law, and legal issues, but much like Suits, the law in question is as flexible and realistic as it needs to be, to make for interesting entertainment. I am neither a lawyer, nor any sort of expert in legal matters, nor do I have a particularly good understanding of the depth and range of specific laws of the United States of America. I do, however, have the power to google, and the general consensus is that the legal side of things is a little underwhelming or underexplored, someone noted that it kind of sidestepped or ignored how difficult the actual grind is for billable hours. That’s not to say it’s not discussed, but clearly the opinion is that it glamorises the legal profession without really going into the more mundane aspects, which for a show that as I’ve noted above is incredibly realistic and fleshed out is a little disappointing. As I said above, I am by no means an expert so I’m largely just regurgitating what other people felt as I personally don’t expect a legal drama to be about the legal, just the drama. Likewise if any of the C.S.I shows were actually indicative of the forensic and criminal investigative fields they wouldn’t have managed to create 5 of the bloody things. That’s not to suggest accuracy is a bad thing, just that certain things need to be ignored or fluffed up for the sake of interesting or engaging storytelling. It reminds me of a story told by Sean Astin on the DVD commentary for Lord of the Rings: Return Of the King, he said that during the scene where Frodo has been captured by the Orcs in Cirith Ungol, there is a moment where the light hitting Frodo’s face should exist, as he should be up against a fall, she he asked Lesnie ‘Where does the light come from’ to which he replied ‘Same place the music does’. I like this thinking, that sometimes so we can better enjoy something we should ignore how things actually work, and instead think how best it works.
As I said above, I personally saw no real issue with how the show dealt with the legal aspect of it, but then again I think I went in with a different mind set. But if you are interested in what Partner Track did right or wrong, as the case may be. Get it…it’s a lawyer pun, then I suggest you check out this video by Zoë Mulraine which elaborates on the topic in a way that I can’t.
So closing thoughts, Partner Track was a thoroughly enjoyable show that is well worth a watch, it showcases a cast of strong actors and actresses, all of whom are really given the chance to inject real personality into the roles. The cinematography was lovely, and the soundtrack suited the show perfectly. While an argument could be made that the love triangle was a touch formulaic, it manages to undercut that with the finale. I’ve tried not to comment about the TV show in comparison to the book, but I think that the story was well worth adapting, a thought shared by the showrunner, Georgia Lee, who was impacted strongly by the story. I hope that it can be saved, whether on Netflix, or another platform, as I would like to see where they go from here. Overall, I think Partner Track earns a 4/5.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/
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