I wish I had better things to say about Dr. Brain, Apple’s shiny new Korean science fiction thriller, but an earnest story and generally polished attractiveness isn’t enough to overcome its shortcomings. The eponymous Dr. Brain is Sewon Koh (Lee Sun-kyun), a brilliant neuroscientist who, due to his own peculiar emotional deadness, commits to hacking the human mind with a scientific method of “brain syncing,” which enables one to access another’s memories. The success of Sewon’s experiment comes on the heels of a personal tragedy, which ended with his child missing and his wife Jaeyi (Lee Yoo-young) in a coma. When Sewon learns that his invention primarily works on dead people, he leverages the new technology toward investigating what happened to his wife and son. The mind-merges end up revealing clues to the mystery, but also imbue Sewon with the emotions and abilities of those he syncs with, dramatically transforming his very personality.
The premise of Dr. Brain has loads of potential, and it isn’t entirely unrealized. The show succeeds mildly as a superhero origin story, as Sewon is reshaped and empowered by his reckless scientific experiments. It also sets itself up well as a supernatural procedural, as a glitch in Sewon’s first successful sync traps the personality of a shifty private investigator named Kangmu Lee (Park Hee-soon) in his head, giving him an inner sounding board. The actors are appealing, the production values are high, and there are some decent eyeball kicks. It looked like it might shape up to be a weird fusion of Chew or iZombie (Sewon “tasting” victims to solve mysteries) with Jacob’s Ladder. Unfortunately, all these assets are undercut by extremely sluggish pacing, lurches into melodrama, and dialogue (in the subtitles, anyway) that over-explains the skiffy intrigue with unconvincing technobabble. You could do worse than to watch it, but for me it was rather a sleepy grind.