There’s a fondness that I’ve had my entire life for best friend rom-coms. That is, dramas where the main couple consists of two best friends who circle each other their whole lives, not realizing that they’re destined to be together. It’s the kind of drama where everyone except for the two best friends knows that they’re in love, and we get a sick sense of pleasure in ranting, “Are you stupid? Don’t you know you love her? Kiss her already!”
One of my favorite old-school dramas was 1997′s Propose, which I’m mentioning twice this week, strangely enough. It had a similar premise, and I’ve always had a soft spot for dramas in this vein ever since. I hadn’t watched 2007′s Bottom of the 9th with 2 Outs when it aired because it just passed under my radar for whatever reason.
Friends had always recommended this drama because they know about my penchant for BFF-rom-coms, so it was on my to-watch list for some time. But then this past year, I saw Lee Jung-jin being all hot and badass in Runaway, and then I saw Su Ae being all hot and badass in Athena, and the thought of them being together just blew my mind.
The fact that it also starred Playful Kiss‘s resident Ducky, Lee Tae-sung was just icing on the cake. So off I went, and sixteen episodes later, I’m happy to report that this drama is totally in my wheelhouse, and worth sharing with the rest of the class.
Note: If you’re searching for this drama to give it a watch, sometimes it’s listed as 9 End 2 Outs, which is just how the title was translated (badly) at the time.
So judging from the title, the thing is about baseball, yeah? Nope. Not about baseball at all. It’s just a series-long metaphor for love, work, and the dating game, coupled with that major turn in your life, when you wake up north of 30 and face the fact that things didn’t exactly turn out the way you had imagined when you were young.
The heroine (played by Su Ae) begins the series on her 30th birthday, living in her mom’s house, and still struggling with her dream of becoming a writer. The only things coming out of Mom’s mouth daily are to give up her pipedream and get married already. Never heard that before. Nope. So faced with the harsh reality of folding her dream and getting married off to someone that her mom picks out, she decides to head out on her own.
Her best friend of thirty years (played by Lee Jung-jin) is a charming, playful playboy, who works at an advertising agency. What’s great about his character is that he isn’t the typical cold proud hero. He might occasionally be that guy to other women, but with the heroine, he’s warm, goofy, and childlike because they’ve been this close since they were kids.
Through a series of k-drama machinations, she ends up moving into his apartment, and they become one of the best roommate pairings in all of kdramaland. What’s great about these two is that they aren’t a pair of strangers who end up having to share an uncomfortably close living space (which has its perks in many dramas, don’t get me wrong).
But they’re best friends, who know WAY too much about each other to begin with…and then when coupled with having to live together, they essentially become a hilarious old married couple, mixed with the strange distance of being fully aware of being a grown man and woman who share a sexual attraction.
In short, it’s drama heaven. Sexual tension, adorable friendship, hilarious things they discover about each other as roommates…coupled with a grounded relationship with the one person in the world who tells it like it is, and holds your hand through all your breakups.
Seriously, if I think about it, I’m never jealous of relationships in k-dramas. I might want that kind of guy in my life, or I might want to be this kind of heroine, but usually k-drama relationships are quite…dysfunctional and, well, unrealistic, to say the least. I mean, how many people do you know who sign into contract marriages or fall in love with their abusive bosses?
But this drama actually made me want that kind of relationship (the friendship, not the abusive boss). I love their comfort level, and their realistic discussions about dating, sex, and love. It’s a refreshing kind of honesty that actually reflects the way real friends talk to each other. They have some hilariously frank conversations about the things men and women do, and why they are such different creatures when it comes to dating.
The main couple is surrounded by a group of college friends who’ve spent their twenties in a variety of ways, and then get back in touch. They form a nice context which informs the main couple’s friendship, but also provide another realistic setting of a group of thirtysomethings who knew each other when they were at their most idealistic and youthful.
But the biggest impetus for reflecting on age is the relationship that the heroine begins the drama with: her romance with a 22-year old baseball pitcher who’s still in college, played by Lee Tae-sung. It’s a wonderfully mismatched romance between a writer who’s entering a critical point in her dating life (as in, thinking about marriage and her future) and a kid who has never read an entire book, and is just starting to dream.
What’s nice is that it plays both sides of the coin. One the one hand, their relationship is doomed because the age difference is played realistically, which means that their expectations, their experiences, their futures—are all out of alignment. But on the other hand, because he’s a bleeding-heart 22-year old, and earnest to within an inch of his life, he chases her with utter abandon (which totally makes me swoon, a la The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry and Biscuit Teacher Star Candy).
So we’re with her every step of the way, when she’s completely taken with him, and when she comes up against a wall, and then when she’s reeled back in, and then forced to face another harsh reality. And through it all, her best friend talks her through it with lots and lots of beer, and then holds her hair back when she has to puke.
I love his initial teasing and relentless kid-jokes, all the while being the supportive best friend, and yet…still with that male posturing of I-could-take-that-kid-but-I’m-gonna-be-the-adult…which is equally childish, and hilarious to watch.
As we watch them date other people and struggle to figure out how to do right by their hearts, they grow closer by the day, until eventually their lives become incomplete without each other. It’s a progression that feels organic to the story, but also manages to do that crack-laced number on the audience, as we pick up on the signs faster than they do, and end up wringing our hands in anticipation.
We see through a series of short flashbacks sprinkled throughout the show that they had always loved each other, since they were young, but their timing had always been off. Towards the end of the series, when the six friends reflect on what love is, our heroine answers: “Love is: Timing.”
And that’s just something I believe—that love isn’t just the having of feelings, but two people who make choices to act on them, and in the end it all comes down to timing. Anyone who’s experienced losing that window knows what I mean. And I love a story that shows a realistic friendship between a man and woman that treads those murky waters.
It’s not just about denying feelings either, since they acknowledge the fact that feelings are there, but get scared of what they’ll lose—a potentially lifelong friendship that isn’t so easily disposed of, like other romantic relationships. And it’s a realistic fear, since, let’s be honest…how many of us actually stay friends with our exes?
What I like about this drama is more than just the tone or the story, but its point of view, about life and love. I love that the heroine struggles with the fear that this might be the last chance she’ll get at love, or that she has to face the fact that while her dream is to write, she may not be very good at it. Growing up means facing those fears, and coming to terms with who you are in spite of them.
I love that she doesn’t succeed as a writer in one fell swoop, but that she adjusts her expectations, and learns to become a better editor in the meantime. In facing her biggest fear—the possibility of losing her best friend and the love of her life—she gains the courage to keep working at her dream.
This drama isn’t particularly snazzy, and it doesn’t have a hook that sounds zippy as a one-liner. But it captures something fantastically rare. It shows that becoming an adult is actually a painful process, and one that we only begin to unfold at the quarter-life crisis. But the struggle that we go through is worth the reward on the other side: self-awareness, a broader sense of the world around you, and an appreciation for the people in your life who make you who you are. And if that just so happens to be your uber-hot BFF, then well, YOU WIN.
- Lee Jung-jin in High Cut (…in bed)
- Dramabeans Podcast #4
- Runaway (Plan B): Episodes 1-2
- Runaway Plan B: Halftime report
- Athena: Episode 1
- Su Ae and Yoo Ji-tae face off in Midnight FM
- Lee Tae-sung and the boys in Playful Kiss
- Playful Kiss: Episode 1