[Dramaland Catnip] Cohabitation shenanigans
by Guest Beanie
[We had multiple people writing in on some of the more popular catnip topics, so we’ve combined them here so you can read them all within the same post. The more the merrier! –javabeans]
Among all the famous tropes of dramaland, the trope that made me fall down the rabbit hole has to be cohabitation. Contract relationships and cohabitation often go hand in hand but I just wanted to talk about the aspect of living together, be it forced or otherwise.
Not surprising since my first drama was Full House. I did not know what I was getting into and I had no idea tropes were a thing, but I loved that drama through and through (and still do). There is something so addictive about seeing two people warming up to each other over time, seeing something in the other that they usually wouldn’t if they were not living together. The good, the bad and the ugly. All of those on display when living together and the characters see each other at their most vulnerable. The journey of going from dislike to tolerating to care to attraction to love is my personal addiction. And I can’t not see a drama that hints at it.
My most favorite moments of cohabitation would be the quiet moments when they sit and talk. Like Rain and Song Hye-gyo having beer. And more recently, to our suspicious partners having tea/beer. That is when the characters get closer and as viewers, we can sense their friendship. Even with all the fluttery feelings and attraction that is abound, these quiet moments are what makes us feel these two should be together. In terms of romance, both dramas are quite different and have more than a decade between them, but I love the way how dramaland has evolved across time still keeping its trope magic intact.
Apart from the bonding moments, the characters always become each other’s habits and when the angst comes, it’s delicious. Usually in the form a gruff cold male lead who barely tolerated the female lead to now being unable to function without her. My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho is a perfect example of that, we had the hero go from whining about buying meat for her to chasing her like a mad person trying to find her.
Sometimes they need not be a full-time cohabitation drama, it can be for a couple of episodes like City Hunter. That drama was all kinds of awesome but still the part that I love the most is when they live together. Living together always kicks things up a notch and you fight so hard to not squee out loud.
And even if a drama goes down the drain in later episodes, you can’t stop loving it or rewatching it because the initial moments were so good that you choose only to remember them. Like Personal Taste, which was my gateway to Lee Min-ho and I do not regret the angsty end which for no reason went in circles. But it’s okay, nothing an I-will-dry-your-hair-and-use-it-as-excuse-to-kiss-your-neck scenario can’t fix.
Sometimes it does not work at all (no matter how much I tried, I could never warm up to the couple in Legend of the Blue Sea), but for every one that doesn’t work, dramaland gives me two more that are adorable and sweet, like Shopping King Louis and I Need Romance 3. It’s a safe trope to bet on.
It doesn’t only work for romantic couples — we also have ensemble casts living together, and I do not love this trope any less then. The moment you see where the drama is taking you, you get all excited for the characters to clash. You root for the brotherly/sisterly bonding. In Goblin we have a human, grim reaper and goblin living together. It was heart-wrenching to see the two immortal beings battle centuries of hate with newfound affection and fondness, and the three of them taking a photo together is one of my favorite bittersweet moments of dramaland.
On side of female friendships we have Age of Youth — that’s hands-down the best cohabitation drama to me and also my most favorite. It had all the best and worst things of living together. Everyone has their own lives but whether we like it or not, people we live with always make a difference on how our day ends. Be it catfights over using each other’s clothes, to taking other’s food, to nursing them when they are sick, to rushing over to each other’s rescue and not allowing to let a friend make a mistake even if it means you have to be nosy and a bitch. All characters came alive and was the most realistic at every turn.
Be it a drama on romance or historical or fantasy, cohabitation is magic on its own. Living together forces our characters to understand and see each other for who they are, and you end up loving them, flaws and all. Sometimes a little bit of time is all that is needed for family, friends, or lovers to grow closer, in dramaland or real life.
Age of Youth
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I never thought when I started watching Suspicious Partner that it would so heavily rely on the good ol’ cohabitation tactic. I was surprised that even in 2017, this formula is still getting all the swoons that it got in 2004. It is amazing how the hijinks flow when you have two diametrically opposed leads forced to live together.
My first introduction to this setup was Full House, which offered a trope twofer with the leads being forced to room together as well as putting on a contract marriage charade. I recall this drama laying the cliches on pretty thick, and for me, this drama set a lot of expectations when it comes to dramaland tropes. It pretty much wrote the rulebook.
Another classic that remains dear to my heart is My Girl, where the hero is a privileged young man who asks a con-woman to play his long-lost cousin to answer his grandfather’s dying wish. The two end up living under the same roof in order to continue the ploy, and as the leads are forced to play nice as loving family members, feelings develop as they share close quarters. This drama has such a special place in my heart even though the last few episodes wrecked me as the drama neared its climax.
I don’t think Personal Taste’s premise would really fly in 2017, but it had its place in dramaland. The lead is an architect who lies that he’s gay in order to room with the heroine, who is the daughter of a famous architect and the current owner of a legendary house. His character is fastidious, while she is a naive and messy woman with a big heart, a case of opposites first clashing and then attracting.
The cohabitation trope illustrates that no matter what outlandish circumstances bring the two parties together, forcing two unwilling individuals in close quarters always leads to some amazing fun and laughs. As the early awkwardness melts away to show a more familiar and comfortable relationship, the drama usually is able to deliver both the laughs and the swoony bits. One thing’s for sure, playing house is always entertaining, especially when the parties can barely stand each other. (Until they fall in love, of course!)
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I live alone. This hasn’t always been the case, but right now it’s probably for the best. I have insane sleep habits and an erratic work schedule, I’m picky about washing dishes but I’ll leave my clothes strewn about. I haven’t always lived alone. In university I lived with five roommates and we, along with a few stray friends and a bunny named Pokey the Eviscerator, lived in a small, weird, creaky, messy little house just off campus. Those three years were both some of the best and most dramatic of my life But for all the high highs, and lowest of lows I experienced there, I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though I might change a few things (that damn bunny).
This is to preface the fact that there is no trope that makes me literally throw my hands up in the air and scream “YESSSSS” more than cohabitation shenanigans and semi-cohabitation shenanigans, i.e., neighbors with boundary issues. No matter what form of cohabitation — same-sex, leads together, reverse harem — the crack factor for me is largely the same.
When the trope applies to romantic situations, it tends to have lot of smaller tropes hidden within it: the awkward shower encounters, the slow build-up of familiarity between the leads, late-night ramyun or drinking sessions, and drunken midnight confessions to name a few. What I love the most is that it allows leads to become intimate in a way that is somehow both endlessly romantic and hugely unromantic at the same time. You really get to know a person after sharing a bathroom with them. There is nothing attractive about dish duty, but somehow dramaland can make doing the dishes together sexy.
I Remember You
My favorite form of cohabitation shenanigans are the ones where the characters find themselves living together almost by happenstance, I Remember You and Suspicious Partner being my two favorites. Both times the male lead takes in the female lead like she’s some sort of stray puppy (and needs protection from a pesky serial killer). Both times the male lead also seems to be filling an absence in his life that he didn’t even realize was there until she came to fill it. The best part is, of course, when he refuses to let her leave for Reasons, But Not Because I Like You, Really.
Another favorite is Bottom of the 9th With 2 Outs. When lifelong best friends suddenly find themselves sharing a space, they start to learn things about one another that they never could have learned otherwise. The sudden intimacy makes them reexamine their relationship and the role that the other plays in their life. It also allows them to have some wonderfully candid conversations and open up about things they never would have prior to living together.
Even where the leads don’t have history, the trope allows for a number of shenanigans. The forced intimacy of cohabitating added to underlying attraction forces the leads to confront their feelings for one another and deal with them accordingly. Moreover, the slow build of getting to know the person you’re falling for while also dealing with all of their bad habits makes for endless amusement. One minute they’re arguing over the best type of rice to buy, the next they’re flirting over homemade dinner. You get to watch them experience both the fluttery first stages of a new crush while also seeing them smack in the middle of a comfortable, worn-in relationship.
Bottom of the 9th With 2 Outs
There’s also the delightful subset of reverse-harem cohabitation shenanigans, such as in You’re Beautiful and Cinderella and the Four Knights. The former is one of my all-time favorite dramas, and I will always be delighted by how all our A.N.Jells argue over the best administration of limes to Mi-nam when (s)he has a cold, and Jeremy’s constant excuses to have congratulatory parties. Oh to be a disguised nun in that house.
But the reverse harem isn’t always a breeding ground for complex love polygons; it can also produce some wonderful friendships, such as in Oh My Venus, Goblin, and Rooftop Prince. Will there ever be anything as cute as bored puppies splayed out on the couches waiting for their Venus to come back home? Or the way in which Reaper and Goblin argue like an old married couple? I specifically remember that when Goblin announced that it basically be a fantasy roommate drama, I knew I had to watch. Even roommate situations that aren’t reverse harem, such as Age of Youth, are must-watch drama for me, because I personally know what it was like to have five roommates and only one good shower.
This leads me to semi-cohabitation, or neighbors with boundary issues. Many times it’s applied to the friend-to-lovers trope, where familiarity bred by a lifetime of close proximity is what keeps the leads from realizing their true feelings for the boy- or girl-next door. Then one day something changes, and it’s no longer easy to waltz into the home of your best friend.
All in all, if you tell me that a drama will include some form of characters living together I can guarantee you that I will check it out. I will relish each and every awkward and cute encounter and pray for a midnight ramyun-and-deep-dark secrets scene. Then I’ll probably email or text one of my former roommates and reminisce about when we were young and stupid. I’m 98 percent sure we had a party similar to the Belle Époque girls’ “Night of Men,” only with fewer phallic balloons and more actual men.
Oh My Venus
- [Dramaland Catnip] Enemies turned lovers
- [Dramaland Catnip] Crossdressing and gender-bending romances
- [Dramaland Catnip] Opponents turned allies
- [Dramaland Catnip] Marriage before dating
- [Dramaland Catnip] Swooning for dramatic height differences
- [Dramaland Catnip] Ragtag bands of misfits
- [Dramaland Catnip] Finding satisfaction in sad love stories
- [Dramaland Catnip] The magic of bad drama magic
- [Dramaland Catnip] The stinging embarrassment of thinking someone likes you… when they don’t
- [Dramaland Catnip] When the hero falls first
- [Dramaland Catnip] The angst and thrills of dramaland’s reunited lovers
- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
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