[In Defense Of] School 2017: The perfect drama
by Guest Beanie
So often I read a drama review that begins somewhere along the lines of: “This was not a perfect drama but…” And School 2017 is no exception.
But maybe it was. No drama is actually perfect; in fact, in my opinion no show of any kind is ever truly perfect. If one looks for them, they will always find flaws somewhere. So then one has to ask, what makes a drama close enough to perfect that it can be described as perfect?
For critics, this criterion is vast and complex. But for the average viewer? For me? I’d say it’s a drama that I enjoy every moment of watching. One where I don’t find myself ever sighing in irritation or quietly laughing to myself about some ridiculous spectacle onscreen. One where I don’t have to fight the urge to skip through slow-paced scenes. One where the journey from initiation to climax to conclusion makes a lasting impression and leaves me feeling warm and satisfied. These dramas are few and far between. School 2017 is one of them.
School 2017 is, at its core, a romance drama. If we look at the most recent School installations, School 2013 was a school drama about societal pressures and the struggles of youth, School 2015 was some sort of weird psychological mystery mess of a school drama, and School 2017 was a school romance drama.
Many of the reviews I’ve read say that the romance overpowered the main plotlines of the drama. Still, these reviewers usually admit that they loved the romance nonetheless. But what if you flipped your thinking a little? Instead, the main plotline of School 2017 is the romance and the other pieces of the drama are secondary. Admittedly, I don’t think that was actually the intention of the drama, but come at it that way, and the drama suddenly becomes as close to perfect as a drama can get.
Oh man, did School 2017 do the romance well. I have never in my life been more satisfied with a portrayal of romance in a Korean drama. There are so many reasons why. I could probably write a ten-page commentary listing all the reasons why. But I’ll choose three.
#1 Falling in Love
I so enjoyed the process of watching Tae-woon and Eun-ho fall in love.
In the first episode, Eun-ho is preoccupied with figuring out how to get into Hanguk University so she can be with her crush, Jong-geun. She also hopes to pursue her interest in art at Hanguk, but first and foremost, she wants to be with Jong-geun. Her crush on Jong-geun is vapid and superficial. We as the viewers are offered no compelling evidence that her crush is serious. Instead we see that once Eun-ho becomes preoccupied with the mysteries at school, she doesn’t waste any energy continuing to fret over Jong-geun.
But we are left with the impression that she wants to fall in love. She wants that experience. That’s a relatable feeling. But one can’t force love to happen—it just kind of happens. Given her inexperience with love, it’s then understandable she doesn’t realize she’s falling for Tae-woon.
Tae-woon, on the other hand, is quicker to realize what’s going on. Of course initially, he tries to convince himself otherwise. But to me, this seemed like a mask for his insecurities. By trying to convince himself that he can’t actually like her, he can avoid the process of agonizing over whether his crush likes him back (we’ve all been there) and then potentially being rejected. Because he’s so used to being rejected. And he can ignore his self-doubt and lack of assurance in his worth.
Eventually, though, he has to admit defeat. Of course he likes her. He already knew that. So he gathers his courage, faces his insecurity, and confesses. The possibility of a relationship with Eun-ho is more important to him than the potential of the pain he may face if he’s rejected, and this is a major turning point in his outlook on life.
His confession also finally gives Eun-ho a reason to examine her feelings for Tae-woon and clues her into the fact that maybe what she feels for him isn’t something as simple as friendship, which clearly, it is not. And so finally, she gets what she wanted. Her first love.
#2 Tae-woon’s Confession and Courage
The moment when Tae-woon confronts Eun-ho the morning after she angrily rejects him is one of my favorite drama scenes ever. There are too many dramas where one character angrily says something to another character and the other character just accepts it as truth. But Tae-woon, insecure Tae-woon with a history of being horribly rejected and misunderstood because he doesn’t stand up for himself, stands up for himself with Eun-ho.
He counters Eun-ho’s assertion that his confession to her was all a silly whim, something he hadn’t thought about seriously and didn’t really care about. He voices his insecurities so clearly and so emotionally. “Have you ever even tried to understand me? It was hard for me… and just like that, you turned it into something easy,” he says to her.
This is a big moment for Tae-woon. He’s not one to easily voice his feelings, which is why he’s so often misunderstood. There’s this prevailing trend in media and in society as a whole that men aren’t as insecure or emotional as women. And even if they are, they shouldn’t show it. I think most people know that’s not actually true, but I haven’t seen many shows that portray an emotionally vulnerable male character as well and as naturally as School 2017 did with Tae-woon in that scene.
And on a small tangent, just Tae-woon in general: He went through so much emotional growth, and it never seemed forced or unrealistic to me. Even the lack of emphasis on his relationship with Dae-hwi at the end of the show made sense to me. They reconciled, but it was a small reconciliation. If I were in Tae-woon’s place, I wouldn’t have gone back to trusting Dae-hwi fully either. They were no Go Nam-soon and Park Heung-soo.
#3 The Feels
I really don’t have much to say about this. Once they were together, they were together. They were loyal and trusting and willing to share with each other. And they were the cutest.
Thank you, School 2017, for being the perfect drama. And while I’m here, I just want to point out how great the theme song is.
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