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[In Defense Of] School 2017: The perfect drama

By Anonymous

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.

Here’s why.

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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Really like this defense! The idea of no true perfect drama resonates with me. It really is about finding your own version of a perfect drama. No drama is without flaws, and it's the drama that you don't notice or mind the flaws that become good and great dramas to you. Really speaks to this theme!

I also adored this drama as a romantic comedy, and the couple is still one of my favorites, for the reasons you mentioned and more. A lot of baggage can come with the School franchise, and had this just been a regular one off drama, I don't think it would have been under such scrutiny. If anyone has not seen this drama, do yourself a favor and put it on, sit back, and get ready to Tae SWOOOOOON!

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Drama Rating = 100/100

This is the first kdrama that i have watched and i totally, totally love it. every episode brings all the feels and a lot of roller coaster ride of emotions. felt like a giggly teenager while watching each episode :D

i miss so much my lemonade couple, Kim SeJeong and KimJungHyun chemistry is out of this world and hope they get together for real... hehehe

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I loved this drama, so no defense necessary although yours was nice.

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thanks for writing this, because this is the drama that got me out of the drama watching slump! tae-swoon is the best!!!

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love love love this defense..i think a lot were surprised when i listed Swoon School 2017 as one of my top 2017 dramas..but like what I have written either in the last recap or my farewell post for School 2017, "you have captured my heart,all rants,complaints and swooning,included"

And my favorite line from your piece

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.

captured one of the reasons why I loved and swooned over TaeSwoon.

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I, too, thought it was primarily a high school romance drama and all the sideline was the rest. The chemistry between the leads was amazing. Can't wait to see Tae-Swoon's next drama. He portrayed first love perfectly. But let's be honest, i have NEVER met an 18 year old boy so smooth in my life (did that stop me from watching? heck no)

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it was the first tv series where I was searching down all behind the scenes videos on youtube and it remained me of my old school days when I was dreaming of somebody like Taeswoon, but didn't have time for love, too occupied with life, but that doesn't stop you from dreaming... ;-)

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I loved this show toooo! And honestly all I do is roll my eyes at the “too much romance”-type of criticism because I love that shit! Yes, yes, pressures of youth, friendships are hard, all that is true but really? Romance is what I’m here to slurp up like I’m dying of thirst, and boy did this show deliver me an extra large, extra thick chocolate milkshake with caramel and fudge drizzle, all topped with a frothy mountain of whipped cream.

(I might be starving. Don’t mind me and my strange food metaphors.)

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No need to convince me. I love this show! Which is supported by the numerous posts (spam) on my fan wall.
I am a sucker for romcoms but would normally steer clear of high school dramas. But this show managed to make me love every minute of my fave characters.

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I could not agree more! It is perfect with no but's and however's.

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Tae swoon is heartueee.
Lemonade couple is fresh offering in my dully daily stuff. Thanks for writing down this. 😄

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School 2017 is "Perfect" High School Romance Drama! ^^
Agree with all your reasons..

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I started it but dropped it now it has moved way up my #dramathatIdroppedhastofinishwatching# list. Thanks...

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Love the defense! This is the only of the School Franchise dramas I have watched. Tae-Swoon, 'nuff said.

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Ooh, I loved reading this post thoroughly. It brought back lots of great memories watching the drama! I adored the romance as much as you did. It was the perfect warm, first-love school romance. Tae-swoon 4eva!

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Love School 2017.
Hate to read "it wasn't perfect, but...".
Thank you for the post!!!

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Great defense! I think if the drama wasn't called School people wouldn't be so bothered by the romance focus, but I really liked the other students too and wished we saw more of them.

Also if I can add - I want to speak in defense of Kim Se Jung as Ra Eun Ho. Tae-swoon would be frustrating to watch and we would only feel sorry and not swoony for him if the girl he fell for wasn't someone so lovable, but KSJ was really good as Eun Ho even though she never acted before. And while we complain about bad idol acting here on db (#sorrynotsorry if ur oppas/unnis got it), we also acknowledge when an idol does their acting well.

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I tend to steer clear of high school dramas. The only one I’ve seen is Biscuit Teacher... but I do love a good romance if done well. Still on the fence about this one, but maybe someday I’ll get to it. Wonderful write up! Thank you!

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Hehehe, @ally! Of course you've seen BISCUIT TEACHER AND STAR CANDY -- for Gong Yoo!! ;-) Same here! And then there's Jung Il-woo as Cha Chi-soo in FLOWER BOY RAMEN SHOP. Oh, wait. Those two are noona romances. Hmmm. Might have to check out what Mo-ri has been up to since Yeonsangun was overthrown. For science. ;-)

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i liked school 2017 more than 2013 and 2015. Maybe have a weird taste lol

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Great write up anonymous person!

I haven't seen this drama yet but it's definitely on my list! I'm even more excited to watch it for good depiction of emotional male lead. I love that about kdramas, that they are not afraid to have their leading men actually show emotions and cry on screen so unlike Western media.

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That is one of the main things that got me watching kdramas.

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Thank you for this. Your arguments are so rational and reasonable they almost become a reason not to watch, but I do so agree School 2017 is close to perfect. Believe you me, were you my age (with youth departed long ago (but not forgotten, nor abandoned) you would be even more appreciated of this drama's positive qualities!

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Actually the J-dramas that cover this genera are superior (IMO) because they are not so sacharin, they are very powerful and they do not try to paint an idealised picture whilest leaving intact the complexity and drama of human frailty and spirit.

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Sounds like School2013 is closer to school jdoramas.

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Every time I saw Taewoon, I accidentally read it as TaeSwoon. What have you beanies done to me 😂
I really enjoyed reading your article. School 2017 was a great show and had such a cute couple.

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Me too. This is the first time I read a School2017 piece after show ended and all the Tae-woon's are jarring me. My brain thinks it's a typo of Tae-swoon!

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I honestly couldn't remember his name a couple weeks ago when I was thinking about School 2017. I kept going "Not Tae-swoon, but Tae.....oh what is it again???? WHAT IS IT???"

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This was my first school drama and it is now one of my favorite romcoms. The spam wall sure helped.

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For me, this drama was perfect.
I loved everything about it. The romance, the lead actors, the friendship, the theachers, the story. I didn't watch many school dramas, what I should do more. And this one is tied up with Sassy Go Go..

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school 2017 forever!!!

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I’ll be the little grey raincloud:

I guess if I’d gone into it thinking it was a rom com set in school or ‘high school romance’ as you suggest I would have found it near perfect. But I didn’t because School 2013 and 2015 led me to believe it would be deeper than that: about friendship, about struggling against the odds, family, finding a dream, fighting for what’s right, etc. If a youth drama does romance without pretence I’m good (example: Girls Generstion 1979, which I loved). But School 2017 set off touching on all the themes just mentioned - with romance as one of them. I only realised around episode 12 that it was going to develop the romance mainly. Naturally I was disappointed that it did not deliver a meatier story. Can’t have it all I guess. 😔

I agree though that Tae (S)Woon showed a lot of character growth. Alas, I flipped my table at having yet another female lead who was bottom of her class and never made a real effort to study (c.f. GG1979, I was more satisfied in that case).

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It kind of reminds me of Do Bong Soon where half the world is saying "it's the best drama because of the romance" and the other half is pointing out that the romance wasn't supposed to be the entire point.

I enjoyed School 2017 as a bingewatch but got frustrated at the truncated plot points and things happening in 'Offscreenville".

There were moments that really resonated with me, like watching this emotionally immature boy deal with liking a girl by ordering endless chicken deliveries. But now and then I'd wonder where my plot went.

As defences go, this one's pretty good though. Sometimes you like something because they did one thing really well and you don't want the things they didn't do well to detract from that.

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I like your definition of a "perfect" drama. For me it's simplified into one that (I of course enjoy) without thinking of a million things I feel should have been done differently!

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I didn't like this drama at all in the beginning. I pretty much forced myself to watch it because I had yet to watch a highs school K-drama and one in the School series. I'm really glad I did though because the show became much better later on. The reason why I didn't like the show early on was because the subject matter was super heavy and depressing with not that much of a silver lining. The villains were having way too much fun at the expense of those with less power. Thankfully, the grey clouds parted later on.

I often find myself taking the approach the author does here, that is trying to bend the drama to better fit a perspective that would make me happy and satisfied. If we're being honest, the romance only really kicked in after the first third of the drama. Before that it was all struggles. In that sense, the drama was a reflection some aspects of society today. If showed really well how some villains can be created by the pressures of unduly rigorous academic systems and how the cycle perpetuates itself. In the end, as with life, there are many villains who get away with some truly messed up stuff. Having said that, as the author points out, if we change our perspective, we can find the stuff that makes us happy.

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Interesting how we had opposite reactions. I liked the first third very much and then those struggles dissipated. I wanted to see Dae Hwi being recognised for his studies and overcome his financial difficulties. I wanted to see Eun Ho pour her heart into drawing and study just a tiny bit. I wanted to know Strawberry Milk Boy’s real name (no, not really).

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Hahaha...poor Strawberry Milk boy. We shall never know--or use--his real name. I get you on the struggles though. I was so annoyed that Eun ho never put in what was necessary academically to truly reach her goals. I hear you on Dae hwi was well. It's just that the depressing stuff wasn't balanced enough. Just Between Lovers is depressing in a different way, but it's still relatable and easily watchable for me by comparison.

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Thank you I feel very much the same.

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Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your excellent essay. It is well though-out and nicely written. I like your criteria for what constitutes a "close enough to perfect" drama for the 99.99% of viewers who are not professional drama critics.

One where the journey from initiation to climax to conclusion makes a lasting impression and leaves me feeling warm and satisfied.

How I feel during and after watching a show is one of my main rules of thumb for judging the success of a drama. If I don't have to bust a gut suspending my disbelief, and feel warm and fuzzy during and after watching the story unfold, I consider that a pretty darned good drama. Sometimes I'm in the mood to watch a drama that is thought-provoking, or that deals with the more problematic aspects of real life. Those kinds of shows have a different kind of pay-off, but can be every bit as satisfying.

You make a convincing case for SCHOOL 2017. Just like @greenfields made an excellent case for SOLOMON'S PERJURY -- which I finished watching yesterday. I don't usually watch school dramas because I'm an old fogey. (Who am I kidding? I've been an old fogey since I was young.) However, once in a while I can stand to revisit that socially-awkward time in life. From what you've written, SCHOOL 2017 might be just the ticket for a sentimental journey with an uplifting developmental arc. Thanks for your essay! ;-)

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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.

It's not just a trend. It's the same mythology that I grew up with as a kid watching westerns and WWII sagas during the Cold War. One of the most popular American leading men of the era, John Wayne, played hard-bitten heroes in both genres. I suspect that in order to survive the economic rigors of the Depression and the horrors of WWII, the men of my father's generation had to clamp down on their feelings lest they be overwhelmed with the losses they endured. They also had to differentiate themselves from women, who were supposed to be so much more in touch with their feelings. Women were sanctioned by society to express said feelings in public (while being written off as hysterical, bitchy, irrational, petty -- and bad at mathematics).

I read The Inexpressive Male when I was in college -- but it was as much to understand myself as the males of the species. Females can be inexpressive, too. ;-) In the America in which I grew up, guys were forced into emotional straitjackets -- and had a higher rate of heart attacks and stress-related illness, plus a shorter lifespan. Dudes who were too “touchy-feely” risked calling their masculinity into question. Other cultures, particularly Latin ones, permitted greater emotional expressivity. That was well before Hallyu brought Kdrama to international awareness.

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL has a bunch of memorably expressive male characters, not just the iconic male OTP of Yang Tae-sub and Kim Kyung-soo (Song Chang-eui and Lee Sang-woo). Kim Young-chul is terrific as head of household Yang Byung-tae. His brothers, Byung-joon and Byung-kil (alias Big Uncle and Little Uncle, played by Kim Sang-joong and Yun Da-hun, respectively), are a feuding odd couple in their own many-layered and highly-nuanced right.

In HYENA, Shin Sung-rok's character, food consultant Lee Seok-jin, is touchingly portrayed, and one of my all-time favorite Kdrama personas. Although parts of the cable production are quite raunchy at times, SSR's character is a paragon of virtue, dignity, and unrequitable love. He is pursued by a medical student who has returned from America to marry someone else, only to ditch the wedding at the eleventh hour. One of his childhood buddies, tsundere TV producer Choi Jin-beom (Oh Man-seok), is a closet romantic who missed the boat with his first love back in college.

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