[Dramaland Catnip] Ragtag bands of misfits
Shut Up Flower Boy Band
There’s nothing quite so appealing as watching a group of misfits being forced to work together to achieve a common goal, whether it’s winning a music competition, solving crime, or just surviving life in general.
While there is no “ragtag” age limit, these misfits are most often found in schools, because there’s no clearer delineation of who is an outsider that strays from the norm than the strict-yet-mysterious social structuring that is high school. Ah, the joys of being a teenager.
I have an undying love for Monstar and Persevere, Gu Hae-ra that goes beyond all sense and reason, one that makes me periodically stalk Mnet for any news of any potential upcoming music-centric drama because I know I would watch it and love it no matter what, even knowing exactly how it would play out.
This potential future future drama would be filled with quirky characters that secretly have boatloads of talent and something to prove, despite their upbringings that may leave something to be desired. I know that I would fall in love with the über-talented vocal-powerhouse who doesn’t fit societal norms of beauty and who secretly has a crush on the most adorable boy there (don’t even get me started on my obsession with the Milky Couple from Dream High).
I know that I would be impatiently waiting for the moment when the reluctant manger who was roped into leading this ragtag “band” eventually realizes how much he cares about them, and they, in turn, see him as the mentor and father figure they’ve always wanted. I know I will cry at their final triumphant performance because, you see, they are performing for themselves and the hope and trust they have in each other.
What’s Up? is one of my all-time favorite dramas because it exemplifies something that I’ve loved since childhood, the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland conceit of “Let’s put on a show!” as the foolproof way to save the day. Except not every day can be saved, can it? But if you have heart — if you learn to trust in yourself and those around you, maybe you can learn to sing again and gain the approval of the red tracksuit ghost.
Maybe you can cut off your hair and choose your own path instead of fulfilling your overbearing mother’s ambitions for your life. Maybe you will sacrifice your bubbly joy and naïveté in order to get one step closer to accomplishing the goal of becoming a professional singer. Maybe you will learn to trust in your friends and classmates, who are more loyal than your flesh-and-blood family will ever be.
Because that’s what a ragtag bunch is, in the end — family. They are the only people they can truly lean on, as exemplified in Shut Up Flower Boy Band. No matter what mishaps they got into, no matter how often they fought, they still managed to come back together — because what was most important is that they had each other. Even at the end, when the band has decided to go their separate ways, they know that they are meant to be together onstage one last time.
Persevere, Gu Hae-ra
There’s no guarantee these musical misfits will all be superstars — in fact, so often they aren’t. The moment passes and everyone moves on. Yet there will forever remain that glorious sensation when the competition is won, when the last note is sung and the fists are pumped into the air in a triumph of victory — that instant is captured forever and can never be forgotten. For just one brief second, these misfits achieved their goal and everything was right in the world.
Music isn’t the only reason for misfits to find each other: Mysteries work, too. My love of teens solving crimes probably comes from all the Nancy Drew books I read as a kid, but I would honestly much rather watch the Seonam Girls’ High Investigation Unit help their fellow classmates get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding them than whatever new detective-prosecutor procedural dramaland cooks up (and I say that as a fan of crime dramas!). Experiencing the girls use their skills to help others and support each other — while still going through all the normal issues that high school brings — is much more relatable to me than seeing a dozen corrupt chaebols and political officials lives be ruined, or one serial-killer put behind bars.
I also love when the misfits are forced together against their will, yet they gradually learn to work as a unit. In the beginning of White Christmas, the students are left behind because they think it’s something private, a matter only they can deal with. But in reality they were chosen, and watching them work through their own issues as they realize what horror is trapped with them is something that never grows old. No matter how many times I’ve seen this drama, I always come away with new insights about the characters that make me wonder just how thin the line is between “monster” and “human.”
Not all misfits need to come together for some grand purpose, though. Not everyone can win a record deal or capture a criminal. No, sometimes simply the act of living, of trying to get through each day the best you can, is enough to pull everyone together towards one common goal — or rather, under one common roof.
Nothing will get my attention faster than a drama that has a variety of people living in the same house. Whether it’s roommates in an apartment like Age of Youth or a boardinghouse like Answer Me 1994, I’m suddenly there with my suitcase, ready to move in. It’s taking the forced cohabitation trope and turning it up to eleven, because instead of two people with disparate personalities trying to figure out how to live together, it’s now five people, or six, or maybe even more.
Answer Me 1994
This kind of boarding situation does tend to lend itself more towards the college-age students, since those are the ones who are most likely willing to share space so they can afford to live there. But not always. Sometimes even those who are out in the “real” world still need a cheap place to call home when the tiny cramped officetels just won’t cut it. Which is why, despite how frustrated I get when I think about the “what could’ve beens” if the show had been allowed to go its full run, Surplus Princess has a dear place in my heart. Here live some odd ducks indeed, and not just because one is secretly a mermaid.
These are the folk who struggle to fit into society’s requirements of what it means to be a proper grown-up with a real job and a real apartment, and all the trappings that come with it. While they may not have the success the world tells them they should, at least they have each other, as weird and wonderful as they are. Despite their varied backgrounds and personalities, they will come to each other’s aid in a blink of an eye, no matter how ridiculous the task. True friendship, true family — and all just because they happen to share a common living space.
The concept of found families is a weakness of mine that could probably be considered its own brand of catnip, but it bleeds enough into this conceit of ragtag misfits that the Venn diagram is comfortably overlapping, and sometimes they might even be interchangeable. Misfits and found families aren’t just for teenagers, though. While the easiest examples of these tropes have me looking at high school and college dramas, I can’t forget the dramas where adults come together to reluctantly save the day.
Especially when it’s adults committing crime. Is there a more iconic example of a ragtag band of misfits than the criminals-turned-heroes of Police Unit 38? (Which is also known in some parts as Squad 38, and if this bunch isn’t “squad goals,” then I don’t know what is.) Every character has unique skills that allow them to pull off their elaborate cons, and every character continues to firmly insist they prefer to work alone. Yeah. Sure. But over time, they come to appreciate how it feels to work together — and use their skills for good. (Or as good as they can get.)
Police Unit 38
They’re not the only ragtag criminals that managed to steal my heart, though, because if I talk about boardinghouses or found families, then I can’t forget about the wonderful Yoo-na’s Street. I’ve never had the desire to be a petty criminal before, but I’d give anything to be a part of Yoo-na’s gang and join her family of misfits, if only to listen to the stories of their lives and challenge expectations of what is right and wrong.
Thank goodness dramaland allows me to do just that, though, whenever I want. The ragtag band of misfits is my catnip because while I may enjoy other dramas — with their chaebols and Candys, cops and prosecutors, love triangles and misunderstandings, hijinx and angst — I don’t usually have a burning desire to somehow move in and be a part of that world like I do when it’s a handful of broken characters coming together to somehow make each other whole.
Age of Youth
Perhaps what it really comes down to is that I, too, am a misfit, longing for a place to belong. I watch dramas that aren’t in my native tongue and ignore the flashy made-in-Hollywood shows, thereby losing out on the “water-cooler” camaraderie that comes from being aware of current pop culture. I am proud of my independence, but sometimes a quiet apartment can be lonely when you’re longing for a partner in crime to go on adventures with. Sometimes I sing and dance in the kitchen, holding a spoon like a microphone while I pretend I’m a rock star, even though I know I’ll balk the moment someone invites me to karaoke.
I am a misfit in my own world, longing for something to be a part of so I can look around and say, “Look what we’ve accomplished!” — be it glory, fame, or friendship. I may still struggle to cobble together my own squad (or be unceremoniously dragged into someone else’s — because let’s be honest, if I were one of the Age of Youth ladies, I’d definitely be more Yoo Eun-jae than Song Ji-won), but I will forever enjoy watching those archetypes I hold so dear as they continue their predictable-but-heartwarming underdog story where the real winners are the ones who believed in each other.
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- What’s your dramaland catnip? Tell us your stories!
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