School 2017: Episode 1
It’s too early to form a concrete opinion about School 2017, but I think it’s got plenty of elements that work for it so far—an adorable, youthful cast, an intriguing mystery, and just enough substance to make a memorable statement past all the fluff. While the dramatic plot has me a little worried, as long as the show can balance the mystery and realism, I think it’ll be a fun show to watch.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open on a class of high school students in the middle of a tense exam. Our heroine, RA EUN-HO (Kim Se-jung) narrates: “Exams. In this suffocating situation, we all imagine the same thing: a sudden catastrophe to let us escape this test.”
Right on cue, the sprinklers suddenly erupt across the school, completely ruining the exam. As the elated students jump up and dance around in delight, Eun-ho continues: “…And one of us made that imagination come true. My ordinary eighteen-year-old life has become unexpectedly entangled.”
We jump back five days earlier. The second-year students rush out of their classrooms to the cafeteria, racing each other for a place in line. When they reach the cafeteria, however, a teacher informs them that the order of admittance will be based on their school rankings.
Eun-ho and her best friend, OH SA-RANG, watch in dismay as the top ten students in their grade enter the cafeteria—including consistent rank number one, SONG DAE-HWI (Jang Dong-yoon), who throws them a sheepish smile as he shuffles past.
Eun-ho and Sa-rang sigh as they head to the back of the line, wondering if there will be any food left for them. At that moment, a classmate strolls past them into the cafeteria despite his low rank, though no one makes a move to stop him.
This is HYUN TAE-WOON (Kim Jung-hyun) whose father is the director of the school board and gets to act however he wants without consequence. The students watch in annoyance as Tae-woon cuts the line and even gets an extra fried egg with his lunch.
When Eun-ho and Sa-rang finally sit down with their lunch, Eun-ho frets over her appearance, complaining that she has to look good for “Jong-geun oppa,” whom she plans to skip class to go see.
So when Eun-ho starts to escape after lunch, Sa-rang helps her by throwing her bag out the window. Unfortunately, the bag isn’t zipped up, and it spews the flyers that were inside all over the ground.
As Eun-ho begrudgingly begins picking up the flyers, model student Dae-hwi strolls by to help, and even promises to cover for her if she gets caught. As Eun-ho hurries away to her appointment, Dae-hwi looks up at Sa-rang with a sweet smile. What a heartthrob.
Dae-hwi meets with his homeroom teacher, SHIM KANG-MYUNG (Han Joo-wan) to discuss an essay contest he’ll be entering that afternoon. The contest is hosted by the prestigious Hanguk University, and if he does well, he’ll have strong chances of admittance.
Dae-hwi isn’t nervous, but Teacher Shim is nervous enough for the both of them. He gives Dae-hwi tips on breathing exercises and even some money for a taxi.
Eun-ho, meanwhile, checks her reflection on her bicycle when Tae-woon comes by for his own motorcycle, planning to ditch class as well. Eun-ho complains that it’ll be too obvious if both of them leave, but he simply retorts that her absence isn’t that noticeable before taking off. Lol. Whining that his motorcycle engine noise is too loud, she hurries off as well before the teachers can catch them.
Eun-ho rides through the city with a huge smile on her face when suddenly an aggressive couple of motorcyclists rip by, chasing after a third. Startled, Eun-ho loses her balance and tumbles off her bike. The third motorcyclist starts to escape before stopping by Eun-ho to make sure she’s okay.
Eun-ho recognizes the third motorcyclist as Tae-woon before noting her broken bicycle, complaining that she’s late. Tae-woon offers to give her a ride, and without a choice, Eun-ho gets on behind him. He does a sick wheelie to get away from his pursuers before racing away. Um, I have no idea what’s happening, but okay.
Tae-woon brings Eun-ho safely to her destination, where the first thing she does is touch up her lipstick in the reflection of his helmet, lol. When she asks if she looks cute, he snorts back that she looks like a kabuki.
Before she can make a retort, her phone rings with a call from her boss. The conversation sounds suspiciously inappropriate to Tae-woon, however, with comments like: “Do I have to wear my uniform while I do it? It’s kind of embarrassing,” and “Will I still get paid on time?” LOL.
Tae-woon stares at her in scandalized horror, asking how she can say those things so casually. Oblivious to his meaning, she just tells him that the pay is good and that they prefer employees to wear their uniforms. Before he can lecture her any further, however, they’re interrupted by another phone call—this time from Jong-geun oppa, telling her their meeting location. As Eun-ho hurries away, Tae-woon stares after her, telling himself to snap out of it.
Eun-ho and Jong-geun oppa (cameo by Kang Min-kyuk) meet on his college campus, where she shows him her sketchbook full of drawings of him. Jong-geun flips through the sketchbook, praising her talent.
Eun-ho finally confesses that she’s liked him since her freshman year (it could be interpreted as her liking art since freshman year, though he seems to catch her meaning). He just tells her that she should be busy studying for college at her age. He says that there are so many fun things about college, and that it was his dream to be a campus couple one day, and Eun-ho dissolves into a fit of embarrassed giggles. He tells her to focus on studying so she can get into a good school like Hanguk University and attend school with him. Eun-ho agrees, hearts in her eyes.
Suddenly, Tae-woon storms up to them, grabbing Eun-ho’s wrist with a furious expression on his face. When Jong-geun stops Tae-woon, demanding to know who he is, Tae-woon responds by punching Jong-geun across the face: “Does dating a minor make you happy, you pervert?!” Oh man.
Jong-geun starts to explain the misunderstanding, but Tae-woon ignores him before drawing back his arm for another swing. To Tae-woon’s surprise, however, Eun-ho inserts herself between them, shielding Jong-geun with her body and glaring up at him.
After clearing up the misunderstanding, Tae-woon and Eun-ho return to his bike. Eun-ho snaps that he’d better hope he hasn’t scratched poor Jong-geun oppa’s face, to which Tae-woon retorts that he wasn’t that good-looking in the first place. When she counters that he’s one to talk, Tae-woon just reminds her to go pick up her bicycle before racing away, leaving her stranded.
As Eun-ho picks up her broken bicycle and walks home, she receives a text message from Jong-geun, telling her that he’s all right. She giggles happily, reminiscing over her (mistaken) memory of him saying that he wanted to be a campus couple with her.
A second text message from Sa-rang, however, informs Eun-ho that the rankings from the second mock exam will be posted tomorrow.
Sure enough, the students are glum the next morning as they look up at the rankings, publicly posted in the school lobby. They sigh at the injustice of the ranking system, noting that they determine all daily school life, including the order they get their lunch and when they can enter the library. As the students note that good-natured Dae-hwi scored first place once again, Eun-ho sighs as she notes her rank: 280.
In the classroom, Teacher Shim tells the already stressed-out class that there will be another mock exam in three days—the third one that month. When the students erupt in complaints about the unfair pressure they’re putting on them with these exams, Teacher Shim finally agrees to try and bring it up with the school board.
In their built-up stress, one of the students, Yoo Bit-na, begins screaming at her classmates about her missing notes. When no one owns up to taking them, she begins digging through their lockers. As the aggressive tension builds through the class, the negative effect of the exams is made clear.
In the teachers’ office, meek Teacher Shim tries to persuade Principal Yang Do-jin to decrease the number of monthly tests, but Principal Yang is having none of it. Instead, he orders the teachers to increase the tests, insisting that it’ll look good for the school—and the director—if they keep making the kids study and improve their grades.
As the bell rings for class, Principal Yang tells Teacher Shim to hang up a different school ranking graph in the lobby, since the director will be visiting soon.
So Teacher Shim obediently hangs up the poster, sighing at being unable to protect his students from the school’s unrealistic expectations. Just as he finishes up, Principal Yang and the rest of the teachers walk by, accompanied by Director Hyun. They proudly show the director the graphs, explaining that average grades have jumped significantly since they started posting them publicly.
The director nods in satisfaction before noting his son’s—that is, Tae-woon’s—ranking near the bottom. As the smile disappears from his face, the other teachers tut at Teacher Shim as they pass, telling him that he should have hidden Tae-woon’s name.
In class that afternoon, Eun-ho notes that she has to do well on this exam because she wants to get into Hanguk University—a school way out of her reach, as Sa-rang reminds her. Brushing off Sa-rang’s negativity, Eun-ho tells a skeptical Sa-rang that Jong-geun told her he wanted to date her if she came to his school.
Unfortunately, Teacher Gu just happens to overhear Eun-ho’s bold statement, and demands to know her tier rank. When she timidly answers that she’s in the sixth tier, he says: “In terms of meat, you’re not even good enough to be dog food. If you’re sixth tier, you cannot be treated like a human. So how dare you talk in class?!” Damn.
After class, Sa-rang complains about Teacher Gu’s horrible comments like a good friend, except that she calls her sixth tier loud enough for the whole hallway to hear. Eun-ho thanks her for her sentiments, but warns her to keep her voice down: “I’m not depressed, but you’re embarrassing me, so shut up before I kill you.” Lol.
Dae-hwi walks by just then to tell Eun-ho that she might have a chance at getting into Hanguk University: They’ve just opened a webtoon media department, and are having a competition for admittance. Sa-rang reminds him that Eun-ho is in the sixth tier, but Eun-ho is too excited about having a chance at her dream school to dwell on ranks.
Cue: Eun-ho’s imagination as a college student at Hanguk University. As Dream Eun-ho paints a painting on campus, Jong-geun appears behind her, telling her he knew she could do it. He leans forward as if to kiss her… before reaching for her pen and putting a dot on her cheek, in a parody of Moonlight Drawn By Clouds: “I’d marked you as mine for a while now.” LOL.
The daydream shatters when Tae-woon appears in real life, grabbing Eun-ho’s sketchbook out of her hands. Ah, so she was drawing out the scenario in a comic, hee. Tae-woon dismisses the childish story before laughing that the protagonist’s name is “Eun-hwa,” suspiciously close to Eun-ho’s own name. Tae-woon tells her that a story should have an interesting plot before leaving her thoroughly embarrassed.
So Eun-ho consults Sa-rang and Sa-rang’s mom, who works as a cleaning lady at the school, for ideas on an interesting plot. She notes that romances aren’t interesting enough, action is too hard to draw, and medical stories take too much studying. Eun-ho giggles that she could try an erotic story, and Sa-rang just sighs that Eun-ho hasn’t even been kissed yet.
After school that day, Dae-hwi and his girlfriend, Nam-joo, agree to head home early to study. When Nam-joo asks for his exam notes, Dae-hwi hands over the notes without a second thought, even telling her which parts to study specifically.
As Dae-hwi leaves in the car that has come to pick him up, it seems that both Dae-hwi and Nam-joo are pretty famous in the area, as students from other schools gather at the gates waiting for them, gifts and cameras in hand.
Meanwhile, Tae-woon heads to a prep school to enroll in some classes. We flash back to a confrontation between Tae-woon and his father, Director Hyun, who had been livid after seeing his son’s low school ranking. Director Hyun had ordered Tae-woon to register for some academy classes, threatening to take away his credit cards.
When the lady at the info desk starts to explain the classes and prices to Tae-woon, however, he just asks her to register him for their most popular classes. Astonished, she tells him that he should at least see which classes are right for him, but he just says: “I don’t need to study. I’m rich. So just enroll me in a bunch that look good.”
The car Dae-hwi got in, meanwhile, belongs to a rich family with a high school son, Hee-chan, also on his way to tutoring academy. Dae-hwi shows him which parts of the exam material will likely be on the test, explaining in detail what to memorize. Hee-chan’s mother smiles at Dae-hwi, saying that dozens of tutors are no match for him.
As the car rolls up to their destination, Hee-chan’s mother hands Dae-hwi a few bills in thanks for his help. Dae-hwi hesitates before taking the money, looking oddly unhappy for a guy who just earned a few hundred dollars.
As Dae-hwi gets out of the car and parts ways with Hee-chan, he looks up at the expensive prep academy with an unreadable expression. As he turns to leave, however, he passes by Eun-ho, who is handing out prep school advertisement flyers for her part-time job. Eun-ho tells him that the job pays unexpectedly well, and that she plans to buy a tablet with the money she earns so she can draw webtoons.
Dae-hwi smiles brightly at that, telling her that he’s jealous that she has a dream. Eun-ho wonders what his dream is, but he seems unable to answer.
Dae-hwi takes the bus home at night, only to be greeted by his drunk mother gossiping with her friends. This seems to be a regular occurrence, and when his mom’s friends note that she’s been blessed with a such a smart, good-looking son, she laughs and tells them that the idea that one needs money to study is a lie made up by the media: “Dae-hwi doesn’t need tutors or prep classes. He’s fine all by himself.”
Dae-hwi just weathers these comments with an unhappy expression before turning in for the night. He puts the money he earned from Hee-chan’s mother into a drawer before bandaging up his hands, which are blistered and bloody from studying so hard. He sighs at the prep academy advertisement he got from Eun-ho before buckling down for some more studying. Damn, boo, take it easy.
Eun-ho, meanwhile, goes home to a fried chicken shop, where she asks her mother about taking some webtoon prep classes. She insists that she just needs one month to figure out an interesting plot: “And then I’ll be set to go to Hanguk University!”
At her words, Eun-ho’s brother laughs at her like she’s deranged, and Mom snaps that they don’t have money laying around to send her to drawing school. Eun-ho groans that if she doesn’t get to go to a good college, she’ll never meet a good husband, and she’ll live alone forever. As she storms out, Eun-ho’s father laughs at his cute daughter.
Eun-ho retreats to her room to start studying for tomorrow’s test, though of course she just ends up doodling and gossiping with Sa-rang all night. Eun-ho panics when she realizes that it’s 9 P.M., and hurries to make an hour-by-hour study plan… before falling asleep, LOL.
We see the rest of Eun-ho’s classmates, all studying late into the night: some learning from tutors, some working at home, some working at the library. Eun-ho narrates: “We always went crazy during exam time. We’re so young, but sadly, we believe that our lives are determined at the age of eighteen.”
The next morning, the students go through their notes for some last-minute cramming before the exam. Sa-rang is excused from the exam since she plans to take the civil service exam (rather than the college entrance exam that everyone else is studying for), and she tells Eun-ho to do her best before hurrying out.
Scary teacher Teacher Gu comes in with the tests, declaring that the exam results will determine their class rankings: “The stupid and lazy people will suffer and be prejudiced against.” Encouraging words, dude.
As the class takes the test, Teacher Gu keeps careful watch on all of the students. The moment the clock strikes 9 A.M., however, a loud screeching takes over the PA system before erupting in exciting dance music. The students look around in delight and confusion, and then suddenly the sprinklers open, spraying water all over the class and their exam papers.
As a furious Teacher Gu storms out, the students leap around the classroom in delight, realizing this means the test is canceled. Some of the students guess that it must be the doing of their “hero,” who is famous for playing pranks across the school, though this is certainly his biggest trick yet.
As Teacher Shim heads out into the drenched hallway in a panic, a beautiful lady in a police uniform strolls up to him, holding an umbrella. “This school is pretty amazing,” she notes. She strolls away, leaving him confused.
Principal Yang holds an assembly that afternoon, enraged at the students for allowing this kind of disruption. He declares that another mock test will be held in a week as scheduled. The students groan in dismay.
Eun-ho, however, is too busy doodling a picture of the furious Principal Yang to pay attention. As she draws, an idea for a webtoon plot dawns on her, and she spins around to exclaim to Sa-rang: “A prep class superhero romance! The principal is the villain, and…”
She finally realizes she’s speaking way too loudly when the whole room turns to stare at her. As the teachers look at her in disapproval, Dae-hwi and Tae-woon smile in amusement.
The teachers get to work drying off the teachers’ room, slipping and sliding across the wet floor. Principal Yang interrupts to introduce them to their new school officer, HAN SU-JI (Han Sun-hwa), before launching into a tirade on the dismal state of their school.
The teachers sigh that the school must do their best to catch the culprit, noting that it doesn’t seem like a single student anymore or a simple prankster, but a premeditated crime. When Teacher Shim meekly suggests that the culprit may not even be a student at their school, urging them not to blindly suspect anyone, Principal Yang quickly shuts him down and pairs him up with Officer Han to catch the culprit.
Officer Han gets to work, asking what kind of pranks exactly have occurred in the past.
In response to her question, Eun-ho narrates the “hero’s” crusade of pranks across the school. We scroll through a webtoon-style illustration of the hero’s deeds: doodling all over the principal’s portraits, corn syrup on the bathroom floor, decapitating the school statue, and of course, the sprinkler incident.
The students note that no one knows who the hero is or why he’s doing this. Dae-hwi notes that it doesn’t seem like it could be the work of a single person, while Hee-chan guesses that it must be the work of a secret organization.
Eun-ho, meanwhile, tells Sa-rang that she’s certain that the hero is a single person: “Heroes are always lonely people,” she insists, “It’s cooler that way.” Eun-ho thanks the hero, begging him to help her get into Hanguk University.
That night, a group of unidentified students text each other in a school study room, telling each other to lay low for the time being. Hmm. Interestingly, Dae-hwi appears to get up from the texting group before heading outside, where he runs into Tae-woon.
They both hide their phones before Tae-woon storms past, muttering that it’s truly a shitty day. Dae-hwi, however, retorts: “Do you like living that way?” Tae-woon turns back to confront Dae-hwi, snarling that it would be great if the students could see their student body president’s true face. Dae-hwi snaps that he must miss his fist. They stare each other down before Dae-hwi walks away first, each muttering that the other is a crazy bastard. Interesting.
Teacher Gu gives an assignment to the students in class the next morning. Eun-ho, however, is too busy drawing her hero story in her sketchbook again, and doesn’t notice when Teacher Gu sneaks up on her and snatches the sketchbook away.
Before she can make an excuse, Teacher Gu tells her that she can pick up the sketchbook when she graduates. As the bell rings, Teacher Gu snatches Tae-woon’s phone out of his hands as well, taking both items with him.
As the class leaves on the bell, Eun-ho scampers after Teacher Gu, begging him for her sketchbook. Tae-woon follows, looking hardly worried as he asks for his cell phone back, pointedly noting that the phone was a gift from his father.
At his words, Teacher Gu immediately gives back the phone, much to Eun-ho’s outrage. When she complains at the injustice, he just notes that if she feels wronged, she should find a connection of her own: “A connection powerful enough to defy the rules.” Teacher Gu notes that even if it’s unfair, it’s the reality of this cruel society.
Eun-ho becomes livid at that, insisting that she shouldn’t be told to accept injustice, and instead to fight until everyone is equal. Teacher Gu tells her she can only say those things once she has power: “And what power do you have in this school, Rank 280?” Tae-woon watches as Eun-ho follows after him, begging all the way down the hallway.
It seems that begging Teacher Gu doesn’t work, because Eun-ho targets Tae-woon next. She insists that a word from him would be enough to get her sketchbook back. When Tae-woon stubbornly tells her that he has no reason to help, Eun-ho tries to convince him to fight the injustice like their hero. Tae-woon doesn’t budge, however, and just races away on his motorcycle.
Eun-ho is a nervous wreck that night at the library, too nervous to work without her sketchbook. She jumps up, determined to sneak into the teachers’ office to get it back and get into Hanguk University.
So Eun-ho sneaks through the school in the dark, tiptoeing through the dark hallways. When she reaches the teachers’ office, however, she notes ripped-up papers all over the floor. Looking closely, she sees that they’re the remnants of the class ranking graphs.
When Eun-ho turns the corner, she turns to see a hooded figure burning papers in a fire. Eun-ho gasps at the sight, and when the figure turns to look at her, she gasps: “You…?”
Ahhh, who is it? An outsider? Dae-hwi? Tae-woon? Teacher Shim?! While I can’t yet say for sure how much I like the direction the plot is heading in, I do find myself interested to see who the “hero” is. The plot is certainly intriguing, if a bit unrealistic and unrelatable at times—so while I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to stay invested without more heartfelt characters and relationships, I’ll certainly be sticking around to see who this hooded figure is. I’m secretly hoping that it is a lonely, heroic figure instead of a secret organization, since it would give us the potential for more character investigation—but I also wholly welcome the drama to surprise me in any way possible, so I won’t shut down any potential avenues yet.
Still, I’m a little disappointed that School 2017 seems to be following in the footsteps of Who Are You–School 2015 in terms of its dramatic plot instead of its predecessors’ tendencies toward a more introspective, slice-of-life storyline. I can’t honestly say that I like the new direction of the franchise, especially since the older series gave so much natural potential for genuine, character-based stories, but School 2017 does at least seem to have guaranteed a fun conflict with an adorable, youthful cast. Kim Se-jung in particular seems to be doing a really solid job with her character, with a natural charm that makes her fun to watch in every scene and gives her inherent chemistry with almost everyone.
While I don’t have many complaints about the actors, I do wish that the characters were a little more interesting or layered. I’m sure that we’ll get to see more sides of each character as the plot progresses, but I find myself uninterested in most of the characters we’ve been introduced to, save for one or two. I was pretty disappointed, for example, that Eun-ho’s main motivation for getting into Hanguk University wasn’t her own dream of becoming a webtoon artist, but an avenue to get to some guy she has a crush on. At the same time, I did appreciate the smaller moments the writing snuck in to demonstrate Eun-ho’s adorable character, such as the friendship between Eun-ho and Sa-rang, and the on-point illustration of how Eun-ho studies (or doesn’t study, LOL). Those little details did add a lot of dimension to her character, though not quite enough for me to love her just yet.
Dae-hwi, meanwhile, has totally captured my heart already. I think this episode did a great job at showing the many, many different sides to his persona: the secrets he’s hiding, his good-natured humility, his dreamless existence, his hardworking personality. I especially liked that Dae-hwi isn’t just naturally and effortlessly smart, but someone who has to work hard for it—but without a dream, why is he working so hard in the first place? He’s smart and hardworking, but not so competitive as to refuse to help others. He doesn’t come from money and seems to resent his mother, but still appears to crave her attention. He’s sweet and nice to everyone, but that just means he gets easily taken advantage of by everyone and their mothers (literally)—even though I’m sure he’s smart enough to know when he’s being used. Is it that he truly doesn’t care enough to fight them on it, or does he have some overarching plan? Though I can’t really tell how School 2017 will pan out until the next few episodes, I can only hope the characters will become interesting enough to draw my interest.
- Premiere Watch: School 2017, The King Loves, Man Who Dies to Live, Reunited Worlds
- Underdog student dreams of breaking into the elite ranks in School 2017
- A mystery, a suspect, and a hero for School 2017
- Riding bikes and motorcycles in School 2017’s first teaser
- Fresh faces for School 2017’s classroom
- School 2017 secures its leading bad boy, good boy
- School 2017 adds more students and a teacher to its lineup
- Kim Yoo-jung out, Gugudan idol Kim Se-jung in for School 2017
- Jealousy, Rebel’s Kim Jung-hyun up for School 2017