My First First Love: Season 2 review
My First First Love is back! Netflix might be calling it Season 2, but we know it’s really the second half of the drama they cut in two. While the drama’s sweet tone stays the same, it also manages to shake up some loveline norms we’ve all grown used to.
The production team might have chosen to release My First First Love as a two-season affair, but really it was one contiguous drama with a giant pause button in between. Technically, it’s Episodes 9-16 we’re watching here in Season 2. If you haven’t watched the drama yet, ignore the “seasons” altogether and watch it straight through like the drama gods intended! The three-month break in between episodes didn’t do the drama’s momentum any favors — but, once I got back into the swing of the story, it was as if it had never been paused. And though this is a bit crazy to be able to say about a drama, I think I enjoyed the second half more than the first.
When we left off at the close of Season 1, Tae-oh finally realized that his feelings for his childhood friend Han Song-yi went beyond friendship. We realized it way before he did, by the way he harrumphed around taking care of her and masking his jealousy with irritation. But Tae-oh himself doesn’t realize until it’s seemingly too late: she’s got an awesome boyfriend in Tae-oh’s good friend Seo Do-hyun.
Where My First First Love really stood out for me was how it totally changed the rhythm of the standard K-drama loveline. It was enjoyable to get invested in a story that chose to take a different path to get to the same destination (viz., the happy ending). But, it was doubly satisfying for Ji-soo fans that are so used to watching him be thwarted in love (Angry Mom, Sassy Go Go, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon, and on into infinity), because this drama let him play both the first and second lead in his romance.
In your most typical story, the hero and heroine meet and interact (usually with some antagonism), until they realize they’re attracted to each other. There’s some kind of culminating moment (confession, kiss, etc.) at the peak of the drama, but then something to tear them apart until they find their way back to each other. The end.
My First First Love was refreshing because it didn’t come close to this. It starred a pair of childhood friends who would obviously drop Thor’s hammer for each other — but had no interest in each other romantically. For three quarters of the drama, each are invested in their own romantic relationships. Tae-oh wins the ulzzang girlfriend he had always dreamed of, and Song-yi has a tender and touching romance with Do-hyun. In fact, they made such a sweet couple that I could picture them walking off into the sunset together at the end of the drama. Don’t tell me Ji-soo/Tae-oh is doomed in love again?!
My First First Love holds Tae-oh in second-lead love status for a bit — and we get just enough storytelling juiciness of unrequited love and pining to keep it interesting. But even after Tae-oh realizes his feelings for Song-yi are shifting into the romantic direction, he doesn’t interfere with their relationship, which I greatly appreciated.
What does happen, though, is that Tae-oh and Song-yi’s affection for each other becomes apparent to everyone that’s around them — not because of what they say, but because of what their actions say.
Choi Hoon, one of Tae-oh’s housemates, sums it up quite well. He says being in a relationship is about having the one you love as your top priority. This is one of the drama’s main conceits, and many of the storylines illustrate this in action — but of course it’s Tae-oh and Song-yi’s story that does it best.
When Song-yi needs a home, Tae-oh takes her in. When she runs into trouble on campus with a naughty sunbae, it’s Tae-oh who flies to her rescue (and has a pretty impressive front kick, too). And when she’s in a crisis with the mother that abandoned her, Tae-oh is on the bus right beside her.
Of course, Tae-oh and Song-yi’s reliance on and closeness with each other creates ripples in their respective relationships. Tae-oh’s girlfriend’s ultimatum (basically, “it’s me or Song-yi”) didn’t bother me one bit — but watching Do-hyun lose Song-yi’s heart was quite bittersweet.
On the other hand, it created an interesting twist on the usual love line. As Tae-oh and Song-yi slowly come together, Tae-oh (and Ji-soo!) transitions from second-lead sidelining and reaps the first-lead rewards: a wonderful, loving relationship with Song-yi, who he calls his friend, his family, and his love.
The evolution of their romance actually reminded me of a favorite one from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, where two characters who grew up together, slowly fall for each other. It’s not loud or dramatic; it’s soft and natural. That’s exactly the emotion that My First First Love captures in this friends-to-lovers tale.
But that softness doesn’t only run through the main romance — it also runs through the secondary storylines and subplots as well. Both Choi Hoon and Oh Ga-rin (the other two friends staying at Tae-oh’s house) had only a simple plot arc each (okay, and a hilarious romance). While their storylines felt a little needlessly stretched out, and not particularly new, the sweetness won me over.
Hoon, who dreams of being a musical actor, has his ups and downs and heartbreaks, but eventually earns his big break. And Ga-rin, the runaway heiress, not only gains her independence, but finds her calling and puts her money to good use helping others. And when it’s finally time for Tae-oh’s own story/conflict, these friends/housemates rally around him, and it’s totally touching. They give back to him as he’s given to them, and everything comes full circle.
Though he’s the main character of the drama, most of what we see of Tae-oh is him reacting to the people around him. By the time we head into Tae-oh’s story, it’s at the tail-end off the drama, so it feels a little rushed and perhaps too quickly dispatched.
In fact, I could have probably done without this entire subplot for Tae-oh. While I want to complain about the ubiquitousness of the family secrets + reuniting mother/son storyline in dramaland, the conflict was so nicely handled here that I don’t feel it warrants a full-fledged complaint. Also, this section of the story was some of the meatiest for Ji-soo, as he copes with the shocks in his past, and gives us a good deal of the puppy dog angst he does so well.
While some of the minor storylines in My First First Love weren’t that strong as stand-alones, when mixed with the other characters and plots going on in this drama, the common denominator was just pure sweetness. Not the kind of sweetness that’s sugary and cheap, but a rich one that leaves a smile on your face for a long time to come.
My First First Love told a simple story in a simple way. It wasn’t full of gasps and chilling reveals — and it wasn’t trying to be that kind of drama. My First First Love was entirely content with being a sweet, simple story told with beautiful colors, poignant narration, and thoughts about what it means to love someone.