(AND THEY PLAY ROOMMATES! THE MOST PERFECT ROOMMATES IN THE HISTORY OF ROOMMATEHOOD OKAY. THESE TWO SHOULD BE IN EVERYTHING TOGETHER.)
AND, WELL. THIS HAPPENED.
However, PSA: THIS DRAMA IS CRAZY GOOD, OKAY.
I didn't realize for the longest time that the title is a reference to Four Non Blondes' What's Up (maybe because I legit thought that song was called What's Going On till today) even though it's used often in the drama and is a part of one of my most favorite scenes ever. Honestly, I think it's a perfect encapsulation of what I love about this drama.Trying to get up this great big hill of hope, for a destination. The theme of being trapped is established right from the outset; Doo Ri auditioning with Nora's part from A Doll's House, Tae Yi stuck in a vulnerable childlike state because of her dad's death and mother's abandonment, Do Sung forever hidden behind the stage mask and his mother's political ambitions, Jae Hun's inability to break from the past because his self-definition is tied to it by now, Byung Gun with the excessive social anxiety created by an audience, Chae Young literally confined by her own persona. The frustration, the hope, the whole atmospheric feel of it; the complicated, confusing emotions where you're not too young to feel things you feel and yet everyone puts less value on your emotions because you're young. It's darker than most musical dramas-- You've Fallen For Me, Dream High, Shut Up! Flower Boy Band and looser, less structured, less plotted than dramas which can be considered ~objectively better and admittedly has a conclusion that is totally unresolved on a lot of angles, but it's grittier, realer because of it; not so much in story, but in emotions-- if that makes sense. Even when the things happening are predictable or incredulity-rousing, the feelings seem real. Maybe because the actors are so damn good. It's not even the Island of Misfit Toys appeal, because what this show mostly explores is that everyone is their own Misfit Toy in their own island. There's no standard of normalcy to adhere to. The naive country girl doesn't fit in as much as the cocky street rebel doesn't, the average singer doesn't fit in as much as the star doesn't, the idol doesn't fit in as much as the chaebol doesn't, the privileged princess doesn't fit in as much as the gamer girl doesn't. Nobody really fits in anywhere, and all you can really hope for in being shoved together is that your edges don't scrape people around you enough for you to be left alone.
I don't know what it is about this drama; because there are probably technically better, with tighter plotting and writing, more perfect resolutions etc.; Dream High being the inevitable and unenviable comparison because of the thematic premise-- and yet my investment level in this was bizarrely high (and that's in comparison to the similar-category dramas that I adore madly; SUFBB, DH etc) because I was ridiculously invested in the individual characters and the OTP. Every single one of those characters had interactions with all the other characters through which their narratives were defined; which meant that they weren't pigeon-holed or sloted according to the narrative, but latter- ie the narrative- was shaped according to the former -ie the interactions. This is actually a fantastic move, because ever so often the story becomes the limit of character-dynamics- i.e. the maximum interaction between characters is confined by a particular narrative- say, love triangle, bromance, parental relationships, etc., so there is no real reason for- for instance- Sam Dong to interact too much with Pil Suk, or to develop a dynamic outside that of their individual relationships with Hye Mi. What's Up! in that regard, I'd say, is extremely different, because it allows the development of dynamics that aren't need-based, people interact without their being any necessary 'end' to it, mostly because that is how people interact. And because of that there is an absolutely gorgeous range of dynamics that develop, and the community-feel, the college-feel of the drama is bar none.
Also the male lead is one of my favorites ever (and not only because I think he is so ridiculously hot (which I do, unfff) or that he's an amazing actor (which he is). His interactions with the female characters are golden. How many male leads are allowed to come across the The ~Bitchy ~Female ~Villain character who's just pulled off an evil scoop and is alone and near tears and tell her that she's totally the best and he loved her performance? Also, js, I LOVE THIS SORT OF THING. Where everyone has a dynamic with everyone and that it isn't confined by ship; you aren't only allowed to care or be worried about the people you're in love with. And alternatively, your favorites aren't always going to be the best, they can be naive to the point of stupidity, confused to the point of selfishness, and I LOVE that they have traits that just aren't appealing and yet the characters aren't compromised to make them better and more likable people, but those traits are highlighted, as much as their likeable traits are. That this show makes the very rare acknowledgment that being the ~innocent ~vulnerable type also means being open to manipulation and easily influenced and unable to read people, no matter how much female characters are accepted only if they're ~innocent AND ~strong-willed. Because, being weak-willed and easily led is unacceptable in fandom (which, stfu, fandom.)
While it's possible to (only) pick a male lead, the show is very, very ensemble, in terms of its own investment in its characters, so a character that gets a lot of screentime initially might just not get as much later and vice versa, even if they seem to be the most important characters in the drama. It's also very low-key on that scale, very slice-of-life. It's comprised of vignettes a lot, there are almost no major moments in the drama where everything changes. Even the character development is subtle, because the whole point of the college setting is not changing who these characters are or to show major development from the beginning to the end, but for the characters to finally become who they always were, free from the trappings of what family life and prior obligations entailed. Maybe that's why the resolution seems so open, because if it's your story that you're writing, you can't end, you can only decide to stop telling at some point. If Dream High is about the high highs and low lows, What's Up is the moments in between.
Also the OST and the general use of music-to-scene is stunning. It is so goddamn fantastic that it's most definitely a part of the reason that I can't get it out of my head-- because every time I do, I start singing something from the show and then remember my favorites all over again. It has the musical theatre feel with Korean versions of RENT's Seasons of Love and Greases' Those Magic Changes and Fame's I'm Gonna Live Forever etc. (In related news: I had NO IDEA that Daesung was a member of Big Bang, and just could not figure out people saying that they started watching for him). My investment is a lot personal too; like-- as ridic as that is-- but the fact that La Vie En Rose started playing when I'd been humming it just some five minutes before etc. Or the fact that the pre-watching external factors convinced me that I was aboard the wrong ship, BUT I WASN'T. I TOTALLY SHIPPED THE RIGHT SHIP AND IT SHIPPED IT SO HARD FROM THE BEGINNING ON. [Spoiler (click to open)]Except, of course, it was totally doomed, as is everything I ship ever, regardless of whether it's canon or not. Seriously, THE ONE TIME I SHIP CANON, THEY DON'T END UP TOGETHER? IN A KDRAMA? COME ON. IN DRAMALAND EVEN THE FOURTH LEADS END UP TOGETHER. But they were beautiful throughout and JH falling in love with TY through her ridiculously, insanely amazing Stupid Cupid performance-- and that you can clearly see him falling in love, and how charmed he is-- is now one of my favorite OTP moments of anything ever. I love all their interactions, every single one of them, madly. But this was just above and beyond, because of how she just started performing; playing all the parts at once, singing everything from Led Zep to Mandy Moore (or Connie Francis, if you're a puritan) and that comes back as a plot point and conflict later, that this is who she is, what she wants to do, desperately so, and it's an inextricable part of her existence. She's the girl who'll idealize the story of her dead dad and her runaway mother and set it to music and perform in front of a near-stranger. And Jae Hun's expressions through the whole performance, when he plays her launching stage, and goes from being amused to surprised to confused to basically in love? And how awkward and transparent he is about the whole thing where everyone and their mother knows his feelings within minutes, even when he's going for the cool-guy, "oh look, there's your girlfriend" routine with Do Sung. Or when they're at loggerheads and unable to hold back or let go and she tells him to wait for her in a situation he hates, and he's all "okay, go back. I will." Or that she writes him the petition of mercy because it's in her nature to, but she's allowed her trauma? That she isn't forced to immediately say that she forgives him, and the whole encounter is so beautifully subtle where she acknowledges that it wasn't entirely his fault, but she still feels a certain way and she's not going to force herself to feel another way, but she's going to wait to feel another way, if she ever does. And as much, as desperately I wanted them to be together, that was good writing right there. And "someday. I'd like that." Just, OT-FUCKING-P.Or maybe what I adore is that, oddly enough, while the conflicts are actually bigger than in most other dramas, but they're still portrayed less dramatically. Or maybe it's because I've done theatre since grade school onwards, which increases my interest in the very premise. Or maybe it's just a matter of mood, of how open you are to being influenced and pleased at a particular point in time and by what material. Also, this show does montages like nobody's business. Even if I hadn't been totally into it, I would have loved it just for two or three musical montages that it did, seriously.[Spoiler (click to open)]Im Joo Eun's What's Going On is so powerful, it's crazy. The whole montage was breathtaking, and ending with the TY/JH kiss at for a destination? FINE, SHOW, KILL ME, WHY DON'T YOU.
I wanted to be specific, I wanted to gush about my OTP and my individual favorites and be all "YES, OKAY, IT IS POSSIBLE TO NOT LIKE THEM FOR XYZ REASONS, BUT HERE IS WHY YOU TOTALLY SHOULD." But instead, this became general and cryptic, which is okay, because this is basically a rec post because I cannot deal with these feels alone with the some twenty people who have seen this drama. I may make an actual spoilery post as my last last post, but for now, I'm going to just go rewatch my favorite scenes. There's really no reason for why it's possible to madly love things that you know are less perfect than better things that you don't love as much. I can't say that everyone will like it as much as I did (I legit slept an hour in two days finishing it), especially because not having stars/exquisite plotting ala SUFBB/DH also means that reactions are going to be very, very personally contingent, but it's objectively a damn good drama, regardless.
(As someone with the emotional range of a teaspoon who's done theater since forever, I was all YES at this.)
It's impossible to find practically anything related to this show, INCLUDING A GODDAMN SUBBED TRAILER, but well, we take what we can get champ, and we do our best with it.
ANNYEONG, CHINGUS. HASTA LA VISTA.