THE SHORT VERDICT:
Sassy wasted no time in stealing my heart, to be honest.
Yes, it’s not very inventive, in that its plot isn’t anything very new, and feels vaguely like a mashup of Angry Mom, Who Are You – School 2015, and Shut Up Flower Boy Band, with a bit of Dream High, and even mild shades of School 2013, thrown in for good measure. But I genuinely enjoyed all of those shows, and any resemblance, in this case, is not a bad thing. I loved that Show is breezy, and showcases endearing characters and their heart-tugging relationships, and I was effectively smitten for much of Show’s run.
It’s unfortunate that Show loses its footing somewhat, in the last quarter. That made me sad. After everything is said and done, though, I still felt wistful in saying goodbye to these characters, and that definitely counts for something.
THE LONG VERDICT:
It’s true that this drama’s idea of cheerleading is really strange. [MINOR SPOILER] I mean, having the cheerleading team perform during the school’s Sports Day involved having the entire school troop into the indoor gym after having their (very lame) games outside, to sit, theater-style, while the cheerleading team literally took to the stage. That’s basically turning everything backwards, and making the rest of the school cheer for the cheerleading team, isn’t it? [END MINOR SPOILER]
It’s also true that if you’ve seen enough high school kdramas, that you’d probably recognize more than a few typical character types – and storylines – in this drama world very quickly.
Still, thanks to warm, heartfelt performances by a good number of the show’s ensemble cast, and thanks also to writer-nim’s savvy leverage of the sparky chemistry among our key cast members, this show isn’t hard to love.
I did feel that Show lost its grip in the last stretch and that took the shine off this watch for me by a fair chunk, but we can talk about that later. 😉
STUFF I LOVED
The theme of mending bridges and crossing borders
A lot of Show’s charm lies in the small moments between characters.
The main arc, of the members of opposing clubs Real King and Baek Ho being forced to work together despite hating one another’s guts, is one of the major sources of heartwarming tingles served up via small beats, that all cumulate in a big ol’ package of warmth and friendship.
It’s completely to be expected that the kids from both teams would eventually learn to not only get along with, but genuinely like one another. That’s not the surprise. The surprise is the manner in which Show orchestrates this, showing us how the kids become one unit, one small moment at a time.
[MINOR SPOILER] I love the small beat in episode 7, where we see the Baek Ho and Real King kids all study together in the activity room even though they’re not scheduled to do so. And, as they do that, there’s shared camaraderie which I love. Notably, the seating is already starting to mix up a bit, with the two rows no longer purely made up of Baek Ho vs. Real King. [END MINOR SPOILER]
At the beginning of the show, we learn that in this competitive school environment, the kids are all unhappy, regardless of their background, and that essentially, they just all want to be happy. It’s lovely to see them find that happiness in one another’s company and friendship. And it’s a bonus that Show manages to grow that friendship organically enough, that by the time we realize how far the kids have come, it’s actually a pleasant surprise to compare the before-and-after states of affairs.
Generally speaking, the acting in this show tends to be a little rough around the edges. Which is to be expected in high school shows, since we tend to be dealing with a relatively younger and less experienced cast.
Having said that, I do like that in spite of some acting limitations, our key characters were mostly delivered with nice amounts of depth. Could the characters have benefited from more nuanced deliveries? Sure. But I’m satisfied with the amount of dimension we did get, coz that was enough to get me to care about these characters, which, to me, is the most important thing.
1. Jung Eun Ji as Yeon Doo
What I love about Jung Eun Ji is her natural earthy, approachable and relatable quality. It’s this same quality that she imbues Yeon Doo with, that makes Yeon Doo such a likable, believable character. She makes Yeon Doo feel real and honest as a character, and I think a large part of that has to do with her committed, no-vanity approach to the role.
[MINOR SPOILER] In episode 3, I found the crying scene where she bawls in front of Yeol (Lee Won Geun) so believable. She ugly-cries without hesitation, and it totally feels like Yeon Doo’s baring her soul, by just crying it out. [END MINOR SPOILER]
In that moment, Yeon Doo had my heart completely; it’s hard not to feel for a character who bares her soul with such an almost-reckless type of honesty and vulnerability. I appreciated that audacious sincerity in Yeon Doo all series long.
It’s true that later in the series, Yeon Doo’s actions sometimes bordered on unbelievably saintly, but Jung Eun Ji’s earthy delivery manages to keep it within the range of believability. Also, I appreciate the growth arc that writer-nim gives Yeon Doo, in making her less brash and more thoughtful over the course of the show.
Yeon Doo’s loyalty, resilience, compassion and empathy proves to be a transformative force in our drama world, and witnessing how Yeon Doo changes the people around her for the better, mostly just by being herself, was something that I enjoyed very much.
2. Lee Won Geun as Yeol
Lee Won Geun does a nice job of portraying Yeol, who’s all nonchalant smartypants on the outside, but all lonely wounded heart on the inside.
What Lee Won Geun might lack in terms of depth in his delivery, he more than makes up for, with the multiple meaningful gazes and amused curled-lip smirks that Yeol wears throughout the show. That combination of languid satisfaction and pointed intent brought on many a squee moment, particularly in the first half of the show. Seriously. Who knew that almost-encounters in a high school drama could be this hot?
Yeol starts out the show as quite the enigma, often flipping quickly between nice and not-so-nice. I found his smugness and lack of transparency a touch infuriating, but appreciated that writer-nim took pains to also give us glimpses of his better side.
An early example of this, is in episode 3 when Yeol manhandles Yeon Doo in the beginning of the episode in an attempt to force her to agree to join the cheerleading club. That did not sit well with me, at all. But then, later, he apologizes to her in the laundry room and then tells her the truth disguised as a lie, which gives her new perspective. He then gives her the space to come to her own conclusions. I liked this side of Yeol much better.
I also really liked that later, when Yeon Doo’s stuck outside the dorm after curfew, Yeol comes back to save Yeon Doo, but doesn’t attempt to use it as leverage to get her to do what he wants. That said so much to me, about his integrity and character. I liked him a lot better after that.
Overall, I genuinely enjoyed witnessing Yeol’s growth arc. Over the course of the show, Yeol becomes more and more of an open, happy book, and seeing him relax into himself made me happy too.
3. Ji Soo as Ha Joon
Augh. Ji Soo broke my heart with his character’s pain in Angry Mom, and he totally outdid himself here.
Ha Joon is a character who’s aloof and prickly on the outside, but hurting deeply on the inside, and Ji Soo brings that angst to life quite compellingly. Sure, his delivery could’ve benefited from more dimension, but there were also distinct moments where he blew me away. Most importantly, he made me care about Ha Joon as a character. My heart totally went out to Ha Joon, and I desperately wanted him to be happy and pain-free.
[SPOILER ALERT] One moment that sticks in my mind is the scene in episode 2, when Ha Joon attempts suicide and Dong Jae (Cha Hak Yun / N.) and Yeol find him in the shower stall, limp, unmoving and close to passing out. The glazed look in Ha Joon’s eyes looked so real that I truly believed that he was about to lose consciousness, right there and then. Chills. [END SPOILER]
Throughout the show, Ha Joon’s brooding, wistful sadness tugged at my heartstrings, So Much. I just wanted to hug him and make all the bad things in his life go away. Because Ha Joon rarely had reason to smile, every time he did, my heart warmed for him. Seeing Puppy happy made me happy.
Special Shout-Outs to:
Yeon Doo’s Mom
I simply luff Yeon Doo’s mom (Kim Yeo Jin). I love how warm, compassionate and loving she is, and I love that she’s raised Yeon Doo to be just like her. Even though she’s a secondary character, I perked up every time she showed up on my screen. I’m not sure that I’ve enjoyed a kdrama mom this much in a long time.
[SPOILER ALERT] I freaking love the way Mom goes crazy defending Yeon Doo in the teacher’s room in episode 2. She’s so wholeheartedly behind her daughter, that it’s clear for anyone to see, that her very passionate, very heated outburst stems from a fierce, unconditional love and loyalty. So fantastic, that Mom doesn’t care if her daughter doesn’t do well in school, as long as she learns good things and is treated right. [END SPOILER]
Kim Ji Suk is pitch perfect as the nonchalant and rather hapless Teacher Yang, who is so often caught between needing to toe the line and keep his head down, and wanting to do right by the kids.
From starting the show as a rather isolated, almost throwaway sort of character, over time, Teacher Yang grows to form strong bonds with the kids, and his unwavering, selfless care for them is touching to witness. It’s no wonder the kids grow to care about him as much as he cares about them.
On a tangent, his not-a-loveline with Instructor Nam (Lee Mi Do) was a nice spot of amusement too.
I loved watching all the moments between Teacher Yang and each of the students individually. In particular, I found his connection with Yeon Doo adorable.
My hands-down favorite Teacher Yang scene, though, has to be the one in episode 6, when Teacher Yang sits down to eat all by his lonesome self in the cafeteria because everyone is avoiding him for being a whistle-blower. I LOVE it when the kids – Real King and Baek Ho alike – all sit down with Teacher Yang and cheerily start to eat with him.
It’s a small moment, but so full of simple warmth. And it says so much, about what he means to them, and how they feel about him. Love. <3
I love me a bromance that goes beyond the surface cute, and Sassy does not disappoint. Sure, it doesn’t topple the bromance between Woob and Lee Jong Suk in School 2013, but it’s a solid bromance that definitely brought on the feels.
I think that the thing that I appreciate about this bromance, is that the friendship between Yeol and Ha Joon is about so much more than the cute, and serves up a satisfying amount of emotional resonance and heft. It does take a while for their bromance to actually land with emotional weight, but from as early as episode 2, we can already tell that Yeol and Ha Joon care intensely for each other, and I liked that a lot.
One of my favorite things about this friendship, is that these boys talk to each other. Yes, they also wrestle and communicate with their fists, so to speak, but we also get moments when they actually talk things out. I mean, teenaged boys actually talking to each other about how they feel? That’s so rare in Real Life and in dramaland that it almost feels unreal. But, both Ji Soo and Lee Won Geun ground their deliveries with emotional depth, and totally make it work.
One instance of that emotionally-charged bromantic communication is in episode 4, when Ha Joon and Yeol struggle to come to terms with their worry for each other. Ha Joon’s so tortured that he’s caused Yeol to be in a tight spot because Yeol has to cover up Ha Joon’s suicide attempt, while Yeol’s worried sick when Ha Joon disappears. The angst is very real, as both boys grapple with what’s happened.
I love that beyond wrestling for real, that in the end, they talk it out. And I love, when they finally do talk it out, how baldly they state their care for each other.
Yeol blurts out to Ha Joon, “I was afraid that I would lose you again.” And Ha Joon mutters quietly in response, “That’s why I’m trying my hardest to survive. It’s all for you.”
On the cuter side of things, my hands-down favorite bromantic scene in the entire series, is later in the same episode, when Yeol turns the showers on Ha Joon, and ignites the most adorable bromantic shower scene I’ve ever seen.
Ahhh! Double the shower scene goodness, with water play and laughs to release all that pent-up stress. And through it all, there’s so much bromantic affection running undercurrent. Love.
Another thing that I very much love about this bromance, is that even when both boys end up falling for Yeon Doo, their friendship never wavers for a second. It’s not even a question that either boy contemplates. If anything, the boys actually unite in their efforts to protect and take care of Yeon Doo, which is just extra awesome. <3
2. The OTP
There are two things that really stand out to me, about this OTP.
First of all, they have fantastic chemistry. Whether they’re bickering, or being chummy, or getting up-close-and-personal, Jung Eun Ji and Lee Won Geun share a chemistry that feels warm, synergistic and believable.
In particular, I found their almost-touching scenes crackling with so much electricity that I sometimes had to pause the episode just to squee. And then rewind, so that I could squee all over again, heh.
The other thing that stands out to me, is that Yeol and Yeon Doo not only affect each other in very positive ways, they also have a very strong, healthy amount of trust and belief in each other. In a dramaverse littered with so much romantic shorthand, I found this very refreshing indeed, particularly for such a youthful couple.
Additionally, I really liked how Show treats their burgeoning connection. Instead of an instant sort of strong connection, we get to witness the sparks building between Yeol and Yeon Doo. We’re given ample opportunities to see them interact and spark off each other, and look at each other when each thinks the other isn’t looking. It’s very cute, and also, quite tantalizing.
Through all of these incidents, as they end up spending time together, I could feel their rapport and ease with each other growing, which made their eventual strong connection feel very organic.
Ok, there are many moments when the close proximity between Yeol and Yeon Doo sizzles and sparks with attraction. But, this moment in episode 5 stands out for me.
First of all, I love that Yeol and Yeon Doo actually have a meaningful conversation as they take cover from the rain.
When Yeon Doo admits to feeling small and not having a clue as to what to do with her future, I love Yeol’s answer, “Do what you like to do right now. Something your heart wants rather than your head. If you do what you like to do now one day, you might want to become something.” I love how that brings on the biggest, warmest, most hopeful smile on Yeon Doo’s face, and I love how that in turn makes Yeol smile too. Aw.
And then, having made her smile, Yeol hands Yeon Doo the umbrella and tells her to use it. Yeon Doo, puzzled, asks Yeol what he will do if he gives her his umbrella.
Yeol’s answer, spoken with a gentleness in his eyes and a quiet curl of his lip, is clear-your-throat sexy. “If I’m alone with you under the umbrella… I may get myself in trouble.” Faint.
Among the various meaningful moments shared by this OTP, this particular arc speaks a little louder to me than the rest.
In episode 7, when Yeol is suspended from school after being framed by Soo Ah (Chae Soo Bin) for stealing the test paper, Yeon Doo cheerily visits him while he does his assigned community service. Just her being there with him already says, “I’m on your side.” But I love that she tells him that she’ll believe him, even without the title of #1. It means so much to Yeol, in that lonely moment.
What a big step forward it is for Yeol, when, in the following episode, after his name is cleared, he specifically thanks Yeon Doo for believing in him, even without his title of #1. That’s letting down his guard, and being real, and being honest, and I liked that a lot, especially coming from Yeol, who’d previously been so guarded. I love that it’s Yeon Doo who brings it out in him, mostly just by being herself. <3
3. Yeon Doo & Ha Joon
While there are likely many viewers who bemoan the fact that Ji Soo once again doesn’t get the girl, I actually really liked Ha Joon’s arc with Yeon Doo. Rather than as a romantic interest, I saw Yeon Doo as a much-needed catalyst to help Ha Joon get in touch with his own bleeding heart, and grow strong enough to heal it.
Despite Ha Joon’s prickly facade, Yeon Doo reaches out to him and gives compassion anyway, and I loved watching the walls Ha Joon’s set up around himself, progressively crumble away in Yeon Doo’s presence. From as early as episode 5, Ha Joon’s seeds of connection with Yeon Doo moved me deeply, because those seeds are always grounded in trust and loyalty. I love that Yeon Doo’s consistently able to reach Ha Joon through his fences, just by being herself.
Much as I loved watching Yeon Doo and Ha Joon together, and much as I wanted Ha Joon to be happy, I never saw their connection as even potentially romantic. I felt that even before Ha Joon began to think of Yeon Doo as a potential love interest, he’d liked her first and foremost, as a person; a loyal, good person that he could trust and feel safe with. Given Ha Joon’s broken family life and oodles of personal pain, I felt that this was actually much more important for him.
I think my favorite thing about the friendship between Ha Joon and Yeon Doo, is that in spite of Ha Joon’s initial reluctance, the care eventually flows both ways, and fiercely too.
I found Yeon Doo’s matter-of-fact kindness to Ha Joon very appealing, but I found Ha Joon’s reciprocation even more satisfying to watch. Each time Ha Joon shows care for Yeon Doo, it demonstrated to me just how much impact Yeon Doo’s had on him.
Most notably, we see this reciprocal care from Ha Joon in episode 8, when he cycles out in a panic looking for Yeon Doo. He does so with his heart on his sleeve, and we can practically see his bleeding heart almost bursting with worry for Yeon Doo.
After he finds her, and Yeon Doo walks into his arms and cries, I really like how Ha Joon wraps his arms protectively around her. It didn’t feel romantic to me; rather, it felt protective and pure. Afterwards, as Ha Joon takes Yeon Doo back to the campsite, I found it really heartwarming to witness the quiet satisfaction on his face, at being able to protect Yeon Doo.
There’s just something about seeing Ha Joon, who’s wounded by so much private pain, having the capacity and will to care for and protect someone else, that really gets me, right in the heart.
Special shout-outs to:
Yeon Doo & Dong Jae
Even though their friendship didn’t get a lot of screen time overall, I really enjoyed Yeon Doo’s friendship with Dong Jae, which I found adorable.
I love that there is so much unspoken between them. And I love that they consistently just fall into rhythm with each other, like they do over strawberry milk. I love how comfortable they clearly are with each other, like in episode 2, when Dong Jae quietly and matter-of-factly towel-dries her hair while she talks.
Most of all, I was moved by how much these two care about each other. [SPOILER ALERT] Like how, in episode 3, when Yeon Doo cries over Dong Jae’s almost-collapse on the basketball court, and worries about him. Or how Dong Jae insists on joining the cheerleading club in episode 4, purely because he wants to protect Yeon Doo. Or how, in the same episode, Dong Jae literally breaks into a cold sweat while worrying over Yeon Doo, who’s gone to the hospital. [END SPOILER]
I was rather disappointed that this friendship took a backseat once the key relationships among our main characters kicked into gear, and would’ve loved to have seen more of Yeon Doo hanging out with her chum Dong Jae, even as she navigated the new relationships in her life.
Yeon Doo, Yeol & Ha Joon
This is a relatively small and secondary sort of development, but one that I found significant.
I loved seeing Yeon Doo, Yeol and Ha Joon together. As Yeon Doo’s individual connections with Yeol and Ha Joon become more established, we see them hanging out as a threesome more and more. There’s just something about seeing them relaxed and happy together, that warms my heart so. It’s just so nice to see Ha Joon and Yeol both now fully trust another person, when they’d previously only had each other.
I also love the idea that even as things become romantic between Yeon Doo and Yeol, that they’ll still be able to hang out with Ha Joon and have fun as a group. I love that Yeon Doo’s friendship with Ha Joon is as legitimate as Ha Joon’s friendship with Yeol. She’s not hanging out with Ha Joon just because he’s besties with her boyfriend. And there’s something about that that I just love.
AN ASIDE: THOUGHTS ON SOO AH
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Soo Ah’s characterization as the “not-quite-a-villain” in this story fell a little flat, for me.
Given that Soo Ah is portrayed as the victim of the immense pressure that her mother puts her under, her arc is theoretically one of the more interesting ones in the ensemble cast. Unfortunately, I found the transitions in Soo Ah’s vacillations between nice and not nice, extremely jerky and very unbelievable.
This is definitely a role that required more nuance in its delivery, so that we might have seen hints of dark while Soo Ah was being light, and conversely, hints of light while Soo Ah was being dark as well, so to speak.
It’s too bad that this degree of nuance and control is not (yet?) part of Chae Soo Bin’s acting range. When Soo Ah’s bright and cheery, she’s convincingly bright and cheery, and when Soo Ah’s harsh and sneering, she’s convincingly harsh and sneering, and when Soo Ah’s sad and teary, she’s convincingly sad and teary. But because Chae Soo Bin wasn’t able to show a more complex mix of emotions, I felt that there weren’t discernible cracks in Soo Ah’s armor any which way, and that made the transitions between Nice Soo Ah, Nasty Soo Ah and Troubled Soo Ah feel jerky and unbelievable.
I get that Show wanted to create and deliver a sympathetic anti-heroine in Soo Ah, but without a more capable actress in the role, and without more faceted writing, it just didn’t really work for me. This is a Pretty Big Deal, since Soo Ah’s arc essentially acts as the catalyst that triggers many plot developments in the show.
I ended up just taking Show’s word for it every time Soo Ah’s character made a transition from nice, to not nice, to troubled, and back again, so that I’d be able to keep enjoying the other characters and relationships that Show had to offer.
THE FINAL STRETCH
Right at about episode 9, I felt that Show started to lose its footing. Before this point, I’d been thoroughly enjoying Show’s breezy, heartwarming goodness. So to have Show switch its pace and focus, and not for the better, made me sad.
In episode 9, we basically see Soo Ah being awful, and then wriggling out of every possible corner that she finds herself in.
By episode 10, Soo Ah’s shown a complete turnaround, this time from bitchy ex-friend to remorseful nice girl. For all the reasons I mentioned earlier, this turnaround didn’t feel convincing to me. Her turnaround felt too pat, and so did the subsequent arc of everyone suddenly turning around and becoming not only forgiving of Soo Ah, but even taking on the roles of being her strong defenders.
The effect of it all, was to make the plotline feel preachy and treacly, and that sapped all the freshness out of the show, from my perspective. From being a breezy show with heart, Show started to feel like a Public Announcement Service, teaching kids how to forgive one another and treat one another with kindness. Not very exciting, to say the least.
Show continued its uneven tone through to the very end, and it felt like writer-nim was rushing to wrap things up as neatly as possible, which made Show feel like quite a different creature from the fun, cracky watch that I’d fallen for.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
A lot is addressed and resolved in the final hour, and because so much feels crammed into one hour of screen time, a number of the resolutions feel rushed, pat – or worse – unbelievable. This is one instance where I feel like maybe having a regular 16-episode run might not be a bad thing, for this show. At least that way, certain arcs could’ve been teased out more and therefore felt more organic by the end of the show.
Hanging threads & stuff that’s overly pat
The biggest thing in this category, for me, is Ha Joon’s repeated abuse by his dad. I can sort of buy Ha Joon finally standing up to Dad for himself, because we see he’d been pushed to the limit time and time again. And this time, it’s for something that he really believes in. It’s crunch time, and he needs to make a stand if he hopes not to let his team down.
At the same time, I would’ve liked to see more of that determination building up in him, to henceforth not allow himself to be beaten by Dad anymore. That announcement really felt quite sudden, especially given how afraid Ha Joon has seemed all this time, not just in front of Dad, but often at the very thought of him. And, what about that jump to the detail about his dad being charged with child abuse? Who reported him? Ha Joon? In particular, I’d wanted answers to that.
The other big arc about spec-stacking all seemed to be resolved very quickly too. What had caused the other mothers to collude against Soo Ah’s mother and throw her and the principal to the investigators? They’d all seemed to be on the same side almost all series long. That turnaround seemed too sudden, to me.
Given that we’ve been shown that Soo Ah’s mother is mostly a cold, steely woman, I also find it rather unbelievable that she’d be so genial to her daughter whilst under police investigation.
The satisfying stuff
On the upside, Show does get enough right to satisfy me. Not only do the cheerleading kids keep holding onto each other in a feel-good series of united fronts, Show also shines the spotlight on several key relationships.
Importantly, Yeol and Ha Joon face the elephant in the room and have an emotionally charged moment confronting the issue together. I love that their friendship never wavers through it all; it never was a question that they would preserve and prioritize their friendship no matter what.
Another thing I loved, is that Ha Joon actually finds a way to confess his feelings to Yeon Doo, thank her and keep on being friends with her. He could’ve kept his feelings a secret – Yeon Doo did seem quite clueless about it, after all – but he chose to face it. I love that in doing so, Ha Joon seems freer and more liberated than ever.
Although we don’t get defined answers as to how Yeol and Yeon Doo and their parents get around the double generation dating issue, I appreciate that both couples are encouraged to continue to love, and that we leave them on a hopeful note. They don’t have the answers yet, but they’re looking for a way to figure it out.
Ultimately, I like that this last detail is in line with a lot in life. We don’t always have the answers, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t savor the present with happiness and gratitude for what – and whom – we have.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A little clunky in its final stretch, but heartwarming and endearing all the way through.
FINAL GRADE: B