Remember when so many of you asked me what other short-format web drama might offer a fun, cracky watch similar to Noble, My Love?
Well, if you:
(a) are an EXO fan; or
(b) are into kpop in general; or
(c) are a tween/teen; or
(d) are some or all of the above,
…then EXO Next Door could be just what you’re looking for (although, if you are some or all of the above, you’d already know this by now, wouldn’t you? 😄 ). If you’re none of the above (like me), then, well, this could still be sorta cute. With some effort.
WHAT IS THIS?
If you’re anything like me, you’d probably have asked that question, on hearing the title.
Honestly, when I heard the title of this show being thrown about on Twitter last year, I’d immediately assumed (without bothering to poke around further) that this must’ve been some kind of variety show, where EXO lives together on camera. Or something like that.
While that’s not too far from what we get – EXO plays themselves in this, after all – my initial assumption was so off the mark, heh.
In a similar vein to Twenty Years Old (20’s) where Lee Ki Kwang from BEAST plays himself, EXO Next Door is a fantasy drama where the EXO boys play versions of themselves in an alterna-drama-world. Cheerfully and unabashedly tropey, this one feels like a show that’s written for fangirls, by fangirls.
Which could be fun. Particularly if you’re a fangirl. 😉
So in order to enjoy this one (as much as possible, anyway), here are a few things to keep in mind:
- This show is very tropey and highly predictable. Don’t expect award-worthy writing. Or any kind of good writing, for that matter.
- The tone is cartoony and campy a lot of the time, so put on your manhwa sort of lens.
- The boys are not actors, and uh.. it shows. It gets a bit cringeworthy at times.
- Female lead Yeon Hee (Moon Ga Young) is clueless and ditzy to an extreme. Be prepared for the inevitable facepalming to come. Or be prepared to shrug it off and have it bounce off you like water off a duck’s back. I personally alternated between the two. 😛
- Sometimes Show leans indulgent when it basks in how awesome it obviously thinks EXO is. But it’s par for the course, considering the target audience.
- There’s a somewhat angsty slump in the middle stretch, but The Cute does come back.
STUFF I LIKED
At an average of 15 minutes an episode (sometimes less, sometimes more), and with it’s light, cheery and somewhat nonsensical tone, Show’s an easy-breezy sort of watch, whether you know anything about EXO or not.
It’s mostly light and harmless, and quite a lot in the same sort of fluffy vein as Noble, My Love.
When it’s good, it’s very good
The good news is, when Show is good, it’s very good. The bad news is, it’s not consistently good. In fact, I’d rate the early episodes a solid A, the middle stretch a C-, and the final stretch a B.
At its best, Show has exactly the same kind of cracky fun flavor that Noble has, at its best. Show literally had me laughing out loud within the first 5 minutes, and that’s pretty darn impressive.
The way the show starts, with the whole moving-in-the-dead-of-night thing, and the EXO boys being mistaken for shady murderers with their secretive swagger and those face masks, made me giggle. And that flying pack of sanitary pads – HAHA. That was just too funny. 😄
I also found it amusing when, in episode 2, the boys pretend to make out with one another, when they discover they’re being spied on. It’s such a knowing nod to fandoms and their obsession with intra-group romance.
After a while, Show loses some of its fresh sparkle, but still manages to be sufficiently entertaining, with its cocktail of every fangirl fantasy involving EXO and various drama tropes, shaken together.
There’s an amusing spot of Dramatic Bromance
Sehun’s friendship with Yeon Hee’s brother Kwang Soo (Jang Yoo Sang) is played out Very Dramatically, and is rather amusing. Sometimes the humor works well, and sometimes it falls a little flat, but overall, I found this arc quite cute.
The PPL is actually pretty organic most of the time
Given that this is a web series sponsored by LINE about EXO, it’s a given that both LINE and EXO get showcased, on top of the story. To Show’s credit, most of the PPL is woven into the story in a pretty organic way.
Except for an early-episode, very indulgent flashback to a big showy EXO concert, I didn’t mind the rest of the EXO PPL much at all.
I rather liked the moments in the show where we see Chanyeol and Baekhyun jamming on the guitar trying out chord progressions and vocal licks together, and then stopping to talk. It feels like the spotlight on their musicality is more incidental than indulgent, and I found this way of interacting natural to their world.
Later in the show, when we are introduced to the rest of the EXO boys, with photoshoots and slo-mo bro-hugs, it’s totally fanservicey, but unlike the lingering shots of the concerts, this doesn’t feel indulgent. Or at least, it feels more like they’re indulging fans rather than reveling in their own awesome, and that helps.
On a side note, from a kpop noob perspective, my first thought, at seeing the whole group together was, “That’s a lot of members!” Heh. My first instinct was to feel relief that this web drama focuses mainly on 4 members (Chanyeol, D.O., Baekhyun and Sehun) instead of all 10. I’d be confused trying to keep ’em straight in my head. 😄
Unlike The Secret Message, where I felt that Show was purposely keeping the characters apart so that they would be forced to communicate with each other solely on LINE, I thought the LINE PPL was woven into this narrative in a much better way.
First of all, the characters get to interact face to face a whole lot, which helps. In that sense, it felt like LINE was there to supplement their interactions, rather than take centerstage.
Additionally, with the majority of the EXO boys in other locations for most of the show, having the boys text or call one another on LINE was a nice way of weaving LINE into the story, without allowing LINE to be too intrusive.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE
There are two major things that I didn’t like in this show.
One, that there’s a childhood backstory in this. And two, that the childhood backstory makes Chanyeol glower angrily. A lot.
The sad fact is, Chanyeol’s glowering is, bluntly put, quite terrible. He mostly looks like he wants to kill somebody, rather than like he’s angsting. Worse, the more he glowered, the more he reminded me of Kim Tan in Heirs. And you guys know how I hated Kim Tan in Heirs. (With a passion.)
Here’s a mild glower shot, just so you can get a quick taste.
The bangs, the thickly deep voice, and the fact that Chanyeol’s dressed in sweaters for most of the show, don’t help either, since those also reminded me of Kim Tan. I literally almost dropped this show, because I found Abrasive Chanyeol so painful to watch.
Thankfully, this show’s short episodes saved the day. As in, the glowering stretch didn’t take as long to end as it would’ve in a regular length drama, and the short episodes ensured that I didn’t have to tolerate the glower for too long at a go either.
Also, Show works to make up for Abrasive Chanyeol by then serving up Smiley Chanyeol afterwards:
The two extremes came off a bit caricature-y to me, but hey, Smiley Chanyeol was wayyy easier to watch than Abrasive Chanyeol, so there’s that.
To Show’s credit, the finale is a pretty good one, and we end on a cheerful, optimistic sort of note that leaves a pleasant aftertaste.
Yes, some of the arcs in this show are really lame, but Show effectively brings out the upbeat message that the EXO boys are one big family, and that’s rather nice. Plus, I thought the boys coming to care for and protect their Incheon Gal was rather cute too.
When all’s said and done, I conclude that these boys should mostly stick to music. Except for maybe D.O., even though there were times in this show when he gave me serial killer vibes. 😛 Or maybe that’s just a spillover from seeing his extended cameo in I Remember You, heh.
In any case, I found this a fairly pleasant way to get a quick spot of drama while I was extra busy and had limited drama hours to spend, and get a pretty effective introduction to some of the members of EXO, while I was at it.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Cliched, uneven and predictable, but still averages out to be cute and feel-good for the most part.
FINAL GRADE: B-