I’m admitting defeat, you guys. I know that lots of folks found this show enjoyable and even kinda cracky, but 11.14 episodes into this one (yes, I actually calculated that, just for funsies), I’m throwing in the towel. I guess I just.. don’t get it?
Even though Show served up a range of ingredients that ought to have appealed to me – student struggles, teacher struggles, friendships, crushes, a heroine with a backbone, and even a star-crossed bromance plus a hottie whose visuals are right up my alley – I just couldn’t get into this one.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to care about any of it.
STUFF THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
With other shows that I’ve dropped, I often start out liking it and then end up not liking it. This time, though, I didn’t even start out liking this one, y’all.
Wait. Before you call me crazy, let me explain.
Partly because I’ve enjoyed this franchise’s recent offerings (I hearts-in-eyes loved School 2013, and then really enjoyed School 2015), and also partly because I’d seen a pretty good amount of squee over this installment, I had pretty positive hopes about liking this one. At the same time, I’d also seen a number of tweets in my Twitter feed along the lines of, “Ok, NOW I’m hooked #School2017,” which made me think that I might not like this one right away, but that somewhere along the line, Show was gonna get good.
Which is how I found myself asking after the first 5 episodes (while feeling distinctly disengaged through each of those 5 episodes), “When does this get good? Or, am I just not gonna feel this one, ever?”
Things got relatively better between episodes 6 to 10, but after episode 11, I found myself resignedly starting to conclude that maybe I really wasn’t going to feel this one, ever, after all.
Here’s a quick breakdown of all the stuff that just didn’t land so well, for me.
I didn’t find the storytelling in this show very cohesive nor very tight, and that was a big downer in my watch.
Right away from Show’s initial episodes, I felt like the story wasn’t gelling together, somehow. All the information served up felt fragmented and all over the place, and while I had hoped that things would get more cohesive after set-up was complete, the story that Show was working to tell never quite felt like a properly integrated whole.
Sometimes, Show would make reference to details as if these details had already been communicated to us, but in actual fact, these details hadn’t been played out onscreen or in-story. This mismatch was bemusing and confusing, and didn’t help matters at all.
[SPOILERS] For example, in episode 7, Eun Ho (Kim Se Jung) is asked if she’s going to her manhwa hagwon and she says yes she is. Now, as a viewer who hadn’t missed a single episode up till that point, and who hadn’t used the fast forward function at all, I was genuinely surprised. When did she start, I wondered, and why hadn’t we seen her attend a single class, if it was so important to her?
I also felt surprised when Show mentioned in the same episode that Eun Ho didn’t need to try to clear her name anymore. I seriously wondered if I had missed something, coz last I remembered (up till that point in the story), she’d been tasked with finding X, in order to clear her name. [END SPOILERS]
I tried to give Show a bit of the benefit of the doubt, like, maybe I hadn’t been paying close enough attention, and that’s why I missed something. But on further thought, I decided that these were the kinds of details where I really shouldn’t need to be paying that kind of close attention in order to not miss it.
In addition to these problems, I also felt that the overall story was always lagging, for some reason. I mean, Show clearly tried to spread its focus to cover the daily struggles of the average high school student in Korea, from status, to bullying, to unfairness in the system, but it just wasn’t landing with as much oomph as I would have hoped for. It all felt watered down, and the stories all weren’t having much of an impact on me.
The school & its staff
As a general rule, the school staff felt like caricatures to me instead of actual fleshed-out characters. I found the principal (Kim Eung Soo) too dumb and theatrical, and our resident good guy Teacher Shim (Han Joo Wan) too timid and boring.
In addition, the entire school environment is set up to be supposedly dark and difficult for students, but comes across as try-hard and not very believable at all. It felt like Show was trying to be shocking and disturbing, but it just wasn’t landing for me. Instead, it felt like Show was making mountains out of molehills with narrative conflicts that I didn’t find engaging, and in the end, to my eyes, it all felt like a big deal over nothing very much at all. [SPOILER] In particular, I found the whole merit-demerit system that had students reporting each other and being suspicious of each other extra try-hard. [END SPOILER]
The Thing with X
The whole arc around the mystery of X didn’t grab me either.
For the first 4 episodes, we are not told who X is, and Show used that to dangle red herrings at us, in terms of X’s identity. This.. didn’t help. In fact, because Show was trying so hard to be clever about those darn red herrings (maybe X is this guy.. or maybe it’s this guy..), it gave me bad Who’s The Hubs vibes from the Answer Me series. After a while, I realized that I didn’t care one bit, who X was. I felt that the question of X was just muddying up the equation (ooh, look at that, I made a math pun, ha), and would’ve preferred to have X taken out of the entire picture, so that we could have characters presented as they were, instead of being fake-presented as a possible X.
Show reveals X’s identity to us in episode 4, and I felt that as a result of Show not trying to be purposefully mysterious anymore, the storytelling actually became a little more cohesive.
The thing is, though, Show just wouldn’t let the X thing go. [SPOILER] When Hee Chan (Kim Hee Chan) acts up in episode 10 and starts baiting X, that felt tired, to me. Instead of feeling like there was added dramatic tension, it felt like, Oh man, are we going back to X, AGAIN? Not very helpful, I thought. [END SPOILER]
The star-crossed bromance
The first bleeding hearts bromance to steal my heart was in School 2013 (Heung-Soon foreva!), so I’m disappointed to say that I simply was not drawn to the backstory and tragedy behind Tae Woon (Kim Jung Hyun) and Dae Hwi’s (Jang Dong Yoon) strained relationship.
It’s really strange. Even after Show had clued me in on the tragedy behind the broken bromance between Tae Woon and Dae Hwi, I felt detached and unmoved. In part, I think it’s due to the writing of this star-crossed bromance. The scenes and dialogue didn’t have the kind of emotional heft that grabs my heart. Plus, the script doesn’t allow much room for the boys to actually reconcile. Out of the 11 episodes that I watched, there were only a few small concessions that hinted at a potential mending of the relationship. 11 episodes is way too much time spent on the boys being at loggerheads, in my opinion, especially since Show only has 16 episodes.
At the same time, I also feel like the lack of spark in this star-crossed bromance is because of the lack of chemistry between the 2 actors. I just didn’t feel the burgeoning emotion between them like I did between Nam Soon and Heung Soo in School 2013. When they got angry with each other, they were – simply – angry. I couldn’t detect layers of love and angst rippling beneath the surface, and as a result, all the scenes between Tae Woon and Dae Hwi felt rather flat and lacking to me. I didn’t – couldn’t! – feel the stakes.
The relationship between Dae Hwi & Nam Joo
As part of Show’s attempt to showcase the various struggles of our students, we get to see the problems in Dae Hwi’s relationship with Nam Joo (Sul In Ah).
I believe Show is working to give us a sense of how much students suffer from peer pressure, and what that looks like when the peer pressure is about living the high life and being rich. We are served a fair amount of angst, particularly on Nam Joo’s part. To be honest, though, I couldn’t bring myself to care. [SPOILER] Like in episode 11, when Nam Joo felt sad about her breakup with Dae Hwi, and when she told him that she felt uncomfortable about lying, I basically felt.. nothing. [END SPOILER]
I believe it’s both the fault of the delivery and the writing. Sul In Ah’s delivery is limited and leans flat (as do many of the other performances in this show), and the arc itself didn’t feel fleshed out enough.
Angry Hee Chan
In Show’s second half, Hee Chan gets played up as angry, angsty and pretty nasty. It felt like Show was gunning for a lot of dramatic tension from this arc, but it just didn’t work for me.
I feel like Show was trying to make Hee Chan the character menacing and therefore interesting, but Kim Hee Chan the actor just doesn’t have the depth and dimension required to make his angsty, angry lines believable. Kim Hee Chan’s delivery comes across as pretty two-dimensional, like he’s going through the motions of appearing angry, but there’s no actual substance to that anger, which therefore makes the angst not very believable at all.
Overall, I didn’t feel for this character, one way or the other. I neither felt sorry for him, nor did I hate him the way Show was prompting me to, with his cruel and self-centered behavior. I’m pretty sure that after so much effort on Show’s part, that indifference really wasn’t what they were going for.
Bo Ra’s turnaround
In episode 10, Bo Ra (Han Bo Bae), who had been reticent and sullen through most of the show, demonstrates a full turnaround. I found this overly simplistic, to be honest.
[SPOILER] In Show’s second half, we learn that Bo Ra had been suffering from serious depression, which had been triggered by a number of unfortunate events. She had suffered physical and emotional abuse by Hee Chan while dating him. On top of that, she’d been traumatized after being betrayed by a teacher (Jo Mi Ryung) whom she had trusted. In addition, she had been bullied and abused by her classmates. All pretty heavy stuff. So her quick recovery from that depression, from which she had been suffering for a whole year, felt too fast to be natural.
In a quick couple of episodes, with friendship offered by Eun Ho and Tae Woon, she’s suddenly standing up for herself quite easily, and talking back to bullies Hee Chan and Bit Na (Z.Hera), and smiling and laughing with her new friends. I found that really hard to believe. Just because she now has 2 friends, doesn’t magically make her depression go away. So even though Show was making a happy fuss about Bo Ra’s turnaround in episode 10, it all felt kind of hollow to me. [END SPOILER]
GLIMMERS OF HOPE
Well. That was quite a lot of not-so-great stuff, eh? The thing is, I’m not even being that exhaustive. But you get the idea. Show’s attempts at bringing these characters to life just wasn’t working for me.
So why did I even watch 11 episodes of this? Here’s why:
Kim Jung Hyun as Tae Woon
In a sea of blah, Kim Jung Hyun immediately stood out to me coz he looks like Kim Woo Bin’s little brother. And you guys know I’ve had a big soft spot for Woob for a while now. I just had to give Woob-lite a chance to properly wow me.
The bottom line is, I think Kim Jung Hyun could do with more screen presence. When Tae Woon was being angsty, I felt that the delivery didn’t carry enough heft to leave a proper impact.
That said, I found Tae Woon interesting enough to be counted as a highlight of this show, for me.
For one thing, besides reminding me of Woob with his lanky frame, strong brows and angular jaw, he also reminds me of Lee Dong Wook, with his bedroomy eyes, full lips, and smirky half-smile. I found this Kim Woo Bin-Lee Dong Wook combination both amusing and confusing, and I just had to see more of this boy, just to try and wrap my brain around this weird and wonderful discovery.
Additionally, Tae Woon does have his cute moments, and that helped quite a bit.
Every time Tae Woon made moony-type eyes at Eun Ho, or did something to try and get her attention or make her happy, I squeed a little. It’s mostly coz he was this big lug of a guy who had always been too cool for school, and here he was being the biggest dork, trying to hover around the girl he liked. That was pretty fun.
The connection between Eun Ho & Tae Woon
I enjoyed watching the growing bond between Tae Woon and Eun Ho, and I liked the idea that these two very different individuals could become friends who could support and be there for each other.
Every time these two demonstrated a bit of teamwork, I cheered a little. And each time they talked with each other and gained a little bit more in terms of mutual understanding, I did a mental fist pump. I liked this burgeoning friendship so much that I was happy to ignore all of Show’s downsides, in order to witness more of the journey that these unlikely friends shared.
Of course, things did get pretty cute too, when Tae Woon started to struggle with his rising confusing romantic feelings towards Eun Ho.
[SPOILER] While I found Tae Woon’s petty jealousies moderately amusing, what I liked even more, was how Tae Woon liking Eun Ho became an openly acknowledged, matter-of-fact thing between them. I just really enjoyed the fact that they could refer to it so casually, even though Eun Ho hadn’t given Tae Woon an answer one way or another. When Eun Ho was downcast and discouraged in episode 10, I liked how Tae Woon asked Eun Ho where the Eun Ho who would fight to the death was, coz that’s the Eun Ho that he liked. His exaggerated fluttering heart beating under his shirt was pretty hilarious too. [END SPOILER]
The thing is, by episode 11, the cute disappeared. All that was left was a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t like about this show, and I felt my interest levels drop, fast. So I went away and experimented by watching Lingerie Girls’ Generation, just to see if I still liked high school stories. Short answer: turns out I do.
So I came back to School 2017 and decided to give it another go – and lasted all of 10 minutes, ha.
Eun Ho and Tae Woon weren’t being at all cute together in episode 12. Worse, for the life of me, I couldn’t follow the logic of their arguments. I mean, I listened to what they said, but neither of them made much sense to me. That didn’t help. For the record, these two are very un-cute together when they are fighting. That didn’t help either.
I knew in my head that Eun Ho and Tae Woon would likely make up if I stuck around long enough, but I just couldn’t muster up the persistence to sit through another 4 hours of this show, just to see a bit of cute come back. I mean, let’s remember at this point, that I had almost zero interest in all the other story threads in this show.
And so, I rather regretfully conclude that despite the seeming majority of viewers loving this show, even a Kim Woo Bin-Lee Dong Wook hottie mash-up isn’t going to suck me into this one, no matter how hard I try.