While I haven’t had the chance to check out the recently finished Age of Youth, I’ve heard some great things about its memorable female characters and ensemble format. It’s definitely going on my watch list, but in the meantime, it has made me think about the ensemble kdramas I’ve watched.
Ensembles often run the risk of having their many characters and sprawling plot threads not resonate with an audience. Under-performing characters/plots often get shunted to the side and neglected, weakening the overall strength of the show. I’ll admit that I can drop ensembles really quickly if I don’t like a majority of the characters/plots, but these three shows did a great job of giving their characters enough space to grow without losing focus or forcing us to endure lackluster plots.
#1 – Heard It Through the Grapevine
(Rich boy and poor girl become teen parents; their families heads’ explode.)
This was from the team who gave us Secret Love Affair, so I knew I had to give it a shot even though the length and the dark comedy/satire description made me a bit nervous. There was no reason to be worried: straight out of the gate, I wound up with teenage parents who desperately loved each other and their baby and wanted to figure out how to carve out a life together despite the class warfare perpetrated by the boy’s high-strung rich parents. The upstairs/downstairs divide and absurd comedy frequently were some of my favorite parts as was the development of minor characters. The final arc slowed down a bit too much for my taste (and kept the young couple from achieving OTP status), but this drama ultimately reinforced my love for this creative team. What’re you going to bring us next?
#2 – What’s Up
(Your college’s musical theater department will never be this ridiculous, dramatic, or amazing.)
One of the rare college-centric dramas that actually focuses on school, What’s Up? features a ragtag group of incoming musical theater freshman and some of their professors and upperclassmen. Our main trio consists of a good-for-nothing scammer who decides to make something of his life after a deadly accident, an orphaned and innocent country girl unprepared to catch the attention of a talent agency, and a masked idol and illegitimate child who hides his identity in order to protect his ambitious mother. In between the hazing and musical numbers, the characters get to shine with their (occasionally doomed) romantic relationships, family drama, talent rivalries, terminal illnesses, and fights over dorm room cleanliness. It’s funny, heartfelt, and earnest in the best ways.
#3 – Can We Get Married?
(Not if the mothers-in-law have anything to say about it.)
This contemporary take on love and marriage follows four compelling couples in different stages of their relationships, from just me to divorce. At the heart of the conflict are a young engaged couple and the woman’s mother, who is determined to ensure her daughters and sisters are happy and successful. While the best story line is the divorcing couple, the engaged couple holds their own while enduring the gauntlet of clashing family values, exes, and their own hearts. The story lagged a little in places but nevertheless found its way to mostly satisfying resolutions. (This is also the last time I liked Sung Joon, for the record.)