The idea of roller coasters thrill me, and I’ll even ride them every now and then. But in all honesty, I’m really not into that feeling of getting your gut pulled out of your throat, that sense of impending doom, begging for it to end. How many of us have been sucked into a K-drama and found ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, suffering from whiplash from one episode to another? Sure, it may be fun for a while, but you can’t live your life on a roller coaster. Sometimes, I would rather go on the carousel, something familiar, where I can enjoy the scenery. These are times when I appreciate a quiet K-drama.
20th Century Boy and Girl is the perfect drama when you don’t want to spend the last bit of your energy in emotional turmoil. It’s the one where you can unwind to when your day has enough drama to fill your melodramatic cup, or maybe another K-drama has dehydrated your tear ducts.
The friends to lovers trope is strong, the families are less dysfunctional than your average K-drama, and there’s a great girl gang supporting our heroine every step of the way. It’s a drama that reminds me of why I fell in love with K-dramas in the first place—the innocence, the slow burn of realizing one’s feelings, and then realizing that the one you love loves you back, and you live happily ever after!
The first episode when Ji-won (Kim Ji-suk) sees Jin-jin (Han Ye-seul) float down the stairs in the hotel, he is mesmerized, and so was I with how tenderly he looks at her. There’s no flash and dash with this—it’s slow and deliberate, very much how a relationship would actually play out. Some people were frustrated at how long it took the main couple to pick up steam, but when they did, it was well worth it.
I really enjoyed them finding each other again, how respectful he was with her fame, and never pushed himself on her. He never even used her popularity to his advantage (which his former idol stepbrother did, but in a sympathetic way). He was just there for her, and really only had one episode when he wasn’t, the one when she was poisoned by a rabid anti-fan and ended up at the hospital. But she immediately confronted him (within the next episode, which is as immediate as any K-drama I’ve ever watched). There was no drawn out misunderstanding.
This OTP was so believable as friends; I loved seeing them that way. I can see how friends can make great lovers if it comes to that—alas, that never happened to me. This show used forced proximity to strengthen their friendship and didn’t make it awkward or embarrassing. I really appreciated this. After all, they are in their mid-thirties, and we’re all adults here.
Furthermore, their chemistry was on fire when they did finally admit more romantic feelings for each other. I appreciated that the heroine was the first to say how upset she was that he seemed fine with the whole arrangement when she wasn’t, far from it. She didn’t make him guess her feelings. It was just the permission he needed to swoop in and plant that passionate kiss.
The supporting cast was so nice in this, literally. No one is vengeful, vindictive, or horrible (not when you have the paparazzi to meet these plot points). Even our second lead is basically just there to make the heroine surer of her feelings for the first, and he’s not really that invested in her to the point of making us uncomfortable for the lead. EVER. And there’s no bratty girl vying for our first lead’s affection either. How angst-free can you get? I loved it.
Jin-jin’s mother was a favorite and she is how every mother should be—ultra supportive of her daughter and son, cooks amazing food, and has her own quiet way with her husband, but we know she really runs the household. I found myself enjoying her dialogue with everyone, and if there was any crying, it was because I felt her love for her children through those words. It also helps that Kim Mi-kyung plays any mother (even brash, near-abusive ones) with grace and sympathy.
Then there’s the bromance between the two stepbrothers “seeing” the same girl, one for a K-variety show and the other as a friend. These two guys are so caring towards each other and their half-sister. I felt like Anthony (Lee Sang-woo) was my brother: quiet, introspective, possibly sub-clinically depressed, but a great guy, and he never pulled the drama down. Their patchwork family was probably the healthiest of all, even with all the tragedy that beset it initially.
And how admirable was the friendship between all the Bongo friends? The girlfriends who lost the only boy in the group, who stayed together all those years. And when he came back, they all accepted him like no time had passed. Then when the two friends finally cornered Ji-won and asked him directly what his feelings were toward Jin-jin, they already knew like they did 20 years ago, even though he was denying it. They were supportive of Jin-jin throughout her life, trials with the paparazzi, and even her family. And she was supportive of them as well. Jin-jin was just a thoughtful character in general. This was so refreshing to see. I’d be friends with any of them.
This show isn’t a screaming roller coaster; it’s a carousel ride while holding hands with your first love, with all the butterflies you get sitting next to them. And I would trade whiplash for butterflies most any day!
P.S. I could probably truncate this whole essay into one sentence that would get you to watch it: Anticipating Kim Ji-suk’s half a dozen kiss scenes is worth every episode! Ta-ta for now!