[2017 Year in Review] Making friends with the kids in the back row
by Guest Beanie
Because This Life Is Our First
I always end up doing this—socializing with the kids in the back row, instead of hanging out with the It people. It’s the one thing I noticed about my drama experiences this year: The main story didn’t engage me that much. I always got sidetracked, chatting at the last bench in the back row. Maybe it was that some side characters got a much more fully developed storyline and character growth than the main leads, or maybe it was me, who has just now started to pay more attention to them. Or maybe it was that side characters were often played by unfamiliar, fresh faces that got me by surprise with their depth and energy.
There has not been a year in my memory when dramas addressed this variety of life and people with such integrity. I remember more characters from this year and I feel like I have lived with them; I feel like I can almost see into their minds. Thus I want to preserve them in some way, and etch their names somewhere as to keep them with me.
First, there was Ji Eun-hyuk from Suspicious Partner, played by Choi Tae-joon. Eun-hyuk was a sincerely good person, friend, ally, co-worker, lawyer, a great listener, and a true sweet meringue sugar muffin, who hid a sensitive and longing side behind a silly smile. Eun-hyuk was a great co-consipator for Bong-hee and he put in endless effort to mend things with Ji-wook. And I believe he is still doing that. You know, it greatly bugged me that Ji-wook never truly made up with his old friend officially, although he seemed to give in on a professional level.
Eun-hyuk-ah, how are you doing? Did you break up with Yoo-jung and get together with Ji-hae? I think she is a better match, but I have no right to say. Choi Tae-joon, thank you for making him into one of the most endearing characters of 2017. That’s not to say the rest of the squad wasn’t noteworthy. We had the Captain, My Captain—Chief Bang, played by Jang Hyuk-jin—with his knowing smile, and CEO Byun, who became our favorite neighborhood ajusshi.
And then of course there’s Ban-ryu of Hwarang, played by Do Ji-han. His character had an intriguing setup and the cutest bumbling romance and hilarious frenemy/future-brother-in-law balance with roommate Su-ho, played by Min-ho. Personality-wise, Su-ho surprised me—who knew the class playboy was a closet philosopher? Ban-ryu was a leader who lost his followers, but he came around to become a true friend to those around him.
Another drama that had some interesting back-row kids—maybe because in this drama there were no front-row kids, they all sat at the back—was Radiant Office. They were misfits and underdogs struggling to find their place. And among them was Ji-na, played by Han Sun-hwa, the overachiever who tried to steel her heart and cut all connection with the back-row kids… except she was actually a back-row kid all over, whose cold-hearted persona was just an act. And like so many great female characters this year, Ji-na was a valuable, smart, professional, and hard-working individual. I wished all would go well for her and Ki-taek, and ended up feeling like she was my friend.
Then there’s the one kid you really, really want to be friends with exclusively but he is liked by everyone: Strongest Deliveryman’s Oh Jin-gyu, played by Forever Dimples Kim Sun-ho. Jin-gyu was betrayed, damaged, thrown away, bitter at the whole world, and desperate to prove he was worth something. All he had was his charm, or so he thought, but perhaps harsh life experience made him a better problem-solver. Or his dimples did.
Strongest Deliveryman was another drama filled with memorable minor characters, like Ji-yoon, the restaurant boss and chef, and the delivery boys (Gong-gi, Min-chan, Sung-jae) who all had their moment in the drama, showing some unwavering trust in their leader, vulnerability, and dreams of a better future. There was also Yeon-ji, whose situation was edgy, compelling, and a bit desperate. She would have made a good main character in a drama, but she chose to keep to her little corner instead.
And last but not least, we have Su-ji and Ma Sang-gu of Because This Life Is Our First. They’re the kids who already live grown-up lives. Su-ji is everything I want to be—your true bestie whom you admire, the female ninja, the Amazon, so cool, but such a girl among her closest friends. She could run far ahead while you row your boat ever so slowly, but she keeps turning back, because her friends are more important than her destination. Perhaps the best character of the year. Esom, I’ll remember your name, I promise.
My drama-watching year was made memorable by all these back-row kids, who were hard-working (actual working! As in, they did their jobs! They didn’t just talk on rooftops and cry in the rain!) and competent characters that I would scout if I started a company. They were people with talents and very personal dreams and goals outside the frame, and they wanted to achieve something more than what was expected of them. I feel like if I gathered them all up, we could reboot this world. Back row revolution! Go, go, go!