Make 'Dramaworld' The Not-So-Guilty TV Pleasure You Marathon This Summer
This summer when it's too hot to leave the house and you're scrolling through Netflix trying to figure out what to chill to in your (hopefully) perfectly chilled air conditioned living room, may I suggest spending some time in Dramaworld. The Korean-American bilingual drama, which debuted on global streaming service Viki in April and is now streaming on Netflix, is the perfect guilty pleasure show that you don't have to feel too guilty about. Not only are the show's 10-episodes no longer than 20 minutes, meaning you can actually marathon through it quick enough to still go outside and get some quality sun time in. But, it's a smart and funny satire of Korean dramas that looks at why that formula works almost too well on its viewers.
The show looks at one particular K-drama fan, 20-year-old college student/sandwich maker Claire Duncan — played by the Ellen Page-like newcomer Liv Hewson — who loves Korean dramas just a little too much that it's starting to affect how she's living her real life. She's just hoping that someone is going to sweep her off her feet with one true love kiss, just like it happens on all of her favorite shows. Except, for some reason this clichéd romantic moment hasn't yet happened on her new favorite show, Taste Of Love. What's worse is that the show is coming close to its finale and still there's been no kiss.
Being that this show is steeped in fantasy, a freak accident lands Claire in Dramaworld where she now is tasked with being a "facilitator," aka someone who can help get the story back on track. Think of Dramaworld as a Korean-take on Back To the Future. Claire's main goal being to get the leading man Joon Park to fall madly in love with his leading lady (and sous chef) Seo-yeon. As we soon learn though, there's much more to this story than first meets the eye, and Claire is just the one to make things right again before it's too late. That is, if she doesn't find herself being cast as the new leading lady in Taste Of Love. Oh, the drama that ensues.
Dramaworld, which is the first show to star American and Korean actors speaking both English and Korean (thanks to subtitles), manages to work on two levels. At once, it's like any Korean drama, keeping up with the patterns that permeate any of the dramas. Claire is even given a handbook that lays out the different steps to making sure the characters fall in love — there is no coincidence in Dramaworld, as we will be reminded — including that the leading man must embody the traits of a leading man. As one character says, he must be "confident, handsome, slightly arrogant, but always with the leading lady's interest at heart, everything is for her."
But on the other hand this show is a smart, quick-witted play on Korean dramas that has fun with these tropes. Like Jane The Virgin, which is a loving homage to telenovelas, Dramaworld has fun with the narrative stereotypes that fuel Korean dramas. They know that some of these too oft-used tropes can be ridiculous, like the "drunk piggyback ride" scene that seems to find its way into every K-drama or that the leading man must always take a hot steaming shower. Dramaworld owns that silliness by incorporating those tropes in their own story.
But Dramaworld gets at these jokes not by making fun of these kinds of shows or the people who love them, but by letting us see how effective these shows can be for those looking to escape the real world. As Claire says early on in the show, she's not special. "I'm not even the main character in my own life," she says, Which clearly makes her the best choice for the job of getting things back in order.
Our fish out of water, Claire, shows that this fake world is much more exciting than most of our real lives because it's consistently good. It's comfort food in the sense that it's clear everyone is going to get their happy ending and find their true love. It's all so magical, but on Dramaworld, that magic is being used for evil. Yes, just like any good Korean drama, there is a twist — one we definitely won't spoil here. But one that proves, you can't live your life through someone else, you just have to live.