Teen dramas are my life. The older I get, the more critical I become, but there’s just something about them that always makes me feel… something? I wouldn’t call it nostalgia – I’ll be forever 25 anyway – but it’s more like some healing, a reminder that nothing lasts forever and we are the masters of our destiny, the pain we sometimes feel will go away one day or another. It took me some time to figure it out, but I think that’s eventually the message I got from “Seonam Girls High School Investigators”.
Regardless of the low ratings that made jTBC cut it down from 16 episodes to 14 episodes, I think the drama had a lot of potential, but it never really delivered. Based on a successful teen book series (that I’m planning to read), “Seonam Girls High School Investigators” tells the story of five high school girls whose after school activity is to solve mysteries. If it starts out with a-case-of-two-week structure, the last episodes focus on the main arc led by Ahn Chae Yool (Jin Ji Hee) and famous ex-play writer/teacher Ha Yeon Joon (Kim Min Joon) who hides a dark secret. “Seonam Girls High School Investigators” actually deals with serious issues and doesn’t sugar coat it… despite the not-necessarily-funny cliché gags such the entire school suffering from diarrhea like Chae Yool did after eating rose bread.
So Ahn Chae Yool is a strong-minded teenager who struggles with not meeting the expectations of her mother. Despite her confidence, she’s also insecure as she tries to figure out who she is. That’s why she doesn’t put easily her guard down, but who can’t resist to the persistant and inventive Yoon Mi Do (Kang Min Ah), the forever hungry and cute Lee Ye Hee (Lee Hye Ri), the caring and culinary expert Choi Sung Yoon (Stephanie Lee), the computer “hacker” and self-proclaimed psychic Kim Ha Jae (Lee Min Ji)? I mean, as Mi Do puts it, “you may choose to come in, but you can’t leave like you want”.
Sadly, bullying is a trope in K-teen dramas and so, of course, one case is dedicated to this theme. There’s also one about a daughter dealing with her father who doesn’t want her to pursue her dream of becoming a makeup artist. Now on to what was not cliché at all. Sexuality. K-Dramas rarely have intimate scenes, and sex is almost never a part of the equation in all these love (melo) stories with consenting grown-ups. So it is uncommon to have a plot dealing with teenagers and their sexuality, not once, but twice, in the same drama. While the writing chose a dramatic approach, the directing is straightforward without being invasive or judgemental. It’s the aftermath of teen love in some of its most brutal forms for A+ student Park Se Yoon (Jung Yeon Joo) who regrets having an abortion. However, the drama will be probably remembered for this on-screen lesbian kiss between Han Soo Yeon (Kim So Hye) and Park Eun Bin (Kang Sung Ah). The evolution of their love story is shown and we’re left with the impression they might have a chance to be happy, like the many shippers wished for.
The comedy and sitcom acting are reflected through tropes like the romantic triangle involving Mi Do, madly deeply in love with Ahn Chae Yoon’s older brother Ahn Chae Joon (Jang Ki Yong), and who doesn’t correct him when he meets the group for the first time and thinks Ye Hee is the one he had been chatting with all this time. Chae Yool has hostile discussions with Ha Ra On (Han Ye Joon), Ha Yeon Joon‘s nephew, whom Ha Jae is fan of. I’m not quite sure we were supposed to ship Chae Yool and Ra On, but he’s just a tortured soul and Chae Yool accepts to help him to find the truth behind the suicide of Choi Mi Rae, his (girl?)friend whom he believes was pushed to death by Ha Yeon Joon. To be honest, the mystery around the teacher didn’t really matter to me. This arc was super creepy, and Kim Min Joon obviously did a good job at portraying the predatory-non-predatory teacher that gets us wondering “did he kill her or not? Why? Why?”. No matter how nicely directed the big reveal scene was in the last episode, it was very K-drama like. Especially here because Show dealt with such deep issues for the teen characters that it made the main arc with the main adult almost unecessary.
To me, “Seonam Girls High School Investigators” could have worked better if it had been dark comedy from A to Z. There were many references to the actresses’ real-life situations which made some situations really funny, indeed. Like Stephanie Lee whose model-like height and walk were emphasized instead of being hidden to try to make us believe she was an ordinary school girl… or that epic noraebang scene with Hyeri singing “Something”, the song she had promoted early in 2014 with Girl’s Day.
I struggled with the pace (obviously rushed to resolve the main arc in 14 and not 16 episodes) which had prevented us to find out more about our investigators. For instance, Sung Yoon is the only one who gets the spolight through her skills (cooking) as she goes undercover during an investigation. Although Hye Ri’s filming schedule for “Jekyll and I” overlapped with “Seonam Girls High School Investigators”, even her character had some kind of backstory. Mi Do is the leader, but her storyline was just the love triangle. Same goes for Ha Jae whose past as a bullied/outcast or computer skills and psychic power could have been the focus of one specific investigation. With that said, it is so rare to see sisterhood in a K-drama (although we did have a love triangle) that I’ll cut Show some slack. Chae Yool might have thought she was surrounded by crazy girls…
but she is the one to bring back the group together because she knows these crazy girls are brave and loyal friends. Girl Power!