I don’t really recall how I came to watch this show but I remember being extremely tired of watching TV series and movies filled with men and their classic ‘hero’s journey’. This particular format feels ancient in 2019. It’s excessively used, full of clichés and stereotypes, completely unoriginal and an absolute no go for me! I would even go so far as to say that the whole of the hero’s journey is pre-historic. Although the vestiges of this format still prevail in all forms of storytelling, I was pleasantly surprised by the tact with which this South Korean drama navigated the challenge of originality. I am not very well versed with the technicalities of film making, but I believe that as a consumer I have the right to demand better content and an honest representation of lived experiences from the mainstream media. And that brings me back to Hello, My Twenties!
The discovery of this show was a result of my ritualistic Netflix searches. I was intrigued and sceptical. What if it turned out to be one of those stereotypical all women series full of exaggerated emotions made entirely for the male gaze and pleasure? I was hesitant to go forward. I went on to look for more information online and was disappointed to find the availability of it so limited. I found a Reddit thread which spoke highly of the show and a few reviews here and there. I even tried finding a critical review of the show but no luck! With no other options left I decided to give it a try. My reservations about this show only grew stronger after watching the first couple of episodes.
The show revolves around five women of different ages in their twenties who live together in an apartment rented out by a fiercely wholesome lady who happens to live alone downstairs. The best part about this series is its theme of building friendships. In a society where the majority of mainstream media pits women against each other or portrays superficial friendships, this show feels like lying down on freshly laundered sheets- warm, comfortable and crisp. The initial episodes gave rise to a sense of disappointment because of certain stereotypical portrayal of these women. Girlfriends being shown going hysteric for no apparent reason and seemingly shallow personality traits. But somehow, unlike the other shows I lost interest in and stopped watching, this one made me want to know more. I continued watching. I believe the reason for it is the brilliant screenplay by Park Yeon-Seon.
From a technical standpoint, this show jumps genres in each episode while revolving around five different lives. Its beautiful use of montages for transitions between scenes brings together a complex narrative created through the amalgamation of several other seamless narratives in the storyline. The initial episodes held some problematic stances in terms of social narratives which gave weight to my growing doubts. But thanks to the strong writing, the thin ice that the show keeps treading on never breaks because of the layers it keeps adding to the characters, making it substantial and incessantly human. The characters are unapologetically real. They keep growing organically in their own pace as per their emotional calibre and even then their accountability is never compromised. This, I believe, is because the show neither tries to justify the stances taken by the characters nor tries to judge them. It allows you the space to comprehend reality while also acknowledging the consequential nature of the social structure. This ingenious way of storytelling prevents you from rooting for a single character blindly. Rather, it makes you look at each character with equal significance without ever taking away their agencies.
The show deals with a lot of social issues like dating violence, child sexual abuse, parental abuse, mental illness, workplace bullying and harassment. These subjects require a level of sensitivity and understanding of complexity to portray/deal with/. But it does a marvellous job of addressing it all without glorifying any person or situation or quantifying trauma. There is not a single mainstream show that I can point at and say the same about. The characters are never out of ordinary and even though the struggles faced by these characters seem to be out of ordinary, the show keeps it grounded in reality by weaving it in emotions evoked through lived experiences rather than exaggerated emotions. The raw emotions of lived experiences are something that is hardly ever represented so accurately in mainstream media we watch today. With that in place, each episode spans over an hour with a very slow but steady pace. The problematic stances keep resolving as the characters and the story around them builds. This understanding blatantly avoids being superficial and comes organically without any forced narratives. This is also one of the reasons why the show comes off as extremely real and flies high in terms of relatability.
The cunning depiction of reality in the series breaks the biggest barrier of human understanding. And that is our idea of “normalcy”. It craftily subverts the notion of normalcy. Each person believes they are normal and yet do not extend the same understanding towards other people who have experienced a trauma of some kind. It poses a very important question of what is considered to be normal and in turn forces you to acknowledge abuse as something not normal. For me, this is the most defining moment of the entire series. In a society where abuse is normalized to a grave extent, this show plays a crucial role in questioning our sensibilities. The role of waking us up to face, acknowledge and address our realities. That is the singular most need of the hour. Of every hour.
The character development has been crafted to perfection. Each episode adds new depth to every personality. Each character is made human with arrays of aspect to their individuality. Apart from tackling social issues it also emphasizes on the importance of solidarity gained through honest interpersonal relationships. The show’s understanding of solidarity is nothing but Bang On! And one of its admirable qualities is the significance it holds for communication, as fundamental to every relationship. Hello, My Twenties! is the only series that I know which puts friendship on the same pedestal as romantic relationships. It never tries to one-up another and gives equal importance to both by maintaining the same level of respect for these relationships. The show also showcases the nuances of female friendships and the enriching quality of such bonds.
All that being said, I wish I had the opportunity to watch a show like this in my teens. It is definitely made for that particular age group but does a wonderful job of catering to a vast range of age groups. All of the content is extremely relatable and the politics simplified, which is a huge plus for the young generation. As for criticisms, the stance it takes on sex workers is still very ambiguous. I do not know how honest the portrayal is or if such a portrayal is justified, neither do I know about the impact this will have on the community. I would be spending some time soon to figure it out. Another thing would be the lack of LGBTQ+ representation. It slightly breezed over the subject but I would like to see more than just cis-het dynamics. The show currently has two seasons and I hope they start making the third season soon. In all, it’s a masterpiece in the slice of life genre and a very well balanced show. It is a must watch and I am currently pressurizing my friends into it. Hope they give in soon.