Warning: Spoilers for the whole season!
The concept of a “television series” and “web series” and “tv short” are starting to meld together. Dramaworld, a production for Viki.com that’s a co-production alongside China’s Jetavana Entertainment, Korea’s EnterMedia Contents and the US’s Third Culture Contents. But it’s meant for a website and not TV, but it’s now on Netflix. So is it a TV show? It’s in episodic form, but then Netflix originals are seen as television shows and Netflix is just a big website. Netflix shows have flexible running times and so does this, they’re just a little shorter. But in terms of reviewing, the fact that it’s episodic content is the reason why it’s being reviewed on here.
So what is Dramaworld? It’s a comedy-drama in which Claire, a young American college student (Liv Hewson) is somehow sucked into the current K-drama that she’s watching. It helps that she’s absolutely addicted to Korean dramas and is currently hooked on Taste of Love – in which a young sous-chef (Bae Noo-ri) falls in love with the head chef (Sean Dulake) and he’s perused by his childhood friend. But Claire’s presence messes up the actual narrative and starts spiralling relationships out of control. The leading man is now having conflicting feelings for Claire, there are characters being murdered in a show where there shouldn’t be murders and the whole nature of Dramaworld (the world where the K-Dramas exist) is threatened. Claire is brought in as a “Facilitator” of drama, alongside Seth (Justin Chon) to act as extras to help the plot move along.
From the get-go, the thing that appeals to me is the chance to try and make fun and celebrate tropes that exist in television. Whilst a lot of the appeal of the Korean aspect is lost on me (there’s many cameos from famous Korean actors and actresses that went over my head), moments when the rules of TV are adhered to and played with are quite funny and lead to some interesting story-telling moments later on. Moments like women not being able to fall without being caught and saving someone’s life means falling in love is played on quite a bit for dramatic tension and humour, as is karaoke as a device to stall the leading man. It allows for a little bit more exciting tension when watching the series. The creative decision to make the overall villain another Facilitator is an interesting one, as it allows for the further rules and conventions of drama to be broken and doesn’t gives Claire an advantage as she’s pitted against someone who knows more about what’s happening than she does.
The majority of the Korean cast are playing to type, and aren’t really allowed to grow third dimensions in their characterisation. The odd one out is Sean Dulake, who is described in the series as a list of generic tropes you find in most Korean dramas, but the show manages to start having him break away from all of that as he starts to be more confused and self-aware. This happens near the end of the series, however – so the full potential of this idea isn’t fully capitalised, but it leads to an interesting idea that he’s picking up abilities of previous characters the actor has played. It doesn’t make much sense when you think about it, but it’s certainly fun to watch.
Perhaps a lack of narrative logic and world building is missing throughout all this – and I’ve putting that down to the limited screen time. It’s just so short it’s unbelievable, so concepts that need fleshing out like why Claire is there in the first place and what exactly will happen at the end of the series could have more emphasis or more explanation. It’d mean more fun with the playing with TV Tropes as well, as there were times they could’ve capitalised on this. But perhaps this is something that would’ve worked in a second season, which I hope there is. I also hope the episodes are longer, and that there’s a new genre to lampoon.
Dramaworld is nice to watch, don’t expect anything that will blow you away though. There’s some fun to be had, and if you are aware of Korean culture you’ll get a much better kick out of it in that aspect, but if the idea of messing with TV tropes and the rules of drama intrigue you – there may be enough here for you to stick your teeth into.
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