Review: KBS’ Dream High Looks to Aim High with a Mix of Familiarity and Freshness

No spoilers. Click here for Hindsight Review.

Already the new year and a month after coming home from my trip and still so much television to catch up on, including a combined 48 Korean drama hours of Runaway, Fugitive: Plan B, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, and Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

But before what I hope will be a fun, breezy marathon of the three shows, I decided to check out KBS’ newest series Dream High which premiered this week.

On the surface, you might be able to tell what to expect from the series, what with a cast of Korean pop idols and its performing arts high school setting.

But from its premiere week episodes, Dream High appears to want to tap into several different Korean drama genres all while centering around a sort of 2011 Korean version of Fame.

The first episode begins with a flash forward to 2018 when Korea is abuzz with the news of a Korean artist winning the Grammy award for Record of the Year. Jung Ha Myung is being interviewed after the Grammy win as he is credited with developing the Korean artist known simply as “K.” Jung is and was the president of Kirin Art High School, a school that had produced a ton of today’s hottest K-pop artists.

As Jung begins recounting the story of when K first entered Kirin, we find out he or she is one of six students in a picture he fondly keeps.

And so we begin meeting these six students, all from different backgrounds and status in life, but all with dreams waiting to be fulfilled.

The first two episodes were largely set-up and lots of exposition, but the good thing about that is we see what the show can be if it fully realizes its full potential right along with the students we meet.

Dream High, at its core, is the familiar Fame-esque, “want to be a star”/rags to riches story. It’ll be a long, long while until we run out of pop star “origin stories,” so the premise won’t necessarily be tired and cliché, as long the series presents fresh backstories to our future (or not) pop stars and not delve into the old bag of tricks.

And while Dream High actually does stick its hand into a few Korean drama tropes, what gives a cause for hope is how the series appears to be aiming for mixing several Korean drama genres.

Aside from Fame, Dream High looks to touch on the uniformed high school angst and romance that’s proven popular in series like Boys Over Flowers and Master of Study and the recent Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Within that high school genre is the underdog/group of misfits succeeding story that will no doubt be a big part of the series. There’s the family drama commonly seen on Korean daily dramas, complete with hopeful mother, absent, good for nothing parents, and cute little precocious dongsaengs (little brother or sister). Throw in fight scenes, dance scenes, lots of singing and you’ve got the makings of a fun ride.

Hopefully that fun ride will be realized in the weeks to come, but the show is off to a solid start. With a cast of idols including 2PM’s Taecyeon and Wooyoung, missA’s Suzy, T-ara’s Eunjung, and solo artist IU as well as actor Kim Soo Hyun, you can expect to see polished singing and dancing performances. Acting-wise, only Taecyeon (Cinderella’s Sister), Eunjung (Coffee House) and Kim Soo Hyun (Giant) have acting experience while Suzy, IU and Wooyoung make their acting debuts. When the episodes are full of exposition and set-up, their performances can feel forced, but again, there’s hope once the show really gets going.

Their experiences as real life pop artists should help them concentrate on their acting performances as opposed to worrying about getting the singing and dancing right.

Dream High isn’t a musical drama per se, but the music has been wonderfully and naturally woven into the series, helping to boost respective scenes. The eventual performances however at school should provide some of the highlights of the series.

It doesn’t aim to be a Drama of the Year contender, but if they can keep the ball rolling, Dream High can be one of those fun, breezy, but thoroughly enjoyable viewing experiences. I definitely hope Dream High can aim high and reach it.

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