Review: KBS’ Dream High 2 – Familiar, yet Different Than Its Predecessor

TYPE OF REVIEW : FIRST IMPRESSION REVIEW
Basic set-up spoilers.

After the rousing success of Dream High this time last year, it was a no-brainer for KBS to order up a second series. Succeeding as a well-rounded drama and igniting the pop culture world, Dream High hit all the right notes, especially with its pitch perfect finale.

But for fans of the first series, Dream High 2 might not be what they expected. Though the basic premise of the series opens up the possibilities for a multi-season franchise, the challenge for the producers coming into this second series would be keeping it fresh, yet maintaining the core DNA that connected with viewers last year.

Dream High was a story about underdogs, the everyday person wanting to make it big; from the small town country bumpkin and lifelong aspirants at stardom to the unexpected bystander with talent and the shy, background characters coming into their own.

Dream High 2 has set up its premise in the very real and current world of idols and their fandom. Though the first Dream High dealt with the thriving Kpop industry (both the sugary highs and the seedy lows), Dream High 2 delves even deeper looking at both sides.

It may not be the absolute central premise of this second series, but the contrasting of established, hugely popular idol stars and the well-meaning misfits of Kirin has already been the source of some great scenes.

Despite the difference, there are still dreams to be made. So Dream High 2 has that basic concept to jump off from. The idol-fandom dynamic is merely a setup to the familiar high school hijinks of the first series.

Where Dream High had a 60-40 balance between the students and faculty, Dream High 2 is focused more on the youngins, and therefore features an even bigger ensemble cast as the first series.

Familiar, Yet Completely Different
At the center is Shin Hye Sung (played by Kang Sora), a preacher’s daughter with as much ambition and brains as she lacks in singing and dancing talent. She is a huge fan of popular idol duo I’dn/Eden, especially JB (Im Jae Bum/JB). After he and partner Si Woo (Park Seo Joon) go against a newly enacted law prohibiting minors from performing after 10pm, their management company makes them and label mates HershE (Jiyeon, Hyorin and Ailee) go back to school via Kirin Arts High School, partly for PR, partly for CEO Lee Kang Chul’s secret reasons.

Hye Sung is a student at the once shining, now run down Kirin. The possibility of her not only going to school with, but living in the same dorm with her idol crush is almost too much excitement for her to contain. While the impending arrival of the handsome and pretty idols excite the rest of the school, it is all much to the chagrin of acoustic rocker Jin Yoo Jin (Jung Jinwoon).

Larger Ensemble
Like the first series, Dream High 2 features an ensemble cast, this time featuring a larger young cast.

Jiyeon of the girl group T-ara is probably the vet when it comes to playing a teenage, high school girl. With such varied characters as a giddy lovesick teen in the excellent God of Study to stoic, emo troubled teen in Jungle Fish 2 and Death Bell 2, Jiyeon’s slightly more feisty role as Rian is a nice change of pace for her as an actress.

Kang Sora as Hye Sung is likely the most accomplished young actor on the series and is fresh off of KBS’ Women of Our Home/My Bittersweet Life. Playing similar girls next door, Kang Sora’s likeability helps you root for her from the get go, even if she does some crazy things. Plus, she already has an established chemistry with Yoo So Young who also plays a similarly quirky sidekick as she did in their daily drama.

The rest of the younger main cast is filled with promising rookies. Jung Jinwoon of 2AM carries his Yoo Jin character well, able to keep him prideful and sometimes cocky, yet childish and good-hearted as well. Im Jae Bum, who goes by JB like his character, probably has the most interesting character to play. We’ve seen almost two completely different characters, contrasting his cold current standoff-ish idol persona with flashbacks of his shy, meek pre-fame personality.

We’ve seen little of SISTAR’s Hyorin, Ailee (who has an amazing debut single in “Heaven”), Park Seo Joon and JYP trainee Park Jin Young (going by the name Jr.). But their screentime has been increasing, though slowly, with each episode. And while the main quartet is great, this season’s strength will depend on how well they use this large and promising cast.

A Lighter Vibe
And with the larger cast, Dream High 2 has a much lighter vibe, at least so far, than the first series. There’s a lot more over the top comedy and slapstick, a more idol-driven, teenage vibe that’s familiar with more typical high school/college comedies. But there’s also a genuine attempt at maintaining a story as dramatic and involving as that of the first series.

Typifying Dream High 2‘s embracing of more out there comedy, the first episodes focused too much on fan service in the form of awkwardly placed musical numbers or more specifically, musical parodies.

But the series might be focusing too much on the fan service and taking away from focus on the actual story, which on its own is actually very intriguing when you take away all the awkwardly thrown in musical numbers/parodies.

This second series is probably a little more polished than the first series in terms of production, only since they already know what they’re doing. But the execution in the first two episodes needed a lot of work. The musical numbers seemed almost as haphazardly shoehorned into the show as Glee does merely in the name of fan service and watercooler moments that’ll light up YouTube and Twitter.

But the episodes since have done a better job overall. The music flows a little more naturally and the deeper stories finally get going. For any series, it takes an episode or two to really lay the groundwork and build a solid foundation. For Dream High 2, maybe it took a little longer than it should have.

But now that the series is delving into the characters’ own stories and expanding on the supporting characters alongside the greater arc, the series seems to have settled. The insights into their backstories have been welcome. The idea that many of these relationships were already established before the show began (as opposed to the first series where the characters have all just met – well, almost all) and the mystery of it all being slowly unraveled has helped ground the show.

Dream High 2 is a lot fluffier than the first series. And that doesn’t mean it’s any less, it’s just different; yet very familiar at the same time. What’s lacking is that emotional connection that makes you care about what happens to these characters, that urge to root for them to succeed as the first Dream High successfully did.

What Dream High 2 isn’t lacking is its sense of fun and for any series, and sometimes having fun is enough.

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