Just like an American Idol contestant just always a little above or a little below the right note, in the immortal words of Randy Jackson, KBS’ Dream High 2 ended up being a little pitchy… dawg.
The series never quite found the right tone and most certainly did not achieve perfect pitch like its predecessor’s final episode, but the series was at the very least enjoyable fluff even though there were plenty of expectations and potential for it to be much more.
Now the first Dream High wasn’t perfect by any means, but the characters were all efficiently fleshed out that by the end of the series and its epilogue fast forward to the future, you genuinely cared what happens to them.
While Dream High was much more character driven, Dream High 2 seemed to be more plot driven. And that’s a problem when Dream High 2 barely had a plot to begin with.
The basic premise of both series is as their titles say, young people dreaming and working to fulfill those dreams. But Dream High 2 merely mish-mashed characters and ideas together. By the middle of the first series, half the characters we’d been invested in already debuted as pop stars, the one’s left behind stepped up their efforts to reach that level, and relationships were already being established for the drama that was ahead.
For Dream High 2, I thought Episode 7 was the start of the show finding its footing as it finally had material that made you care. But it turned out to be the peak of the series. The story stalled again and Hyesung’s (and JB’s) inspiring realization of her talents shifted into more of what we saw (or didn’t see) in the first half. And by now, we still didn’t know where the series was headed.
Dream High 2 was more self-aware, which in turn removed the innocence that made Dream High 1 more endearing. Though this season had rootable characters, the lack of focus clouded why you were rooting for them in the first place and what you were rooting for.
The first series was more organic, following young people at Korea’s top arts school. This second series became unintentionally too convoluted with too many pieces for a puzzle that never got solved. Or more appropriately for the series, a Rubik’s cube left unsolved.
Kirin being down in the dumps amounted to nothing storywise. The inclusion of idols presented a possibly interesting contrast. That faded away quickly. Other than the relationship between Yu Jin and Principal Jung Wan (an excellent performance by veteran character actor Kwon Hae Hyo), the connection between teachers and students was weak rendering moot the feelings of “We’ve helped the students achieve their dreams!” at the end of the series.
Romance, a must for any Korean drama hoping for fans, was also lacking. JB and Hyesung’s relationship took center stage, and in many ways actually had stronger development than Samdong and Hyemi. They provided some of the season’s best scenes when JB kneels down to comfort a distraught Hyesung after the school shuns her and attempts to make her life hell…
…and when JB sits and listens to Hyesung finally letting her voice out.
Plus, this great montage featuring JB’s version of Se7en’s “When I Can’t Sing”
Every other romantic pairing ended up being forced and contrived just to fuel the fandom; from the writers not knowing what they were doing with the whole Ailee/Ui Bong/Seul non-triangle to the strange threesome of Si Woo, Nana and Hong Joo that ended up making Nana look like some kind of player stringing two guys along for 8 (!) years.
And though Yu Jin proved to be not as big a threat as Jin Gook was last season (though he started out like he was), Ri An was absolutely no threat.
And speaking of, Ri An has to be one of the most poorly developed characters I’ve seen in Korean drama. For most of the series, she was rude, cruel and a spoiled brat to everyone around her. You expected to see the reason why later on, but we never did. All we got was *poof* everyone thinks she’s an awesome person and she gives an out-of-nowhere speech in the last episode. She had no redeeming qualities and only her comeuppance to root for. (Which she never got.)
And that’s a shame because Jiyeon has already proven to be a solid actress. If you want to see a good drama performance from her, watch the infinitely better God of Study.
As for the rest of the cast; Kang Sora was great, but had to make do with the uneven material for her character. Was Hyesung strong or weak? Did she have talent or not? It was an unnecessary seesaw battle for her who should have been an easier “underdog with talent” character. Both JB and Jinwoon made solid, if not strong acting debuts. JB had the better material of the two, but they missed an opportunity to really show his journey from shy trainee to overconfident star to lovesick sweetheart. Jinwoon’s Yu Jin was great at first, but the character quickly lost all depth when it was clear JB was Hyesung’s ultimate pairing.
The chemistry was there, whether it was between Kang Sora and Jinwoon, JB and Sora or Jinwoon and Jiyeon, but the writing didn’t take advantage and it was all thin.
Everyone else from Hyorin, Ailee, and Park Seo Joon to Jr., Yoo So Young, Kim Ji Soo and Jung Yeon Joo ended up being props in the plot with no story or development for themselves.
It is hard not to compare this season to the first, especially when the first did all of this already and much better.
Dream High did a better job of weaving the music together with real story. While Dream High 2 improved after the haphazardly thrown together musical numbers of the first two episodes, the lack of story made much of the music feel out of place save for the original songs “Hello to Myself” (used excellently for Hyesung’s coming out party with JB) and “We Are B Class” (which, with a stronger underdog story, would’ve been incredible).
But just like you watch American Idol or any other singing competition for fun, even though the singers are far from perfect, you watch Dream High 2 for the times you want a little bit of easy fluff.
Overall, Dream High 2‘s focus on fan service ultimately took effort away from putting together a tight and emotionally invested story, even when the groundwork is all right there. And that is not only a disservice to the fans, but to a cast of talented and promising young actors.