TYPE OF REVIEW : GOOD OL’ REVIEW
Absurd. Hilarious. Random. Trippy. Terrifying. Foreboding. Bonkers. Insane. Confusing. All of these words can be used to describe The School Nurse Files (보건교사 안은영/Nurse Teacher An Eun-Young). But you could use words like emotional, heartfelt, thought-provoking, enlightening and deep as well. And it all depends on how you approach the Netflix original Korean drama series and take it all in.
You can take the series in one of two ways. Or both, if you like. That is take it at face value and hop along for the wild ride or get to digging deep to find some fascinating discussions amidst the chaos. Perhaps the best way is to balance both.
The series wastes no time laying out the basic premise. School nurse Ahn Eun Young (Jun Yu Mi) has a special ability to see and eradicate jelly-like forms that manifest from human desires and emotions. As reluctant as Eun Young is to carry this ability, she nonetheless does what she can to prevent the jellies from wreaking havoc and endangering the students at school.
But she soon meets Chinese literature teacher Hong In Pyo (Nam Joo Hyuk) who she can see has a special aura about him. That energy ends up being handy when after the two of them venture in the forbidden basement of the school, they unwittingly break a seal that unleashes a swarm of long-imprisoned jellies out into the world. In Pyo’s special aura seems to reenergize Eun Young after having to battle the terrifying jelly monsters and more in order to save the school. And together, they deal with the increasing threat as well as stumble upon a mystery that might reveal all the answers.
The series’ premise on paper seems innocuous enough. But just mere minutes into the first episode, it is clear that The School Nurse Files is unlike any Korean drama you may have ever seen. Or even will see.
You immediately get an idea of how the series will play out over its six episodes. The jellies themselves, who come in all shapes and sizes, are enough to warrant some wide-eyed wonder while watching. But then there’s every other odd occurrence. Saying the series is “eccentric” would be putting it very mildly. Calling it “quirky” would be an understatement.
From seemingly random character nuances to equally random visual cues coupled with the wildly fantastical elements and the initially inexplicable series of events, The School Nurse Files is far from being your typical television show.
The series relishes in its surreal presentation. Not only are you increasingly not sure what is actually happening on screen, the almost chaotic randomness of visual and aural beats simultaneously leaves you both unnerved and enthralled.
School Nurse Files starts out as a chaotic sensory explosion. But it slowly morphs into a strangely heartfelt story.
Which brings us back to how one should approach the series.
You can take the series at face value. On the surface, it is a series set in a fantastical world that is full of malevolent forces. Our two heroes emerge to try and stave off the threat from those unpredictable, but dangerous jellies.
It is revealed that the school has been built over a lake that young people once frequented to die. Somehow that creates a cycle of death that would draw even more people to the lake for their end. The school is built over that lake for any one of a few reasons including countering that negative energy or for more sinister plots to harness that energy for personal gain. But the malevolence that has been sealed off explodes to begin wreaking havoc and unleashes its negative force onto a new generation of susceptible people.
Eun Young is the last line of defense against the complete corruption of the school’s students and faculty. And the series is a wild adventure into seeing if she can save the day (with In Pyo’s help) or not.
On the other hand, you could pinch your nose and dive right into the depths of the series. Digging deeper, The School Nurse Files paints a surreal picture of today’s society and its troubles. Everything from discussion on mental health to discrimination to pure hate; the series manages to touch on everyday life and how evil forces or things perceived to be evil are everywhere around us.
Sometimes that negative force can grow out of a fear of the unknown. And there is plenty we (and Eun Young) do not know or understand in the story. But Eun Young faces these challenges anyway.
The series manifests the ills of society and the hardships people face in surreal ways. Whether it is the jellies themselves or the way people become violently affected by the jellies, there is a deeper discussion to be had about some of the societal and cultural influences that are sadly prevalent in our world today.
The School Nurse Files is accessible for anyone who wishes to dig deep for those meanings and insights. But on the other hand, you can choose not to. And you can still enjoy the series as well.
If most television series suggest a suspension of disbelief, The School Nurse Files demands it. You’re not going to get many details about what is happening, even as the series attempts to world build and even try to explain things. But no matter how you approach the series, it’s best not to sweat the details.
The series does a solid job of giving us just enough to prevent our heads from spinning right off our necks. The characters, especially the ones brought to life via great performances from Jung Yu Mi and Nam Joo Hyuk, are also engaging in the midst of the bizarre, whimsical happenings around them. Both Eun Young and In Pyo are inherently good people. In Pyo especially is a reserved, but nice person. His aura bubble that surrounds him is proof of that. And that positivity helps to counter Eun Young’s hesitation and exhaustion from having to deal with this spectacular threat that no one else will ever get to see up close like she does.
As the series reaches the end of its six-episode run, the story takes an almost abrupt turn toward more character-driven stories. And it is a welcome change after the initial craziness in the first few episodes. But that chaos at first actually ties in nicely to the events that transpire and the revelations that emerge toward the end of the series.
Perhaps surprisingly, the strange, outrageous opening episodes actually lay out the necessary foundation for some unexpectedly poignant and touching moments towards the end of the six episodes.
Make no mistake. The series is a trippy, absolute bonkers experience. But beneath that malevolent jelly surface is a depth that can be had by anyone willing to embrace the challenge of embracing it.
And that’s really the best one can do when coming in to The School Nurse Files. Embrace it for what it is. It’s a fun time, no question. But overall, the series is able to offer something very new and very different. Though difficult to truly get your arms around what in the world is going on, it’s easier to approach the series with an open mind and let it take you on a wild ride. You might be able to go on a deep dive sometimes. But if not, there’s perfectly fine as well. Don’t sweat it.