Review – The Penthouse Season 1

The Penthouse. Oh, The Penthouse.

You know when you were a kid and you wanted to mix all the drinks in the soda dispenser at restaurants? We called that concoction a “Kamikaze.” Most people called it a “Suicide,” or… if you’re from the Midwestern region of America, maybe a “Graveyard.” You basically murdered your tastebuds by including everything. And yet… as a kid… you didn’t care. You were gonna do it and you were gonna drink it and it was glorious. It was muddy, bubbly, excitement in a plastic glass. The Penthouse is the Kamikaze of Korean Dramas. It’s terrible. Just… awful. Just fantastically, gloriously, bad. And you’re gonna love it.

The Penthouse is the drama we all needed during lockdown. When you’ve been stuck in your home for days, weeks, months, and everything just seems… overwhelming and yet boring, too much and too little at once… when the globe huddles together as shivering creatures susceptible to germs and you’re painfully reminded of your squishy organic humanity… then you seek escape. You want as far from normal as you can get. You find yourself watching Tiger King or… The Penthouse.

What is more distant and alien than insanely rich people living in luxurious, high rise condominium suites, far above the rules that govern normal society? What could be more niche than… opera?

If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you may have noticed I have a soft spot for melodramas. The more outlandish and ridiculous the plot twists and turns, the better. Grudges passed down through the generations, baby swapping, secret identities, cruelty, fits of rage and passion, character’s breaking up, breaking down, and breaking everyone around them as they lash out in the shallow waters they are drowning in… I live for it.

Melodramas are a required taste and have to find us when the mood is right. Was it a coincidence that How to Get Away with Murder also premiered during a global virus outbreak? If you raised a skeptical eyebrow at my pandemic analogy, then you may not be in the mood for The Penthouse. However, if you find yourself watching a bunch of videos on cults, conspiracy theories, and secret cabals that pull at all the hidden strings of the world… then you may be in the right frame of mind. If you find yourself thinking, “Maybe lizards do run the government,” or “I wonder if my backyard is big enough to house a pet tiger,” or “Is some corporation using my social media data to create clones?”… then the iron is hot and you are ready for a good melodrama to strike!

Melodramas thrive in toxic environments. They are irrational. They are the shapes you interpret in shadows, more about the implication of an idea over substance. You know it won’t stand up to scrutiny and so you purposely avoid turning on the light, willing to suspend belief. And if you hang around in the darkness long enough, your eyes adjust and maybe you forget the light switch is only a few feet away…

Melodramas are best enjoyed when you’re feeling subconsciously vulnerable. You aren’t going to learn a valuable lesson or muse about the subtle nuances of life while watching a melodrama, after all. Melodramas are not meant for self-reflection. They are a funhouse mirror, something so grotesque and fascinating that you can’t help but smile at this bizarre distortion of reality they present you.

Melodramas can be the only drink that transports you to the mentality of childhood innocence, back to a time when you could run through the house with your plastic toy dinosaur and lay waste to the imaginary cities around you. To the drama of your pastel princess dolls who ruled kingdoms, raised families, and then became rock stars in the course of a single afternoon. To the improbable wars of action figures and transforming alien robots. Where you can enjoy the godlike powers of ultimate creation and use them in silly, overdramatic ways without guilt or shame or justification of your outlandish plotlines. No one watches a child play and criticizes their worldbuilding skills. You just vicariously enjoy their enjoyment.

The Penthouse gives you both and adult melodrama and a teen melodrama simultaneously.

If someone is going to make a mistake in this show, it will be on stage or in front of a large group of people who will collectively gasp in horror. Think of any common nightmare scenario (like being chased by a killer, falling from great heights, public speaking, being late for a big test) and multiply it by ten. Think of day time soap operas and then boil them in a pot with Latin American telenovelas. Think of having one major problem, then continue to wrap more problems around it, as many as you think of, until you have this big, crazy, hard asteroid of problems.

Here is a visual representation of the plotline of The Penthouse.

Don’t try to make it useful or decorative or anything other than what it is. A big mess. Why would you want to untangle that? The individual problems have become warped and stretched out and absorbed into the whole. It’s a colorful disaster now and useful only as a weapon… (otherwise it’s just an embarrassing reminder of time wasted… so you gotta hurl it at someone… how else are you gonna get rid of that thing? call it self defense… call it… survival… but it’s gotta go and you know it’s gonna hurt someone on the way out… but… well… what other option do you have? Self destruction is sometimes instinctual. Humans are weird, friends, that’s all I know. We are strange, strange creatures).

If you’re expecting me to talk about the plotline or the characters… well… I have been.

I have not started Season 2 yet. I’m honestly not used to having a second season of a Korean drama and rather enjoyed the unexpected ending of Season 1. But I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually and it will be just as fun.

Rating – 9/10. Setting off Fireworks Inside a Panic Room & other Bad Decisions with Colorful, Dangerous Results.

Review – Extra-Ordinary You

Extra-Ordinary You was one of the best teenage romantic comedies I have seen in years – for about 20 episodes. The last twelve episodes of this show slid quickly into “good but nothing special” territory for me, feeling repetitive, unnecessary, and considerably less exciting. This is not to say I didn’t still enjoy it, even after the sudden and steady decline of my attention span. Cause I did. Honestly. And when nearly 3/4ths of your drama is amazing, then you really can’t complain too much as you’re already doing better than most shows.

Even the long haul eps at the end, where the first had gone out, where still entertaining enough that I continued watching. Frankly, I felt I had to. The mystery of the show was compelling enough that I could not let it go without the answers I was promised.

The story is thus: A quirky, popular young lady has suddenly started losing track of time. Hours pass and she has no memory of what happened in between. Then, mysteriously, she begins to notice strange patterns – amongst her friends and her routine. Things repeat themselves. Her world seems in flux. What’s going on? Our heroine discovers she is a character in a graphic novel – and now that she’s become self aware, she is able to experience life “between the panels” when the story is not directing her (and everyone else’s) action.

It’s a really fun concept. A similar story line was W, the 2016 hit series that was also really great for quite a long time before kinda dragging on a bit too long for it’s own good. If I had to choose between the two, I would pick W because it was a more expansive story, but Extra-Ordinary You finds is place in the pantheon of cute romance dramas with just enough conflict, love-triangles, bullies, and generalized school intrigue to keep you entertained.

Though the entire series takes place inside a graphic novel – it’s surprisingly “fantasy light.” The drama doesn’t spend much time musing on the particular physics or mysticism involved in this world, nor does it bother to explain how its possible or what controls it. Why are these imaginary characters able to become conscious? What does that mean about the creator of the characters or the world itself? Is this a reincarnation metaphor or meant to provoke us to think about the uncanny nature of religious beliefs, mortality, the broader expanse of the universe, or the vast unknowns of life? Uh, no. This is definitely not a philosophical show. There is no social commentary. It’s pretty much surface level only, and the surface level is very brightly colored. I think if you scratched at the layer, you’d just smell bubblegum. The “but how though?” question remains unanswered, and I suppose it really didn’t matter in the end as it never bothered me much. It’s a cheesy teen romance. It may have been more… maybe… once… there do seem to be hints at more… but nope. It’s just a collection of tropes and cuteness that’s dressed up in a new style.

I’d considered writing a more lengthy review – about the characters and the concept – but could not motivate myself to do so. The teenagers are all lovely and immaculate in their perfect white uniforms. The school is some insane stylized mansion-esque place, always spotless and expansive. The light is pure. The rain is romantic. Hospital rooms are enormous and comfortable. The streets are generic. The angles of the camera mimic typic manga style – with lots of straight on shots, a few up and down views inbetween, and plenty of focus on the dreamy faces of the leads. It’s a graphic novel, after all, a modern fairytale, so everything worked or was easily excused.

The less you know going in, the more you will enjoy it.

It was a perfect escape and exactly what I’d been craving but didn’t realize it. Something comfortable but just different enough that I didn’t immediately recognize it.

Overall Rating 8/10. A Happy Escape into a Romantic Dreamworld of Teenagers.