Review – Love Alarm

A short, simple, and relatively enjoyable show about romance and insecurity. Though most people know, by context clues and awareness of themselves and others, who likes who in this world – for some reason we still manage to muck up relationships. Cause people are kinda dumb and we live in fear of rejection. Because rejection leads to shame – and shame can be just as powerful an emotion as love, so… you know… it’s a toss up. A gamble, so to speak, to pursue the ones we know like us. Wouldn’t it be nice if it we could avoid the whole stressful gamble with a handy app that loudly, publicly declared our interest? I mean, sure, we could swipe right, but that’s private. If someone likes someone online does it really count before there’s evidence of it to share publicly? It is the question of the ages.

Anyways… this is a show about a silly phone app that lets people know who’s attracted to them. And that’s generally pretty cool cause almost everyone in this show is attractive or at the very least fit and standard “Hollywood Extra” quality. In other words – this isn’t going to be a show that dives into how an app like this could revolutionize society by saying out loud things that people keep quiet. I mean, sure, the hot people are going to get tons of hearts and likes or whatever – but the truth is, people are pretty varied and we like a lot of stuff. And we find a lot of things attractive. Different ages, different races, different body types, different genders, and so on and so forth. This could have been a show that got really deep in the weeds of human behavior, societal expectations and control, suppression and desire. But… nope. It’s a show about a silly app.

No one really has a hard time with this app. I mean, not really. Cause, remember, they’re all pretty attractive and young and finding a romantic partner doesn’t seem like anything the majority of the characters would struggle with.

There’s like… one short nerdy guy who’s not extremely attractive but he’s also not unattractive either… I mean… at one point, he changes his hair and is suddenly pretty cool, so, that’s what we’re dealing with. Short nerdy guy’s got a crush on the hot mean girl at school, who clearly and obviously does not like him, but I guess we’re supposed to feel he’s being bullied or something for that… but honestly… why? Isn’t the whole point of the app to match you with people who also like you? Were there no short, slightly less than standardly attractive women who might fancy this nerdy guy? Who knows… cause the scope of this show is very narrow and the writers try very hard to divert your attention from such obvious plotlines queries by not spending much time on these side stories.

There’s a few gay boys who are embarrassed about being outted by the app (but who also turned it on, so you’re not really sure how you’re supposed to feel about it)… and as far as we know there are no gay girls in the school (though perhaps the gay girls were smart enough not to out themselves with an app if they preferred to stay closeted until college).

Anyhoo… the main characters of this show are attractive and well aware of it. This app only confirms what they already know – that people like them for the way they look. The things they struggle with are internal or unseen stuff. You know, like horrific childhood trauma or difficult family situations. So it’s your cookie-cutter storyline of “which hot guy will the beautiful girl choose?”

Listen, this ain’t a serious drama. It’s a romantic drama. And it’s pretty enjoyable, largely carried on the shoulders of the leading female, Kim So-Hyun. I also liked both of the male leads, which was shocking because I watched Nevertheless right before this and found Song Kang dreadful in that show. To my surprise, he was quite charming in this drama with a wide variety of facial expressions and emotions. Who knew? I had to change my mind about this actor so fast it gave me whiplash. The other guy, Jung Ga-Ram, was also great (more on him in a second). So… the trio of main characters were awesome and that’s a win right there. I mean, it’s not a drama I’m gonna run out and tell people to watch – but it’s only six episodes and pretty cute and… yeah. Thumbs up. I guess. Eh. Whatever.

On a random note… I decided to watch this show because I read somewhere that there was an LGBT storyline. Perhaps this expectation caused some wishful thinking – but I swear, I thought Jung Ga-Ram’s character was going to be gay.

I mean… think about it (if you’ve seen it)… the set up was there! His adorable and questionably over-the-top affection for his best friend (I mean, seriously, the first episode had my gaydar alarm going off like crazy). Encounters with not one, but two gay boys at school – both of which ended with Jung Ga-Ram’s character supporting their same-sex attractions with an odd reserve… a reserve that I read as “I too am familiar with this feeling”… and not because of his crush on the main female, but because he too liked cute boys. I figured that was why he hadn’t turned on his love alarm. Because he was in denial of his sexuality. I also figured that was why he hadn’t approached his crush, but kept her on a pedestal out of arms reach… a known occurrence of some teenage boys in their last chapters of coming out to themselves. Spoiler alert – he ain’t gay. Other than the two random gay boys at school who are on screen for a split second, there’s no rainbow to be found.

Apparently this show is getting a “season 2,” which is awful really cause revisiting a love triangle story line – AGAIN – just means these attractive people still haven’t resolved their shit. Even though the ending of the show suggested they had. Learning there is a season 2 ruins the happy ending of the first season. If that wasn’t the end – then they shouldn’t have made the show 12 eps instead of 6 – though can you imagine? The last few episodes were already starting to drag… I would have DNF’d this show had I seen there were still lots of episodes remaining.

I wish I could assume that Season 2 would show that relationships change – that the people you may have connected with in high school don’t always align to your future. Or dive deeper into the reality that human beings are attracted to multiple people at the same time and that love may be possible with any of them, or even with someone you’re not attracted to at all. Do I imagine the scope of the show will broaden and develop into a more nuanced story? Uh, no. I have zero hope for that. This is a teen romance – and you’re going to find your soul mate in high school, damn it, and that is the ONE and ONLY forever and ever amen, ya dig? It’s just gonna be love-triangle Part 2. And… do you really care which hot guy the hot girl ends up with? I mean, they’re both pretty decent dudes so I didn’t care. Sure, one relationship was developed more than the other – and this caused viewership bias. But do we really care?

I’ll be skipping the sequel.

Overall Rating – 6/10 – Silly Dating Apps and a Standard Love Triangle.

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.

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

“I’ll Give You The Sun” is a story about fraternal twins, both resoundingly artistic with jealousies and rages that compete with mythological gods. This story is told in alternating voice, between the siblings, and in alternating times… before and after. Before what and after what are the mystery of the novel – and there are several befores and several afters hidden in the pages. In the end, it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful story about family, unconditional love and conditional love, first loves and deep seeded regrets. The plot in itself is outstanding – a very richly layered story with fully realized characters, both young and old. I feel in love with everyone in this story, and saw a little bit of myself reflected in each of them.

But the story is not what makes this book great – it would have been pretty good if anyone wrote this plot, probably – but what makes this book shine is revealed in the cover: huge implications in small words, “I’ll give you the sun” indeed – the title surrounded by a radial explosion of colors. That’s what this book is – words crafted so unusually, so cleverly, so astoundingly that they paint in your head. It’s overwhelming at first, all that language, all those images, but it tames down a bit after a while. Or maybe I just grew accustomed to it after a while, I’m not sure. I’ll have to re-read it for closer inspection. And I’m sure I will re-read it.

Though I loved all the love stories in this book (there is more than one), the one that hit me hardest was Noah’s. Torment, fascination, recognition… and always that burning question “Are they?” I cried on and off repeatedly while reading it – sometimes with joy, too. The only problem I had with the book was the character of Zephyr… and the bag of mixed messages there, but it’s only a side plot so I’ll happily put it aside for now and just bask in the contentment of finishing an excellent book. Anyways, it was a remarkable novel and I highly recommend it.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: I’ll Give You The Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson
Originally published: September 16, 2014
Genre: Young adult fiction

SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin

“There are some things that can’t be changed with words. Some things have to be seen. They have to be felt.”

Decided to read a fun fantasy romance novel today – about a renegade witch who finds herself married to a witch hunter. The novel is told from alternating points of view – between our mismatched lovers – and overall it was a highly enjoyable tale of medieval lore, mystery, and (most of all) love.

I am a sucker for a wild girl paired with a prudish guy, what can I say? And I especially enjoy cohabitation stories where the couple is either married but not “together” or pretending to be married but not “together.” All that “oh my, wherever shall I sleep? On the floor? The couch? Should we share a bed and put pillows between us? Decisions, decisions…” it never gets old to me. There was a surprisingly detailed sex scene too (I believe the expression ‘to the hilt’ was used, as cringe worthy as ever).

Serpent & Dove has a nice dusting of French throughout, adding a little foreign flavor to our fantasy world.  There’s loads of fun characters coming in and out of the scenes, from apprentices to courtesans, witches to royals, and bakers to scorned aristocracy. And we’re also given a nice dose of feminism as well as plea for deeper understanding between all people we’ve labeled as “other” for various reasons. It was nicely done. For a debut novel, it was rich in detail and showed clear evidence of expert writing and editing, keeping the flow steady and enjoyable throughout.

I really liked it.

My only complaint was the tale was set in this historical world with corsets and daggers and metal bath tubs… but it kept throwing in modern language stylings, with our female witch in particular. I don’t mind cursing or vulgarity, those are not particular to any time period, but the turn of phrases, the expressions, the slang… it was 21st Century. And it always, always threw me out of the story setting. If she was going to write this way, the author should have just made our witch a time traveler. Everyone else is all proper and our witch is slinging punchy jokes and contemporary witticisms.

I don’t know if it will bother others as much as it bothered me… and honestly, that’s my only complaint for an otherwise enjoyable rompish fantasy-romance. Oh, and it’s set up for a sequel… with a nice twist or two at the end to leave us wanting more. There were several sets of magical creatures referred to that I would love to see explored in more detail in future books.

I’ll definitely be buying the next installment.

Rating: Four Stars

Originally published: September 3, 2019
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Title: Serpent & Dove
Genre: Fantasy Fiction