At eight episodes, Live On (라이브온) is a breezy watch. I find the main characters to be endearing and well rounded. They're not generically written as simply high school students but as real people with unique quirks and flaws. The drama has big moments as well as quiet meaningful ones, and it wraps up nicely and simply.
Our main character is Baek Ho-Rang, a standoffish Instagram influencer without any friends. The drama opens as she's doing a live broadcast in front of the entire school that suddenly gets flooded with comments and a detrimental picture from her past that has her gasping for air. And then we jump back to a few weeks earlier. To loosely quote an American TV series, 'I feel like stories should start where they begin.' I don't mind the past being revealed slowly or in flashback, but this method of storytelling feels like the author doesn't trust his/her own story to be engaging from the start. It's unfortunate because Live On is actually a good story throughout, and it would've been just fine introducing us to Ho-Rang and the broadcasting club from the start.
We continue meeting the SHBS broadcasting club, which is led by Go Eun-Taek. Eun-Taek is obsessive about timeliness and cleanliness, and sternly controls the club's schedule and members. He's direct and blunt, which makes him a perfect match for the catty and equally blunt Ho-Rang. I have to say acting by Minhyun is fantastic; I can't believe this is his first drama. I love everything about his quirky character, and I enjoyed watching Eun-Taek falling for Ho-Rang more and more as each day passed. I always think it's great when someone comes in and (positively) interrupts a person's perfectly curated life and subtly begin to change into a better person because of it.
The same can be said for Baek-Ho. Although her life wasn't as perfectly curated as her social media feed made it seem, she built up a wall and a persona that Eun-Taek slowly began to break down. His understanding of her and patience (aside from when she screws up her broadcasting work; I like that he's able to compartmentalize work from personal life) helped Baek-Ho truly build her confidence. If it wasn't for Eun-Taek, she would have continued to run from her past and let others' opinions tear down her self esteem. I loved how as Baek-Ho got closer to him, the less she needed to physically run for fresh air when she was triggered or had to face problems head on.
Speaking of Baek-Ho's triggers, I thought they were fantastically dealt with. I like how there were subtle things specific to her that set off her anxiety. Innocent references to the number 16 and her birthday seem like nothing to outsiders, but her adversary knew exactly which buttons to push to take her down. It was realistic for Baek-Ho to suspect her ex-BFF Ji So-Hyun, and it was fun figuring out just who the mystery antagonist was. When revealed, Jung Hee-Soo was the perfect villain; she was always right next to Baek-Ho, sickeningly sweet in her face/to the team, but deliciously evil behind the scenes who preyed on every one of her insecurities.
The problem I had with this plot, however, is that the reasoning behind the revenge was razor thin. Hee-Soo was basically upset that Baek-Ho didn't say hi to her in middle school, at a moment when Baek-Ho was surrounded by her bullies. And since Baek-Ho didn't even know Hee-Soo that well (they had only briefly met once before), I didn't understand why that made Hee-Soo hold a grudge for all those years. I also don't understand how a blurry picture taken from far away without any context led to this huge scandal. The photo literally showed some girls standing around, plus Baek-Ho's back was to the camera! I mean, we have no choice but to go with it, but there's really no foundation to stand on. As long as I don't think about it too hard, I can enjoy this plot for what it is because it brings about tons of character development.
I also enjoyed Baek-Ho's reluctant friendships. Kim Yoo-Shin readily declares himself her best friend (we're never given their back story), but he's super sweet and has such a sunny disposition that I can see why she let him hang around. He also pulls everyone around him into his orbit, and by proximity, Baek-Ho gains a group of friends whom she can truly depend on. Aside from changing Kang Jae-Yi from frienemy to friend, Yoo-Shin is also one of the reasons Baek-Ho and So-Hyun can repair their old friendship. Eun-Taek always respected their wishes to stay apart even though they were both in the club, but Yoo-Shin's crush on So-Hyun keeps bringing the girls back together.
I thought the side story of Jae-Yi and Do Woo-Jae's relationship was interesting, too. I feel like these two still have a lot to learn about each other; they're so different and I'm not sure that they're mature enough to eventually overcome their sharply different personalities. But they're cute together (and actor Ro Jong-Hyun reminds me of a young Lee Seung-Gi), even if they'll probably break up down the line – again. I find the friendship between Woo-Jae and Eun-Taek hilarious, and that's really why I love Woo-Jae so much. They're perfectly matched fuddy-duddies, and their straightforward and deadpan conversations are fun to watch.
Finally, I absolutely love Eun-Taek and Baek-Ho together, and the only thing I think the drama lacked was more time with them as a couple. I felt their meaningful moment together in the final episode dealing with his abandonment and inadequacy issues with his mother was rushed. I wish we got more tears (beautiful Minhyun tears) and more hugs (and a kiss maybe?!) with that resolution, but I am glad where we ended. Baek-Ho reflecting on how far she's come and getting ready to step back into the spotlight with her friends supporting her and literally cheering her on is the exact high note on which to end.
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