I decided to watch Seonam Girls High School Investigators for a couple of reasons. The first time the show came to my attention was because of a lesbian kiss (a quick google search gives you pictures, videos and news articles), something that you don’t really see in kdramas, even cable ones, like Seonam Girls, but it wasn’t until I’d finished a couple of other dramas (Healer and Bad Guys) that I decided to start the show. The second reason was because I wanted a show that was empowering to women and, well, fun. Seonam Girls seemed like the perfect fit and for the most part, it totally was.
The show follows new student Ahn Chae-yool. She’s been having problems in school and Seonam Girls high School is her mother’s last resort before sending her to American, which Chae-yool seems to want to do. But Chae-yool is like every other teenage girl, she has her opinions and she’s not going to let other people tell her what to do. Chae-yool’s relationship with her mother sets the tone for show — it’s equal parts amusing and serious, which is the show in a nutshell.
We follow Chae-yool as she is befriended by a young woman (who plays an important role in a later episode) at the behest of Chae-yool’s mother. That doesn’t work, of course, but it does give Chae-yool the impetus to at least listen to a group of friends who want to be her friend. That group, of course, is the Nancy Drew-esque foursome aka the Seoname Girls Investigators. The self-named group solve crimes, starting with the very first episode. On her way to school, Chae-yool is bitten on the wrist and the girl detectives decide to track down the criminal and also attempt to befriend Chae-yool.
Thus begins a very contentious friendship that grows and then blossoms through all fourteen episodes. Each episode flows into the next, there are cliffhangers for some, but not all, of the episodes and a few of the cases are wrapped up before the episode ends. After the wrist biting case, the girl detectives begin to address many issues that high school students in Korea, and across the globe, are familiar with. These range from bullying to abortion to the aforementioned kiss (which is more about secrets and loving people than it is about the actual kiss, which, nicely done, show). While I didn’t love everything about all the stories (the abortion episode could’ve been handled differently, but I’m pretty sure that’s my Western privilege speaking), I loved everything about the show.
The five girls aren’t the only characters. There’s Chae-yool’s mother, her brother (and his love line with one of the girls detectives which is hilarious and adorable), and her father (to a lesser extent). There’s also a very interesting (and sometimes unsettling) teacher with his own mystery that’s woven throughout the series, coming to a head in the final episode, as well as his nephew (I think) who has really great chemistry with Chae-yool. There’s Chae-yool’s truly adorable homeroom teacher (I adore him) as well as other teachers and minor characters — many of whom are students involved in the cases the girls are solving.
While Seonam Girls is about high school students, like all good YA, it’s not just for them. The characters are all fully developed and their friendship runs very much like real friendships – hot and cold. One of the things that I love about this show, though, is that no one’s perfect and everyone fucks up once in a while, but they find a way to make things work. The girls do screw up a few of the cases, but the apologize and make amends when necessary. Also, their friendships seem very real in many ways and I love it because you rarely see two female characters, much less five, who are actually friends. Chae-yool and the rest of the girl detectives are amazing for many reasons, but that is one of the most important.
The emphasis of this show isn’t on school, which to an outsider might seem ridiculous (no one really does any homework) but for a country as obsessed with school as South Korea, I thought it was a nice, refreshing change. They do, of course, deal with studying issues, but not nearly in the same way as the others.
At the heart of Seonam Girls aren’t the crimes they solve nor the overarching mystery that stretches through all fourteen episodes. It’s the relationship the girls have to each other and to the people (especially the adults) around them. It’s what made us love all those teenage crime solving shows and books — the girls want answers and they want to find them — but they want to do it together. And even when things go wrong (and they very much on one of the cases) they must make it right. The adults in their lives won’t (can’t) fix it for them, which is how real life goes, too.
You should watch Seonam Girls because it’s fun and funny. You should watch it because it’s clever and endearing. But you should watch it because it’s so damn good at getting what it means to be a teenager. You should watch it because friendships are important and they’re so rarely done well and Seonam Girls is full of some of the best friendships anyone could wish for.
I want a season two, though I’m not sure the controversy surrounding the kiss will let that happen. But don’t let that stop you from watching. Go, watch. And maybe you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.