You know that feeling you get when you’re browsing through tons of dramas online, but have no idea which one to pick? The angel on one shoulder says I better pick a good one; it could make or break my holidays. The devil on the other says just friggin’ pick something, I’m tired of looking at trailers!
Christmas vacation is prime time for binge-watching. Making the right pick is harder than ever.
Paging through my favorite shows of 2016, “Ode to Joy,” by far, tops the list. It’s a modern, joyful story of female friendship that will attract the whole family (even the bf!) to the couch while your eyes stay glued to the screen. The fact that this was a fairly accurate portrait of how I binge-watched “Ode to Joy” is a quick indicator of how addictive this show is. An instant hit from the get-go, the series ranked No. 1 among Chinese TV series for seven days straight, eventually reaching an astounding 10 billion views online.
Penned by screenwriter Yuan Zidan, and based on A’nai’s original novel of the same name, “Ode to Joy” is the tale of five girls who live on the 22nd floor of a building called “Ode to Joy” in Shanghai. Departing from the cliché Cinderella storyline, this series is a refreshing nod to the era of girl power. Five single women, from different walks of life, struggle with their own challenges at work and at home. They bicker, fight, and gossip, but also learn and help each other grow, forging incredible friendships along the way.
At the top of the rung is Andy (Liu Tao), 31, a successful prodigy who feels more comfortable using her gifted brain to tear apart a spreadsheet than socialize with humans. Ivy League grad, Wall Street exec, she returns to Shanghai to head up a friend’s company as CFO, and to search for her long-lost brother. Aloof and reclusive. Cool to the touch.
Living next door to Andy is Fan Shengmei (Jiang Xin), a 30-year-old senior HR manager. Draped in designer knock-offs, this “Alleyway Princess” is trying to shed her poor upbringing and marry a rich guy to improve her station in life. Fake it until you make it, right? She has a warm heart and will stick her neck out for her friends.
Across the hall from Andy is 24-year-old Qu Xiaoxiao (Wang Ziwen). Flamboyant, street-smart, foul-mouthed, seductive. Her dramatic antics shroud an immature and lonely heart. Second-generation rich, Xiaoxiao despises Fan Shengmei’s efforts to look rich, marry rich, and squeeze into the same rank as herself, even though she is new money too.
Qiu Yingying (Yang Zi), 23, shares the apartment with Fan Shengmei. She’s a blank canvas. Short tempered and naively stubborn, Yingying is a small-town girl charging forward in the big city with lots of muscle and (almost!) no brains.
Guan Ju’er (Qiao Xin), 22, shares the apartment with Fan Shengmei and Yingying. GuanGuan is an intern at a Fortune 500 company, struggling to secure a full-time position. Quiet but turbulent inside, she has no idea what love is, until she develops a crush on Xiaoxiao’s handsome boyfriend, Dr. Zhao (Wang Kai).
I love and deeply respect shows that are rich with insights that bring clarity to our lives. Quoting One Direction, this series “lights up my world like nobody else” in the insights department. “Ode to Joy” is like a how-to manual for navigating work, love, and family, candy-wrapped in dramatic plot twists. It subtly hands you an answer key on everything from how to impress your boss to winning over your big client.
One of my favorite scenes is when GuanGuan does a favor for a coworker, she is blamed for a mistake she did not commit. As a lowly intern, GuanGuan feels wronged but doesn’t know what to do about it. Andy shares her perspective as a senior executive, which I found both relevant and illuminating for the modern day workplace.
To make the show even more down-to-earth, “Ode to Joy” focused on creating imperfect, but real characters. Other than Andy the CFO and GuanGuan the intern, whose flaws are somewhat inconsequential, the rest of the leads display character flaws that are downright annoying, not to mention highly controversial for the audience. Yingying’s stupidity and stubbornness, Fan Shengmei’s vanity, and Xiaoxiao’s insulting remarks that teeter on the border of cruelty, are shocking for viewers who are used to watching near-perfect protagonists who could do no wrong.
“Don’t think of people as all good. Don’t think of them as all bad either. We are all ordinary people,” says Andy’s boyfriend.
Through the personal stories of five women, “Ode to Joy” takes an incisive look at different rungs of the social ladder. You have the CFO, the gold digger, the rich kid, the small-town girl, and the intern, whose desires and limitations are deeply shaped by their upbringings and their social statuses. How they deploy their resources, how they date, who they date, have everything to do with the environment they were brought up in.
The girls themselves certainly don’t see each other as equals. Xiaoxiao’s verbal jabs toward Fan Shengmei’s efforts to marry rich, airs out searing prejudices between the classes in modern society.
Aside from insightful content, “Ode to Joy” is a fashionable show. In every sense of the word. Modern, elegant, chic. Andy’s apartment, and more importantly, her closet, is any city-savvy millennial’s dream. From Max Mara to Brunello Cucinelli, she knows how to make an entrance that radiates executive power in no uncertain terms.
Oh, did I mention the men?
Finding a great drama to try isn’t pure luck, it’s also research. Some are worth your time, some are overhyped duds. But when you do stumble upon a gem, you not only get entertained, you also learn something about life.
And if you think about it, what a steal.
So step out of your comfort zone, and try things that make you curious.
Soompiers, have you been watching “Ode to Joy”? What do you like about the show?
Watch the “Ode to Joy” trailer:
Watch “Ode to Joy” Episode 1:
michelledong is a Soompi Features Writer. When she’s not daydreaming in the gardens of Alhambra or solving crimes at 221B Baker Street, she’s on Viki loving “W,” “Boys Over Flowers,” “My Love From The Star,” and straining her neck muscles to find The Next Great Korean Drama. Come say Hi @MichelleDongNYC!