Last weekend, as I was doing my usual internet detox Sunday Netflix scroll, I came across the show Dramaworld. I can’t tell you why I settled on it. Something in my memory seemed to whisper that I’d heard about it, but I couldn’t think of where that might have been, and I have zero knowledge of the Korean Drama genre (on which the show is based). On top of that, I was in one of those hyper-specific Netflix moods that they still don’t have an algorithm for, where I was craving the perfect blend of easy watching, quality show, and having been at least seemingly made solely for me and my tastes. Weirdly, this turned out to be the perfect show.
The first thing you should know about Dramaworld is that I have no idea how to describe the format. I get confused enough trying to figure out what’s happening when Hulu merges with Yahoo, so the fact that this show is the product of multiple countries and multiple platforms (a Chinese production company, and American one, a Singaporean video streaming platform based in San Francisco, and also, I suppose, Netflix?) leaves me in a place where I can only say that if this backstory interests you, go read more about it. I am very far out of my lane in trying to describe the production process.
I do find it fascinating, though, that the episodes are closer to web series length, with ten episodes averaging around twelve minutes each. That means you can down the whole series in the time it would take you to watch a movie. As far as time commitments go, that’s a good bet going in. And it pays off.
The plot of Dramaworld is one you’re probably familiar with. It’s Pleasantville, or Lost in Austen, featuring a lovable young woman transported to a fictional world inside the content she loves. Claire (Liv Hewson) is a (caucasian) American college student and K-Drama fanatic, who finds herself suddenly working as a sort of fixer, to make sure the show’s plotlines unfold as planned. But, as you would expect for a fan of this type of romance-based genre, suddenly being in the middle of this much sighing and kissing and scandal and drama isn’t so easy to stay out of. For our current internet times, the obsession with shipping and knowing FOR CERTAIN what’s best for fictional characters is put front and center here. How can we separate ourselves from our fandom? We can’t! SO let’s indulge, instead.
What Dramaworld ends up feeling like is the workshop tryout for the show it wants to be. There’s so much humor here, especially in exploring the rules and constructs of a genre (which I know is right up some of your nerd alleys). It’s also impressive that for a show about a white girl becoming the center of a Korean drama, the lack of White Saviordom or other racist under/overtones is pretty shocking. There are some problems with the show, some huge ones, actually. The amount of material they just glaze over with terrible dialogue borders on hilarious. There’s no time dedicated to explanations or even the basic rules of this world. (We know what Claire’s job is in Dramaworld, but not how she got there, or if the characters there actually exist. And the “transportation” mechanism— a broken cell phone and a bucket of water— is possibly the worst in any show or movie, literally ever.) But Hewson— who, with her ginger spunk, is now my #1 choice for any future Squirrel Girl adaptation— does an incredible job in carrying this show.
You don’t need to know anything about the genre being paid tribute to, or recognize any of the many cameos Wikipedia tells me we see, to love this show, in the same way we all loved Jane the Virgin so much more than we knew we could if we had no knowledge of telenovelas first. With any luck, these ten short episodes will be the basis for something truly great.
And, for an extra tip, Pleasantville is also currently on Netflix, and these two make for a phenomenal double feature.