The Reply Series is my favorite K-drama franchise, which started as a humble tvN project that turned into a phenomenon – earning both critical praise and commercial fame. Every era brings a different flavor to the timeless stories of love, youth, and family – with each season breaking TV records. I’ve been wanting to write about the series (aka fangirl away) for sometime now. So I’m using this window to finally do it, before the post-Chuseok premieres spring up in late-September.
Fans tend to ask each other which is best among the three; but it’s almost unfair to choose one absolute favorite as they all have their own strong points. Not all dramas are created equal, even if they were written and directed by the same people. And since there’s the tvN10 Awards next month, I was inspired to create my own “Reply Awards”, to acknowledge the strengths of each season – at least in my opinion.
⚠Warning: Contains Spoilers. Read on at your own risk.⚠
Favorite Female Lead – Sung Shi-won, Reply 1997
I just loved Shi-won’s candidness, her no-nonsense attitude, her adorable friendship with Joon-hee, and the way she naturally attracts people without her knowing. She was a refreshing representation of the passionate, reckless, and emotional phase of one’s life called youth. The way she’s written as an average girl but a devoted fangirl is realistic and charming, as she deals with simple problems like it’s the end of the world – like a real teenager does.
Favorite Male Lead – Yoon Yoon-jae, Reply 1997
I have a weakness for best friend-slash-guardian angel-slash-slave types, which is very Yoon-jae. I was more giddy than exasperated by his perpetual silent brooding, and I love it whenever he gets jealous at the wrong guy. The drama had me a bit nervous with some of its twists, but how the story was built reassured me that it’s going to be Yoon-jae in the end. And Seo In-guk speaking satoori (dialect) was icing on the cake.
Yoon-jae even gave some tips on how to be him on SNL:
Best Performance by a Lead Actress – Go Ara, Reply 1994
Through this drama, Go Ara proved that she’s not just a pretty face by transforming into the endearing satoori-speaking, sometimes-violent, dangerous-when-drunk Sung Na-jeong. Considering that the other two leads (Jung Eunji and Hyeri) were idols, I had higher expectations of her and she didn’t disappoint. Her pining for Oppa was believable enough for me not to mentally slap her for rejecting Chilbong.
Best Performance by a Lead Actor – Ryu Jun-yeol, Reply 1988
*I actually consider Jung-hwan as the main male lead in this drama even though Taek got the girl. Since the beginning, we were with Jung-hwan throughout his journey (both in his love life and family life), while we only saw bits and pieces of Taek until he became more significant in the latter episodes.
Jung-hwan was an adorkable yet frustrating character, and Ryu Jun-yeol made sure the audience felt for him in whatever he does. He was adorable as a cute puppy in love and as a reliable son/brother in spite of his default poker-faced cynic mode. No wonder he’s unofficially called the Nation’s First Love. He only had a few projects under his belt prior to this drama, but his acting was spot on.
Another adorkable guy Jung Woo (Garbage of Reply 1994) comes as a close second.
Favorite Female “Second Lead” – Sung Bora, Reply 1988
Bora was more of a supporting character, but she did have a meaningful and memorable storyline in the drama. She’s not the most likable person in the planet but her gruff-yet-sensitive personality was interesting, to say the least. You’re not sisters if you don’t fight over clothes (or over everything, for that matter), and her temper brought a household dynamic we haven’t seen in previous Reply years. She’s also the voice of maturity and idealism, being the older kid in the neighborhood. Bora might not have expressed things the most pleasant way, but she’s awesome; which is why I’m glad (though shocked) that Sun-woo saw through her. (Though it must have been a bit weird for Ryu Hye-yeong to have a love line with her real-life close friend Go Kyung-pyo!)
Favorite Male Second Lead – Chilbong, Reply 1994
Chilbongie. Chilbongie. Chilbongie. His never-say-die attitude will long be cherised. Chilbong’s famous-yet-humble characterization reminded me of 1997’s Tae-woong oppa, but he was more observant about the people around him. Chilbong was a lonely prince who found a family in a bunch of country bumpkins, and he made sure not to forget. He’s admirable for his maturity in facing obstacles in his career, love life, and personal life. *tear* Not to mention his shirtless scenes were good fan service.
Most Pitiful Friendzone – Tie: Kang Joon-hee, Reply 1997 and Chilbong, Reply 1994
I just wanted to hug these poor puppies for enduring years of unrequited love. These two obviously stood no chance with the objects of their affections, and have nonetheless stood by their side. It was bittersweet to see them finally let go of their first loves, ending a wonderful chapter in their youth. But at least they got a clear answer; and the series was kind enough to give them a happy ending.
Most Heartbreaking Surrender – Kim Jung-hwan, Reply 1988
I had to separate Jung-hwan’s case because he wasn’t technically rejected. He raised the white flag even before anything happened. (You had your chance, Jung-hwan, and you blew it on purpose! Not just once!) I rooted for this lovesick dork until the bitter end but he kept on resisting it, which is why I totally get the eventual Deoksun-Taek pairing. In the end he gave up without a proper confession (ugh), but I do feel sorry for him for bottling everything up for the sake of a harmonious friendship. He made a lot of sacrifices and what frustrated me the most is that we didn’t get closure on his character arc. Would it hurt to even just mention that he’s happily married with someone else or something???
Favorite Squad – Tie: The Kids of Ssangmundong and The Permed Ahjummas, Reply 1988
Friendship goals! If 1988 wasn’t busy tearing up my heart, it gave me the best antics courtesy of its funny friendships. Neighbors acting as one big family gave me so much fun and feels, and you just know they got each others’ backs. Always. Even if it meant dancing in front of an all-girl crowd to win a walkman, or joining a national singing competition drunk.
Favorite Parents – Kim Sung-kyun and Ra Mi-ran, Reply 1988
Surprisingly, not even three iterations of Sung Dong-il and Lee Il-hwa were able to trump Madam Cheetah and President Kim (Aigooooo! Kim-sajang). They had me laughing with their unique and colorful personalities, which became the life of the neighborhood. The drama also gave them a very touching arc of a couple with mutual respect and a partnership that withstood the most trying times. Plus they raised the adorable brothers Jung-bong and Jung-hwan so that’s huge points for me
Now I feel guilty about not choosing the female lead’s parents, so I’ll include my favorite season of them:
My favorite Lee Il-hwa was in Reply 1994, as she became the beloved mother figure to seven kids – only one of which is her own. She was generous with her love as she was generous in her serving portions.
On the other hand, seeing Sung Dong-il as a warmhearted regular salaryman was much more appealing than his previous roles as a coach who complained about everything. In ’88 his character was more of a caring father, and overall a more agreeable person. His scenes with Bora made me ugly-cry.
Favorite OST – “All for You”, Reply 1997
This was a tough call, because 1988 had some really nice tracks that actually triggered my tears (e.g. Hyehwa-dong/Ssangmun-dong). But “All for You” was a nice, catchy song that’s easy on the ears and also fit for radio. Not to mention that being sung by the show’s leads extended the Seo In-guk x Jung Eun-ji OTP, with many hoping their romance on reel would become real.
Best Screenwriting – Reply 1988
I’ve mentioned this before in another post, but Reply 1988 set itself apart with its deeper exploration of families and friendships rather than romance. Every character arc was a small treasure that warmed our hearts, and I appreciated each one of them as fully-formed individuals. This drama’s episodes were particularly longer than the former two, but the writer made use of the time to build simple yet special moments. The only complaint I have on it was that I felt robbed of a solid closure on the characters I’ve grown attached to.
Daesang (My Personal Favorite) – Reply 1997
The first would always have a special place in my heart because it had the novelty as the trailblazer. Reply 1997 was a high-energy youth drama that had a lot of spunk and a lot of heart. The shorter runtime also enabled zippy, tightly-written and cleverly-edited episodes (with the use of multiple quick flashbacks-flashforwards), as if reflecting the eventful yet fleeting phase of adolescence. The drama played extra meta thanks to Eun Ji-won (who might have cringed looking at his past self!), injecting an added layer of humor. It focused on lighter themes than its successors, but by no means did it lack emotional weight. I love the character progression and its ending thesis about first loves, because it clearly demonstrated how these hot-blooded teens matured right before our eyes. Who ever knew that this kind of show would ever make such an attachment to its audience? We owe the existence of the other two seasons to the success of Reply 1997.
If you would give out special awards for this series, what would they be?