As Ode to Joy II 欢乐颂 2 is geared up for release, here’s a review of season 1 of the hit series from 2016.
Witty dialogue and a cast of memorable characters make Ode to Joy one of the most fun sit-coms in a while. Unfortunately, the series is often dogged down by attempts to shift to a melodrama that makes the ff button a necessary friend.
The series focuses around the unlikely friendship between five women who share a floor in an apartment complex in Shanghai. There’s Andi (An Di?), the business professional with a fear of human touch, Qu Xiaoxiao, the heiress fighting for the family inheritance, Fan Shengmei, the gold-digger with an entitled family, Qiu Yingying, the happy-go-lucky college grad, and Guan Ju’er, the ordinary white-collared girl who has never said no in her life.
Coming from a misogynistic rural family, Fan Shengmei (Jiang Xin) is vain, self-centered, but also righteous and protective. She would lie to help out a friend, but also to save face. The first lets her befriend the women in the apartment complex, but the second gets her in trouble as she falls for men who use her vanity to play her. When she falls in love with a man faked his own wealth to date her, she is caught between love and vanity. Imperfect, complex, and sharp-tongued, Fan’s characterization is perfect.
Next up is Andi (Liu Tao). Despite how much I like Liu Tao, her character is just one plot device after another. She’s a brilliant businesswoman who makes the best deals, but can’t read humans; She’s returning from Wall Street, but has a fear of human touch (have you ever been to a NY subway?). Her romantic plot probably shows some of the worst of old-school Chinese TV. Why is it that two people who met on a physics forum spend episodes gossiping and judging every other character in the show? Also, that 30-minute scene of their date was one of the most cringe-worthy I’ve seen, and I’ve satthrough that episode-long date on The Disguiser.
Wang Ziwen’s Qu Xiaoxiao is selfish, hypocritical, but lovable. She gets a kick out of pursuing business success, but doesn’t fit into a sappy inspirational role model. Her characterization also has some a few sparks of genius. For example, Qu Xiaoxiao taking a big breath before going up to stand up for Fan Shengmei in front of loan sharks revealed so much more about her character than all the Qidian and Andi’s analysis of her combined.
Qu is also unique in that her and her boyfriend Zhao Qiping (Wang Kai) has a rare modern relationship, where two people are together just because they like being together, without any fuss nor promises of the future. It was quite refreshing after shows whose outlooks on marriage mostly include “OMG YOU KISSED ME NOW WE HAVE TO MARRY” or “you’re not rich/successful enough to marry.” Daylight Entertainment still fails at the show-not-tell test of dramatization, though. Instead of showing us the moment when Qu Xiaoxiao charmed Zhao Qiping, the series chose to have the characters talk about it in retrospect. Who films a Cinderella story without the ball?
Of the two young roommates. Qiu Yingying’s characterization and Yang Zi’s acting are both way-over-the-top, and Guan Ju’er (Qiao Xin) still has zero memorability.
Other than the plot, the series had some horrid color combinations for its outfits, as well as weird music choice. No, music from FIfty Shade of Gray should never be used as depressing flashback music.
But who am I kidding. Despite all it’s flaws, Qu Xiaoxiao is 100% me when season 2 comes out: