If i look at the bigger picture, then it’s a yes.
If i take the details into account or assess it based on what it made me feel throughout the series, then the honest answer is sometimes yes but mostly no.
Sure, the camaraderie is great, the friendship is heartening, the teacher-student bond is strong, and the romance is cute, but it doesn’t help when all the good things are on the side while the main dish is just plain maddening. Having similar elements to those of Angry Mom and School 2015, Sassy, Go Go could have extracted the best parts of both dramas and making a nice fusion version instead of exploiting the most aggravating parts of the two: morally corrupt adults and exceedingly evil antagonist. Why oh why??
To its defense, there’s nothing too over-the-top here: no murder, no scandalous teacher-student relationship, no extreme bullying, no guises, no intense ship war… Head-scratching and hair-pulling materials are still present, but at least no one dies or transfers our or gets ostracized — except for a couple of oppressive adults no one’s gonna miss anyway. Everybody is also happy with the closures, but is that all there is? I wish i were that easily pleased. At the end, i was largely dissatisfied with the resolutions to the core problems and the obviously rushed finale which has little to do with the fewer episode count.
I believed that would work in favor instead of against it and they could definitely have made the most out of it by picking the right things to focus on. A lot of series have filler episodes anyway so going with the shorter run (12 episodes) means Sassy could refrain from over-milking certain plot points or resorting to trite tropes just to fill airtime. Considering the non-existence of mid-series lull, Sassy seems to accomplish that, but i’d still argue that favoring school politics and Soo-ah’s villainy come at the expense of more satisfying arcs.
In fact, besides Soo-ah’s turnaround, any other character stayed pretty much the same, unless we call Dong-jae’s miraculously overcoming his phobia, Ha-joon’s finally standing up for himself, and Yeol’s closing the distance between he and Dad a development. Technically, that would be a positive progress… if only we’re getting there step by step rather than jumping from A to B. Many characters have their own struggles and concerns that it would be nice to spend, say, an episode for a character and see him/her grow as a person. Well, that’s my kind of ideal, but here, everybody changed in a snap of fingers it didn’t make sense, narratively. I mean, at least show us the process of it happening, that’s all i’m asking for. Nah.
Key characters and what happened to/among them
Let’s start with Ha Dong-jae (VIXX’s N) who’s exclusively seen alongside our heroine Kang Yeon-doo (Apink’s Jung Eun-ji). He doesn’t seem to have any other friend yet doesn’t seem to be a loner either. He’s rather wooden for a basketball player and is a deadpan person. His distant disposition caused many viewers to speculate he’s autistic, but no, he just fears physical contact due to a horrific past experience. Thus, it’s odd for him to join the cheerleading club voluntarily when this activity requires solid teamwork and lots of touching. Nobody tried to help him overcome the phobia, neither did they offer to include him in, so all he did during practice sessions was air-executing his part, and we supposed to believe that would some day work. Throughout the series, he would either caught Soo-ah red-handed or found her in her most vulnerable moments but didn’t care much about it — you’d think he would given his devotion for Yeon-doo. In the last stretch, Dong-jae who had been solidly frozen upon seeing bleeding Ha-joon or imperiled Yeon-doo stepped out of his bubble and not only grabbed but also hugged Soo-ah to safety.
Seo Ha-joon (Ji-soo) is suicidal, presumably due to his oppressive and abusive father. In the finale, however, he revealed that he hated himself for being unable to stand up against Dad’s strikes. We never saw him showing any signs or urges to resist the groundless beatings, yet at the eleventh hour, he caught Dad’s hand midair. It was the moment we’ve all been waiting for but that too was out of nowhere. If all it took for Dad to stop his violence was to see the self-harm scars, they should’ve let the school reported Ha-joon’s suicidal behavior, which was never addressed and disappeared mid-series, early on! Of course by then our wounded puppy had learned to love albeit hurt, value himself, and fear Dad no more. Speaking of his crush, the gummy bear confession arguably was the sweetest and most sentimental scene in the entire drama. Instead of a heartbreaking love confession, he conveyed red bear’s gratefulness for green bear’s presence and support during red’s lowest moments.
With that, he managed to keep both his new friend Yeon-doo and old buddy Kim Yeol (Lee Won-geun). The No.1 student in his batch is effortlessly smart. He studies but ain’t no studious, which is worse. Don’t we all hate that kind of fellow? No wonder Soo-ah got so worked up — all she did was study and she was still No.2. Yeol seems a smug jerk at the outset but soon turns out to be a total tease, replete with a highly infectious megawatt smile. Who can resist that?? Apparently a worry-free kid, he bears the scars of a broken family and has a cold distant relationship with his father as well as trust issues ever since. For someone who claimed he trusted no one, he surely had faith in his buddy and later on Yeon-doo. The times spent with warm and caring Yeon-doo, however, didn’t bring much change to levelheaded Yeol but drove him to be more active in showing where his loyalties lied and rallying against unfair circumstances. Even then, that didn’t change a thing between him and Dad. Yeol who openly courted Yeon-doo never initiated a thing when it comes to Dad. In the end, it was Dad who took a step closer and Yeol slowly accepted that.
Yeol and Yeon-doo are complete opposites. He’s rational, she’s emotional. He uses his head, she her heart. But that’s why they say opposites attract. I could see why Yeol was smitten: Yeon-doo is an interesting being who’s caught by his selective radar. Another plus point is her extreme loyalty to her circle, something Yeol possibly identifies with. I wondered what attracted Yeon-doo to Yeol though. She treats her girl and guy friends equally well (that’s why poor Ha-joon got the wrong idea about her affection) and doesn’t play favorites. The only explanation is the teasing and being on the receiving end of those flashes of megawatt smiles did the trick, otherwise…no idea.
Character-wise, Yeon-doo is truly burden-free: no parent issues, no baggage. Her only worries are her 196th ranking out of 200 students and the forced disbandment of her dance club, although i don’t understand why that bothered her. Her mother never pressures her to excel at her studies, and it’s not like she could never practice/perform with Real King ever again. They could surely get together outside school hours or even outside the premise.
Then there’s Kwon Soo-ah (Chae Soo-bin), the bad nut of the bunch, Sassy‘s resident evil version of School 2015‘s Kang So-young: scheming, unapologetic, hateful (albeit also well-acted). In fact, she can put Kang So-young to shame, cuz while the latter picked on one weaker fellow, Soo-ah stepped on everybody’s toes, students and teachers alike. Shouldn’t she have treated them nicely considering the whole cheerleading thingy was set up for her benefit? Oh, nobody could make her cower or falter either, even when cornered, unless her misconducts were on the verge of getting exposed. Because she’s better at setting traps than covering her tracks. That’s what you get when action comes before thinking. Well, that’s what Yeon-doo’s been doing too, but she did it for the other person even if that would backfire on her, whereas Soo-ah decided on what would benefit her even if that would harm others. Granted, she would look legitimately conflicted and stressed out and lost from time to time, but as soon as i was about to feel for her, she followed that up with dirtier ploys.
I could go on and on about how detestable Soo-ah was. Antagonists are written in a way for us to hate anyway, but it’s rare for the villainy to be darn incensing to the point of overshadowing the show’s goodness. Here, Soo-ah got so deep under my skin that i’d only have complaints about her upon/after watching any episode (then questioned why this drama is also called Cheer Up! since every episode made my blood boil so much). She crisscrossed so many lines that pushed her way beyond redeemable point. Because there’s a difference between swearing you’ll ‘kill’ someone and actually doing it. Augh, this girl surely liked to bring trouble on herself and lived in constant fright when she couldn’t even handle the pressure, huh? I’m not having that it’s a byproduct of her mother’s super high expectations of her as i don’t recall Mom asking her to do whatever it takes to reach the top. It was all her doings although Mom did clean up after her.
Therefore, it’s funny that she only snapped out of it once she eventually hurt someone else physically — as if emotional wounds don’t exist — and was so shaken after realizing that the world had turned its back on her when really it was she who alienated herself from the world. Equally funny was her decision to end life after spending a day being happy, laughing freely, and doing the things she’d never done before by walking dazedly into oncoming traffic, as if that would work. Nah.
I know this may make the bad person for holding it against her even after reading her apology letter. I wish i were as lenient and forgiving as her squad fellows, who only blamed themselves for pushing her too hard and came together to cheer her up. It’s uncomfortable knowing your action drove someone to commit suicide, but i don’t agree that one apology was enough to erase all of her sins. How did they even know if she was sincere? I mean, they gave her chance after chance; Yeon-doo kept covering for her despite knowing she wouldn’t change.
During her sorry/turnaround episodes, what kept occurring to my mind was this ‘story’:
Grab a plate and throw it on the ground.
Did it break?
Now say sorry to it.
Did it go back to the way it was before?
Do you understand?
Okay, maybe i’m being too real or negative here; still, it’s unbelievable that she could get away with framing people, swiping mid-term questions, and throwing someone down the stairs and only needed to clean halls and supply snacks as punishment. That hurt my sense of justice =(
Aforementioned, i was unhappy with the resolutions, particularly Soo-ah’s, but was pleased to know that a restraining order was put on Ha-joon’s dad. Like at least they got one thing right. The other arcs were mainly underdeveloped or got sidelined for Soo-ah’s shenanigans. Or…what’s the possibility that the story shifted in favor of stronger acts? Acting chops vary across the board anyway. N has a long way to go, so his smaller part was probably for the better, although as a character on paper, he had more interesting backstory than Ha-joon or even Yeol. Ji-soo portrayed Ha-joon too close to the way he did Bok-dongie, most likely because the characterizations weren’t that different. He thus needs to explore his range more and challenges himself to other roles, and hopefully gets the girl. I admittedly wasn’t that impressed with Eun-ji in Answer Me 1997, but she’s good here, so much so that i was already laughing and crying with Yeon-doo in just two episodes. This is my first project of Lee Won-geun and i had no punishment points for him. The same goes for Chae Soo-bin who was mind-blowing. The times when Soo-ah was raw and vulnerable, crafty and malicious, and nice and genuine were all believable. I definitely look forward to her next project.
In hindsight, Sassy is a conflict-driven high school drama rooted back to Soo-ah mom’s desires to build up daughter’s specs so as to pave her way for The Ivy League, as if they accept only first-ranking students and those who’ve participated in cheerleading. It tried to cover a lot of grounds but fell short in a lot of areas.
1) Team-up: two groups of students on the opposite ends of the ranking table were brought together and shown to co-exist and cooperate without much team-building efforts.
2) Teamwork: for a club which was formed solely to win the regionals, the squad wasn’t practicing that much and still managed to dance in unison and perform stunts. That’s impressive.
3) Friendship: nothing too inspiring expect for the fierce loyalty from Yeon-doo and Yeol’s part. The rest just nominally existed to make a crowd. That said, it’s invariably heartwarming whenever they ganged up to stand for a cause or flashed those cue-cards to ensure their hushed voices were heard.
4) Bromance: it’s okay, not a standout.
5) Love triangle: came a bit too late for no apparent reason.
6) Parental love: too few and far between to leave an impression. Yeon-doo’s mom and Yeol’s dad are adult-versions of Yeon-doo and Yeol. Their relationship was thus as delightful and nondramatic as their kid’s.
7) Supportive teachers: too campy and powerless to make an impact. Both Instructor Nam (Lee Mi-do) and Teacher Yang (Kim Ji-suk) were refreshingly no-nonsense and virtuous at first before they spiraled down to be somewhat irresponsible and easily victimized, respectively. E.g. Instructor Nam sent a bunch of minors to her house where alcoholic grape juice was easily within reach…and didn’t even realize a kid gone missing mid-trip home. Teacher Yang, on the other hand, easily admitted to a sexual harassment claim, got himself fired, and needed to saved by the kids. I expected him to be Soo-ah’s savior though, the way Saem lent a hand to Min-joon in School 2015. Got my hopes too high.
8) Single fighter Yeon-doo: having a strong sense of justice doesn’t mean everything needs to be decided, initiated, and saved by her. She is no magic fixer. If anything, i still wonder at her greenlighting the cheerleading idea. She was adamant that she wouldn’t allow herself to be used for Soo-ah’s advantage, even when her Real King fellows were kicked out of the dorm. But then she let go of that pride for Yeol and the friend he’s trying to protect, whom she wasn’t exactly in good terms with at that point.
There, i said it.
The number of issues included in the series took a toll on the show’s flow. A lot of scenes were abrupt and choppy, particularly in the middle episodes. The best part about Sassy, however, was the wise words, which were always spot on and never preachy. My favorite is “There’s no such thing as always being okay in this world. Everyone just acts like they’re okay.” Or the following advice, which could sum up what Sassy is all about:
“Two things you need to find while you’re in school: friends you’d do anything with, adults who will be on your side no matter what.”
Some weren’t lucky to bow out of the show with the second thing, but our cheerleaders managed to find the first one, as well as learn to be happy not tomorrow, but now. And i think that’s the most important takeout. See, if you have good stuff like this to explore, why stretch the bad stuff instead? Why not make it as upbeat and fun as the poster suggested?
So, are you cheered up by Sassy, Go Go?
Director: Lee Eun-jin
Production: KBS2, 2015
Cast: Jung Eun-ji, Lee Won-geun, Chae Soo-bin, Ji-soo, Cha Hak-yeon/N, Kim Ji-suk, Lee Mi-do
Genre: School life, Friendship, Teen romance, K-drama (12 Episodes)