Saturday, April 5, 2014

Exploring Second Lead Syndrome


After watching both Emergency Couple and Sly and Single Again this week, I've been thinking about Second Lead Syndrome again. Both shows feature a woman caught between two men, and in both cases, the female lead is clearly destined to go back to her ex-husband from episode 1. Neither ex-husband is exactly a shining paragon of awesome boyfriend-osity, but hey,  he's rich and he's on the promotional poster, so it has to be true love, right?

It's no secret that Emergency Couple is giving me what might be my worst case of Second Lead Syndrome yet (We're talking Young Do levels here, folks. Things are bad.). In the case of Sly and Single, I feel sad for the second lead, but he doesn't have me clutching my heart and sighing at the TV or anything, either. The comparison of two very similar shows has got me wondering what it is that sparks Second Lead Syndrome (SLS) and why it is that I catch it for some dramas and I just don't care for others. There seem to be a few different factors at play in my self-diagnosis of this ailment:

Go ahead. Just stab my heart with little daggers, why don't you?

What could have been...

Second leads are notoriously bad at spitting out their feelings. While the first leads are dragging women around by the arm and forcing kisses onto them, second leads are always stuck forming painstakingly cautious love declarations, only to be interrupted at the last minute by a phone or something equally infuriating. (Seriously. Stop answering the freaking phone.

If viewers are already favoring the second lead, an interrupted love declaration is basically the worst thing a writer can do. It ensures that we will spend the rest of the show wondering what could have been if only the man spoke at a pace slightly faster than one word every thirty seconds. How can we feel satisfied that the female lead made the right choice if she didn't even know she had another option until it was too late?

Oh, Geol Oh, if only you had overcome your girl-instigated hiccups...

On the other hand, there is such a thing as waiting too long, and second leads who beat around the bush for a million years tend to lose my sympathy at some point. Take You're Beautiful's Shin Woo, for example. Yeah, she got interrupted by a phone call on their pseudo-date, but he could have said something a little earlier instead of just staring at her and talking in thinly veiled "stories." 


Then again, if she was too stupid to figure out that the story describing her exact situation was really about her, maybe Shin Woo dodged a bullet on that one. 

It takes two to tango

Mutual interest is the next big factor in second lead syndrome. Sometimes, I want to give male leads a copy of the book He's Just Not That Into You and send them on their way. I'm thrilled when they confess their feelings, but if it's obvious from the start that there's no interest from the female lead, it makes it a teensy bit easier to let the relationship die in my mind. 

If the show develops the possibility of a relationship with the second male lead, though, all bets are off. I think that's what got so many Boys over Flowers fans. She was completely interested in Ji Hoo one minute, and then suddenly she's dating Jun Pyo. Why? Because he shouted about his feelings more adamantly? His family had slightly more money? It's a mystery. Add in a fortune teller announcing that Ji Hoo is her soul mate, but Jun Pyo is her husband, and you've got a herd of angry fans on your hands.


Lesson of the day: Don't trust random island fortune tellers.

Emergency Couple is another example. Jin Hee and Chief Gook had fantastic chemistry for most of the show, which made it that much harder to figure out why the writers wouldn't just cave to their obvious connection and kill Chang Min in a freak bench pressing accident or something. (I'm joking! Sort of.)

Variety is the spice of K-dramas

This one's a biggie. It wasn't until I watched the recycled mishmash that was Nail Shop Paris that I realized just how predictable male characters are in Dramaland (or at least the romcom segment of Dramaland). I know that we've talked a lot about female leads on this blog, but if we want complex, interesting women in our dramas, don't they also deserve complex, interesting men to date?

As it currently stands, many romantic dramas have two tropes: the chaebol lead and the supportive second lead. The male lead has two personality traits: haughty and rich. (Rich isn't even a personality trait, but that's the best we've got, so we'll take it.) As time goes on, he becomes less haughty, and he falls in love. But that's it. Beyond haughty, rich, in love, and maybe sad about daddy issues, you don't have much to work with, personality-wise. 

Then you have the second male lead, who is (slightly less) rich, kind, and supportive. His main characteristic is his willingness to follow the woman around and serve her with his invisible love. 

Now, I love a good old fashioned chaebol love story, but every once in a while, I wish Kdrama male characters had just a little more personality. Haughty vs. nice makes it tempting to root for the nice guy, but you have to admit that some second leads are just a teensy bit boring. How can you blame her for having no interest if he's kind of a snoozefest? 
Sorry, not sorry, Jaejoong fans. His character was like watching paint dry.
When Kdrama writers break the mold and offer complex, intriguing second leads who break the basic mold, that's when I really can't resist. In Dating Agency: Cyrano, the main lead was doing typical male lead shenanigans, while Master was having long, heartfelt conversations with the female lead. They laughed together, cooked together, talked together, and he was secretly a gangster in disguise. It was a refreshing break from the norm, which automatically prejudiced me against her boring grandpa of the boyfriend.


Similarly, in Heirs, Young Do might have been a violent maniac, but if your only other option is another violent maniac, why not at least root for the one with multiple facial expressions and a motorcycle? (Remind me not to become a life coach for teen girls. Something tells me that I would be bad at it. Teens, don't actually date violent maniacs with motorcycles, okay?)



Whatever the reason, Second Lead Syndrome is always lurking around the corner of every romantic K-drama. As far as I can tell, the only cure is to demand a higher quality of male lead to leave their competition in the dust.

23 comments:

  1. Lol I loved this. The only times I had SLS was during Dating Agency: Cyrano, I mean how could you not love Master? I did love how they broke that usual personality trait and made him more up front than the lead, he did confess to her on more than one occasion. Forever Master's #1 Fan lol
    I also had it during Heirs, I'm sorry I just didn't like Kim Tan. He was annoying, stalkerish, & so whiny sometimes. Young Do had a far more interesting personality and wasn't 1 dimensional.

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  2. Love it!! Watching Emergency Couple, I think I literally put my hand on the the screen trying to cover chief from seeing them kiss. It broke my heart. Boys over Flowers was one of my first big K-drama's and almost was my last because I got so frustrated with that SLS.

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  3. I did stop watching Emergency Couple because of second lead syndrome. In fact, all my drama watching buddies tease me because I am always like the second lead better. I am at the point that many dramas I wait until they are finished, so I can see which guy the girl picks because whole dramas have been ruined for me (I'm talking to you I need Romance #1) because I was so enamored of the second male lead and then the girl picked the other guy. Grrr.

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  4. I second you. There was a reason why I slowly detached from Emergency Couple. One day I stopped watching, and now I know why. Second Lead Syndrome. I saw it coming subconsciously.

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  5. I'm always there for the Second Lead in dramas. He's the guy who sees the girl for how amazing she is in the very beginning. Whereas the lead is usually a hardheaded fool toting around baggage. With all that said, Dating Agency: Cyrano was probably the ONE drama where I almost flipped my TV over. How anyone could resist Master was beyond me. Like, that drama was just deliberate and mean. Mean, mean, mean. It took the cake for my frustration with SLS.

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  6. My history of kdrama is still short but summer is coming!!! But, I had SLS in Heirs. I was like damn!!!! Young Do so real and so much better than Lee min Hoo!! What a waste!!!! At least he got to find his mom and I was happy for him but still... \(*^*)/ \(>;o;<)/

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  7. I just finished Emergency Couple and really liked it. I wasn't rooting for the second lead to get the first girl lead, I wanted him to get back with the second girl lead! It was so obvious why she came back. I couldn't get over how cool she was able to be the whole time. The second male lead was gorgeous and so serious and intelligent as a doctor but when it came to serious personal things he became dimwitted! I really wanted her little girl to end up being his daughter. I was so glad in the end he told her he wanted her to come back.

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  8. It wouldn't take much to be better than Kim Tan!

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  9. MASTAH! The other guy was no comparison.

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  10. I wasn't sure about the second female lead at first, but she ended up being one of my favorite characters. I kept wondering if they would ever give that couple a chance.

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  11. Yeah, Young Do was one of the worst cases of SLS in Kdrama history. It looks like Eun Sang was one of the very few people who didn't like him better.

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  12. I want another second lead like Master.

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  13. Lol Very true. The secondary characters were more interesting and had more development.

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  14. That girl got problems, looking like a scared bunny the whole time. I was like, "stop crying bitch!!!!" Be less pathetic and more daring!!

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  15. "Jin Hee and Chief Gook had fantastic chemistry for most of the show"


    I never saw it. One of the main reasons I never had SLS in this Drama was that for the first 10-12 episodes I saw absolutely no sign of the writers trying to show Jin Hee as having any romantic attraction to the dweeby Chief. Respect, admiration and affection, yes, but I never bought it as romantic. Then again, the only time I've EVER suffered from SLS was in the awful Mary Stayed Out All Night - Kim Jae Wook was totally robbed. One case of SLS in 70 Dramas I can live with. Emergency Couple never ever came close to being another.

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  16. I can't resist mentioning "Queen of Reversals" because it flipped the leads halfway through, and the chaebol Second Lead (who had no trouble expressing his feelings loudly and frequently) got the girl. I was stunned, and I didn't believe it until the credits rolled on the last episode. For the longest time I believed the First Lead--the really nice, good-looking, not-too-bright ex-husband, also no slouch at pursuing the heroine--was going to pull it off. Who ever heard of the First and Second Leads switching? Do any other shows do this?

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  17. From what I hear, the writers actually extended the show to make that happen, and I loved it! There are two other shows I can think of off the top of my head where the first and second leads switch, though it isn't as dramatic as QoR. (Spoilers, obviously). Dream High is one, and Prosecutor Princess is the other.

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  18. Having a serious case of SLS with Emergency Couple. But on a hindsight, I understand why Chief Gook will never be with Jin Hee. Because he's still scarred by his parents' divorce. Unless he's healed fully, then he will have the courage to chase Jin Hee. Which he lost the chance to.

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  19. I used to think Second Lead Syndrome was a myth lol. At least as far as I was concerned. It just didn't happen to me. I think the main reason is that I feel like most second leads are supposed to be such amazingly "nice" guys when in reality they don't seem that nice to me. They think they know what is best for the heroine and try to impose it just as much as the main lead, they are often just more passive aggressive about it. I also think second leads often spend the entire drama not saying anything and then make the girl feel guilty at the last minute for not reading their minds *shin woo cough cough*. I also get a little annoyed when commenters are constantly acting as though a female lead is obligated to go to any guy that treats her nicely regardless of her own feelings or mind. Lately though I found two dramas where I love the two male leads equally-the kdrama version of Fated to Love You and Hi School Love On. After resisting for so long being hit by double SLS (even if I still love both main leads just as much) is strange and troubling lol.

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  20. Omgosh! The comments (ok most of them) on this page are so ON PoINT! Especially with Emergency Couple..♥Chief Gook♥ *drool*

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  21. Jandi did not get with Junpyo because his family had more money. Let's just get that straight right now. Jihoo fangirls are so blind to the first five eps of the show that it's ridiculous. Jandi liked Jihoo in the beginning, but all Jihoo did was push her aside for Seohyun, a girl who's way too old for him and whom he had no realistic chances with .She was TEN YEARS older than him while he was minor for crying out loud. Finally, Jandi decided to go with the obviously better choice : Once Junpyo decided his feelings, he NEVER gave up on her. Unlike Jihoo who came slinking back like a dog with his tail in between his legs trying to get Jandi back when the ship has already sailed.

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  22. Many break my heart I just about cried out when the Dr. saw them kiss. Another one that was extremely difficult was Secret Hotel. I was torn all the way to the end.

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  23. so true i swear there was a bruise where i clutched my heart

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