What is this low-effort Korean reality show that Netflix has decided to invest in? Nineteen to Twenty is just Single’s Inferno but sanitized because the participants are teenagers. Also, what terrible timing considering that all Koreans recently lost a year or two from their age due to the change in some rules just a few days ago. For context, Koreans are considered a year old at birth since their age is counted from the moment of conception. Then they become a year older on the 1st of January, regardless of when their birthday is. This means that a baby born on the 30th of December would be considered to be two years old in two days, that is, on the 1st of January. However, this system was recently done away with.
Thankfully, the participants of Nineteen to Twenty were all 19 years old, which is the official age of adulthood in Korea. Remember how we have often cribbed about not being taught basic life skills in school, like filing taxes or scanning job prospects? The Nineteen School doesn’t teach that either, despite it being the premise of the first half of the show. Additionally, the biggest mistake of the show is its overly accomplished teenagers. We simply don’t know what they are here for. At least in Single’s Inferno, there was a purpose to the meeting of the people. They could claim that they were there to see what would happen and whether they would actually find love. In short, there was a meaning to their presence, no matter what silliness followed. Nineteen to Twenty is missing all of these things, and it feels so tiring at times.
We cannot help but feel that this show has terrible timing and no clear target audience. Are grownups who are watching this series actually swooning at the mush-less (none of them have chemistry; don’t try to convince us otherwise) teenage romance? Or are the teenagers watching this finding it intriguing? Who was this series made for? If we are being honest, we tuned into Nineteen to Twenty for the first half, where they were supposed to teach the life skills that schools miss out on teaching. That is because, as adults who never learned those, we need to know what to catch up on, and since we don’t know what we don’t know, this series was a starting point. There cannot be a more intelligent reason to be interested in this reality series. We decided to watch the latter half, where they fall in love and try dating, if we really felt that chemistry or intrigue. It is safe to say that none of these things have been found.
It also doesn’t help that these participants don’t have standout personalities. To be honest, we don’t expect teenagers to always know how to put their best foot forward, but considering how much of the show is so blatantly scripted, couldn’t this have been taken care of? This is why Single’s Inferno Season 2 was such a letdown, and Nineteen to Twenty doesn’t even have that spark. This is especially unforgivable, considering that we don’t even have a problem with things being scripted; we just want the script to be good.
We have often heard it said that South Koreans are strict regarding manners and their code of ethics. But that doesn’t mean things have to be boring. Take the example of Song Ji Ah from Single’s Inferno Season 1. No one has even come close to what she was able to do. These comparisons are inevitable because whatever Nineteen to Twenty might pretend to be doing, it is just going the inferno way and hasn’t managed to come close to its shadow. Why not just do a Season 3 of Single’s Inferno or a Season 2 of Physical 100 instead of whatever this is? That would have made infinitely more sense.
The first episode starts with the introduction of all the students, and we don’t think this series was really shot in December. But we are not weather experts, so we will let this go. They take a single lesson, and we don’t know what that is about, which then shifts to a scene where all the kids talk about their past relationships. The biggest question from one of the girls, Ye Rin, is that she needs to feel a spark for someone to hold her hand. Then there is So Yeon, and his entire character arc is that he went to an all-boys school and doesn’t know what to do in a co-ed atmosphere. Ji Min is your popular guy, and he is the only one who stands out from the others. Sadly, he doesn’t have a strong arc yet. There seemed to be a lot of love for So Yeon and Ye Rin, especially after their sweet bookshelf moment, but we did not really feel the love. Finally, there are Sang Won and So Hyeon, who are well on their way to being the resident power couple. One is already in college studying robotics, and the other is determined to be an architect. They are going to build many things together.
Probably what annoyed us the most was the introduction of the wild card participants, Jeong Ji Woo and Kim Pyeong Seok. The fake shock on everyone’s face was not at all convincing, but we were especially annoyed at the hosts, which was a surprise since we had liked Cho Kyu Hyun in his previous gigs and Kim Ji Eum in general.
The problem with Nineteen to Twenty was that it lacked focus and direction. The kids are not here for love, at least for the first week. They are here to assess their strengths and weaknesses in life and judge other people according to them. Then, when the restrictions were lifted, they were supposed to see how well they could carry their judgments forward into the romantic areas. All of this meant that the participants should have been regular teens who were confused about their future, were weighing their options, or were looking to have fun. There were a plethora of options, yet the series stuck to the “overachieving” teen, and all of them behaved the exact same way, not really offering a difference in perspective or even some fun-to-watch moments.
The concept of Nineteen to Twenty wasn’t bad, but it felt like the series lost its way as soon as it started. Had it just kept its eyes on the road, this could have been another great Korean reality show, but that is just a dream now.