Created by Kim Ji-hee & Im Jin-seon
Release Date: 23rd December 2022
There is a lovely moment in the finale of The Fabulous where a key supporting player in the drama mentions to the core quartet of characters that we’ve followed throughout the series that she has ‘always been rooting for them’. It’s a sentiment you may find yourself very much in agreement with and is perhaps the biggest reason why this fashion world-set comedy drama works as well as it does.
On a surface level this could all come across as a vacuous and empty headed piece of ‘consumerist porn’; fashion labels are everywhere or constantly driving the conversation, and the inner workings of this world has always been famously fuelled by the pursuit of perfection, but instead The Fabulous – which follows the exploits of photographer Woo-Min (Choi Min-ho), PR agent Ji-Eun (Chae Soo-bin), designer Joseph (Lee Sang-un) and model Sun-ho (Park Hee-jung) – centres its story on a group of friends who prove so winningly charming and at times very lovable that you can’t help but cheer them on amongst the many dramas, comedic moments and romantic interludes throughout within this setting.
Affluence, success and consumerism and the pursuit of it are everywhere here. You might be forgiven for thinking we’re about to enter Emily in Paris territory, but unlike that series, even when it’s luxuriating in fashion labels and the pursuit of success, it still has time to throw influencers under the bus and look down upon them somewhat disdainfully in enjoyably humorous ways.
There is an aura reminiscent of the works of Darren Star here that might prove somewhat cumbersome and a bit of a turn-off for some, but in the right frame of mind the charms of this particular K-drama may prove hard to resist.
It’s not every K-drama that begins with the central couple at the heart of it already having slept together, but it’s an intriguing opening that pivots the series into a brief flashback set-up (yes, it’s a modern television drama trope that everyone uses nowadays) to show the audience how the characters got there, but which is also a narrative formed by memories of a previous break-up between the pair giving the story a background that immediately makes it feel three-dimensional.
It gives the drama and comedy that develops an interesting spark that is played wonderfully by Choi Min-ho and Chae Soo-bin, the latter especially proving a charming and frequently adorable lead character who feels rounded and intelligently played. Writers Kim Ji-hee and Im Jin-seon manage to wonderfully flit from typical rom-com tropes to moments of drama that are quite loaded and which gives the more heightened comedy dotted around the rest of the series a potent bit of emotional heft.
Perhaps the most subtle MVP of the entire thing is Park Hee-jung as model Sun-ho, blacklisted from the industry when she stands up for one of her rivals during an altercation and who finds herself on the outside looking in on an industry that looks for any excuse to replace those who have worked hard for them with younger talent. A poster on display at a bus stop being replaced by a new one feels like a loaded piece of symbolism here.
For all the froth and gloss on display, there is a subtle aura of critical comment just hovering on the edges. Make no mistake, the series is having its cake and eating it. The big name labels and the fashions that are always on show are clearly there to be enjoyed and maybe even craved, but given that this is eight episodes long and going up on Netflix, there is a gentle criticism directed towards an industry that can chew up talent and then spit it out when it feels like it. These characters feel like a sensible centre in a world that can go off the rails very quickly.
When the presence to influencers arrive in the story, it almost feels as if the series might be about to become somewhat empty headed in a celebratory manner akin to Emily in Paris, but it posits the world of the influencer as an antagonistic presence to the rest of the characters and their world. It’s also a world that appears to be open towards inclusivity in a way that is seldom portrayed in K-dramas.
There are not one but two openly gay characters, and while very little is displayed in terms of physical affection in their relationships, and one could argue that there is perhaps a little bit of stereotyping going on with the writing and portrayal, it’s at least something of a quiet groundbreaker in having characters that aren’t just falling into heteronormative archetypes. The fourth episode and its story devoted mostly to the introduction of gay iconic fashion designer Thierry (played with gusto by Lim Ki-hong) with a melancholy backstory proves very effective in its quieter and reflective moments.
That the characters themselves are of a millennial generation trying to achieve something, anything, in a world that is presented to them as something to achieve for also hints at some hidden depths here. It’s not a series that wants to get too far into the gutter with this those themes, but it works a frothy slice of glossy escapism and with it premiering on Netflix in time for Christmas, it will work well for those who just want to escape the real world for a few hours. It offers that escapism very well.