I'm a bit of a realist, so despite how much I loved the first season of Ode to Joy, I knew Season 2 (and the upcoming Season 3) were probably not going to live up to expectations, especially when news broke that director Kong Sheng (who was one half of the brilliant Nirvana In Fire directing duo) was not going to be directing Season 2. I was still a bit disappointed by how far the show fell though, in terms of storytelling quality and even production value. Story: We get to see the five neighbors' stories continue - basically picking up where we left off in the first season, with the five women continuing on their respective journeys. Whereas the first season focused a lot on careers and finding yourself in a city as big as Shanghai, the second season (imo) focuses a lot more on romantic and family relationships, and I think that was kind of where I just started losing interest. Seeing romantic interests blossom is fun and all, but a lot of what came after was the manufactured drama that I was so happy to see the first season avoid. And I get it - romantic relationships in China can be crazy because it's not just a relationship between the couple - it's a potential marriage between families, but the issues just were neverending (and sometimes it really didn't make any sense - a character would get randomly angry and you don't even know why). Relationships are at its best when it makes you grow as a person - not when it makes you more irrational and immature. Ying Ying (and pretty much everyone in that particular story thread) drove me batty. I was so happy that she had gotten over her bad experience in Season 1 and learned more about herself, but it's like she had forgotten about all the self discovery that she had done. Fan Sheng Mei, who I thought had finally accepted life on her terms, also had a really frustrating arc, though I still kind of understood her struggle. And An Di's entire thread was just ludicrous and nonsense - I read online that a lot of Chinese viewers were basically skipping over her scenes (this isn't Liu Tao's fault at all - it's because they gave her a super frustrating storyline). Speaking of An Di, I appreciate beautiful fashion in dramas as much as anyone does, but it becomes borderline distracting when a character changes five outfits in "one" day, especially when the outfits are a little overdone and leaning on the high fashion side versus what someone would actually wear in real life. I think that was also the problem with An Di's storyline - it felt very shallow. Qu Xiao Xiao saved the show for me, because she was just as splendidly outrageous and compassionate as she was in Season 1, and it was nice to see Guan Guan come out of her shell and blossom (but she really needs to use that backbone on Ying Ying once in a while, I'm just saying). But we still got a great dose of friendship (and the love-hate that goes into it) between the five women, which is really the saving grace for the show. And the script, despite its obvious flaws, still did provide some great social commentary (with one specific issue really taking off). I think they tried to go a little too flashy and polished for parts of this drama, and it made me miss the slice of life style that we got in the first season. Sure, the pace was slower, but it felt organic. Acting/Cast: The actresses were pretty good, per usual, with Liu Tao flexing a bit more of her acting muscle than she did in the first season. Yang Zi was frustrating and adorable simultaneously, and Wang Zi Wen killed it even more than she did in Season 1. Jiang Xin is an amazing actress and I will continue to beat this drum forever and ever until everyone in the world realizes this. And major props to Qiao Xin, who has grown a lot as an actress (does anyone else remember her stint in Nirvana In Fire? She was so noticeably awful in that role and so, so green). I was disappointed by Yang Shuo, who was so charismatic in his limited scenes in Season 1. He got a lot more screentime this season, but it actually turned out to be a bad thing, because the charm kind of turned smarmy and I think he overacted quite a bit in some scenes (I was paying a lot of attention to his acting because of the rumors that he may be the leading man in Zhao Li Ying's upcoming drama - as of now I'm really hoping this isn't true). The other actors were just okay - but Wang Kai was by far (well, duh) the best actor among the romantic interests - in part because his character was a lot more "normal" than the other guys, but also because Wang Kai sells his characters well. Newcomer to the show Deng Lun was cute if a little too stoic. Music: There's basically a song that plays every other scene and it got distracting after a while. I get that Ying Ying has her theme song but do they really have to play it every single time? I think they went a little overboard with everyone having "their" song. Because some of the lyrics were really specific and explained the situation and feelings in a really detailed way, it kind of killed any semblance of emotional subtlety. I feel like the audience should get the chance to figure out they feel about a scene instead of being told how they should feel. I honestly don't find this all that rewatchable, because I know how angry I get at some of the scenes and characters. There are some cute parts that I would fish out, but I definitely wouldn't marathon it again. This isn't a bad drama - but it just doesn't live up to the first one, and I'm assuming that Season 3 is just going to be even more drama (because they need something to fill the story with). With all of that said - there are still a lot of things that it does well compared to your average drama, so I still recommend giving it a shot, especially if you've watched the first season already.
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