Worth the Watch: "Black Dog"

While all eyes were on the phenomenal international hit Crash Landing on You (14 December 2019- 6 February 2020), Black Dog: Being a Teacher (or simply Black Dog) took on the Monday-Tuesday time slot on the same cable network (TvN) from 16 December 2019- 4 February 2020. It enjoyed moderate ratings but clearly was an underdog in the popularity battle.


Now that this gem is on Netflix, we think it's worth checking out.


This quiet, slice-of-life drama about a newbie teacher trying to make it work in a private high school in Seoul is a gem that really should be getting more love. Thankfully, just last month Netflix released it to more territories, and we think you should give it a try.


The Plot

Seo Hyun-jin (You Are My Spring) plays Go Ha-neul, a young, temp teacher— and Daechi High School’s newest hire. Because she’s hired last, she has to hit the ground running and has to navigate her way around a system that doesn’t provide much support for newbies. She finds herself having to deal with a demanding, pragmatic department head Park Seong-soon (Ra Mi-ran, Reply 1988), the most popular teacher on campus Do Yeon-woo (Ha Jun, Crazy Love), the usual office politics, and the regular workload of teachers in South Korea’s competitive educational system.


Why It Works

High school dramas are a dime a dozen in k-dramaland. There’s a new one being churned out every couple of months or so. But they’re almost always from the point of view of students and are more likely to portray teachers as stock characters and caricatures of themselves. They’re either irrelevant as in SKY Castle, or just plain abusive as in Twenty-Five Twenty-One, or questionable as in Melancholia.


In Hollywood, films like Dead Poet’s Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dangerous Minds, and Freedom Writers portray teachers in the extremes. Between the caricature and the hero, there’s really no room for the normal, down-to-earth teacher who must deal with educational bureaucracy, overwhelming paperwork, standardized tests, irate parents, and difficult colleagues.


And this is precisely where Black Dog creates a space for itself. Through Park Joo-yun’s carefully nuanced writing, teachers are finally allowed to discuss the mundane matters such as lesson plans, performance appraisals, college applications, after-school programs, schedules, faculty meetings, the perennial sore throat, and preference for intelligent students in a manner that is believable, honest, and engaging.


More importantly, the drama brings a lot of heart. (You will, of course, need to make cultural allowances as every country has a different educational system.) The exaggerated office politics plays a huge role in the series and provides the backdrop for much of the drama. But what it really does is allows the spotlight to be on the individual stories of the teachers themselves: the wide-eyed newbie out to make a difference, the popular teacher who’s burned out, the department head who spends more time in school than with her own child, the “temporary” teacher who just wants to make tenure, the principal facing pressure on all sides, and the students who just want to get a better life for themselves. "Black Dog" manages to show real people facing real problems and how everyone is just trying to make the most out of life. It even shows real teachers actually loving their students, their colleagues, and *gasp* their jobs.


Director Hwang Joon-hyuk doesn’t allow for any scene stealers in this show. It’s an ensemble cast where no one is completely villainized or sanctified. Even the drama’s palette is earthy and subdued as though to emphasize that if you are looking for sensationalism and theatrics, you will not find it here.


What you will find instead is a heartwarming drama that doesn’t push its agenda or tries to bombard you with platitudes or solutions for the current state of Korean (or wherever you’re from) education. It simply follows the ebb and flow of a regular academic year and what that means to the people who've chosen to dedicate their lives to education. It’s not a romance, but it’s definitely a love story about teaching and for teachers everywhere.


Stream: If you’re a teacher, know a teacher, or ever had a teacher


Skip: If you’re looking for explosive, heart-stopping drama


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