Detours from home: The comfort of on-screen campuses

[Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they have learned while in quarantine. Our BrandRap producer writes about finding comfort in the company of on-screen campuses. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]

The quarantine hasn’t been easy for most people. 

This doesn’t only go for the less fortunate, the frontliners, or the physically ill. Many are challenged by their new work-from-home setups, struggling with communicating with coworkers, and some are trapped by their own minds in addition to their four walls.

Age is and isn’t a factor. Some things, younger people are more anxious about, and the same goes across different generations. 

So it’s guilt-inducing in a way, to feel okay during this quarantine. Somehow, things aren’t so bad in my own space. 

Things fell into place

Perhaps it’s because of my particular disposition as a drama-loving introvert that I was able to adjust. (Many of my introverted friends have also been having trouble adjusting to the quarantine.) 

But it seemed both lucky and weird that some things just fell into place for me. A few days prior to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), our family switched to a more reliable internet provider and I applied for subscriptions on different streaming sites. My brother also moved out a few years ago, and the small working table I ordered online arrived a month before – so whenever I woke up on a workday, I’d switch to the other room, set up my small table, and that would condition me into “working mode.”

After work hours, I’d go back to the bedroom and watch dramas on the television. It was strange how everything was working out so well for me. It was a comfortable set-up. (Admittedly though, my physical body is starting to show the results of not moving at all for the last two months. I found myself immediately dizzy the other day after turning around to switch the lights off.)

Running out of things to watch and discovering more campus dramas

But well, after being home straight for more than two months, you’re bound to run out of content to watch. The thing is, I’ve never been into campus dramas much before. Even as a young-adult-genre loving kid, I always went for those in fantasy-settings. I wasn’t into watching other people live the life I already knew about. 

I found myself exploring a lot of campus dramas during the quarantine period though. And it made me think: What was it about school life that everyone loved watching that setting again and again? Youth is an obvious answer, but you could always set these stories away from classrooms – so why are there so many campus dramas and series around? 

Watching these different shows – some comedy, some wild, and some familiar – I realized that it was a kind of a detour for the mind. We want to watch something familiar, and we want to live them differently through the lens of another character and sometimes another world – for fun, entertainment, or curiosity.

Fictional schools I went to and why
Detours from home: The comfort of on-screen campuses

SCHOOL-THEMED SHOWS. (From top left to bottom right) Reply 1997, With You, Gossip Girl, Ouran High School Host Club. Photos grabbed from Netflix and Weibo International.

I want to start this list by mentioning one of my all-time favorite K-dramas: Reply 1997, also known as Answer Me 1997. You’ll probably recognize this drama by its familiar title; Reply 1988,  which occurs in the same fictional universe, is experiencing a boom in popularity lately. This drama aired in 2012 and was the first in the beloved throwback-themed franchise. Both leads were not cemented actors at the time when this aired, and this was also one of the dramas that pushed tvN, a small cable channel at the time, into what it is today. 

Aside from being a K-drama enthusiast, I dabble in C-dramas as well. (C-dramas are dramas produced and aired in platforms within Mainland China.) Campus dramas are fairly popular within that space, but With You – a simple web drama that was released in 2016 – remains so well-loved that it was picked up again for television airing in 2018 and was adapted into a movie titled My Best Summer in 2019. If you’re wondering what to watch, I heard that the movie didn’t fare well with the critics.

Moving out of Asia, I also found myself watching a lot of YouTube videos lately, and a particular subset is compilations of Gossip Girl best moments. Gossip Girl, which aired in 2007-2012, remains one of the top satirical and controversial teen dramas in the early 2000s. (We’re pretending seasons 4 onwards didn't happen.) Blair Waldorf is still the most iconically complicated but consistent high school queen bee, and she will forever be one of my fictional queens until I die of old age.  

One of the most fun things in rewatching this series though is in recognizing guest roles by some of your favorite actors today – Sebastian Stan as Carter Baizen, Armie Hammer as Gabriel Edwards, and Melissa Fumero as an unnamed Blair minion.

If we’re talking about school-themed shows, Ouran High School Host Club should definitely be included. I don’t care that it doesn’t match the theme of live-action shows. Watching Ouran High School Host Club is an entire experience and can’t be summarized by just a few adjectives. It has romance, comedy, absurdity, a gender-bending character, LGBTQ characters, social class commentaries, etc. Plus, all the characters are so unique and cute! 

Detours from home: The comfort of on-screen campuses

LADY BIRD. Photo grabbed from Netflix.

If you’re looking for an American school-themed movie, you should check out Lady Bird. (If you’ve watched it already, watch it again.) 

Lady Bird was an instant classic once it hit theaters last 2017. (Has it really been that long?) Lead actress Saoirse Ronan often describes the movie as “a photo album,” where important, pivotal moments lived in everyday scenes. It’s less of a typical plot structure and more of a collection of moments between mother and daughter. A certain girl may have ended up crying three times in an almost-empty theater while watching this movie. (Don’t look at me!)

One of the latest movies I’ve seen this quarantine was Fleet of Time. I’m a fan of the lead actress named Ni Ni and I was checking out all her available shows when I found this movie. Fleet of Time was released in theaters in 2014. It’s a simple story about two people falling in love during high school, and how they grew apart. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. They’re not together by the time the movie starts. The movie didn’t achieve great reviews, but I really loved it; I felt it was a touching tribute to how something innocent and beautiful could fade away just like that. 

Detours from home: The comfort of on-screen campuses

FLEET IN TIME. Photo grabbed from Weibo International.

Some honorary mentions I’d like to acknowledge are the following series which are technically set in schools, but the stories don’t really live there:

  • Euphoria (2019–present)
  • Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (2016)
  • Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000)
Choosing stories

These days, we’re oversaturated with content. Sometimes, it becomes a bit overwhelming to choose. 

But the best stories are always those that don’t feel like they have to be read or watched. The best ones are those that feel like they’re the ones revealing themselves to us, and I look forward to discovering more shows and films that make me feel this way.

Already, I’m starting to feel like these campus stories are less familiar than they are nostalgic. They come from and for the heart, and I hope any one of them gives you the same emotions it brought me. –

Patricia Li

Patricia Li is a content producer under the BrandRap category. You'll also see her writing in the Get Ready with Me lifestyle article series.