One of the most refreshing and fun shows I have watched recently is the K-Drama Twinkling Watermelon, a story about a guitar-loving 18-year-old high school student who goes back in time and meets his own parents as teenagers.
This may sound a teensy bit derivative for Gen Xers like me who saw all three Back to the Future movies brand new in the theatre, but the similarities stop there. The main time-traveling character, Eun-gyeol, played by Ryeoun, is a Coda, a hearing son of deaf parents. His older brother is also deaf but life-loving and popular. Ryeoun is a hard-working son whose dad wants him to go into medicine, but he has secretly been honing his incredible guitar talents via busking and eventually joining a band. Of course, when Dad finds out, he doesn’t approve.
Long story short, a visit to a mysterious music store starts a series of events that shoots Eun-gyeol back to 1995, where he meets a young would-be rocker, Ha Yi-Chan (Choi Hun-Wook), his dad! The trick is to get his dad, obsessed with another girl, together with his mom, Cheong-ah (Shin Eun-soo), a talented but withdrawn artist. Oh, and at this time, we know his mom was born deaf, but his dad can still hear… and that’s all I will tell you. So many spoilers. The series wraps up with the final two episodes this coming week, and I am really looking forward to seeing how it concludes.
One thing I will share is if you are a Gen X parent watching this with your own teenager, you will know how your own parents felt in the ’80s watching Marty McFly head back to the ’50s. Were the ’90s really that long ago?
Yes, sadly, yes they were, and one of the coolest things about this show was making me remember the weird little characteristics of the late-’80s and ’90s I had almost forgotten.
Here are five memory-triggers I loved seeing in Twinkling Watermelon:
Fax machines and pagers. I remember my mom telling me “Those pagers are only for drug dealers and users,” but they were so cool. You could get them in all these bright colors, and they always sold them next to the Pogs in stores. You remember Pogs, rights? Also, before email, faxing was the new and modern way to send messages and images back and forth. We don’t do that anymore. “Wait by the printer. I’ll fax you the homework.”
No smartphone junkies. I know how useful smartphones are, and I will try not to get preachy here. It is so nice to not see kids sitting around scrolling on their phones or walking around looking down everywhere they go. Hey, if you needed to contact someone, you had that pager if you were a cool kid. Of course, there were always the public telephones… if you had change or knew how to beg mom and dad to accept “collect calls.”
DIY band merch. In the ’80s and ’90s, you knew you were headed to a cool punk or grunge concert if the flyers were hand drawn, printed at a Kinko’s, or collaged together by your friend who knew graphic design. Cheong-ah is strongly influenced by Frida Kahlo and incorporates elements of her work in her designs. I remember seeing this type of influence a lot. For me, I went through an M.C. Escher phase for some reason. This self-reliance on printing made getting your own printed merch an even bigger feat. No RedBubble or similar places to order these things online, after all.
The plaid grunge shirts around the waist. When you think about it, not too much has changed from the ’90s to today fashion-wise, and most of us could blend into either timeline. Yet, the grunge Marc Jacobs-era of wearing plaid shirts around your waist was so cool. I did it. My friends did it. Rock stars did it. Guess what? We still do it! Somehow, it just hit differently in the ’90s. Thank you, “Seattle Sound,” for spreading your look around the globe.
Kurt Cobain mania. Cobain ended his life in 1994, but his legacy was still all over the teen and young adult culture. Nirvana was everywhere. You might not like them, but I know right now you’re thinking of your favorite Nirvana song. My husband and I still have conversations about Nirvana and whether or not Dave Grohl would have been the mega-prolific rock giant he is today if Cobain had not died. Something to think about, but in 1995 there was no Foo Fighters. We had them to look forward to, as we still played “Come as You Are” on CD repeat.
The show isn’t perfect, and there are some timeline missteps (one character wears a My Chemical Romance t-shirt six years before they existed), but that can be overlooked. Who knows, maybe that’s a weird foreshadow as well?
Twinkling Watermelon is currently available free on Viu and on the streaming service Rakuten Viki.