When I last posted, I was in the middle of (attempting to do) quick episode recaps while I watched Bu Liang Ren. Unfortunately, I quickly got bored/annoyed with that show and decided to take a break to watch With You (最好的我们), another highly-rated school/youth drama in China. With You is the best type of slice-of-life, school/youth drama, one that I would put on par with favorites like Answer Me 1997 and In a Good Way. It’s the kind of drama that makes you feel deeply for the characters and also nostalgic for those golden days of the past. Don’t let the old-school track suit school uniforms fool you: this is a very well-produced drama with all the nostalgia of the past but none of the graininess.
With You follows Geng Geng (played by Tang Song Yun), a girl who is entering her first year at the prestigious Zhen Hua High School, and who feels like she isn’t quite smart enough to fit in with the brilliant superstars at Zhen Hua. But she soon befriends her deskmate Yu Huai (Liu Hao Ran) and some other classmates, and gains the very persistent affections of the school’s “bad boy” Lu Xing He (Wang Li Xin). The series follows Geng Geng and her classmates through their high school experience, dealing with the stresses of school, dramas of friendship and romance, family struggles, and other issues that are universally relevant to high schoolers everywhere.
It’s inevitable that I compare With You to Stand by Me, since I watched that school/youth drama not long ago. The two are remarkably similar from a surface-level view (despite one being set in high school and the other in college) and even share a cast member. They both focus on a group of friends and don’t have an overarching plot, instead focusing on smaller arcs involving individual characters. However, they are stylistically very different. Stand by Me features a wacky humor that is very Chinese, while I feel that With You is much more globally palatable. The humor is less wacky and the story and characters as a whole feel more real.
What stood out to me immediately about With You is how pretty it is. There are some very beautiful scenes and all of the high school scenes (which is about 90% of the show) are softly lit with this white glow that really evokes a sense of nostalgia and the better days.
With You also does a phenomenal job with character and relationship development. Like other similar dramas, we don’t have villains or flat characters with opaque motives. Instead, we have real people and real friendships. I especially loved seeing Geng Geng’s rapport with her two love interests, Yu Huai and Lu Xing He. Those two friendships were just too adorable, and Lu Xing He really stole my heart with his selfless and persistent antics. Some of the characters are occasionally annoying, but in the end we celebrate and cry with them through successes and failures at school, new crushes and tough heartbreaks. Sometimes the characters get a bit extreme with their crying, but it’s not quite melodrama, it’s just the typical drama that teenagers get into.
The only reason I wouldn’t give With You a full 10 out of 10 is that the ending escalates a little too much in terms of drama, tears, and misunderstanding. It doesn’t quite reach the convoluted level of some other dramas, and it doesn’t last too long, but it also felt a little too tropey for me.
Overall, With You is another very well-done slice-of-life youth drama and worth the watch. The show is only 24 episodes long with 45 minute episodes so it zips right by, and the feelings, characters, and friendships will definitely linger with you long after the show is done!