Sometimes the romance between the secondary leads is so much more interesting and compelling than the OTP, and that’s the relationship we’re tuning in for. I have decided to name this Secondary Couple Syndrome (SCS). To be fair, for many shows the degree of SCS waxes and wains, and it’s a rare show that ends with me caring more about them than the OTP, but it still happens.
There times the secondary leads save the show from devolving too much into depression or melodrama; they are our needed comic relief. They also provide a counterpoint to the OTP. Frequently when our OTP’s relationship is in trouble or on a break the secondary couple is doing well and acts as hope that things can work out.
The reasons for SCS vary, but here are some of the main ones:
Can’t Connect with OTP
A prime example of this is in High Society. Our OTP is hard to root for because Joon Ha fell for Joon Gi way too fast and he is still such a cypher. Ji Yi and Chang Soo on the other hand are adorable. We know who they are and where they stand and I love watching them. Full disclosure: I’ve only watched through episode 7 of High Society. I keep thinking that I should watch the next episode because I want to see more of Ji Yi and Chang Soo, but I’m having a hard time getting past the complete disconnect I feel with our OTP. I think I need to skim the recaps to see if things improve so I can either be motivated to keep watching or feel comfortable dropping it completely.
OTP Has a Severe Case of (Noble) Idiocy
Ti Amo Chocolate is an example of this. I liked our OTP for the first half of the show, but once we entered the noble idiocy phase I started skipping their scenes and watched the ones with the sister Xi Hui and ex-Triad Zhen Ting. It was a lot more interesting to watch Zheng Ting struggle with his attempts to fully leave behind the Triad life and protect his girl than to watch our OTP engage in noble idiocy, wallow in guilt and deal with office politics.
Secondary Couple Is More Interesting/Quirky/Adorable
Sometimes the secondary couple is just more appealing in some way(s) than the OTP. I adored our secondary couple in Wild Romance. The romance-writing best friend Dong Ah and robotic publicist Tae Han were such an interesting and unique couple. Nothing against the OTP in that show, but they aren’t the ones I think about now that the show has been over for three years. Another example is the awesome couple from Heirs. I couldn’t finish watching Heirs once Eun Song lost her spunk and spine, but I really loved her best friend Chang Young and his rich girlfriend Bo Na. They were so cute and actually helped and bettered each other.
Irritating Love Tri(quad)angle with the OTP
Sometimes you just need a break from the convoluted relationships of the OTP. The OTP has a lot more drama and sometimes it’s nice to have the more direct romance of the secondary leads. I know a lot of people got frustrated with the leads in Discovery of Romance and the secondary couple gave them someone to clearly root for and just enjoy.
Better Love Triangle than the OTP
Even if you have SLS we know who the female lead is going to end up with. For the secondary couples there is a lot more uncertainty. I still remember how invested I was in older sister Yoon Hee’s choice between the young photographer and the father of her child in Creating Destiny. There was genuine uncertainty as to which guy she would chose. While she didn’t choose the one I was rooting for I still understood why she chose her ex. As much as I enjoyed the OTP, I was really invested in the uncertainty of her relationship.
Stale or Disappearing OTP
These are problems more common with the longer running shows. While I enjoy the fact that there shows that continue to show a couple after their marriage (usually the Korean historical epic or weekend 50-70 episodes dramas or the Taiwanese 60-70+ dailies), not all of them do it well. Even when they do keep the main couple interesting, like in Assorted Gems or Love Family, the show needs a fresh injection of romantic uncertainty or freshness. This is when the secondary couple comes into play. In Love Now once our OTP gets together the relationship between Yin Ru’s ex/boss Qi Ming and Doctor He Cai Rong provides the romantic urgency and uncertainty our OTP no longer has.
Sometimes in the longer shows once the OTP becomes a couple they disappear from our screen. Once Xiao Dong and Xian Ting get together in The Crossing Hero we don’t see much of them for around ten episodes. During that time the secondary love triangle with Mo Han get developed. When you don’t even see the OTP except in passing it is vital to have a secondary couple you care about.
Better Growth or Character Arcs
A lot of the time only one person in the OTP has significant character growth, or both only have a little bit of character growth. Sometimes the secondary couple has stronger arcs as both individuals and as a couple. Take our secondary leads from Wonderful Mama. Young Soo matures and becomes responsible and Da Jung grows a spine and gains self confidence. They start as friends and eventually become a couple who truly help and care for one another. I just love them so much! Contrast with the OTP where Hoon Nam doesn’t change much because he’s already pretty awesome and Young Chae mainly matures and learns the value of work. They don’t grow as a couple as much.
In the Present
Interesting enough, of the shows I’m currently watching the only one I have SCS for is in High Society. That is partly because most of the other shows don’t have a secondary couple or at least it hasn’t been developed yet. I wonder if this will be a new trend or if it’s a just quirk of the shows I happen to be watching right now. What are some of your favorite secondary couples?