On the other hand, Yi Hyun has a level-headed and soothing personality and comes across as a selfless character. He is a celebrated baseball player in school but his leg injury prevents him from pursuing his career further. Yi Hyun is dejected at this sudden roadblock and loses all hope for the future. But his life changes for the better after a brief conversation with SaeBom on the rooftop of their school.

The story picks up many years later and SaeBom is now a Special Operative Unit’s agent while Yi Hyun is a corporal with the police force. SaeBom believes that owning an apartment will bring her happiness. But her achievements alone aren’t enough for her to obtain an apartment (reserved for the police force) in a residential complex. She asks Yi Hyun to marry her so that she can avail of the newlywed bonus and Yi Hyun agrees. They move into their new apartment in ‘Seyang Forest Le Ciel Residential Complex’ as newlyweds. In that newly constructed building, higher floors are for sale and the lower floors are rented out which depicts the subtle psychological battle and the class discrimination that occurs. And most of the owners turn out to be uptight snobs, from a devious doctor who killed his wife to an elite lawyer who belittles others, a psychopath secretly lurking in their midst, and a resident representative who will do anything to raise house prices.

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Not enough with these types of neighbors, soon SaeBom and Yi Hyun encounter a couple of cases with the new zombie-like disease (also called mad person disease). Before they could realize it, the disease spreads like wildfire and they find themselves under lockdown among the troublesome residents and the infected people who are out to get them. To stop the virus from spreading, they meet Lieutenant Colonel Han Tae Seok (Jo Woo-jin) from the Central Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters and First Lieutenant Lee Ji Soo(Park Joo-hee) who are working against time and trying to bring the outbreak under control as the disease has no cure.

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At first glance, Han Tae Suk seems like a villain in the beginning but the viewer slowly warms up to him. He can often be seen taking the center stage in the drama with his strategic handling of situations and the higher-ups. Though it may seem like he is caught between the civilians and the higher-ups, Han always manages to get out of situations unscathed.

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On 11 December, ‘Happiness’ ended on the highest viewership ratings of its entire run. According to Nielsen Korea, the finale of the drama scored an average nationwide rating of 4.2 percent, marking a new personal record for the show. Not only did ‘Happiness’ take first place in its time slot across all cable channels, but it also took first place across all channels among the key demographic of viewers ages 20 to 49, with whom it scored a nationwide average of 2.6 percent.

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Most zombie apocalypse shows tend to paint a more sombre picture, with chaos quickly taking over the world, and no apparent exit or solution. This is not the case for ‘Happiness’ though, as it contains more mystery and suspense regarding the disease. The Lytta (Mad Person’s disease) virus causes Rabies-like symptoms where the infected bite people in the neck out of immense bloodthirst. The disease spreads through bites or scratches from the infected or by consuming a pill called NEXT (which is a failed COVID-19 cure). The disease shows symptoms only in the later stages. As the series progresses, one can’t help but keep guessing as to who is infected among the residents. Even if the guess is wrong, it just adds to the thrills. This adds a layer of complexity to the zombies we are used to and can be a double-bladed sword.

The zombie-like people in the drama, lurk around every corner but they only appear sparingly and in well-executed set pieces that punctuate a series that remains breezily enjoyable two-thirds of the way in. With only occasional zombie attacks and a threat markedly less existential than that faced by the characters in other zombie series, ‘Happiness’ always ran the risk of being a bit too lightweight. Yet, while these types of shows mostly have a dystopian and dark nature, Happiness has toned that down and shifted its setting to something closer to home. The story happens after the coronavirus pandemic when infectious diseases are the new normal. In a way, it makes the story more realistic and relatable, as if this can really happen at any time.

It is intriguing to see the priorities of each person change as the lockdown progresses. Tough times bring out the true colors in people. This holds good, especially in a pandemic

When we watch TV series these days, we feel like we’re watching a different world, the so-called multiverse. In our real lives, masks and social distancing are essential, but the world in the drama is not like that at all. But Happiness is different. The background of the story is post-COVID, and the characters wear masks or act sensitively to quarantine. The plot’s central theme, mad person disease, is compared to COVID, and characters stay alert not to let that nightmare happen again. The importance of quarantine rules and the crises that occur when they are not followed are similar to the reality we face. In all, it’s so similar to our reality that it’s not surprising; it’s actually quite chilling.

The dark shadow of the real estate craze shown through apartments is also a major factor. The discrimination according to the method of moving in and the people worrying about the house prices even in the face of an unprecedented disaster add bitterness by making us feel like we’re watching a self-portrait of this era. At the start, the residents refuse to believe the existence of the disease. Then they challenge the seriousness of the disease and ignore the warnings issued. Once they realise the seriousness, they ostracise the infected people. As soon as the fear for life starts kicking in, selfishness and hostile behavior soon follow.

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The portrayal of gradual change in human mindset in this drama is commendable. It is intriguing to see the priorities of each person change as the lockdown progresses. Tough times bring out the true colors in people. This holds good, especially in a pandemic. This series has a detailed depiction of the dark side of humans. Unlike plots where the antagonists are always people who hold high power, “Happiness” showcases that evil people need not be powerful. They wreak havoc at every chance they get whoever or wherever they are.

Even though the drama is set in just two places (the apartment and Han Tae Seok’s facility), there is not a dull moment in this series. In other words, by narrowing the frame of the stage to a specific space, the density of the story was increased. The thrilling scenes, such as the main characters running through the emergency exits and shutting the gates despite the threats of the madmen, increase the dramatic tension. Overall, 'Happiness' is a drama that focuses on reality and still doesn’t miss the fun of the genre. The series combines several genres, from action to fantasy, and has lots of excitement that will never bore the fans. Through the drama, you will be able to realise the value of happiness, how important our ordinary life was, and our life before the pandemic. It will give you a chance to look back.

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As the title suggests, will they be able to overcome the threat of the epidemic and find happiness in their lives? Perhaps that wish is the hope and happiness of all of us living in the COVID-19 era. The drama exceeds expectations with its interesting storyline, great execution of the plot, and a happy ending which makes ‘Happiness’ a must watch!

* Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 10th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka

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