REVIEW: “A Perfectly Fine Experience” – ‘Dating After College’ (2019)

For any Asian-American growing up in the 2000s to early 2010s, Wong Fu Productions was almost required viewing. Before films like Crazy Rich Asians or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before hit our screens, Wong Fu Productions’ YouTube channel was one of the only places where we could see ourselves represented as something other than dumb foreigners or martial arts specialists who couldn’t speak English. As an Asian American who wanted to work in media one day, the existence of a production company that developed stories by Asians, and with Asians in mind, was inspirational. To this day, I still hold up 2011’s “Strangers Again” as one of my favorite shorts of all time.

Over the years, I stopped watching Wong Fu videos religiously, though I’d always rooted for them to succeed and really make it in the entertainment industry. So naturally I was excited when they announced Dating After College: a romantic comedy story that was free to stream? Sign me up. I watched all of Dating After College’s seven episodes in one sitting (don’t worry, they average about 10 minutes long each), and I can definitely say that if you’re looking for something fun and cute to take your mind off your day, this web series is for you. If you’re looking for anything more intellectually stimulating than that then you’re going to have to look somewhere else.

I will try to refrain from spoiling the series, but it’s difficult to figure out what counts as a spoiler when halfway into the first episode I could pretty much guess where the story was going to go. Don’t get me wrong—predictability is not a bad thing. In fact, after getting punched in the face by so many shock value twists from various tv shows and films over the past few weeks, I appreciated a little predictability.

Watching Dating After College is like watching the movie adaptation of a BuzzFeed listicle; each episode, save for the premiere and the finale, explored a different aspect of the college graduates’ dating world. While this story structure provided a lot of opportunities for fun gags and clever jokes, I found myself wishing that the show found a way to stray from that. There were times where I felt that story and character development beats were sacrificed so that the series could follow a certain structure and make certain jokes.

At the end of the day I didn’t feel like I really knew either of the main characters. Justin H. Min and Kristin Vaganos gave sweet, likable performances as leads Cameron and Madison, respectively, but ultimately that’s all the performances were: sweet and likable. The script hardly allowed them to be anything else.

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The story limitations of Dating After College were most apparent in its final episode, which was somehow both its absolute strongest and one of its weakest. (Mild spoiler ahead!) I found the use of a time jump in the final episode to be a bit of a cop-out, depriving the audience of some necessary development, but I understand that it was necessary to get to the characters to a point where the predictable, thematically appropriate ending would feel the slightest bit earned.

Despite myself, I did find myself believing in the ending. The show’s use of narration – while a bit cheesy at times – helped fill in some of the gaps that the rest of the script created, to create an open-ended finale where I would be fine regardless of whether Dating After College gets a second season. Indeed, if the finale had been a minute shorter, I would have said that the show had a perfect ending.

However, the final minute’s joke ended up undermining the emotional weight of the rest of the episode. The gag did help fill a plot hole, but I would have been perfectly fine with that hole left unfilled had Dating After College not dangled a satisfying, predictable ending in front of its viewers and yanked it away for a joke at the last second. It’s a good joke, sure, but not one to end a series with.

Despite its underwhelming plot, Dating After College is worth watching for its production value. Regardless of a low budget, Dating After College feels well-funded, with gorgeous location shots (especially in the final episode) and artful color grading. Moreover, the show’s music cues couldn’t be more perfect, with each song coming in and out at precisely the perfect moment to emphasize an emotional beat.

There is no word yet on whether Dating After College will get a second season, but I’m not sure that it needs one. The story feels complete and self-contained right now, and I’m not sure how a second season will impact the meaning of the story we’ve already gotten. Dating After College is certainly not Wong Fu’s most groundbreaking or inspired work, but it’s a perfectly fine watch, and no matter what happens with it in the future, I think I’ll be okay. I spent less than two hours watching this show, and it definitely wasn’t a waste of my time.