Skip to the final section for a quick, spoiler-free rating.
Consort Meng Arrives (Chinese title: 萌妃驾到) is a comedy series that might have thrown you for a loop when it first came out almost three years ago. Perhaps you were coming off a serious war drama about the changing of dynasties like Secret of the Three Kingdoms. Or maybe you just finished something a bit more big-budgeted and spectacular like The Glory of Tang Dynasty and wanted more from a similar era; this was certainly the case with me, and as I was looking for another drama to fill that void, along came Consort Meng.
Consort Meng Arrives is a thirty-six episode series of an incomplete story about Consort Meng, concubine to the Emperor, though unwillingly so. She sets out her journey by deciding to avoid her husband’s favor, yet inadvertently catches his attention and captures his eventual affection. Along the way, she befriends three other concubines in the harem who became her best friends, as well as a number of palace servants, and establishes a reputation for herself as a well-intended busybody.
Back in 2018, I was none too impressed with Consort Meng, then known by the all too literal English translation of its original Chinese title, Mengfei Comes Across. But after rewatching the entire thing again this past month, I found it to be a lot better than I gave it credit for.
A Self-Aware Sitcom
Consort Meng Arrives does not take itself seriously. It’s a sloppy mess of a comedy that breaks the fourth wall at will, utilizes pop culture references and random Chinglish a little too freely, and makes fun of the very tropes it uses. It meshes together elements of modern China with the setting of an imperial harem of a nonspecific Chinese dynasty (certain sources says Tang, but the costumes barely qualify), where the rules the audience had come to know for such a setting only apply when convenient.
For instance, the imperial harem rankings are practically irrelevant. Members of the harem act more like an Emperor’s fan club than his collection of wives. None of our four main ladies seem to take into account the differences of their respective positions (Noble Lady Xiao is two ranks lower than Consort Meng and Consort Yan, according to the Qing dynasty system this drama appears to have used). Even Noble Consort Ru’s supposed supremacy over her fellow harem members comes more from her “rich girl bully” personality than the respect her title should have afforded her.
It’s to a point that I sometimes wondered why the brains behind the project even bothered having this drama in Ancient China, but the anachronistic setting really does work to elevate what would’ve been cookie cutter situations in a modern setting to the realm of ridiculous.
Having written the rules of the universe like so, Consort Meng lets itself be meta, tackling every subject from mental health to the toxicity of the beauty industry, all from the perspective of people who know nothing of them. It is incredibly refreshing to watch, especially once I learned to accept this drama at face value, something I did not do the first time around.
Sweet and Down-to-Earth Characters
The silly nature of Consort Meng Arrives allows for the existence of one of the sweetest groups of friends you’ll ever meet. I cannot stress how much I love the dynamic between Meng, Yan, Wanwan, and Noble Lady Xiao. Their kind of pure, simple friendship is something I didn’t even realize I missed from most costume dramas.
Our four ladies aren’t a group because of any bonds over life and death, although they do face those situations once or twice. They stay together and have each other’s back through thick and thin because they genuinely enjoy each other’s presences. The way they have fights, play pranks, and get into shenanigans is so removed from the typical reality of harem dramas that it feels extraordinary, despite it being how most healthy friendships work in real life.
The Emperor, Wen Lou, is quite likeable as well. This, again, is thanks to the way Consort Meng’s universe is set up. He’s more of a generic rich boy than specifically a rich boy who’s the ruler of a country. There is minimal focus on his actual emperor duties, allowing him to be a sweet, caring boyfriend character with no drawbacks worse than what little could’ve come with that role.
Sometimes, I wish the harem/ruler of a country aspect would be a little bit more prominent, but the progression of Emperor and Consort Meng’s relationship is honestly so cute and wholesome, it more than makes up for it.
Where’s the Rest?
It could be that I haven’t seen enough Chinese dramedies—I certainly haven’t—but Consort Meng Arrives is the closest Chinese series I’ve watched to western sitcoms. The plot is incredibly choppy. While there is some sense of continuity, you never know if you’re getting a self-contained episode next, or heading into a multi-episode arc. It’s jarring, and makes for a frustrating experience when you really want more from an episode only to realize you’re not going to get more.
This is a part of the larger problem of incomplete storytelling. Watching the end of Consort Meng Arrives felt like I just watched the rushed finale of a two-season show that got canceled at the last minute, and the showrunner had to scramble to throw together an ending.
To my knowledge, the Western model of renewing/canceling shows by seasons isn’t a widespread thing in the Chinese TV industry. Most Chinese dramas I’ve seen are written to be a complete story within a certain number of episodes. Hell, Consort Meng Arrives was adapted from a book, so it isn’t like not knowing how to end the story should’ve been an issue. Instead, we got a five-minute cop-out of an ending that followed one of the weakest episodes of the whole drama.
(Seriously, what happened? Did production run out of money, or?)
Final Rating and Recommendations
Consort Meng Arrives is an anachronistic harem story full of modern Chinese vernacular and humor that knows itself too well to take itself seriously, featuring a (mostly) sensible female lead and her band of kooky best friends as they live their daily lives as concubines to the Emperor.
It may not be the best thing you’ll ever watch, but if you go in with low expectations and ready to have a good time, you’re going to really enjoy this low-risk, lighthearted, feel-good drama.
My Rating: 6/10