This year, just like my K-drama viewing habits, I’m going to keep this list short. I will admit I haven’t seen a lot of Korean dramas (particularly Descendants of the Sun, but I have the OST committed to memory. Thanks Mom.), but I think I saw a few that were definitely, truly worth it for me. I’m picky as always. I wish I were a student again though – then I’d watch everything and anything just to procrastinate on homework.
Let’s start with the best:
Best Drama: Signal (January – March)
One of the most well-written dramas of the year. After seeing a bunch throughout the year, this drama still stays with me. As I had mentioned in my review, writer Kim Eun Hee really has shown off her best in the action/crime/thriller genre. Though inspired by the film Frequency, this drama managed to make the “solving cases in two time periods” its own, taking risks with each characters’ fate and emphasizing that consequences do happen. Too often we fall into the trap that because the characters are the leads, they will never die. But from the very beginning we are told that one will – Jo Jin Woong‘s character – and it’s a race against time to save him.
The writing was spot on. The acting was stellar. The directing was fantastic (except for the silly broadcaster’s decision to air flashbacks in the incorrect aspect ratio – a decision fixed by the time Goblin aired). Do not be turned off or scared by the darkness of the drama, because we have to get through it to reach the light.
I look forward to what this entire crew has to offer in 2017.
Honorable Mention: Cheese in the Trap (January – March)
This was a really close second. I’m a fan of the webtoon, which I started reading after I heard about this drama coming out. So it made me doubly more excited to see where this drama would go. Add that you have Park Hae Jin in the cast and Lee Yoon Jung of Coffee Prince at the director’s helm, and I was sold. And really – this drama was pretty good for the most part. It took the stories from the webtoon and translated it quite well on to screen, with a few compromises of course. The actors were fantastic in their interpretation of their 2D selves. And I loved the slice-of-life nature of it all. But it faltered when it tried to play up the love triangle, giving Seo Kang Joon‘s character more weight all of a sudden and making Park Hae Jin’s chilling Yoo Jung more 2-dimensional than he should have been.
And then there was the controversial ending.
All in all, I think it was a very solid ride if you were in it for Kim Go Eun‘s remarkable performance as an unremarkable woman. And it made me wistful for the days of college again.
Read the recaps here.
Worst Drama: Neighborhood Hero (January – March)
I’m calling it – this was the worst drama for me. I was so disappointed considering it starred Park Shi Hoo and this was to be his comeback vehicle. And yet, this show was all over the place. It didn’t know what to do tonally, and it was trying to have a smart, meta script. Instead, it was over complicated for no reason, ended up with characters who were too idiotic for too long, and no one seemed to have the motivation to do more than just read their lines aloud. I will only give it enough credit for cinematography – now the lighting director and cinematographer were the bomb.
I couldn’t finish this drama, though I did get a little further than episode 6. It paled so much considering you had Signal to go up against.
Most Potential: Wanted (June – August), Vampire Detective (March – June)
This is a tie. Wanted had potential to be really good with its premise: an actress is forced to do a live reality show to find her kidnapped son, and punish people around her. But as we reached the last quarter of the series, we found out in a very anticlimactic manner who was behind the kidnapping. And then the show went on forced hiatus because of the Olympics. It never seemed to be able to recover its pacing and the suspense. The motivation for the kidnapping was noble, but the execution of the story lagged, and I wish that it had maintained the excitement from the first few weeks and kept up the thriller aspect.
Similarly, Vampire Detective came from a pretty solid franchise of Vampire Prosecutor. But this drama could not deliver. It didn’t have the same charismatic threesome that made Vampire Prosecutor so interesting, and the cases were quite predictable. They also all didn’t tie together to that main plot line regarding Yo Na’s company and Yoon San’s (Lee Joon) former partner and girlfriend. So we ended up with a series that was slow to weave its web and also all over the place with little connections. This drama was pretty close to being one of the worst dramas on my list, and definitely a “skip it” – but it really had the potential to follow in the footsteps of Vampire Prosecutor. It just didn’t.
Most Inane: Cinderella and Four Knights (August – October)
- Flower boys? Check.
- Love pentagon? Check.
- Rags to riches story? Check. Extra check for having a girl who’s your typical “Candy girl.”
- Misunderstandings that lead to a love-hate relationship? Check.
- Birth secrets? Check check check. Another extra check where you fear that the OTP could be siblings.
- Noble sacrifice by male character because he thinks he’s protecting the one he loves by being mean to her? Check.
- Unrequited love by one of the Flower Boys? Check.
- You know the ending before you even start it? Check. A really big one.
It was fun fluff. Then I realized I didn’t need fun fluff. My eyes had to stop rolling at some point.
Biggest Disappointment: Uncontrollably Fond (July – September)
This was another drama that kind of was like a “color by number” type of melodrama. It hit all the notes that make it a melodrama: love-hate relationship between the leads, an evil, possessive second female lead, birth secrets, some cancer of sorts, and an awful mother (in-law), among other things. But it also had really talented actors in its roster – more so than Cinderella and the Four Knights. (Jin Kyung, Yoo Oh Sung, Im Joo Hwan, Kim Woo Bin to name a few.) I thought that it could actually be great – and it did balance heavy melodramatic moments with some lighthearted and sassy humor. But at a certain point, I felt that it stopped trying. It meandered towards the middle and relished in the twenty episodes it was given, rather than trying to give a good, tightly plotted story with more twists and turns like other melodramas. I kept hoping for more, and sometimes I’d feel like we’d be at the cusp of a breakthrough – only for the episodes and series to fall flat.
The drama also relied a lot on flashbacks to try and move the story forward, and I believe that if you have to go back in time that often to tell your story, you’re not being very good at telling your story. Flashbacks are to be used sparingly to explain surprising moves, but when no one is making a surprising move then there’s no point to have to use a dramatic flashback for it.
The drama reached a point where it just had to end. No one was going to get punished, and no one was going to have very much to lose at the end. It just limped its way to the end, and managed to be forgettable enough.
Read the recaps here.
Other dramas that weren’t finished but left an impression nevertheless:
Dear My Friends (May – July)
I kept swearing I’d finish this drama one day (I finished ten episodes) but it was also hard to be emotionally courageous to face this. A beautiful drama by No Hee Kyung about the lives of older people, it makes me realize that as a young person the world does not revolve around me just because I have a long life to live. My mother and my grandmother’s generation all have lives that must be acknowledged, that must be lived to the fullest, that must be remembered. It’s hard to watch these wonderful veteran actors grapple with old age, dementia, cancer, and whatever illness that can befall upon them because it reminds you that these actors are really old too. Even though they have the stamina to keep filming, one day they will leave the world. And at a certain point, I was left crying when I reached the end of an episode. I really do think this is an underrated drama, and one that needs to be given special attention. No Hee Kyung surprises me because her dramas can veer from really awesome to really plodding. Here, she manages to show great respect to the older characters, but still gives Go Hyun Jung‘s character a personality that is too awful compared to her male counterparts.
I’ll get to it, once I’m in a better frame of mind. Until then, here is my first impressions post.
Madame Antoine (January – March)
I was pretty ambitious in January-March of 2016, so I was bound to drop something (or a few things). Madame Antoine started off as a possibly fun romantic comedy but its writing lost its way somewhere in the middle. The back and forth bickering between Han Ye Seul and Sung Joon was becoming unbearable; for such smart characters they have a hard time putting two and two together. I was particularly annoyed with Han’s “psychic” Go Hye Rim because she was supposed to be very observant and yet couldn’t see the clues right in front of her face that Choi Soo Hyun liked her. And then they were constantly trying to one-up each other with their feelings, pretending to like the other or not whenever it suited them. It got to the point where I just thought, “Come on.” And so with that, I dropped this show in favor of Signal.
Jealousy Incarnate (August – November)
This drama got away from me. I started watching it when it was well into its run, but then had a hard time catching up with work, vacation, and then more work. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – in fact, I loved it. The way they treated Jo Jung Seok‘s breast cancer storyline had just the right amount of levity while also raising awareness for the lesser known fact that men do suffer from breast cancer. It was very difficult to watch as Go Kyung Pyo‘s second male lead was just perfect in so many ways when compared to Jo’s more brash male lead. But Jo had enough charm to remind you that he and Gong Hyo Jin would have the most to gain out of each other if they were a couple. Sometimes it’s good to find someone who makes you a better person.
I definitely loved the supporting cast that livened up the stuffy broadcasting station, particularly the warring moms/ex-wives played by Lee Mi Sook and Park Ji Young. I loved seeing them go toe to toe with one another, since they are fantastic actresses.
There is more to be watched, and as I heard the love triangle antes up and gets more frustrating because of Gong Hyo Jin’s choices. Hopefully I can get back into the swing of things for this one, because I liked it a lot.
Special Mention: Yuri on Ice (October – December)
This is an anime I watched this year that was completely original and not based on any manga. It is a stunning sports anime set in the world of figure skating, and focuses on the relationship of a downtrodden Japanese skater Yuri Katsuki and his idol-turned-coach, legendary Russian skater Viktor Nikiforov. It’s a unique sports drama in that it so openly displays the many forms of love one can have: love between friends, love between rivals, love between family members, and love between lovers. And yes, in case you were wondering, there are yaoi overtones in this show. That doesn’t take away from the show however. Instead of something that is meant to be joked around, the love that blossoms between student and coach is a sincere, deep friendship and understanding as both come to each other as equals. If you’ve ever wondered why your best bromances in K-dramas can’t just come together, this is the anime to watch. It’s a beautiful 12-episode series that has just the right amount of character growth as well as that suspense you get when you watch the underdog battle his way to the top. After all, at the end of the day you want Yuri Katsuki to beat his rival, another Yuri Plisetsky, and prove to Viktor that he is worthy to skate with his idol. And man, the opening and ending songs are the bomb. It rivals that of Goblin, which has an excellent OST as well.
And speaking of Goblin, I am leaving it out of this review because as I write it I’ve only watched it up to episode 9. I think this drama is great so far, but Kim Eun Sook is showing signs of lazy writing to give herself some loop holes as she twists her plot around to make it work for her and keep the frustration level high for her audience. So I’ll save my final comments for another day.