Drama Reactions & Reviews
On Air: First impressions
by | March 16, 2008 | 90 Comments

Hm. Perhaps SBS and I are not meant to be on friendly terms.

It’s not that there’s anything about the broadcast station in particular that I don’t like; it’s just that it’s been ages since I’ve seen an SBS drama I really enjoyed. And the dramas I’ve actively disliked recently have all been SBS series.

I did not like On Air. There’s no one specific reason for my reaction, merely a general spirit of distaste.

It’s not that it’s badly made — it’s got an obviously high production budget and a glossy look to it. It’s slick, it’s quick, it’s star-studded, it’s… kind of heartless.

First off, the characters are all detestable: pretty on the outside, ugly on the inside. It’s been a long time since I’ve so thoroughly disliked all the characters in a drama. Usually I can pick out something to connect to, in someone, but nope. Empty shells all.

In her plots, writer Kim Eun Sook has always relied on a confluence of contrivances, which I noticed previously and am again reminded of in On Air. Rather than creating believable ways for people to be connected — and in an incestuous industry like entertainment, that’s not hard — she instead creates an entanglement of coincidences. Bah.


On Air OST – “고마운 사람” (Thankful person) by Park Yong Ha [ Download ]

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What didn’t occur to me till now, however, was that her works (the Lovers trio, for instance) also tend to be a little empty on the emotional scale — they’re all about romantic love and little else. And while I’m a huge sap for romance in dramas, I hate when that’s ALL a drama is. What’s driving these characters? Everyone’s goals seem terribly shallow — Lee Beom Soo‘s manager character is the only one with a hint of more behind it, but perhaps that’s the actor at work — that I can’t care about any of them even IF their characters weren’t disgustingly self-obsessed to begin with.

To wit:

A vain, egomaniacal actress (Kim Haneul channeling her best diva) rejects an award onstage at the award ceremony — because she’s insulted that the award is shared. She refuses her manager’s attempts to salvage her negative image, spews cynical diatribe out one side of her mouth while smiling sweetly to her “loving fans” with the other, and alienates anyone inclined to help her. The rising drama PD (Park Yong Ha) sees her for what she is but can’t control her — no one can control her. So by extension, that automatically sets me/you up to like her nemesis, the A-list drama writer (Song Yoon Ah). Only the drama writer is petty and bilious and harbors ages-old grudges. Oh no! She refuses to do the drama! Oh no, he’s insulted! Oh no, now the other one refuses to do the drama too! How dire.

All the antipathy flying around thereby confuses you — does this drama have no hero? Are they all antiheroes? Is it some kind of metaphysical statement on the status of entertainment as an industry? Is it satire? Is it… just shallow?

What the drama DOES have is a high profile, and lots of real-life celebrity cameos (mostly pointless, except to lend a superficial stamp of credibility on the drama, so okay, perhaps a teensy bit pointful). It looks smooth and glossy, and the writer showcases her trademark quick banter (is it still banter when the free-flying words are loaded with spite?). And you can always argue that the characters are MEANT to be hateful. I’ll disagree — what’s the point in using showbiz as your backdrop if you play upon its cliches and bypass the chance to humanize any part of it?

I don’t buy that On Air is really that much of a realistic “inside look” at the entertainment industry, either — no more than 30 Rock is, at least. So what could be an interesting vantage point into one’s own world becomes, then, a platform for self-aggrandizement. It’s so self-congratulatory.

You’re free to disagree (and I’m pretty sure the series is probably going to be a big hit), but for me: PASS.

Next up: Who Are You?


90 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. shalini

    I agree with you. I watched up to ep 2 but will definately PASS. Over the top acting.
    No soul. Someone said that it was a bit like AAE. NOPE. Story is a bit boring. I didn’t care for any of the characters so why bother watching. Good acting is important but a good drama needs a good if not great story and an excellent director. It might seem a waste for all people involved in the project. Commercial success does not equate to critical acclaim and vice versa.

  2. rach

    I heard of this series through the soompi forums and d-addicts and the plot didn’t interest me one bit. It seemed to be totally pointless.
    Kind of scared about your critique of Who Are You? b/c I really like the show so far.

  3. kamee

    I watched the first episode of this series and I wasn’t as caught on as I wished to be. I think it’s nice that all the characters are ‘anti-heroes’ but then everything in the first two episodes didn’t grab me at all. It’s all glam and glitz, but then the talking and actions and everything bored me to tears. I just honestly skipped through the first two episodes and was like, ‘is this it?’ I just expected better, but i guess with a star-studded cast, it’s almost like trying to make up for something it’s lacking.
    Although, I did like Kim Haneul’s dress at the awards ceremony. very pretty!

  4. thunderbolt

    I watched the first 10 minutes of Episode 1 and heartily disliked it. It was mostly people stomping around, throwing tantrums, yelling, griping… Everything seemed so pretentious and shrill. Could not stand the diva characters of the two female leads. The two guys (PYH and LBS) fared better but I did not hang around long enough to find anything really likeable about them, too.

    Some dramas you just hate at first sight and unfortunately On Air has fallen into this category. Others suck you in and leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, like a good book with many more pages to savor. Happiness/I am Happy is like the latter. I’ve watched seven episodes and really like it. Hoping to check out Who Are You soon since Jin Yi Han is in it.^^

  5. Nonbirira

    Sadly, I agree. Was so looking forward to this (just LOVED Lee Beom Soo in Surgeon Bong Dal Hee) but found the first episode disappointing – several spiteful, over-acted characters throwing petty temper tantrums and flouncing in and out of situations that felt forced. Found myself wincing as I watched. Am a die-hard Lee Beom Soo fan so will keep watching but am not expecting much…

  6. yeli

    i have never been interested in this drama..and reading this just further convinces me to PASS…

    but i am interested in your review of Who Are You? I have yet to watch that drama (no time..finals! T_T) but i am intrigued by the plot and the lead actor. I am definitely going to check that one out…except i am a bit worried as to how they are going to develop the plot for 16 episodes..i mean, the humor of the guy being possessed by the father is bound to get old right?

  7. javabeans

    omgomgomg Jin Yi Han = LOVE.

    (Don’t worry folks, I found Who Are You? charming. 🙂 )

  8. Masonjosh

    The acting was way over the top. Its just too much. Gorgeous Cast though and pretty high ratings so far.

  9. vanillaice

    The lady in the black dress with the flowers in the first pic looks like she was petrified or something…

  10. 10 innocentsteps456

    i know a lot of people here won’t like me for saying this, but i think that drama might actually have a chance if the actors and actresses would stop treading water and get moving. waiting to see what happens…

  11. 11 Anonymous

    uh oh. i was looking forward to watching this drama.. but after this review, i’m not too sure anymore lol..i’ll find some time to watch the first episode and see how it is..but right now i’m too stuck on the sequel of It Started With A Kiss: They Kiss Again. Love love Joe and Ariel..lol
    srry for getting off topic. 😀

  12. 12 Jo

    Since I did not watched On Air, I would not comment on the aspect of characters and such.
    But I have read the synopsis, I didn’t find it particularly interesting. (Perhaps, it is also due to the fact that I am all for Hong Gil Dong for now).

  13. 13 Sue

    I usually am always on board with you javabeans, but this time I disagree. I think On Air is pretty fun – it has a super kitschy, soapy feel to it, which is why I like it. I’m already anticipating one of the female leads to b**chslap the other one with ensuing hair-pulling, and possible falling into a body of water . . . can you tell I’m channeling Dynasty? ^_^

    I do realize I might be interpreting the drama a wee too generously and perhaps it’s not meant to be as tongue in cheek as I give it credit for . . . in that case, I don’t think I’d enjoy the series as much.

  14. 14 Eisa

    I haven’t seen the drama but from your previous post on the plot it didn’t really interest me that much although I am willing to try it maybe it’ll be good for me, I doubt it since most of the time we tend to like the same dramas :P, but I really want to watch Who are you? I love the leading male and the story sounds funny

  15. 15 Lenrasoon

    i didn’t watch On Air yet, but i read up somewhere that the firsts episodes are bad…

    but i saw Who Are You last night and so far i’m liking it:-D , i’m also watching Happiness and it’s so cute!

  16. 16 cocoa

    I think a lot of viewers are basing their dislike for this drama after only watching the first two episodes and that’s a shame. I didn’t even like the first episode either, SYA was way over the top, PYH did nothing but yell, etc. I did enjoy episode 3 and 4 though, everyone has relaxed a little bit (especially SYA with her cutesy over the top mannerisms) and it’s really fun. You guys should give it a chance before passing on it. If you didn’t like episode 3 or 4 either then I guess you can just ignore my comments.

    I also enjoyed Who Are You? Go Ara’s acting is still just okay, but the concept is interesting and the dad is hilarious.

  17. 17 Jessica

    Awww… that’s such a pity. I really like Kim Haneul and was hoping her new drama would be good… oh well… I might just wait till I’m bored and marathon it…

  18. 18 Marzy

    oh i agree!! Jin Lee Han!! wooohoo!! that was a suprise. i dont think ive seen him much before. but wow. ^^ hottie!!

    hmmm im actually watching this.. for reason, i feel its ok. lol. weird i know. typically i wouldnt like a series like this. But PYH is drawing me into this. i actually got passed ep1 and 2 so im enjoying ep3 and 4. hmmm.. you dont really know who is paired up just yet. im liking PYH and KHN, though not everyone is. the cast has gotten good chemistry. not everyone will agree, but i think its worth a shot. my only gripe would be, the station they are part of is called SBC (SBS) how obvious? plus they used previous clips from inki daesang too. heheh which was funny in a way.

    Im liking Who are you though, it had me bawling when i saw it with subs. plus the nice cast helps a lot too.

  19. 19 javabeans

    Sue, i’m totally there with you on having fun with camp — IF it were meant to be campy, it might be hilarious. but unfortunately for me, i don’t see any tongue-in-cheek soapiness in the drama…

  20. 20 jennyo88

    I really want to see what you write about Who Are You?, because I really liked it.

    About ON AIR, I want to give it a chance, I wasn’t really fond of the first 2 episodes but I want to see the next two, just to see if it gets better

  21. 21 merriwether

    I actually want to give On Air more of a chance. The first two episodes were mediocre at best but I’m hoping the story will build itself naturally along the way and be more entertaining. It is a very dialogue heavy drama, I must agree. In terms of its depiction of the entertainment circle, I’m wondering how honest it is. The portrayal appears rather cynical and somewhat gimmicky, filled with crazy personalities and a lot of fakeness. With all that said, I’ll give it a few more episodes before giving up on it since the exaggerated SYA humours me and the self parody is interesting. I’d like to see where they go with that.

    With all the good comments I’ve been hearing about Who Are You? I think I might just try it out. What sort of comedy is in it? Physical? Slapstick? More of the ol’ Korean toilet humour?

  22. 22 ladychick

    So i guess I wasnt the only one finding this drama a bit….Well I found it fun for about half of ep 1 then starting from the point Kim haneul character went to the bar(?) to meet that dirty old man, I lost interest…….didnt know why ~!!~

    But I guess i’ll watch it when i have time…….see what is really happening….its ratings are pretty high so there must be a reason for that 🙂

  23. 23 all4movies

    Too bad, I was kind of hoping this might be interesting to watch. From everyone’s comments, I think I’ll pass too.

  24. 24 E

    I’m looking forward to your review on Who Are You…I didn’t dislike it and it seemed like a pretty fun/ semi-sad one to watch!

  25. 25 Rina

    sorry double-posted….I’m not familiar with this….first time posting >.<~~ SORRY~

  26. 26 Rina

    I actually LOVE On air^^~~
    I’ve always liked Song YoonAh and Iono….somehow the characters are just fun to watch, despite their bad attitude and superly fast convos^^~

    on contrary, I didn’t really like Who Are you……It had an awkward kind of atmosphere around it….itz not bad, but I prefer On Air^^~~ hehehehehe

  27. 27 maltesers

    it’s a pity that you don’t like On Air…I was kind of looking forward to reading your summaries while waiting for the subs…

    I LOVE IT, by the way!

  28. 28 ripgal

    I think On Air’s not for everyone.. like dramabeans said, it’s purely distaste on her part.

    For now, I really like On Air. I think it’s fast paced, quirky in a way, and interesting. Altho the characters may seem exaggerated in a sense, that at times, you feel that they’re not realistic portrayals of the entertainment industry, but hey, who knows, none of us have been directly involved in the operations of a broadcasting station in Korea before. So we’re not to judge whether yea, that star should not be acting that way.. or this and that. But of course, we’re entitled to our opinions. I found the first 4 episodes entertaining and amusing in some way.. obviously I have always been in the opposite direction these days, Sarah! hehehehe…XD

    Anywayz, on to Who Are You? I found it alright, not exactly GREAT but still it had its charm. YKS’ a good comedian.. and I’m still reserving comments for Go Ara. hehehe…

    • 28.1 loofa

      On air was excellent in my opinion though….good acting by the 4 leads though…especially being a lee beom soo fan I gotta say it !!

  29. 29 Iranian Espresso

    Thank you dear Javabeans.
    ” Who Are You? ” is interesting. For these 4 Eps my score is 65/100.

  30. 30 fizzlex3mh

    Aw, I’m disappointed to hear you don’t like On Air and even more disappointed to hear that you like Who Are You? Not that I’ve seen either of them yet, but my friend told me the exact opposite: that On Air is great and Who Are You? sucks (plus Go Ara can’t act). I’m interested to see your first impression of Who Are You? though. So far, it looks like we have pretty much the same tastes in k-drama so I think I’ll decide which one I’d rather watch after both series have finished airing.

  31. 31 fsaith

    It’s a pity that you decided to give up on On Air series after the first episode. Though I’ll admit I was put off by the first 2 episodes, the recent 3rd and especially the 4th episodes are great!

    I haven’t watched Who Are You? but I am looking forward to your summaries as usual!

  32. 32 javabeans

    I saw the first three episodes. (Did everyone think I’d only seen one?)

  33. 33 deeta

    I got a chance to flip around On Air this weekend too. While it was only the first episode, I didn’t find it all that ‘grabbing’. SYA’s character, I suppose, is supposed to be similar to Kim Jung Eun in Lovers, or perhaps slightly harsher, but the effect is that I got annoyed at her. As for Who Are You, I don’t know, I said I was anticipating that, but upon seeing the first episode, I’m just a bit weirded out by the pairing. They’re individually cute and all, but …

    The one catching my attention is actually Happiness. The wide range of characters is fresh. Are you planning on checking that out?

  34. 34 lavy

    I actually expected this from you, javabeans. But as I didnt look forward to On Air that much and was prepared (the experience I got from Air City), I havent found it that disappointing… yet. Perhaps I am pretty easy-going for On Air particularly, coz I like Kim Ha Neul for almost every single movie she was in, Park Yong Ha (such a cutie!) and Lee Bum Soo for his acting… So i’d give it another chance and wait for Ep. 3’s subtitles…

    I havent had time to watch Who Are You? yet, but here looking forward to your review 😉

  35. 35 Mystique

    I think “On Air” is not just about the glam and glitz…
    In each of the characters, they have their own story…
    They may not have a perfect family, like the Script writer…
    The famous actress seems to be glamerous on the inside…but who would truely understand how they feel… even if they have a lot of money…there are things that she can’t control…e.g. how others treat her…
    I think it’s interesting to see how the characters sort out their differences and try to work together.

  36. 36 Miki

    From what I could tell, it didn’t seem like a parody-ish. Like, they’re trying to be sarcastic, and mocking tongue-in-the-cheek soapy feel. I think the writer’s writing soapy without realizing it.

    I can’t connect with these characters at all! *sigh* I’ve always wanted to watch something that’s…..moving. That really breaks into the entertainment industry. It’s ugly and humane side. How some people come for fame, others because simply to act. To take a little bit of a look at acting as well…..Mm…I guess it was too much for On Air to do that? I mean, it’s an ugly industry, certainly, but these “ugly” people can’t ALL be ugly. And I’m sure fame does things to people.

    But I don’t think this drama is going to explore all the uncharted territory it CAN explore. Right now, feels like a sappy drama and so I’ve leaving. Now.

  37. 37 simi

    Well if Javabeans ain’t watchin’ it I ain’t watchin’ it he he..plus everytime I see Kim Haneul in a drama it makes me wanna SCREAM. She always plays wimpy characters who need some serious backbone. I did see a survey for your blog from Blogher network so I’m taking it because I so, so, Heart Your Blog

  38. 38 dae

    I like kim ha neul, but since you don’t reco this i won’t watch it.

  39. 39 tinkerbell

    seriously. I must admit. the first 2 might be not go very well but the 3rd and 4th episodes are getting so much better.
    the portraying more about KHN.

    YOu have to watch more before judge the film. As who are you.. I’ve also watched it. Doesn’t catch my intention at all. If you prefer pretty face run in you screen, who are you might be great choice. but if you prefer mature drama with excellent act, on air it is. =]

  40. 40 fishsoup

    i actually like On Air alot, it’s highly entertaining!

  41. 41 Jules

    Hi, I am not Korean people and not huge fan of romance dramas. I watched ON AIR by You tube and found it’s good-not boring in my opinion. I’ve been watching all Song Yung Ah’s. On Air gave me a different look form of Song’s performance. It’s not about at first emotion, but when I watched closely I found many interesting things of this drama. It’s the same when I watched Something Happened in Bali. People said it was boring but I suprised I found the writer put about Gramscy in In Wook’s dialogue.

    Hehehe. Free opinion.

  42. 42 Veronica

    I went into the first episode with as open of a mind as I could manage, but I still couldn’t get completely into it. I don’t think it was the self-centered, cruel nature of the characters as much as, like you mentioned, Javabeans: emptiness. I could just FEEL it in the beginning scenes when the characters are yelling at each other and their voices echo. I know it’s a minor acoustics thing caused by the location they were filming in, but it only contributed to the cold, uninviting tone of the series. :[

    Such a shame, because I really love Kim Haneul.

  43. 43 chinesedoll

    javabeans, congratulations!

    you have a lot of followers!

  44. 44 marcel

    javabeans’ posts are dramas in themselves.. i’ve been in stitches from reading this review 😀 such wit! & always brilliant.. it’s a shame that a brain such as this isn’t masterminding behind the scenes on shows like On Air that need the help.. i wonder if ‘beans has ever thought about becoming a screenwriter or film/tv critic?

  45. 45 BlueSunfLoweR

    Gosh, dramabeans! It’s been a while I didn’t read your review. When I read your view re. On Air, you’re becoming better/excelent in word choice. As english is not my first language, this is the first time I visit a blog and google-in word definition again and again so that I can really understand what you mean…. [^_^]
    Anyway, I’m watching On Air right now and I’m glued to this one. Somehow, I feel the truth in some of the conversation. Sometimes, smart/witty and very entertaining. I love also how some of the angle of camera shots moved. It’s different. The setting and costume are also not bad. And what most attract me is the chemistry between the 4 actors. I guess 4 of them have long acting time so small face expression is very strong to tell the story/conflict.
    But as much as I love On Air, Yes I have to agree with you re. the comment bellow.

    I don’t buy that On Air is really that much of a realistic “inside look” at the entertainment industry, either — no more than 30 Rock is, at least. So what could be an interesting vantage point into one’s own world becomes, then, a platform for self-aggrandizement. It’s so self-congratulatory.

    I don’t believe also broadcasting life like that…. After watching ep 4, I see/feel this drama as a fiction with here and there interesting points (conversation, actor chemistry, etc mentioned above)….

    So, I’m still watching, though… 🙂

  46. 46 charisse

    oh, i’m loving On Air to bits. it’s a pity that javabeans doesn’t like it.

    basing on the entries/comments, it’s disappointing to note that some people here are so easily swayed/influenced by a few entries/comments..
    hey guys, don’t you know what you like?
    can you not think for yourselves?
    maybe you should first check out the drama for yourself before you decide not to watch On Air (or any drama for that matter) at all!

    but on the other hand, this just shows how powerful javabeans is! (^_^)

  47. 47 j

    i think SBS usually has unappealing programs, i’ve only seen only you, full house and get karl, but those seemed eh. also kbs and mbc seem to have dramas with better story lines and creativity. on air has a good cast, i would like to see it b/c of kim ha neul. but i hope HGD wins in ratings, it is a good drama, but right now it is kind of draggy.

  48. 48 belleza

    I like reading Dramabeans’s blog because my tastes are like the polar opposite of hers. Plus I kinda visualize Dramabeans as Han Ji Hye, squinting most disapprovingly at the latest melodrama. It works!

    SBS event dramas are kinda like modern Beijing. Impressive height with a forward sheen, but the gold hides the rust, and the plumbing could use some work. What I love about a SBS drama like Fashion 70s is how the writers and PD managed to write around the creative censorship of the SBS love triangle. Stick to the building code, lay on the graffiti.

    KBS2 suffers from the opposite problem. They have writers without directors; and so, a drama like Hong Gil Dong sometimes seems like an expensive student project rather than a cohesive flow like Damo. And it seems like their programming lately has been conceding zero-sum marginality against MBC and SBS.

    MBC wins by virtue of their centrist position. And besides their crowd-pleasing sageuks, they’ll subsidize a noncommercial drama or two every year. Breathless, Ruler of Your Own World, Ireland, Soulmate, Beating Heart, Thank You, White Tower, Prince’s First Love . . ..

  49. 49 haezi

    so it looks like i’m in the minority re: on air; to the rest, try watching epi 3 before you write this off all together. the tongue-in-cheek that some of you were referring to will seem more real/obvious when you see the lee cheon hee, jeon hye bin, park shi yeon cameo, along with song yoona’s expressions…it’s the type of squirming i would expect to see from a writer who happened to read one of javabean’s critiques denouncing the use of shallow plot devices and cheap thrills to increase viewer ratings.

    i wasn’t completely sold on this drama after epi 1 since kim ha neul’s character did not make any sense and song yoona’s acting was too much, but procrastination led me to watch up to epi 3 and now i’m hooked…whether it’ll keep my interest, only time will tell.

    i agree that sbs has not produced quality dramas since they often resorted to glitter rather than depth, but on air’s epi 3 was hilarious (never expected it to be a realistic documentary on the entertainment industry so no disappointment there) and the characters are not as one dimensional as epi 1 may lead you to believe. i agree that the coincidences that irked javabeans could have been supplanted by more refined plot maneuvers, though. the other sbs drama Happiness has great writing and acting (better than on air AND who are you?) so i recommend.

    who are you? may have yoon kye sang’s comic acting and the good-looking art dealer (who may be responsible for the father’s death? or is at least looking to benefit from his posthumous works), but it doesn’t quite keep my attention like on air…though, maybe it’ll get better as the relationships develop (go ara is gorgeous but it’s hard for me to care about her character…i guess this is one of those rare instances when being too pretty backfires).

  50. 50 Sakari

    I really like ON AIR (so far – 3 eps seen). Mainly because it’s, well, different. It isn’t melodrama, it isn’t romance, it isn’t comedy. Maybe it could be called a work-place drama? Like hospital dramas? I mean, the central issue is not a love triangle; it’s the production of a TV drama by a largish company . Right now, they are just setting things up, collecting personnel and so forth. I’m very much looking forward to what happens when they start shooting.

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