Drama Reactions & Reviews
2012: Something for everyone? [Year In Review, Part 1]
by | December 8, 2012 | 263 Comments

Review extravaganza time!

I know: Already? It feels like just the other day I was killing myself to corral all my thoughts in coherent fashion in a monster review of 2011′s dramas, and already it’s time to lose sleep wrangling my thoughts together for 2012. Time sure flies when you’re having fun, or old. Guess which one I am?

These days I shy away from blanket statements like “This was an awesome year” or “This was a terrible year.” Dramaland has been putting out so much material that all the nuance gets sucked out of a flattening statement like that. If anything, 2012 was the year it overflowed with variety—so yes, there were terrible shows, and there were awesome shows, and there were shows every step in between. But thanks to the explosion of cable programming—aided by the launching of not one, not two, but four new cable stations boasting big drama lineups—there was just about something for everyone.

 
SONG OF THE DAY

Shut Up Flower Boy Band OST – “Jaywalking” [ Download ]

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I’ll start with the non-drama series, since they’re a different format than our standard prime-time miniseries. It seems apt to talk about them together, to compare apples to apples. As with all years, I add the caveat that not all the year’s dramas are talked about in this post, but future reviews in our year-end series will do a pretty good job covering the spread.

THE SITCOMS

Vampire Idol

Vampire youths from an alien planet spacewarp to Earth for the love of K-pop, and get wrangled into becoming idol trainees. This is not a case where you hear about the show and think, “How could this possibly go wrong?” Nope, it’s the kind of show where you could picture something going horribly awry at every opportunity—whether it’s the crackpot premise or the relatively green cast or the fledgling cable station that launched it—and wonder if it could somehow defy the odds.

Yes… and also no.

From a strictly business standpoint, Vampire Idol proved to be a mixed bag for its station, MBN, which launched in December 2011 with what seemed like a lack of preparation. The sitcom attracted modest early buzz and picked up steam with the younger demographic. But as the new stations soon found, programming is a tough business and their ratings began to falter; initial talk faded and MBN pulled the plug on Vampire Idol forty episodes early (from its planned 120).

From a creative standpoint, the show fared better. You’ll have to forgive the sitcom its crude production values, given what must have been a tiny budget, but the cast was appealing and the premise inventive. There were a lot of outrageous elements to the story—the ridiculous names, the Munsters-Meet-Rocky-Horror costuming, the wacky situations—but to their ever-loving credit, the cast stayed committed to their roles. There’s nothing worse in a campy project than an actor who seems embarrassed to be there. I love that they went for it, and that just made these vampidols all that much more endearing.

The creativeness went beyond just mashing unlikely genres together, since its universe felt full and thought-out; as we progressed, we saw that the story was going somewhere—both on earth and beyond. Clearly there were plans for the story to evolve… but the episode cutdown got in the way and the show never got to go where it was going.

This resulted in a truly rushed final week with a twist ending that was one of the biggest cases of dramaland WTF-ery I’ve ever seen. (Without spoiling the plot, suffice to say it’s like dropping a bomb, having a character ask, “What happened next?” and then slapping on a “The End” sign. Did somebody die? Did somebody get married? Was somebody a secret vampire all along?) Yet unlike other WTF endings in dramaland that have raised my blood pressure and had me swearing at my screen, this one didn’t piss me off, because it didn’t seem poorly conceived or lazily written. Rather, it’s like the writer was showing that there were Big Ideas in the works and used the final episode to deliver a big eff-you to the station, and I can’t help but be a little impressed with that. Although as always, it’s really the viewership that gets screwed most.

 

You’re Here, You’re Here, You’re Really Here

MBN has recently been able to salvage itself with variety and current-events programming, but early on it was after the sitcom market and You’re Here, You’re Here, You’re Really Here was another of its attempts. Like Vampire Idol, this was also cut from the initial 120 order (to 60) thanks to low ratings (army sitcom Bolder By the Day was another, getting cut from 50 to 36 episodes).

Unlike Vampire Idol, You’re Here didn’t have that spark of something special, that buzz factor to build up a mania following. It had bigger stars (Lee Soo-kyung and Jin Yi-han) and a bigger source of “inspiration” (U.S. sitcom Friends), but a more meandering approach with a juvenile funny bone. There’s nothing wrong with telling looser stories, but it always felt like this show didn’t know where it was going. Or that it was supposed to be going.

In the absence of other factors to make up for the lack of plotting—for instance, a great directorial style, fantastic acting, a quirky premise—it felt like a low-rent jumble of comic sketches. At the center you had three friends from childhood, living together, and… hanging out, I guess. Their mothers and fathers and bosses got into lame love triangles, but the main couple took an awfully long time to go anywhere.

Consider the more polished sitcom High Kick 3 by comparison (which I’m not covering this year since it was in last year’s review): That show also had a sprawling cast and small stories, but it treated its characters as real people and delivered poignant moments. It wasn’t necessarily a funny sitcom, but neither was You’re Here’s sledgehammer approach to laughs.

It’s too bad, because the loveline at the fore—Lee Soo-kyung and Jin Yi-han—was cute once it finally got moving and they were juggling the old friendship with the new romance. But it was too little, too late.

 

Standby

Sigh, another flopped comedy. Why was this the year I got all aboard the sitcom train, only to have them all putter to a standstill?

MBC’s Standby doesn’t have the cable excuse, and sure enough, it didn’t suffer the same shoestring budget as the abovementioned shows did. It had decent camerawork, an established lead-in (High Kick 3), and a heckuva star-studded cast. Okay, maybe “star” is taking it too far, but “mid-level-television-celebrity” doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

I was pretty excited about Standby as it premiered, because I liked the idea of a workplace comedy to deviate from the usual family-centric ones, and I loved many of the cast members: Ryu Jin being goofy, Ha Suk-jin being hilariously uptight, Jung So-min being sweetly earnest, Go Kyung-pyo being a lovable idiot, Lee Ki-woo being… ab-tastic?

Sadly, writing will trump cast every time—or in this case, bad writing will sink a good cast. The show took a surface approach to everything: its characters, backstories, jokes, conflicts. All one-dimensional and therefore flat. I wanted to feel for them, but they never dug deep and searched for real connections. It was sitcom paint-by-numbers: here’s a joke scenario, act it out, slap in a laugh track! That makes it funny, right?

The characters were the show’s biggest weakness, in that they felt written as sketches or caricatures: big blank gaps with nothing to fill them in to make them feel whole. Ha Suk-jin did the most with his, and Im Shi-wan has won me over, but aside from them the characters often acted in ways that felt mechanical. I’d say better luck next time, but MBC has pulled the plug on sitcoms, so let’s just hope to see the cast in better dramas in the future.

 

MINI-DRAMA

Ma Boy

There was only one “mini-drama” (for lack of a better term) that I watched this year, but it seems awkward to put it amidst the full-length series. Even if, in terms of cohesiveness and completeness, Tooniverse’s tween offering Ma Boy could probably hang with the rest.

At three episodes, Ma Boy is probably best compared to a TV movie—there’s not much time to develop emotions, and with such a young target audience (lead actress Kim So-hyun plays 16, but is just 13) the love angle lacks a sense of reality. (We know she can do tear-jerking romance, but this isn’t the same market as I Miss You.) That’s fine, as this falls squarely in the range of Disbeliefs I Can Willingly Suspend; just know that we’re working with a different set of restrictions here.

What works for Ma Boy is that despite its one-line premise (pretty boy disguises self as pretty girl), it doesn’t expect the gimmick to do all the heavy lifting. Our hero may find himself in drag, but instead of going for the cheap laugh, the show gives him an emotional conflict and a direction. The heroine has a key role in his trajectory, pushing him to find himself, so that while I don’t really feel the chemistry there between the actors (with their age gap, that’s something of a relief), I appreciate their narrative connection. As a bonus, supporting characters were cute too, with the idol boy Tae-joon wringing extra laughs for his adorable self-absorbed posturing.

Ma Boy’s biggest asset is that in three short episodes, it tells a story that’s surprisingly complete. It knows what it is and is true to its direction, leaving us with a satisfying wrap-up. Ultimately it was short and sweet. Like the heroine.

 

THE DRAMAS

Color of Woman

This was a good idea in concept. It wasn’t so awful in execution, either—for the first half, at least. Color of Woman was the inaugural drama for another fledgling station, Channel A, and I liked its approach. If you’re trying to hang with the Big Three stations, you need to set yourself apart somehow by being better or different. Color of Woman opted for different, with a tone that skewed lighter and slower than standard prime-time fare; it was a breezy take on the workplace drama, centered around a careerwoman and her friendships and romances. Sort of like Ugly Betty mixed with a bit of Dal Ja.

The tone was welcome, flirty and cute in a year that was rather absent of both. The characters had great rapport and the main foursome was charming. Pitting two diametric opposites against each other in work and in love, the two female leads could have been made shrill caricatures of catty frenemies. Thankfully the series took the other approach, developing them as grudging friends rather than backstabbers.

I’d argue that its place on a cable station was good for Color of Woman, which may have been too lightweight for a mainstream slot. In its corner of the TV grid, the series got its chance to play with a simple second-chances romance, and the requisite meddling stayed relatively low-key.

…until it didn’t. When the drama was all of the above things, it was entertaining enough—unchallenging and unthrilling, perhaps, but a nice casual watch. But perhaps the drama was too laid-back, too lacking in conflict, to sustain its initial premise. It started to run out of steam, and thus overcompensated by throwing excess at it. Breakups, conflicts, business-related schemes. What started as an easy rom-com turned exaggerated and lost its sense of fun. I’m still fairly sure there’s a cute show buried in the midst of all that clutter, but it may not be worth the effort to dig it out.

 

History of the Salaryman

History of the Salaryman is a tough show to explain in one neat description; it rather defies categorization. It had a quirky sense of humor that elicited some of the biggest laughs of my year, but you couldn’t really label it a comedy. Neither could you say it was a corporate thriller, or a modern adaptation of a famous story, or a satire, or a tale of underdog triumph. It’s all those things, but doesn’t fall easily into a genre.

Like many dramas this year, Salaryman looked amazing from a purely visual standpoint. More and more shows are adopting fancier cameras and upping the quality of their cinematography, and sometimes the pretty pictures can obscure the value of the material itself. For instance, a fair share of mediocre-to-poor dramas have looked fabulous and may, perhaps, have been received with more generous spirits than a similar show shot in the standard format. Thankfully some did have the content to match their visual flair, and Salaryman was one of those.

I have to concede that I was a bigger fan of the offbeat wackiness of its earlier episodes, compared to the shift in focus of its latter half. I do wish that Salaryman had sustained that light-hearted thread the whole way through, which is a common complaint/occurrence in practically any drama that starts out hilarious. They just all tend to tone down as they progress; I’m not sure whether it’s a deliberate choice to skew dramatic once you’ve hooked your audience, or whether the loss of comic momentum is a hurdle all comedies have to confront at some point.

Even so, I found enough in Salaryman to keep me onboard and rooting for our characters, an unlikely odd-couple pairing of the perpetually great Lee Beom-soo and the amusingly foul-mouthed Jung Ryeo-won. The drama boasted strong performances all around, whether it was by the leads or the bevy of veteran mainstays who consistently turn out solid performances, led by Kim Seo-hyung as the tightly wound villain. There was an extension (sigh) that did drag the final stretch out longer than necessary, as those things are wont to do, but it was fun while it lasted.

 

The Moon That Embraces the Sun

Gorgeous costuming, a colorful fictional Joseon, a sparkling adolescent romance. Charming young actors, a stellar soundtrack with lush fusion-classical touches, a clear good-evil dichotomy, a hint of the occult. It’s no wonder that The Moon That Embraces the Sun picked up a lot of hype early on and built on that steam as the drama transitioned to its adult storyline. By then it had amassed such momentum that it was apparently going to take a lot more than a cartoonish villain (bug-eyed Queen Grandma), some amnesia, and a gossamer-thin thread of conflict to get people to turn away. And they didn’t.

The adults years were not without their appeal, and had some solid performances, like Kim Soo-hyun as the frustrated young king and Kim Min-seo as his love-starved wife. The problem was that as the drama wore on it became painfully clear that Moon/Sun was coasting on one conceit, and that everything else served as set dressing to frame that conflict: The king’s still hung up on his first love.

First love does occupy a huge part of dramaland as a motif, a motivation, a conflict that Just Won’t Die. A drama that hinges upon it is hardly new. Yet given the stakes in play here—the throne, the rule of an entire nation, succession intrigue—you can’t help but wonder why the king doesn’t have better things to do than obsess over a dead girl. A better drama would have given the king another layer of conflict to sustain the character, but no, this hero’s got a one-track-mind, and it’s not fixated on how to rule his country better. Even plotlines that were given such huge weight (as in the royal consummation) were suddenly dropped, proving that they were mere placeholders while the couple was in its separation stage.

With ratings breaking the 40% mark (truly rare these days, and for a miniseries, too), this drama is one of the most overrated of the year, in the most literal way. Yet how do you argue with a drama’s ability to speak to a huge segment of the viewing audience? Should we really be turning that disappointment inward, at our tastes, rather than blaming the show for churning out mediocrity dressed as fine fare?

Nah, I’d rather blame the drama.

 

Dream High 2

The classic failed sequel. I knew I oughtn’t get my hopes too high for the second round, but even with my reservations I was ill-prepared for just how far this franchise could plummet in a year. Where was the heart, the fun, the tension, the underdog thrills? Where was the plot? The point?

Dream High 2 is what you get when you put together a show backwards. Which is to say: You cast, record songs, shoot, then remember at the last minute that you need a story. The first season was by no means perfect, but it’s as though the second took all the flaws of the first and magnified them, then ditched what made us love the franchise in the first place. That’s not throwing away the baby with the bathwater; that’s tossing out the baby, then serving up the bathwater as a fine vintage.

Yeah, no. We’re not buying it.

I can’t put the blame all in one corner, though; that’s something that has to get spread all around. The director was all over the place and needed focus. The musical sequences should have been fun, but were overproduced and irrelevant (ten-minute music videos dropped into an episode—yawn). The idol-laden cast was supposed to draw viewers, but they were paired in the strangest configurations bereft of chemistry. Kang Sora came off such a strong showing in Sunny, but her character was such a sad sack.

Which isn’t to say there was no potential. With the once-illustrious Kirin becoming a dump, we extended the underdog setup for the entire school, and the idols were formidable rivals for our motley assortment of averagely talented students. The songs were catchy.

But the series couldn’t commit to anything, and so rivalries fizzled out and lovelines trailed into nothingness and characters’ dreams were given up. Isn’t that a terrible message for a drama with this title? Dream high, but when your wings melt and you crash to earth you’ll have to change those dreams.

Or in other words: Give up. Like I did with the show.

 

Shut Up: Flower Boy Band

Shut Up Flower Boy Band OST – Sung Joon – “몰라야 할 말” (Words I Shouldn’t Know) [ Download ]

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Hands down (and hands up?), Shut Up: Flower Boy Band was my favorite drama of the year. And not by a nose or a hair, but a huge margin.

This was one of 2012′s earliest offerings, yet it’s still the one that sticks the most vividly in my mind, and more significantly, in my heart. There’s something about its approach—raw but not too gritty, heartfelt but not saccharine—that hit me deep and reminded me of what it felt to be young and floundering and scrabbling for hope. Not that I was ever a teenage street rat with abusive parents and a soul seeking solace in rock ‘n’ roll, but the drama isn’t really about that. It’s about making your way in a world that doesn’t quite know what to do with you, of proving to it—and yourself—that you’re more than a lost cause, and of finding a home in your friends, even when you come to divergent paths. Or maybe especially then.

When I think of Shut Up, I think of hearts on fire. The emotion is stripped-down, and that rawness imbues it with added power. Especially when experiencing it through the eyes of a hero who struggles to process that depth of feeling in words—what a wonderful, charged performance by Sung Joon—because you get what he feels on a visceral level rather than computing his words intellectually.

Narrative themes aside, Shut Up was also wonderfully executed from a technical standpoint. Few dramas this year remained constant throughout and felt whole, but Shut Up had a completeness to its story and an ending that made sense and satisfied. It’s sad how rare that is in dramaland.

Even with all the angst and challenges the plot dished out, Shut Up also provided one of the best examples of bromance, served up five ways (six if we include Lee Min-ki’s cameo—how could we not?). The guys acted like real friends who didn’t always see eye to eye but always had each other’s backs. And at the drama’s core, amid the plotlines of friendship, romance, and ambition, we got a message of growing up and finding yourself, and of being true without selling yourself out (or anyone else) along the way. Words to live by.

 

Rooftop Prince

Rooftop Prince is an odd duck. It’s one drama in the middle, bookended by a different drama at either end. It had some of the funniest laugh-out-loud scenes this year, but also got weighed down by absurd baddies and heavy melo twists. For a fusion sageuk, there was a tiresome lot of corporate takeover scheming. It had a time-travel element, but it got overshadowed—in a year full of time travel!—by reincarnation and that old standby, Fate.

To the drama’s credit, it was bolstered by committed comic performances, belly laughs, and a winsome chemistry between the leads, Han Ji-min and Yoochun. His portrayal of the haughty prince humiliated by modernity was hilarious, and welcome for its lack of vanity. ‘Cause we’ve gotta be honest here, that troll hair was not his best look, nor were the Power Ranger tracksuits or his comic array of derp faces. But they were all in service of the series, and it reaped the benefits.

Rooftop Prince was wildly uneven, even at its best, but thankfully it happens to be one of those shows that manage to remain entertaining despite the flashes of ineptitude. Yes, the villains were terrible and over-the-top, but their incompetence at villiany made them fun to hate. And it turns out that viewers will forgive lack of plot momentum, IF the alternative is at least entertaining. Our quartet of Joseon fish out of water were definitely that, with their adorable misunderstandings of present-day culture and the way they latched onto their 21st-century guide like a mother hen.

The series tends to fall apart under scrutiny; it comes together as a whole the way a closetful of mixed puzzle pieces do—you can cram them together, but they won’t fit right. Its resolution of the time-travel conflict is bittersweet at best (and that’s if you didn’t find it aggravating or confusing), added to the fact that the time-travel mechanism itself was never explained. Really, it was just a shell for Fate—watch out, she comes disguised now! But to look on the bright side, this was a drama that made me laugh and kept me smiling, and allowed me to disengage easily at all other points. As a bonus, that durned Yoochun is just adorable, especially paired with the sprightly Han Ji-min.

So while it almost doesn’t register as a real drama series for me, as a collection of comic vignettes it does the trick.

 

Queen In-hyun’s Man

If Rooftop Prince had one of the flimsiest time-travel explanations of the year, then Queen In-hyun’s Man had the strongest. I wasn’t perfectly satisfied with it, but the narrative did a solid job of establishing the rules and hewing to its internal logic (most of the time). Thanks to that consistency we were able to invest ourselves into the hero’s century-skipping; the time-travel became a character unto itself, at times a savior and at others a heartbreaking antagonist.

What it wasn’t, thankfully, was an agent of Fate. This drama took a seriously refreshing attitude about Fate—in that it had no hand in things. The characters rejected the idea that they were drawn to each other by anything other than choice, and such was the strength of that choice that they always managed to find their way back to each other. Even across time, space, and forgotten memories. Where there’s a will there’s a way, apparently, which means these two earned their happy ending.

A good thing, too, since Yoo Inna and Ji Hyun-woo had some of the strongest, most palpable chemistry around. Perhaps that’s helped by their offscreen dating status, but that’s never a guarantee that the kisses will crackle onscreen. Fortunately for this smitten duo, they got a lot of practice time in. (Seriously! So many kisses. Not a complaint.)

There’s political intrigue in the Joseon scenes and meddling exes in the modern-day ones, but mostly Queen In-hyun’s Man is pure romance. And the best kind, at that: The kind that defies all pesky interferences and does its damnedest to be realized. The kind that feels like everything pales in comparison to such an intense love. The kind you wanna believe in.

 

Dr. Jin

Dr. Jin OST – Song Seung-heon – “마지막 사랑” (Last Love) [ Download ]

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Yeah, that was look on my face too—a little horrified, a little deadened inside—while watching the whole thing. I’m still not sure why I did. Maybe it was human nature rearing its ugly rubbernecking head, where you see a train wreck and need to know all the gory details.

Nowhere in dramaland was the premise-versus-execution quandary more apparent than in Dr. Jin. Especially considering that it had an existing template of how to execute it properly. It’s like taking tracing paper to a drawing of a tree and coming away with a mutant cat. There’s a well-produced, well-received source drama right there; you couldn’t manage a half-decent facsimile?

Under this production team, no. The directors bear the brunt of the blame here, proving that Dr. Jin was a failure of realization, not conception. In theory, we could have gotten quite the interesting historical-fusion melding as the modern doc struggles with ethical questions of whether he should let people die to let history run its course, or to interfere because he took an oath to save lives. (In practice, our hero was a hard-headed dolt who seemed surprised every time he realized that messing with history was perhaps inadvisable. But did it anyway. And then got upset when all was not well. You dolt.) From a genre standpoint, Dr. Jin offered up a fresh take in the rather cluttered field of medical dramas by forcing our hero to MacGuyver his way through the Joseon era.

The directors seemed determined to outdo themselves on the gross-out scale, pouring loving attention and intimate detail into shots of vomit, pus, and diarrhea. And syphilis boils, and crude abdominal surgery, and you get the point. You’d think they could put the same care into character consistency or a romance that didn’t defy logic. (She has the same face, ergo she is a parallel existence? And because I love one version, I automatically love the other because of the transitive property of love?) The acting ranged from acceptable to terrible… yet you can hardly hold the cast accountable when nothing else made sense.

Worst of all, perhaps, was that even if the individual flaws were overlooked (and that would be one major blind spot), the drama would still fall abysmally flat, because as a whole it’s just as much a mess as its parts are. Tonally unsure of itself, Dr. Jin had some broadly comedic moments where you were almost sure they meant to be funny, but then went for weighty political intrigue (which got peppered with farts, ’cause, okay), time-travel-driven existentialism, melodramatic romantic angst, social commentary, and the kitchen sink while we were at it.

This is a textbook failed drama if ever there were one—being that failure came on all levels—and a show really ought not be watchable solely ironically. On the upside, unintentional hilarity is still hilarity. (A gummi bear brain fetus. WTF?)

 

Gaksital

Oh, Gaksital. Hold on, I need a minnit to pull myself together. *tears*

If I recall Gaksital through a coldly analytical lens, I will remember that it was far from a perfect show. It had uneven swings in pacing and tempo and its rough edges were sometimes visible; you could make out the place where its vision hit up against constraints of its production environment (say, the live shoot, the budget, the sets). So Gaksital wasn’t a seamless affair; there were bumps and hiccups along the way. I remember that.

Yet it had a potent alchemy that elevated the show beyond its weakest links. Overall it left such a strong impression that when I think of the drama, it’s like the thinking recedes and the feeling takes over. I relive its emotional highs, the welling of spirit and passion that it inspired.

Gaksital was characterized by a number of notable traits: For one, it dared go darker than many a prime-time drama has ventured. Forget sheer body count, the hero himself traversed a wide swath of the nobility spectrum—from not at all to awesomely so, but not always on a linear path.

Moreover, the storytelling was strong and the direction top-notch. Action, music, gravitas—all were calibrated skillfully and in service of the story; it didn’t feel silly when trying to convey dire, or underdeliver when going for grand. Committed acting from leads Joo-won and Park Ki-woong brought their conflicted love and growing antagonism to life and broke your heart, in a small-scale representation of the greater conflict, which broke your heart again.

Historical context was worked in to anchor the story in a specific time and place, and that incorporation of real-life injustices and atrocities added heft to the fictional storyline. But it was the show’s deft hand that conveyed the emotional weight, and the show’s awesomely shot action scenes that made it so badass. Gaksital may have had its missteps, but nobody could accuse it of being afraid to go to difficult places or taking the easy way out. It had balls of steel, and a heart as big as the country our characters fought to claim for themselves.

 

I Do, I Do

Romantic comedies are so dependent on chemistry that even when you’ve got all the other elements in play, without a spark between the couple you’re toast. That’s what I Do, I Do felt like to me: a workable setup pulled down by a lack of believable connection between the workaholic heroine and her much younger, much more naive love interest.

It’s a shame since individually, they did their parts. Had I Do been a bigger hit, it would have been lauded as Lee Jang-woo’s big breakout; he burst onto the screen with such exuberance and warmth. Plus, Kim Sun-ah has had chemistry with so many of her co-stars that you just take it for granted that she’ll sizzle with anybody. Part of the problem was that she was so true to character that her type-A humorless heroine rarely broke from her dour mold to reveal the vulnerability underneath. I understand that as a narrative choice, but it had the unfortunate side effect of killing Kim’s spark. And she has such spark.

Trendies like I Do live and die by their relationships; since so many of these shows tread the same ground in terms of plot, it’s up to the dramas to find characters the audience can root for and get behind, whose paths we want to follow. Again I think he succeeded; she had a tougher task and never quite got there for me. I wanted to like her, and I wanted her to succeed—but emotionally, I wasn’t with her.

Where I Do picks up points is in really going whole hog with its concept of reversing gender roles in the workplace. She’s not just a noona, but the acting head of the company. He’s not just a younger co-worker, but the fresh-faced new hire who’s the total bottom of the office totem pole—the guy who fetches coffee and cleans up the office. More than being about age, this is about power and role reversal. For all that dramaland loves its Candy heroines being rescued by their Daddy Long Legs and chaebol heroes, it’s rare to get the flipside.

The drama didn’t do as much with that swap as it could have but I appreciate it taking that step, perhaps clearing a path that more future drama heroines can travel. Preferably in stylish heels.

 

Big

Big is a concept without plot. That is to say, it’s a body-swapper without direction. It’s Gong Yoo, there to just… look pretty. (Which he achieves, fabulously.)

Not all dramas need to be heavily plot-driven; depending on the genre, a strong concept can carry a lot. However, for being a high-concept fantasy romance, Big really needed to work through its story so that there was a point. It needed a meaning behind the whole gimmick upon which it’s predicated, other than an excuse for a star to do some charming acting. (Which he did, fabulously.)

A resolution that made sense would’ve been nice, while we’re making a wish list. It felt like the story ended because the show ran out of time and direction; it came to an end because it stopped moving, not because that was the destination. Insert time skip, automatically resolve conflict! (Whaddaya mean, the world doesn’t work that way?) What a travesty to build the drama around one actor, especially when his true identity wasn’t the “hero” of the story. You put the star before the story, and we all suffered. (Even if he was fabulous.)

The biggest misstep the drama made was in raising this very interesting philosophical question—if the hero’s inhabiting another’s body, who is it that the heroine loves?—and then failing to answer it properly. You really wanted the drama to go there, to prove that of course the shell was less important than the good stuff inside, but then why couldn’t they actually show that? In refusing to give its hero his resolution, or to trust us to accept it, the drama basically contradicted the message it purported to convey. The shell was most important after all.

Big did mask some of its plotular failings (at least early on) by bringing out that gorgeous hi-def camera to put its gorgeous cast in the best possible light. A couple of quirky characters in the supporting cast kept the tone zippy, with Suzy as a dogged stalker and Baek Sung-hyun as a lovelorn puppy. So cute.

It wasn’t all drear; when Big bothered to be funny it was breezy fun—although you’d never guess that it was written by the zany Hong sisters, given its sedate sense of comedy. It’s like the star writing duo finally got tired after eight dramas and let their minds and senses of humor go on vacation. Next time, I’d rather they took the vacation and came back refreshed, ready to make us laugh with more cracktastic fare in the vein of You’re Beautiful or My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho. By no means do I write them off as scriptwriters because of one big (heh) disappointment, but I’m also not about to let my love for Delightful Girl Chun-hyang, Best Love et al. con me into letting Big off the hook. This one’s a miss.

 

Arang and the Magistrate

Arang and the Magistrate OST – Lee Jun-ki – “하루만” (Just One Day) [ Download ]

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Aw, Arang and the Magistrate. Whether it was because of timing, strong competition, or its plot dense in worldbuilding, I feel like this show got short shrift; it gets my nod for the year’s most underrated.

On the surface this seems like your garden-variety fusion sageuk, although who’d’ve thought I’d ever say fusion sageuks were ordinary? But there you have it—they’ve become so commonplace that being fusiony and sageuky alone is no longer enough to make a drama stand out from the pack. Arang did that by diving into its fantasy mythology with enthusiasm and constructing a rich world that was fresh, well-conceived, and above all, home to a complete story.

Mysteries are best unraveled in slow, gradual reveals that keep just enough information out of our reach to keep us engaged, but not so much that it feels like the writers are fishing for ways to be deliberately cryptic. Too many shows are so intent on keeping the audience guessing that they change things along the way to keep the truth ever out of reach—those get aggravating. Arang unveiled its answers with a confidence that bespoke careful planning, and if you happened to guess the truth ahead of time, great. They weren’t going to yank that out of your hands and swap it with something else just to frustrate your expectations. I appreciated its assurance in its mythology and the way everything fit together in the end.

Although Arang started off with a comedic bent, the prevailing tone was one of stirring pathos—it was buoyed by a quiet kind of intensity, much of which we have Lee Jun-ki to owe. I have never liked him more than as the steadfast, dogged magistrate, who emitted strength even in stillness. He was one of my favorite characters of the year, even above Shin Mina’s sympathetic displaced-ghost character, who sadly became less interesting as the story turned her more into an object to be moved by the others’ machinations. But as much as I was let down by her lack of independent movement, I loved her chemistry with the hero, and together they conveyed a sweetly stirring romance. Arang may not have had the passionate smooches or the grand confessions, but the characters’ connection felt rock-solid and full of longing.

As icing on the cake, the drama’s score was one of my favorites of the year, rich and melodic to match its colorful world. With its emotionally charged and engrossing storytelling, it’s too bad more people didn’t cotton on to Arang and the Magistrate, but it did all the right things for me.

 

Answer Me, 1997

What a fantastic story Answer Me, 1997 turned out to be. By all rights it should’ve been a tiny show on a cable station that aired to a niche fanbase of 30-somethings who could relate to the nostalgia of being in high school in 1997. It was expected to air quietly, and exit quietly. Thus there were zero expectations and practically no promotional hype going into its premiere; what little attention it did garner was mostly thanks to Eun Ji-won, former ’90s idol, joining the cast of rookies.

Instead, the little miniseries that could quickly drew positive word of mouth and blew up into a full-fledged sensation, not just outperforming expectations but setting new records for cable, its ratings outstripping some prime-time dramas on the Big Three. The newbie cast rose to the occasion and delivered strong performances, and Answer Me, 1997 worked its way into the pop-culture consciousness at large.

For all that, Answer Me can thank its writing: witty, thoughtful, and smart. This is a writer’s drama through and through, and I firmly believe that’s why it was capable of such a dramatic Cinderella story (for the production, I mean, not the plot itself)—the producers allowed the writers to tell the story they wanted, and trusted them to deliver. Then because they did deliver, the fans recognized that quality and came onboard in droves.

It helps that the ’90s are just far back in our memories to be a fun throwback, with its H.O.T fashions, the Sechs Kies fanwars, and the S.E.S hair. Not to mention the parade of cameos to send the audience a wink-wink, nod-nod at the references. Still, no abundance of meta jokes could carry a show, and that burden fell to the show’s adroit hand in portraying the sweet little moments of life, and the relationship at its crux: Jung Eun-ji and Seo In-gook, who played first loves thwarted by missed timing and miscommunication. The series played with the “Who does she end up with?” question the whole way through, but that wasn’t really the driving force (because we all knew, didn’t we?). It was their rapport that grabbed us and made us wish them the best.

To be sure, some of its overwhelming hype worked against it; the drama’s second half get bogged down by overindulgent writing, meandering conversations, and fan-service-driven moments. The plotting lost momentum and the charm of the high school years faded a bit. It’s true that those things diminished my enjoyment as we wound to a close, but taken in a broader context these are truly small complaints. Overall, Answer Me, 1997 was one of the strongest dramas of the year, alternately humorous and heart-tugging, with relatable emotions that took me back to a time that felt sweeter and simpler. Even if those outrageous hairstyles are the furthest from either.

 

Faith

Here we come to the most recent of the time-slipping bunch with SBS’s Faith, which bears a number of similarities to previous entries in the genre, most obviously Dr. Jin for the medical angle. As it turns out, though, when you’ve got so many dramas trading on the same central conceit it’s really the differences that stand out, rather than the gimmicks they’ve got in common.

Faith shook things up a little by making our traveler a female character, which seems a minor difference on paper, perhaps, but opened up a whole host of issues bypassed by the other dramas. And I don’t just mean by forcing our heroine to concoct her own cosmetics out of herbs (though she did that—you can take the girl out of Cheongdam-dong, but you can’t take Cheongdam-dong out of the girl). In making the woman the foreign entity, Faith turned her into a spoil of war, buffeted about by powerful men who all wanted to possess her in some way as an asset. Thankfully, she wasn’t having any of that and refused to relegate herself to object status.

That’s one example of Faith’s strengths: It had interesting philosophical debates written into the storylines, with characters’ actions reflecting the greater themes and messages in play. Too bad Faith also had one big downfall: It was plodding. Some might say slow. Others might use the word boring. What it wasn’t was exciting, epic, or grandiose.

Since there are plenty of fine shows that are not exciting, epic, or grandiose, this should not have been a huge drawback for Faith, except for the fact that this project was once drawn along the lines of exciting, epic, and grandiose. That was before it languished on the shelf for a couple of years while the production dealt with a revolving door of lead actors and lost a chunk of its budget. Nothing a good revision couldn’t fix, only you got the sense that they never were able to fully shed their former intentions. Some parts were scaled down accordingly to this newer, quieter, more cerebral story. Others wanted to be badass and action-worthy and were woefully short of the mark in execution. Ultimately it felt like Faith wanted to be two different shows but never could make up its mind which way to go.

The romance between the modern Kim Hee-sun and Goryeo’s warrior Lee Min-ho ended up carrying much of the show, which is fine since they showed rapport and really worked the star-crossed (or time-space-crossed) lovers angle. It was less fine in that Faith wasn’t meant for the romance to be the end-all and be-all, so the love story had to shoulder more narrative burden than it should have. In contrast, the rest of the cast lacked cohesion, often dropping in and out without transitions, leaving threads untied.

Faith was by no means the worst of the time travelers, but neither was it at the top of the heap, either. Unfortunately its production limitations were all too evident, keeping it firmly in the middle of the pack.

 

Vampire Prosecutor 2

As a true sequel—uncommon in dramaland—Vampire Prosecutor 2 hit the ground running, wasting no time in picking up where Season 1 left off. We had our hot broody vamp back, hotter and broodier than ever, as well as his team of prosecutor-investigators. We lost a couple of supporting characters, but gained meaningful additions: the warm but stubborn new coroner joined the workplace family, the icy and unyielding new prosecutor became the antagonistic boss, and a fearsome new Big Bad rolled into town in Red Eyes.

By all rights, this indicated an upgraded Vampire Prosecutor. With the team camaraderie already established, we could get right to enjoying the repartee. Our hero went from aloof to a protective father figure to his team, which invested him more fully than in the first season. Plus, we were given a window into the backstory of this show’s taken on vampire mythology.

I know all this, and I was prepared to jump into Season 2 with all the gusto of the last one. Yet for whatever reason, it lacked a certain spark this year and I was hard-pressed to pinpoint the cause. The series had the same stylish look, the same fast-paced action scenes, and the same amount of blood ‘n’ guts (maybe a little more). Why didn’t I care as much?

I’m still not sure I know, but a huge chunk of my investment in the story must have left the building when the show chose to expand its vampire world and therefore diminished the hero’s own role in it. There were long stretches of story that omitted him, that had him offscreen or reacting to stuff, and that was frustrating. What good is Vampire Prosecutor without THE vampire prosecutor?

Being on a cable movie channel, OCN, this show enjoys greater leeway with violence and language—it’s part of the appeal, really. It feels that this year they ran wild with that freedom, however, and went far beyond the needs of its stories to just out-shock and out-gore itself. It got hard to watch, and felt more and more gratuitous. Part of our vampire prosecutor’s aura of cool comes from his stylish restraint; it would serve the drama to strive for the same.

 

Nice Guy

As the most recent of the year’s big hits, Nice Guy is riding a wave of buzz right now that positions it nicely for awards season, which is good news for its cast. It certainly knew how to push all the right narrative buttons and give us fast-paced melodrama. In conjunction with strong performances and brisk editing, Nice Guy had the knack of sweeping us into its world of revenges and betrayals.

That speed was a huge asset, because the drama didn’t allow you to take any time to pause and consider its flaws, of which there were plenty—it just barreled onward, overriding potential hangups. As though dancing in circles around the audience would prevent it from noticing inconsistencies, or at least from caring about them. To be sure, as a tactic it does work; I would find myself swept up in the feeling of the show, regardless of the little voice protesting the absurdity of the events that were transpiring onscreen.

I’m not sure Nice Guy would have been the success it was without Song Joong-ki playing the titular nice guy—or is he? The show argued, sort of, that he was the world’s nicest guy, which is why the betrayal sent him on that path of destruction wherein he turned into a woman-using, body-selling, self-hating bad guy, except all his badness was really just a roundabout expression of his innate niceness, because he never would have been driven to such extremes had he not been a decent person at the core, hence his badness is proof of his goodness. Or something.

That’s an example of the convoluted kind of logic that formed the twisted framework for this show, which had you scratching your head until you usually just gave up and figured, “Hey, it sounds good. Must be right.” If it sounds smart, it must be smart? Again, it’s dancing in circles to confuse your audience into compliance, like the writers picked up battle tactics learned by watching fighting insects.

But back to Song Joong-ki, who was certainly good as the hero (a term to be used loosely here), though perhaps not as strong as he was in last year’s Tree With Deep Roots. I felt no connection to the character, which was partly a function of writing that kept him a cipher for most of the drama’s run, and partly because he was a guy who did bad things and then got excused because he was really pretty, and also maybe really just misunderstood at the core. Because god forbid he actually be held accountable for his misdeeds without rationalizing it through this filter. If anything it was Moon Chae-won’s amnesiac heroine who drove the story, although her inexplicable love of the hero never rang true for me.

That may be because these were not people who existed in our reality, but rather in a hyperreality of extreme situations and extreme emotions. Thanks to the strong acting and a very well-paced sense of escalation and movement, despite my misgivings I found Nice Guy an easy, engaging watch—maybe because time flies when you’re watching unlikable people being horrible to each other. There’s a queer sense of detached gratification in watching them tear each other apart, I suppose.

That’s why I feel like there’s a strange veneer over Nice Guy, like it somehow managed to use its stylish delivery to hoodwink the viewers into thinking it some masterwork of cleverness when really, it’s pretty conventional stuff, just packaged really prettily. Even without the flat ending—disappointing in its ambiguity, but more so in the way its message seems to negate a lot of what happened in the show—Nice Guy gets my vote for the year’s most overrated drama.

 

Oohlala Spouses

The other big trend this year, though less represented in this review, was the body-swapper. The comedy was inherent in the premise, so I was all set for hilarity in Oohlala Spouses as a married couple on the outs gets swapped and comes to a new understanding.

Curiously, the body-swappers didn’t capitalize on the full comic potential and chose to go melo, which seems like an odd choice until you remember that dramaland loves its melos. Still, I would have been onboard with a melo twist… if only the show weren’t built on what I believe was a flawed premise. Namely, that this was a marriage that should be saved.

The setup itself worked, but where it fell flat was in the portrayal of the marriage at the outset. In getting us onboard the heroine’s plight as the unloved, unappreciated wife, the drama went to extremes in painting the husband as a terrible person. The fundamental conflict was made so strong that the lead was left too far afield in unlikable territory. I’m all for character redemption, but the balance was so skewed in the beginning that I just couldn’t get behind the idea of reconciliation.

Thus the “gods” pulling the strings behind the scenes seemed unreasonable and capricious, and I wanted to demand that they just let these poor humans be. Who were they to “know better”? They were Fate in person form, in the most annoying way possible.

For a while I pondered whether the alternate pairing was viable, only that turned out to be impossible since the show became locked into its original concept at the outset with its reincarnation framework. It established the idea that our married couple is Fated To Be, and we were stuck with it.

 

STILL IN PROGRESS…

I’m setting these dramas off in their own section, because as of this writing they’re all still airing. But some are already near the halfway mark and next year’s a long way off, so I’ll touch on them briefly here.

I Miss You

The melodramas have been out in full force this year, and I Miss You falls squarely into that category, amidst all its Sturm und Drang and tears and gnashing of teeth. It’s classic melo stuff, centered around an angst-wrought romance and populated with dastardly villains. There are tears everywhere.

All that aside, I’ve been keeping up with the show despite the decision to stop recapping it (too aggravating for that level of scrutiny), and I find that the show has enough qualities to keep me coming back. (One of those may be a masochistic trigger, so take with a grain of salt.) The conflicts are strong, and I Miss You is actually a fairly quick watch, despite the fact that the content has a tendency to raise your blood pressure or make you want to die.

The issue I have with the show is in the way it doles out the pain. Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with drawing upon intense human experiences as a driver of storytelling, so the fact that pain is doled out isn’t the issue. No, it’s the way the drama makes tearjerking its goal, rather than an organic byproduct of a well-written story. Each plot turn feels designed to maximize your viewing anguish, as though there’s some complicated drama calculus designed to churn out the highest pain-per-second quota possible. Thus I feel manipulated into tears, rather than shedding them because I’m caught up in the plight of these people. I don’t do well with crying on cue, and this is no exception.

That’s why I Miss You feels strangely cold, despite the amount of intense emotions paraded in and out of these characters’ lives. This kind of show is and always has been a vehicle for acting more than anything—the kind of stuff to beef up the highlight reels and give the stars an exercise in expanding their range. I find Yoon Eun-hye and Yoochun credible in their roles, and I’m fairly sure they’ll come out of this project better actors. Good on them.

 

King of Dramas

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King of Dramas OST – Lee Hyun – “사랑에 멀어서” (Far From Love) [ Download ]

What a fun, feel-good drama. Being that it’s all about drama production (which satirizes the process as much as it portrays it), King of Dramas rides on a bunch of meta references and in-jokes, but the reason the show works is because it knows better than to think those are enough to sustain a series. Sure, its lead character Anthony (Kim Myung-min) struts onto the screen like an over-the-top caricature—until the show peels back those layers to show that he’s a real person after all. Just with a fabulously snarky (and impeccably styled) outer shell.

King of Dramas is a prime example of how you can turn anything into drama fodder, with pumping action and suspense and stakes, just so long as you execute well. The biggest conflict these characters face may be whether their drama makes it to air or whether they’ll have jobs for much longer, and yet my heart’s always ready to leap (or sink) along with them. The director earns the credit for much of this, knowing just when to turn up the sly humor or when to dial it down for a flash of real feeling to poke through.

I hesitate to name a drama best anything before it’s completed its run so I can’t call this one my favorite comedy of the year, but I can say it’s pretty close to claiming that title anyway. Yes, that’s partly because we’ve had a thin year for solid comedies, but it’s also because King of Dramas has a droll wit that makes me laugh, out loud, episode after episode. After so much heaviness and melancholy these past months, the burst of good humor is a welcome addition in dramaland.

 

Jeon Woo-chi

Admittedly, the drama version of Jeon Woo-chi isn’t quite the zippy, stylish action-comedy I wanted it to be—not like the movie, say. It took longer than it should have to get to the point, and didn’t give enough anchoring into these characters or their world or why any of this is going on. So flawed, yes.

It is, however, picking up momentum now at a few weeks in, thankfully. Clark Kent is the obvious point of comparison for the hero’s nerdy, bespectacled alter ego, and after all the Batman-esque revenge stories we’ve seen, it’s definitely fun to have a lighter, more comic take on a classic superhero. The show also provides Cha Tae-hyun with plenty of fodder to make us laugh—he gets two characters, thus double the opportunity to crack us up with his hilarious brand of physical comedy and quick-witted deliveries.

This isn’t the show to turn to for epic conflicts or badass fighting (the action scenes are campy on a good day, best appreciated with a healthy side of humor). But if you’re into fantasy comedies and sageuks with a twist, Jeon Woo-chi might be the ticket to liven up the selection you’ve got on your plate. Not that it’s overflowing with drama selections or anything, I’m sure.

 

School 2013

Just barely a week old at this point, I’ll keep this one short. Especially considering the 2013 in the title; I’m sure it’ll have a space in next year’s lineup. It just felt like it’d be such an omission to ignore School 2013 when it evoked such a strong response in me, and seems poised to take up residence in my heart for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t a trendy show, and it’s got a stated focus on keeping things realistic—real-life problems depicted in real-life ways. That means multi-faceted characters who shy away from stock characterizations, and people caught between rocks and hard places, trying to figure out how to navigate their slice of their world. Already School 2013 shows potential to be the kind of drama that will quietly move you, speaking to you through its understanding of universal human experiences rather than big sweeping dramas. If this is a sign of what 2013 has in store for us, I think we’re looking at a promising new year.

 
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263 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. cg

    yay…..finally the “year in review”, by Javabeans :) :)

     (0)


    • 1.1 cg

      For me, The King 2 Hearts and Answer Me 1997 are the best dramas of the year.

      Still watching Queen In Hyun’s Man and King Of Draams, and both are great.

      Nice Guy comes next.

      Big: biggest disappointment of 2012.

      Started Fashion King: couldn’t watch after ep 4.
      Color Of Woman: only upto ep 12 and stopped after that.

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      • 1.1.1 cg

        *King of Dramas

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        • 1.1.1.1 pabo ceo reom

          I’m with you on 1997. I rarely re-watch dramas, but I actually went back for this one. The second half did fizzle out a little, but I still love it!

          P.S.
          JB, I totally agreed with you and voted Arang and Nice Guy as most underrated and overrated dramas of the year respectively. For some reason, I thought I would be the only one!

           (1)


          • 1.1.1.1.1 horan

            1.1.1.1.1

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  2. birdscout

    My early Christmas present! Thank you, javabeans! :)

     (0)


    • 2.1 Addylovesbwood

      IKR!! Thanks JB!!!

      SHFFB, I gets my vote for this years most underrated drama.

       (0)


      • 2.1.1 Addylovesbwood

        **SHFBB** totally awesome, love the OST.

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        • 2.1.1.1 im_eve

          Thank you, Dramabeans, for introducing me to SHUT UP FLOWER BOY BAND. it is the best for me this year…and one of the bests i’ve seen..like ALL MY LIFE! & i’m not talking like a fangirl who just watched an eye-candy funky music-laden show…but a real art-work that is entertaining at that. i swear by it!

           (0)


  3. Stardust

    YAAAAY its here!! Thank you so much!! *gets out popcorn and starts reading*

     (0)


  4. Farpavilions

    I’m gonna settle down with a nice cup of joe and enjoy this one :) Thanks Dramabeans for another lovely year of drama commentary!

     (0)


  5. mtoh

    *nods
    This was one good year…, waiting for GF review…thanks JB.

     (0)


    • 5.1 ilovedramas

      whoa , that was exactly what i was thinking! i love her sarcasm!

       (0)


      • 5.1.1 mtoh

        LOL me too, and she watches what I’m watching most of the time!

         (0)


      • 5.1.2 reglest

        I think we allknow, which one we’re waiting for Girl Friday’s review *grin

         (0)


  6. kelinci biru

    Its loooong. I love it. I just read about shut up and answer me and nice guy. I’m definitely coming back for mooooaaaaaar.

    Thanks Javabeans!!

     (0)


    • 6.1 kelinci biru

      Totally agree with Javabeans “theres just about something for everyone.”

      Now, what are you looking for in k-drama?
      Good romcom? Check – answer me
      Good story? Check – a Wife’s credentials
      Good cinematography? Check
      Good sageuk? Check
      Good melodrama?
      Kim bum? Check
      Lee min ho? Check
      Song Joongki? Check
      Yoo Ain? Check
      Yeo Jin Goo? Check and check
      Idols? Checkmate

       (0)


      • 6.1.1 pogo

        You forgot back-from-the-military (and looking like a really hot MAN, as opposed to a fairy prince) Lee Jun Ki….CHECK.

         (0)


      • 6.1.2 oftheshore

        Yep, double portion of Yoochun, too, if you’re a fan.
        And don’t forget Gong Yoo and YEH coming back…in dramas I couldn’t watch…=((

         (0)


        • 6.1.2.1 pogo

          and the return of Shin Mina to dramaland for the first time after MGIAG….WITH Lee Jun Ki, no less!

           (0)


          • 6.1.2.1.1 justcommenting

            This was “the” couple I was looking forward to for the year. Arang should really have better viewership ratings given the strong cast, but the script is a bit lacking. The ending is cute though.

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          • 6.1.2.1.2 pogo

            @justcommenting: I feel like the combination of genre (fusion sageuk) and the strong competition in more popular genres (first Gaksital, then Nice Guy) worked against Arang, but it didn’t do too badly – I’ve liked LJK and SMA’s dramas before, but never LOVED them the way I do Arang – really wasn’t expecting that!

            As for the script, I actually thought it was fairly tight and well-paced and did well on character development even if the ending wasn’t spectacular – it did what it needed to, and I appreciate that.

             (0)


  7. ninji

    Oh, I always love this. Nice having some interesting reading time ahead. Thanks!

     (0)


  8. tika

    queen in hyun and aswer me 1997 for me!!

     (0)


  9. Koirv

    “I hesitate to name a drama best anything before it’s completed its run so I can’t call this one my favorite comedy of the year, but I can say it’s pretty close to claiming that title anyway.”

    Here here! :-)

     (0)


  10. 10 pogo

    Yay for the Arang love! I went into it because I really like Lee Jun Ki and Shin Mina individually and was caught by the idea of them in a fusion sageuk, but didn’t expect to love the show, and the characters, as much as I did. Plus it was my first proper commenting experience on DB – yay for JK, opheliadrowning and all the others on those recaps who blew my mind with their articulateness (word?) and squee!

    Also agreed on Nice Guy having that weird disconnect that means watching it was always a little exercise in detachment – I was sold on SJK’s chemistry with both Park Shi Yeon and Moon Chae Won (especially the latter, after you get past the initial absurdity of why did she fall for him in five minutes, anyway), but it was slick….all the way until Excessive Flashback Time.

    Though for Most Overrated, I’d have to say Moon/Sun takes that cake, even if I don’t want to give it that title because the child cast were so flawless (and I gave up a few episodes before the end because someone told me the beta couple I was hoping for weren’t going to happen – if there’s anything that can keep me hanging on through a romance that’s become a drag, it’s the presence of a beta couple with good chemistry **coughBoysBeforeFlowerscough**).

    I’m going through Shut Up Flower Boy Band right now, and I can’t wait for the next Flower Boy installment, which I am even more thrilled about now because it stars Park Shin-hye! And School 2013, that is SOLID stuff. (also I Miss You, but that’s for my Weekly Masochism Quota, even though it’s a great actor showcase and I feel Yoon Eun Hye is doing amazingly in the role so far)

     (0)


    • 10.1 Sam

      Out of curiousity, what couple were you rooting for in Moon-Sun?

       (0)


      • 10.1.1 pogo

        grown-up Seol and Woon, lol.

        And is it just me, or does the actress who played adult Seol look more like a grown-up version of Kim Yoo-jung (who plays 13-year-old Yeon-woo) than Han Ga In did? It kept distracting me.

         (0)


        • 10.1.1.1 Sam

          Oh my god, same!
          They would have been a badass couple.
          I was hoping that those two would end up together, until it became so obvious that she was pining after the brother (who did not look like the gorgeous Siwan AT ALL).

          Hmmm, now that you mention it, she kinda does.
          Well Han Ga In was one of the let downs of the show for me. I’ve never been a fan of her acting (the woman has no expression) and there was NO chemistry with Kim Soo Hyun.
          He was the only reason I stuck around. After they got older it got seriously boring and I wasn’t invested in the main romance storyline anymore.
          I hope the child actors that played the king and Wol play the leads in a drama together in a few years time. I loved them together.

           (0)


  11. 11 swui

    wait…is Moon/sun or Nice guy more overrated?

     (0)


    • 11.1 Annie

      Moon/Sun for sure. 40+ ratings for utter tripe is the definition of overrated.

       (0)


      • 11.1.1 Silverteem

        Wow it hit 40s on ratings?

        Never watched it, but boy… just the kind of drama that Anthony would produce! Wait, lemme guess, it had melo on it! It has to be the melo!

        lol

         (0)


        • 11.1.1.1 Hui Ting

          Hahaha, love your reference.

           (0)


      • 11.1.2 pogo

        I agree. 20 bloody episodes of I WILL NOT GET OVER HER is way too many, when they can’t even throw in a good beta romance to keep my interest.

        Though maybe I’d have watched all 20 if they stuck with the child cast, I enjoyed Kim Min-seo as adult Bo-kyung but by episode 8, the only reason there was to root for the OTP was because their child versions were so awesome and adorable together.

        Basically, Moon/Sun up to Episode 5 = perfection. After that….dump it and read some fanfic.

         (0)


    • 11.2 justcommenting

      Both are overrated, but I would say Moon/Sun. 40% is outrageous for the drama. I kinda gave up after the 6th episode (when I first saw KSH appear or something like that). I’m the kind who cringe on the inside when I see really cliched scenes, so I don’t survive through most dramas. Especially Moon/Sun and Nice Guy. I’m like, no I don’t want to watch the female lead being sabotaged by the 2nd lead. No, no more car accidents and amnesia.

       (0)


      • 11.2.1 Chiomy

        I completely agree with you.

         (0)


  12. 12 Mommai

    Thanks for the reviews! It’s been my first year in dramaland, so it’s nice to actually be able to know about these shows while reading their reviews. It was a year of “something for everyone” in a way, and I think a nice one of showing how much variety there can be, even with some flops and poor executions. I think I’ll use this as a guide for hooking my mom on these dramas, depending on what she is looking for ;)

     (0)


  13. 13 dbsklove

    YEH- HEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH~~~~ <3
    "Nah, I'd rather blame the drama."
    AHAHAHAHAH WHY ARE YOU SO FUNNY <3

     (0)


  14. 14 SHema

    Great review Javabeans….

    I also STILL can’t get over Gaksital!! *mutual tears*

     (0)


    • 14.1 janice

      Aww! Gaksital broke me!!!:((

      *tears*

       (0)


    • 14.2 py

      agree! -sobs-

       (0)


    • 14.3 Maya

      Me too..

       (0)


    • 14.4 chane

      Awww!! Now i’m missing Gaksital again!!

      Damn! That drama was such an intense ride, I wish it didn’t have to end!:(

       (0)


    • 14.5 Arhazivory

      When I saw ‘Gaksital’ as the title for the next show review, instantly my heart clenched. Powerful.

       (0)


      • 14.5.1 R.

        Arggg me to. Love this show so much.
        Thanks DB for your great recaps and this wonderful review!

         (0)


  15. 15 Mawiie

    You know, a lot of stuffs happen in December (namely, my own bday, Christmas, winter vacation, etc.), but every year I’m counting down till the last month of the year because of the year end reviews. I’m not even kidding LOL I need a life *sigh*

     (0)


  16. 16 BB

    Am glad that I was not the only one who thinks Nice Guy was WAYYY over-rated. Thank you for this lovely piece.

     (0)


    • 16.1 Caitlyn

      Yeah, i was worried I was the only one too, lol

       (0)


    • 16.2 Chanel

      me too…I couldn’t even finish it.
      King-2-Hearts is my most favorite of 2012.

       (0)


      • 16.2.1 Silverteem

        Ironically I found it the reverse, I dropped the ball on K2H :(

        The second lead was more interesting than the main…

         (0)


        • 16.2.1.1 hannah

          Amen. I preferred the second lead’s story much more interesting than what the main lead was going through.

          I dropped Nice Guy half way through because I was so exhausted from being drained emotionally each episode.

           (0)


        • 16.2.1.2 Enz

          Am with you silverteen. Didn’t like k2h either. Stopped when they had to go for that competition against the Americans. And agree that earnest bot was the best character there. That actor is goood

           (0)


          • 16.2.1.2.1 silverteem

            Earnest bot, lol. I never knew that was his nickname. Hahaha. Truly, LSG being recasted as another “rich punk” frustrated me, even more so when my beloved HJW was left in a dizzy should I be badass or cute, predicament. Overall, the content was good, but it got boring when the turmoil between North and South was put aside to fight these Meta terrorist.

            In my opinion, the lead’s story could have had more punch on it had they stayed with the NK-SK conflict more, because that keeps the conflict interesting on their end. Once they got married, LSG SUDDENLY stopped being a punk (woah, who would have thought? *sarcasm), and HJW’s character was domesticated as a poster princess.

            ANyways, I’m about ep12-13 through it, I might try to finish it, just for the sake of the 2nd lead, whose fate was spoiled to me already… But we’ll see. :)

             (0)


        • 16.2.1.3 justcommenting

          I just thought the pairing was weird. Ha Ji-won just looks too old for Lee Seung-gi.

           (0)


    • 16.3 Kate

      I really loved Nice Guy. One of the best dramas ever.

       (0)


  17. 17 Astrid_974

    I so love year in reviews w<

     (0)


  18. 18 Faranak

    Woah! Awesome year,with great and solid dramas,i enjoyed 2012′s dramas a lot that i can’t describe it, but i can say witch were the best(as my opinion) :-D -Nice guy : song junki did a great and solid job that made me love him more!
    -Queen inhyun’s man: wow! Such a perfect pairing,<3 ji-hyun-woo yoo-in-na <3 love them both+storyline was so perfect and thouthful, and … Hot kisses! -Rooftop prince: yoochun and han ji min had a great chemistry too,and after QIHM i think they're best pairing, and i HATE END of it! So sad!
    -Answer me1997: :-D :-* <3 how AWESOME! It made me laugh a LOT! LOVED IT
    -The king2hearts: :-o so great that i watched it twice!
    I enjoyed ha ji won badass soldior A Lot!
    -Gaaaaaksital! : at first i started watching it just for JoO won,but then the plot made me stick in drama and at the end i Fell in love with Park kiwoong too(i loved joo won!) And i hated the lead girl soooo much!
    The friendship beetwen gaksital and shunji was Really awesome2!
    -Moon/sun: great child actors,and great first love,lovely king And Lovely Hot king's brother :-P the brotherhood was great and realistic… Tough i think han ga in wasn't a perfect match for kim soo hyun(he's so hot and fresh)
    -Big: good at first,aweful storyline and end! Though gong yoo did a solid job

    AND…
    -I miss you : i love it ,love every scene,love acting,love plot though it makes me sad sooo much and bring tears in my eyes,but can't help,i watch it :-S
    -school2013: i think it will be a great highschool drama,i think it is solid2
    -King of dramas: ha! It is a comedy i like and enjoy watching,hope it continues to be great till end :-D

    So,there are my opinions i wanted to share

    AND
    Javabeans – Girlsfriday – Headsno2 – Kaedejun
    Thank you soooo much for your great enjoyable awesome recaps,
    LOVE YOU ALL! :-*:-* <3 <3

     (0)


  19. 19 Orion

    I enjoyed many of these works, but I think ‘Salaryman’ is still my favorite for this year.

    ‘The King of Dramas’ is great, but it’s not something I’d rewatch. I love the story and how it’s progressing, but after knowing how things turn out, I don’t feel entertained by each episode enough to watch it again.

    When I want to watch something again, I know I’ve found my kind of work. And ‘Salaryman’ has been watched thrice already.

    Also, second award goes to ‘Dr. Jin’, for the worst, but most hilarious drama of 2012. Others were bad, but annoying bad. This was so bad, it was good.

    In short, Lee Beom Soo’s works gave me the biggest laughs this year. Intentionally and unintentionally. :P

     (0)


    • 19.1 Lilly

      Ok. I admit I watched every episode of Dr Jin as it was shown because I could not resist to see what strange thing they would do next. I just could not help it. Bwaaaa!

       (0)


      • 19.1.1 Orion

        Mine and my mother’s combined bashing and predisposition to laugh at its failures was all that kept us going. If we hadn’t gotten such laughs out of how bad it was and if Lee Beom Soo weren’t in it, we’d have dropped it. But yes, we had fun. Not the kind the series probably wanted us to, but fun. :P

         (0)


    • 19.2 nomu nomu nomu

      2012 hasn’t been that bad a year for dramas as some think. I liked many of those dramas on JB’s list, For me, out of the completed dramas from her list that i enjoyed are HOTS, Shut Up, Queen In-hyun’s, Gaksital, Arang, and AM 1997. I think it was probably the few huge flops that tainted the overall impression of the year.

      I have been enjoying King of Dramas very much so far, but I do agree, at this point of time, It’s not at the level of Salaryman. It’s definitely a fun watch, but I’m not as addicted to it. And I think KoD is starting to show signs that it’s starting to spin its wheels with Kyungsung Morning.

      hmm, you know, I’ve heard that phase used many times before, the “It-So-Bad-It’s-Awesome” or similar phrases. I just don’t buy that logic, For me, If it’s so bad, then duh, it’s just bad. period. I’ve heard the phrase used on Fashion King, Dr. Jin, Dream High 2, just to name a few.
      They were just plain BAD, no? I bailed on all of them fairly early, because I knew there was no chance in hell that these shows would get good later on.

       (0)


      • 19.2.1 Orion

        ‘Dr. Jin’ was horrible, but I was watching it with my mother. We kept laughing with just how bad it was and because we were being creative in our bashing of it while watching. I mean, seeing Song run around with the apron and eyes wide open? We just called him “housewife” after that, because it looked like he was burning his soufflé.

        It’s one of those cases of such an abysmally all-over-the-place work that actually entertains by its sheer failure and a viewers willingness to make a laughing game out of it.

        Yes, the series was awful. But our experience with it was good and the fact that it was so messed up without any potential right from the start made it “good”. For laughs. For example, ‘Big’ was not that kind of bad, because they had a good cast, idea and to some point, execution. So it made me angry how annoying it slowly got. I dropped it. Same thing with ‘Rooftop Prince’. It started out in an interesting manner and then boy, did that escalate quickly. Into a sadistic sob- and criminal-fest. Those series could have been good and did have some good things in them. Which made them just bad. Potential wasted.

        ‘Dr. Jin’ was a lost enough cause from episode 1 to fully enjoy. :P

         (0)


        • 19.2.1.1 nomu nomu nomu

          Fair enough. :-)

          I suppose one of the most important thing for a drama is to entertain the viewers. So, regardless of how the entertainment was derived, entertainment is entertainment. For me, I found no entertainment value in those three dramas I mentioned, thus the reason for ditching them early on.

          Yeah, I’m still sad over ‘Big’. I think I had too high of expectation for it going in. The combination of talented cast members and writers kept my hopes up that we were going somewhere with the story but… *sigh* What was frustrating for me was that it was a show that seemed to have so much potential to cash in but never amounted to much.

           (0)


    • 19.3 Ash

      The first half of Salaryman is one of my favorite dramas of the year. I still (and by “still”, I mean “from last night when I finished the last gasp of a marathon”) wish they’d gone a different route for the last eight episodes or so. They lost a lot of the magic for me when they switched gears into the main Big Bad. Not that those bits weren’t compelling in their own way; acting that’s that good is hard to argue with. But it wasn’t quite the drama I was in starry-eyed love with after that point.

       (0)


      • 19.3.1 Orion

        The change was really not something that bothered me or that I noticed. All stories need to take a darker turn before the end and most dramas do it in a very wrong way, starting out as slapstick comedies and then completely changing genres to heavy melo by the end.

        I feel ‘Salaryman’ actually did it very well. It was not without its dark moments from the start and it also didn’t let go of the comedy until the end. I feel they thought things through carefully and managed to balance the whole thing. I mean, I was watching a series about the corrupt corporate world and which opens with mystery and murder. It didn’t feel out of place that it went darker, like some rom-coms feel when everyone suddenly becomes a monster for no good reason.

        Also, since the second lead is in a couple role, it was already showing he wouldn’t be the big bad from quite early on. And out of all the people in the company, secretary Mo did look like she had the biggest potential for it, quite early on as well. So they prepare you for it, at least.

        I think that the better you do something, the more things can be forgiven, if they are minor. To me, this was a minor issue. As long as series keep the things that make them functional and good, I can accept all else. I feel ‘Salaryman’ managed to keep all the important things working until the very end. But that’s where taste and one’s own “drama rules” come to play. :)

         (0)


        • 19.3.1.1 Ash

          I absolutely agree that they set up Mo well enough for her turn to the dark side not to come as a shock. My main problem was the amount of time spent on her and her machinations. For me, it overwhelmed the last episodes and didn’t leave as much room for the characters I loved. The actress was brilliant in the role, but the balance just wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

          I think it’s a case of loving what it started out as so strongly that having it progress into something else was disappointing. Even if that progression was handled relatively well.

           (0)


  20. 20 mskololia

    Thanks JB for the 2012 reviews P1.

    I agree with you on NG in that I felt hoodwinked by the pace and the pretty but was overwhelmingly annoyed with the s-m OTP love story that I dropped… the watch too.

    Queen In-hyun’s Man is a winner in my book.

    I may give KOD and S2013 a try next year.

     (0)


    • 20.1 mskololia

      I forgot to add, the only dramas that I enjoyed and completed from the Kdrama list are: HotS, QIM, AatM.

      My drops were CoW, RP, NG and OS.

       (0)


  21. 21 Caitlyn

    I love reading Javabeans reviews because I basically just sit there nodding the whole time. I think the only thing I disagree on is Arang being underrated. I thought it was good, but i don’t know it was really underrated. I think it probably got the amount of attention it deserved.

    I’m totally down with Flower Boy Band being the best drama of the year. I can’t believe it was one of the first dramas of the year. but remained the best the whole time.

     (0)


    • 21.1 Ash

      Agreeing with you re: Arang. Maybe the places I chose to frequent gave me a skewed view of things, but it seemed like a lot of people were watching/enjoying Arang. Or at the very least giving it a fair shot before dropping it.

       (0)


  22. 22 Silverteem

    Nice review Javabeans. You hit the head of the nail on Nice Guy.

    The reason why people seemed disappointed on it towards the end was because they were expecting something ‘new’. I kept repeating this, but Nice Guy doesn’t have a revolutionary story, concept, or plot. Everything is basic with Nice Guy, it’s the execution that makes it a wonder hit. For a melodrama, it knows how to push the audiences buttons well enough to keep our suspension of disbelief just well below the limit (and knowingly on melodramas, suspension of disbelief quickly evaporates.) that it is able to capture the audiences attention well enough for at least 18 episodes.

    The finale kind of came flat, because again, in my opinion the extension wasn’t pushed through. The resolution was fast tracked, and all the built up tension just disappeared. Some people felt cheated, and its undertstandable.

    But again, going back to the execution, the acting was superb – and it’s the characters that pretty much drives the story forward. In all honesty, if it were not for Moon Chae Won nor Song Joon Ki, this story would have been another just has been melodrama. The chemistry was palpable, even when their lovestory borders absurdity, that people just gets blown away. SJK’s portrayal of Kang Ma Ru makes you want to hate him, but when he’s a “nice guy” how can you? Eun Gi’s obsession is just plainly on another level, but then how can we really blame her, her mother left her when she was young and she grew up cold because of her father, how do we wish that all that ice would just melt! And it did. The execution was just so well played that find ourselves rooting for the characters just enough that it overpowers the absurdity of their actions.

    That’s the beauty of Nice Guy: turning flaws into assets. We sort of understand where the fictional characters are coming from, from their fictional convulted circumstances, but at the same time we cannot fully grasp it either, that’s why we just leave them be and just hop on to the train to enjoy the ride. Which was a great tactic in my opinion.

    I understand javabean’s sentiment’s on it being overrated: because it’s not all THAT great, plotwise. But boy, the directing and acting slayed it.

    The actors will deserve all the awards they will be reaping. And hey, this was great for the writer too: her very first revolutionary (in a sense) ending. :)

     (0)


    • 22.1 pogo

      I agree that what made Nice Guy (and made me keep watching) was SJK and MCW’s chemistry (and Park Shi-yeon deserves props too) – all three actors played characters who, in the hands of someone less skilled, could have fallen absolutely flat – it’s to their credit that we’re able to believe in/root for them at all.

      And if the love story hadn’t been sold by the leads’ chemistry, this would have been a real flop of a show. Despite the disinterest JB mentions – and I understand it, I’d watch NG with a feeling of ‘here comes the drama, I’m settling in with some popcorn’ rather than ‘omgomgIwillDIEEEEEiftheydon’thaveahappyending!!’- at least I felt interested enough to keep watching. And the end, I don’t hate it but I so hate the Talkative Exposition Kid they had to use, it could have been better-executed.

       (0)


      • 22.1.1 silverteem

        Hey, that kid was cute though! :)

         (0)


    • 22.2 Momi

      Nice review! I agree 100%. At the end of the day, I don’t think I liked Nice Guy, but I won’t be mad if any of the actors sweep the awards.

       (0)


  23. 23 oftheshore

    Thank you so much for the review, JB, awesome as always!
    I think my favourite character this year is the sweet beta male from I Do I Do – don’t know how, but the writers and the actor actually made him work and managed not to turn him into a manga character. As you said, let’s hope to see more gender role reversals in dramas, preferably well-made. Biggest disappointment of the year for me is Big, because I loved all of the actors, enjoyed the eye candy, but the plot was just…eh. Don’t even get me started.
    I also hope to see more action-packed dramas or clever Story of A Man/Mawang-like thrillers next year. Faith, y u no have more action?

     (0)


  24. 24 Dita

    Thanks for the nice review JB.
    When I think about my fav drama of this year, there are 2 drama that come up in my mind, Shut Up and King 2 Hearts. And when I have to choose between these two dramas, after thinking back and forth for many times, I choose Shup Up. King 2 Hearts might be my fav drama along with Shut Up if only the writer wouldn’t kill my ernest boy, Eun Shi Kyung… Sigh!!!

     (0)


  25. 25 Annie

    “although her inexplicable love of the hero never rang true for me”

    And this was what killed Nice Guy for me. I just didn’t understand the supposedly ‘powerful’ connection between Eun Gi/Maru. How could she have fallen so deeply in love with someone while not even having scratched the most superficial layers of his character? And it was portrayed as love on her part from the get go, which diminished her character in my eyes. I think I must be allergic to Song Joong Ki…

     (0)


    • 25.1 Silverteem

      It was obsession.

      Hence the “second chance” towards the end, for a more normal love… :)

       (0)


      • 25.1.1 Annie

        I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief to go along with the fact that a rational, tightly wound character would just abandon herself to obsession and make a real fool out of herself in the process.

        I see what the writer was trying to do but I didn’t buy it.

         (0)


        • 25.1.1.1 Silverteem

          I kinda saw that part coming from the synopsis already so I didn’t find it burdensome… But fair enough, tis a year where there is a drama for everyone as JB said. :)

           (0)


    • 25.2 pogo

      yeah, it took some fortitude on my part to get past how exactly she decides she’s in love with him, anyway – I get that she’s so tightly-wound that she’s also really vulnerable, but it took until episode 7 to get me to stop rolling my eyes at it.

       (0)


    • 25.3 Yuenny

      Heh, I got over it by thinking, ‘Hey, it’s Song Joong Ki, what’s not to love?’ :D

       (0)


  26. 26 dany

    Thank you for this. From all the dramas reviewed here I watched and loved Arang and the Magistrate (wonderful story and characters), Gaksital and Faith (more “like” than “love”).
    What I like right now is School 2013 and Alice in Cheongdam-dong is funny enough.

     (0)


  27. 27 DayDreamer

    What a set of beautifully written year-end reviews for each drama. I highly enjoyed reading this. I’d have to say a lot of my thoughts match with what is written because I felt the same too.

    I had watched…

    1. Arang and the Magistrate: I was pulled in by the premise of the show and enjoyed almost the entire thing but Shin Min Ah’s character lost steam and the ending was not as strong nor as good as I would have liked.

    2. Nice Guy: Javabeans was right. Song Joong Ki, the beautiful cinematography, the fast pace, and the feelings that this show pulled out of me masked its flaws. And my initial relieved reaction that nobody died at the end (supposedly) helped to sustain a bit of happiness at the ending. However, when I managed to detach myself from the show, that’s when I felt the effects of all the things I didn’t like but didn’t get to feel that dislike. Which is rather a disconcerting experience. Like being sucked into a hole of doom and not feeling anything while I’m there.

    3. Vampire Prosecutor 2: I agree, this season was not so great. It had me more scared by the blood and gore but the surplus of corpses was dampening the effects. And definitely, this show needed its vampire prosecutor who seemed to be more absent. It’s why I was kinda pissed off that Dr. Jo was turned into a vampire. Frankly, I wasn’t interested in his sudden kill-all mood. I wanted my sexy vampire to be the hero which was only part of the last episode. Ugh. Hopefully, better luck next season.

    4. King of Dramas: Really loving this show, especially after all the melo-ness going around. Still waiting for it to end before I can say much about it but for now, it’s awesome.

    I also watched Ma Boy. It was okay…the acting by the guy playing drag was kind of bad but the female lead was really great. I also see a lot of love for Gaksital so I think I will start watching that too after I finish my recently started City Hunter.

     (0)


    • 27.1 Kim Yoonmi

      Wa~ I found someone who agreed on the ending of Arang. I definitely thought they could have pulled out the ending better.

       (0)


  28. 28 Miss D

    Hey javabeans! Thanks for the recap!

    “You cast, record songs, shoot, then remember at the last minute that you need a story.”

    Hahaha. Your description of Dream High 2 was fantastic. Dream high (the original) was one of my favorite dramas last year…I should have known better than to go in with such high expectations into the sequel. I watched through to the end? Why? I’m not sure. Either masochism or just blind hope that it would save itself in the end somehow. Whatever the reason, I sure wish I hadn’t seen.

    Then I think your review of Shut Up Flower Boy Band summed it up nicely. It was favorite for me too :)

    GASIKTAAAAAAL. So badass. So angsty. So awesome. Nof said.

    And Answer Me 1997 FOR THE WIN!

     (0)


  29. 29 slfowie

    I love this time of the year… Where we sit and compare and find the jewels that we missed and shatter and break the glass that we assumed were jewels.
    For me my fav dramas among all my fav (something like the top 1% of the top 1% if that makes any sense) were
    King 2 Hearts ( the bromance, the kick ass heroine, the kick ass and close family, the mom who has the balls to beat up the crazy villain…. EARNEST BOT!!!! whom i will always love)
    Queen In-hyun’s Man ( the kisses… the heroine who lies to get kiss.. the smart and totally adorable hero… have i mentioned kisses??)
    What’s Up ( Doori, Sun man, Byung Gun.. and the geek in me says the songs..)
    Shut Up: Flower Boy Band ( the eye candy…. the bromance.. the KISS, the bromance …..the emotion)
    Faith ( LEE MIN HO…. do we really need anything else apart from that?)
    i loved these shows equally for all different reason.. and if someone made me choose between theses shows within a minute or cause the world to end….. I would have to say.. Bye Bye world nice living here… ;) ;P

     (0)


    • 29.1 slfowie

      For faith the the Queen.. how could i forget the Queen…

       (1)


  30. 30 @RougeNail

    King of Dramas FTW! Haha

    2012 was a disappointing K-drama year for me. So many promising dramas that fizzled. Stopped watching so many dramas halfway, cuz they got so boring, draggy or just plain bad … was seriously worried for the future of K-Drama at one point! Hopefully KOD can continue its good work & keep what few audience they have still interested and finish off with a bang! *Fingers Crossed*

    The dramas that I only got thru halfway or less & some I got too lazy to watch till the end cuz they got boring, but I’ve become too invested already as i’ve watched too many episodes, so i must know the ending and thus only read their recaps on dramabeans :
    Dr. Jin, Nice Guy, Oohlala, Arang, Panda & Hedgehog, I love Itaeri (so bad!), Haeundae Lovers, Big, Moon Sun, Faith, To the beautiful you. Sigh… All that wasted idle hours!;p

    Of those that I completed, Ma Boy and Queen In Hyun were great!

     (0)


  31. 31 AirRearai

    I am 1000% agree with Jb that Arang and Magistrate is the most underrated drama… I love Arang so much. my 3 best drama of the year are Arang and magistrate, Answer me, 1997, and Queen In Hyu Man.. the chemistry of OTPs made their romance soo beautiful…i also love flower boys drama… thanks JB and GF!!

     (0)


  32. 32 Jumbalaya

    Thank you so much! This will be so exciting and it’s fantastic that we can reflect on the year’s dramas like this. It gives a sense of completion. Have fun voting in the Beanie Awards, everyone!

     (0)


  33. 33 Angel

    No The King 2 Hearts? *cries*

     (0)


    • 33.1 Saima

      I doubt she finished it. She mentioned in a podcast that the drama wasn’t to her liking.

       (0)


    • 33.2 ilikemangos

      If anything, we’ll have to wait for GF’s version of this year’s review,
      but i doubt it’ll be discussed much at all considering it didn’t do well with JB, heh.
      I’ll be satisfied if K2H atleast wins a year end reward for Cinematography/and or OST for DB.

       (0)


  34. 34 Lilly

    Definitely agree with your choices of most under rated and over rated.

    As for VP2, must as I enjoyed show what was missing for me in this season was showing the connection of the dead themselves giving the important clues to the vampire to solve their own murders. Without that it lost its aspect of a quest for vengeance for those who could no longer speak for themselves, which was a very powerful element of season one.

    The only difference I would have with you would be the best drama of the year. I think the one that is going to have the best replay value and will still be watched a lot five years from now will be Gaksital.

     (0)


    • 34.1 Aera

      agree! Gaksital is awesome.
      Honestly is there another kdrama out there that can be as intense and emotionally overwhelming as GaksitaL?!?!

       (0)


    • 34.2 Maya

      Gaksital is also my favorite drama of the year. I do agree with what JB written though, it’s not a perfect drama, however it’s certainly one that will stick with me for a long time to come…

       (0)


    • 34.3 ajuma

      Agree on this…Gaksital has the best replay value, you can replay the scenes over and over again and you will still love it!!!

       (0)


  35. 35 noonajumma

    For me, the best Korean drama this year was The Chaser which, alas, was not mentioned much here. Probably the subject matter and the cast don’t incite too much excitement outside Korea, but, HOLY SH*T, it was good.

    So excluding The Chaser, I vote for Answer Me 1997. <3<3<3

     (0)


    • 35.1 noonajumma

      Oh and Queen Inhyun’s Man, too. I <3 Kim Boong-Do.

       (0)


    • 35.2 mskololia

      A Wife’s Credentials was not mentioned too so perhaps she did not watch either series….?

       (0)


      • 35.2.1 noonajumma

        Indeed. So many shows, not enough time!

         (0)


    • 35.3 rearwindow

      Do you know if The Chaser ever got subbed online? I tried to watch it back when javabeans posted about it, but there was only one episode subbed at the time.

       (0)


      • 35.3.1 mskololia

        @35.3, Dramacrazy and Aznv both have it fully subbed.

         (0)


        • 35.3.1.1 rearwindow

          Wonderful, thank you!

           (0)


    • 35.4 veendiana

      Holy Crap! The Chaser…wow! just wow!:)

      That drama was awesome, I only watched it for Kim Sang Joong at first but the story and the characters made me stay even longer, watching it was one of the highlights of 2012 for me….so thank you for mentioning it here!:)

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    • 35.5 random person

      The Chaser made each episode gallop by! It was frightfully intense. Love that show, especially the baddies’ scenes.

       (0)


    • 35.6 Jyyjc

      This review is only part 1 so who knows? Girlfriday might review it.

       (0)


  36. 36 Dorotka

    Thanks for the review. You have my admiration for your ability to see the positive and negative points and put it so nicely on paper (screen).
    On shows I saw, I mostly agree with you.
    Though… I did quite like Big (but the last 2 episodes) and I enjoyed Answer Me 1997 from the beginning till the end (i just LOVE the octopus scene!). It is the stickiest drama of this year for me, together with the Shut Up boys.
    Thanks again.

     (0)


  37. 37 rheina07

    A year passed soo fast !

    It’s been my first full year following your website and I loved it to the bits :)

    Thank you for always give us great review for dramas !!

    P.S : I hope you could continue recaping I Miss You.
    Let’s cry a river together – or, die together? :p

     (0)


  38. 38 rearwindow

    It probably comes as no surprise that my hands-down favorite drama of the year was The King 2 Hearts.

    I think that Nice Guy was the best directed drama of the year, and gets my #2 spot.

    But oh, The King 2 Hearts. It’s kinda ruined me on other dramas, ya know?

     (0)


    • 38.1 Saima

      We had a CRAAAZZZZY time with K2H, ne?! :D

      My faves for this year: The King 2 Hearts, Rich Man Poor Woman, God’s Quiz, SUFBB, & King of Dramas.

       (0)


      • 38.1.1 rearwindow

        Gosh, I miss those crazy threads!! :)

        I am really enjoying King of Dramas, and had completely forgotten about Rich Man Poor Woman. While it got a little frustrating toward the end, that was still a fabulously entertaining show.

         (0)


      • 38.1.2 Arhazivory

        lol. We did go crazy on the threads. First and last time I ever did that. Hehe.

         (0)


    • 38.2 danna

      Totally with you on both counts! K2H and NG’s directing

       (0)


    • 38.3 ilikemangos

      “It kinda ruined me on other dramas, ya know?”

      Amen. Sometimes i wished that k2h was aired at a different time, maybe at the end of the year.
      Because honestly, after K2H, i found it hard to completely immerse myself into the world of QIHM, which came so favorably to everyone.
      I probably would have given each show my full attention if not for K2H ruining me for a good few months before i allowed dramas to re-enter my heart.

      Btw, rearwindow, i haven’t seen you lately in KOD thread. Must be busy with the family!

       (0)


      • 38.3.1 rearwindow

        I know! Even shows that I actually really liked and thought were objectively good (like Nice Guy and Arang–though I dropped Arang halfway through) just don’t hook me emotionally as they probably would have pre-K2H. For all its flaws, K2H portrayed relationships more masterfully than any other show that I’ve seen. The relationships had such depth and richness to them. I think K2H made it more obvious to me how many shows use scenes to move the plot forward without grounding them in the characters’ emotional stakes. K2H always simultaneously moved plots and relationships forward, and each character had clear objectives that drove them forward, and obstacles that hindered their progress. It reminded me a little of a good classic stage play in that regard.

        I’ve been super busy with work lately and have missed the past couple of episodes of KOD. Have they been as good as the earlier episodes?

        Also, have you watched School 2013? It’s really, really good so far and has a lot of potential to hit all the right emotional notes.

         (0)


        • 38.3.1.1 ilikemangos

          I totally agree on your comment about K2H and it’s masterful hand at creating such moving characters and the relationships with one another. If a show can do that AND give us the awesome plot I’m sold.

          KOD – The last few episodes were still definitely fun, but the pacing has slowed down considerably. We finally start filming, but there are still mini-arcs that anthony&co run into.
          Anthony&Go-Eun’s relationship is really evolving at a slow & gradual pace that is portrayed so realistically and sweetly. I love it.

          School 2013 – I finished episode 2 just yesterday amidst my hectic schedule (upcoming finals week!)
          I really appreciate this show for going for realism. Nothing is sugarcoated and they tell it like it is!
          Like JB mentioned, it definitely has a different vibe. less trendy more atmospheric. I’m not completely sucked in(i give a show usually 4 episodes), but it definitely has potential to become one of my top 10 well-done shows.

           (0)


  39. 39 Rachel

    I LOVED Nice Guy, Rooftop Prince, The King 2 Hearts as well as Queen Inhyun’s Man! :D Personally for me, these were all fantastic dramas. Nice Guy was a heck of an emotional ride but i truly enjoyed it all the way till the end :)

     (0)


    • 39.1 Lilly

      Rooftop Prince was absolute proof to me of how well Yoochun could act because he definitely carried the full weight of the success of that show all the way through on his back, and succeeded.

       (0)


  40. 40 dapinaymrs

    Such a pleasure to read. :)

    I need to speed up watching the ones I’ve been missing out on–I Miss You, should I watch this? No, I don’t wanna die yet. Too many good dramas I still haven’t seen.

    By golly, I need to start now.

     (0)


  41. 41 reindeer

    My favorite dramas for the year are Queen In Hyun’s Man, The King 2 Hearts and Answer Me 1997. It’s been a good year in kdramaland, so many good dramas… Thanks javabeans for the review! :)

     (0)


  42. 42 loveydovey

    I love k.o.d, but school 2013 is snooze fest so far.

     (0)


    • 42.1 Annie

      Yes! I was all excited to see School 2013 based on the praise and I couldn’t believe this was what’s getting people excited about in a drama.

      Then again I disagreed with some of the favorites of this year. I thought Nice Guy was ridiculously overrated and AM1997 was just nice, not great.

      K2H was good to great until the last two episodes. But their strength was the characters and relationships.

      QIHM was pretty much perfect. I fell in love as they fell in love.

       (0)


      • 42.1.1 ladida

        Yeah, I feel bad because I watched the first few episode of AM 1997 and was scratching my head a little bit. But QIHM is definitely my favorite. Maybe I should give K2H a try?

         (0)


        • 42.1.1.1 random person

          K2H might not pull everyone in from the first two episodes, but from episode 5 or 6 everything gets awesome and more awesome.

           (0)


        • 42.1.1.2 rearwindow

          Yes, definitely yes, watch K2H. As random person says, it does take a few episodes to warm up, but once it does, it’s incredible.

           (0)


    • 42.2 silverteem

      2013 is a bit dry for now. I’m weary that they might go on melo to spice things up.

      Answer me 1997 was definitely perfect because it was truly hilarious. As far as content though, it was more of the nostalgic feeling that pulls me through. And it’s the most realistic drama you’d ever have as far as “realism” goes for 2012. Everything else is over the top as usual.

      I really dont get what’s UP with QIHM though. I sat and watched 1-4 eps and just fell asleep. Sadly, I don’t think that I would even try finishing it.

      IMO the saeguk this year was very much lackluster.

       (0)


  43. 43 rose

    common…it was not like what you said…I mean…Ok,I’m agreed,not at all!!!
    but,anyway…thanks for all the recaps & review of the year!!!

     (0)


  44. 44 queencircles

    I didn’t watch too many of these this year. I loved Gaksital obviously. My fav of the year. Queen inhyun and arang were both wonderful also. I probably enjoyed the epic romance of inhyun more, but the smart mythology of arang was great. Big was a big friggen dissapointment,though the beginning was fun, and I dropped faith out of boredom 7 or so episodes in. I just started shut up so we’ll see how that goes and based on this I’ll probably watch king of dramas also.

    Thanks for the reviews! I always love to hear your input :) Can’t wait for the next ones.

     (0)


    • 44.1 queencircles

      lol and I love that you chose that pic for Gaksital. LOVE it.

       (0)


      • 44.1.1 ajuma

        Yeah! Joo Won look’s freaking hot!!!:)

         (0)


  45. 45 ailee

    OMG OMG OMG finally it’s here! been waiting ages for the reviews yayyys it’s finally heree! off to read now! thank you again you’re the best :D

     (0)


  46. 46 crazedlu

    Found myself on the same exact page as you. Nice. Ha. Looking forward to the other reviews!

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  47. 47 ladida

    Boy, I feel you on Nice Guy. Eun Ki should have been the main character, but they gutted her. Really episodes 9 through about 16/17 were kind of pointless, just in terms of story. It’s the kind of show that makes more sense with the rabid highs of week-to-week watching than if you were to sit down and watch it en marathon. Also, the directing and acting (especially Moon Chae Won, who was a boss, even when she was an amnesiac) made it, and not really the writing. I’m actually kind of annoyed at Nice Guy, so I’ll stop here.

    Anyway, thanks for your year end review!

     (0)


    • 47.1 toritorisan

      Totally agree with you there. EK’s character was so strong in the beginning. I really thought that after she found out about Maru and JH that the drama would have a more revenge type of storyline (like Equator Man) with intense battles of wits. There was such a strong cast too, but the storyline kinda fizzled out at the end.

      On a side note… totally agree with Javabeans about Moon Embracing the Sun… my friends were totally gaga over this drama but I couldn’t understand why. I thought it was okay, but nothing super spectacular as the hype made it out to be. For me, Faith was the one I enjoyed the most. Sure it wasn’t a grandiose of special effects, but I thought the writing was smart and had attention to detail. In addition, it was a good mixture of funny and serious. I also liked how they made the female character the time traveler as it a put a different perspective on this genre.

      Finally, is it just me… but are the endings to dramas getting a bit weaker? There a lot of dramas where I felt confused or unsatisfied with the endings… (Big, Rooftop Prince, Fashion King, etc…).

       (0)


    • 47.2 canxi

      I agree with Nice Guy being overrated.

      Though I thought the ending satisfying in it’s happiness but rushed in how it got there (also confusing). Like, I literally threw my thoughts out the window at the end and was all, Ok…well they’re cute and happy. Cool. Fine.

      I think it’s one of those shows that moves forward more on it’s characters. Like, they all had these varying degrees of nice-ness and not so nice-ness to the point where I thought the show may be asking “What does it mean to be “nice”? And I liked that…but it’s not something I would watch again.

       (0)


      • 47.2.1 QQ

        Same here. When I watched the ending of Nice Guy, the first words that came out of my mouth after that was, “I feel cheated.” The writer had been implying ‘Oh, Maru’s gonna die, blablablaba, some karma, whatever,’ he was even stabbed (I don’t get the point of stabbing when the chance success of his surgery was very low!) Ugh! I hate it that the writer went cold feet at the end, and went with a safe ending instead.

        I think, Gaksital made me into masochistic wreck where I feel the need to cry for every characters (I even watched for tear-inducing Gaksital fanvids, just to relive the emotions. I’m just not there yet when it comes to letting go.) Whereas for Nice Guy, I felt zero attachment to any of the characters. Sure, I guess, I had a few moments of swooning over Maru (well, Joong Ki) and Lawyer Park. Plus, I like bitchy Eun Gi, so it’s kinda sad to see her amnesiac self, but that’s about it.

         (0)


      • 47.2.2 justcommenting

        Agreed. Not too impressed with the script, but viewers like the traditional melodramas.

         (0)


    • 47.3 Momi

      YES, agreed!! I don’t think I would have made it through Nice Guy if I had marathoned it. It really was just superficially beautiful with no substance under the surface. Acting was superb, but the drama is totally overrated.

       (0)


  48. 48 Paws

    Yup. The show would have flopped if not for the strong cast, esp cute boy SJK. However, to compare him with his small (though pivotal) role in Deep Rooted Tree, we need to see his range of acting, his contribution to the plot and his chemistry with his fellow actors/actresses. It seems his role in NG wins it by a mile on most if not all counts.
    Sure, there were so many instances of logic defying moments…and which drama has not its fair share? At least the show doesn’t suffer from lame lines, bad acting and had me awaiting for every broadcast.
    As for the warped framework it was operating on, that’s been the premise upon which the drama was built on, that there are no nice guys in this world, everyone has flaws and with these flaws they tend to do ridiculous and stupid things…which all 3 cast members showed ample examples of throughout the drama (even the supporting ones!).
    It certainly was the most melodramatic drama for me this year, not the most overrated. that award may go to Faith for its ample amounts of cheesy moments and mood shots.

     (0)


  49. 49 danna

    yayayay! Good year for me though not necessarily a great one, surprising to me because I saw less number of bad shows and there are more favorite shows this year than there was last year…..its kinda funny that your most overrrated and underrated show made into my top 5 favorites, side by side….hehe….overall I just feel that there was something missing this year…..maybe cuz I haven’t seen a proper sageuk without any fantasy elements (the only ones that were there were far too long for my taste) or a proper family drama? (tried a few but just didn’t like any or there were a lack of subs)
    one thing that I did love this year were that there were some really great female lead characters this year…starting from Yeo Chi (HOTSM)a and Hang-Ah (K2H) all the way to Go Eun (KoD).,…not saying that there weren’t some really annoying ones (*Looks at Twelve men in a year and Marriage Scheme*)….but I do feel that I rooted for more women in dramas this year than men, and that’s always a great thing for me…..anyways here’s to hoping for a better 2013!

    P.S. Pleasantly surprised to see History of the salaryman here, I was under the impression you hadn’t seen it since its not on the drama ratings page. Thank you for your take!

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  50. 50 avonmarissa

    For me, the best Korean drama this year was CSTV’s Saving Mrs. Go Bong Shil. I have never seen a Korean drama that depicts gay men and transgendered people in such an open light. Apart from that, the setting of Itaewon as a place where “others” are welcome was really enlightening. It was a quiet drama but for me, it was the best.

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    • 50.1 MeMyMo

      You should check out Life is Beautiful. It is my favorite family drama, and I must say the writing is simply beautiful. While the gay storyline is not a main focus, since it is an ensemble drama, I love the quiet, subtle way the writer portrayed the relationship, accepting and showing it for exactly what it is with no special treatment, allowing the characters to develop without having just “gay” as part of their identity. While 63 episodes might be a lot, but it is certainly worth it.

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      • 50.1.1 avonmarissa

        Thanks for the recommendation. I saw a few episodes of LIB but some of the characters were wearing me out, haha. Will check it out again; thanks.

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      • 50.1.2 Peridot

        I love Life is Beautiful and am glad that I found someone else who does. I have seen the show at least twice in its entirety. It does not have any grandiose plot but it’s all the little moments and the beautiful dialogue that make it so special to me. I also like how the director framed many scenes; it was like the viewer was literally looking at a picture frame. I initially approached the drama because of the gay story line but came to love all of the story lines.

         (0)


        • 50.1.2.1 Pat

          This is one of my all time favs. The writing was amazing!
          The family is enough to make you want to move in. Very
          heartwarming but not the least bit sappy. I think the acting was also outstanding. And the annoying relatives were like real
          people, so rare in any dramas for TV. See it someday.

           (0)


    • 50.2 canxi

      I actually want to watch this, it does seem pretty sweet.

       (0)


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