Looking at the buffet table of 2012, I’m left in awe at the vast array of possible selections before me. The sheer number of choices is growing every year and I feel like I have to taste-test the premiere and make a quick decision of whether to keep digging in or move on. Sometimes you don’t just know for sure until you’re left with the aftertaste.
And because some dramas that fall within the same genre can have unique flavors, I’m using a Taste O’Meter to assess this year’s dramas. Was it sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or savory? Maybe more than one?
Like any “Thanks to…” in a good Kpop album: My unending thanks to javabeans and girlfriday for the opportunity to let me write about what I love; to HeadsNo2 for the squee-fests and love of makgulli; to kaedejun for the laughs, hugs, and love of Oppa; and last but not least, to YOU GUYS for being awesome readers. I put in a good word for y’all with Santa but he may have used my note as a coaster instead. Or a tissue.
The series below include the ones seen in its entirety, listed chronologically(ish):
SONG OF THE DAY
Shut Up Flower Boy Band OST – Sung Joon/Eye Candy – “Wake Up” [ Download ]
Shut Up: Flower Boy Band
Be still, my beating heart. What a rockin’ way to start off the year. This drama remains on the top of my re-watch list and I find myself playing the OST to get me going in the morning.
Prior to watching the premiere, the words ‘flower boys’ and ‘rock’ in one sentence didn’t equate in my head and I expected a saturated, fun show like its predecessor, Flower Boy Ramyun Shop. So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a tightly-written story of a ragtag group of teenage boys driven by a raw passion to make their mark on the world. Their cheers felt like a harmonious major chord, their tears like a minor chord that strikes you in the heart. I was reminded of what it was like to be young, misunderstood, and having your dreams being laughed at by the rest of the world.
This was the drama where I finally took notice of Sung Joon (I refuse to believe that he was previously in Lie to Me) but it was L (Kim Myung-soo)’s character, Hyun-soo, I fell in love with. His loyalty to the boys, his struggle with feeling like second fiddle to the larger-than-life character Byung-hee (Lee Min-ki) is something that grips the strings of my soul better than a cabo.
Every episode left me wanting just a little more and this journey through a chapter of adolescence to discover who you are no matter what the world hurls your way isn’t a score easily forgotten. So twirl those drumsticks, add another guitar riff, sing into those mics. We’re ready for your encore.
Tastes like…: Pop Rocks. A treat for the eyes and a sweet explosion in your mouth.
Operation Proposal kicked off one of the drama trends in 2012: time-travel. Though the time-travel gimmick was formulaic, the show asked an overarching question: What if you got a second chance at your first love? Or a third chance? Or a fifteenth chance?
And so in the beginning, we were rooting for Baek-ho (Yoo Seung-ho), our hero, because he’s the guy next door who thought he was friendzoned ten years ago and just missed his chance with the girl of his dreams. That is, until you realize that he had plenty of chances (thanks to his constant voiceover) but still managed to muck it up anyway. Even when he gave his Baekpercent, he realized that winning someone’s heart is harder than pitching a fastball. I applaud Yoo Seung-ho for breathing life into the hero and his fantastic portrayal of Baek-ho’s vulnerabilities (and kisses) kept his journey from venturing too far into wimpy protagonist territory. Though if I find a Jin-won (Lee Hyun-jin) in my lifetime, I’d choose him any day.
Remakes can be a hit or miss and the Japanese original (Proposal Daisakusen) holds a special place in my heart. This show did a fine job of holding its own ground. On a technical level, the cinematography was beautiful and the series held such sweet moments in the character interactions. I loved that our side characters were integral cogs in the main storyline and had their own character journeys as well. So when Baek-ho’s actions tweaked his relationship with Yi-seul (Park Eun-bin), we also saw the butterfly effect in subsequent alternative realities, for better or for worse.
But most of all, what got me in the gut was the lifelong friendship in our main cast. They constantly challenged and encouraged each other to become better versions of themselves, even without the use of “Renovatio!” to spur the change. It may not have always been peachy, but true friendship is golden.
Tastes like…: The moment you realize you sent the same dish back to the kitchen 16 times.
The King 2 Hearts
I distinctly remember that I fell behind on this show about four episodes into its run. And then I marathoned six episodes in a row to catch up. And boy was it worth it.
Initially I tuned in for Lee Seung-gi since I always found him as a fine actor. I wondered if his role as a royal would prove to be a challenge but I loved his watching him start out as a petty, immature man-child to become a respectable (and brainy!) leader of his nation. Ha Ji-won is one of my favorite heroines of the year and it was so refreshing to see a woman with sass and just so badass. Give this woman her own nation to rule and she’ll do just fine, ‘s all I’m sayin’.
Their relationship rocked this pseudoworld between war and peace in every turn and I loved what their pairing meant not only between themselves but for the world at large. While I was with the characters in the highs and lows, I had a tough time with the age gap between our two actors. It’s a minor point in the overall scheme of the show, and at the end of the day, a number.
North-South relations is already a sensitive topic, but I was impressed that the drama didn’t skirt the tension between the two nations but rather used it to drive the plot and characters to new extremes, even if I nearly suffered through a few heart attacks along the way. Viewers should take this drama’s perspective with a grain of salt because history and politics will be painted in a subjective light.
Bong-gu (Yoon Je-moon) was a fantastic maniacal villain and a great foil for our protagonists. He legitimately scared me in some moments and his interactions with the pillar of loyalty, Earnest Bot aka Jo Jung-seok chilled me to the bone. So it’s a good thing that the bromance between the bodyguard and his king, the romance with his princess, and his straightforwardness is what makes him so darned lovable and the king of my heart.
Tastes…: Royally elegant, but watch out for the rotten cookies.
The premise: a Korean mother who runs a boardinghouse and tries to marry off her four daughters. Naturally that would means that we would get cohabitation hijinks galore, right?
Not in this kimchi vat. Instead, the focus shone on a simple corporate conflict tied to the Past to justify the present. Yet despite our initial expectations, the series turned out to be funny, heartwarming, and reflective, raising some interesting metaphorical questions on life, love, and family.
Mom (Cha Hwa-yeon) was usually the one asking these questions, describing her boarders as kimchi who will grow ripe for harvest. The relationship with her daughters turned out to be an essential lesson in this series, teaching them that family transcends blood relations. Though I loved the dichotomy of traditional vs. corporate kimchi, the answer to this conflict made me groan rather than feel satisfied.
Thankfully the sizzling chemistry in our leading couple covered some of the show’s flaws, mostly thanks to Lee Kyu-han who is finally out of second-lead drama territory. *knocks on wood* It took some time for the viewers to embrace Kang Hye-jung‘s character but you can’t help but love her once she comes around. The story on the other hand, meandered in its middle stretch and circled around the same conflict you already know the answer to.
The characters are likeable enough and one may find it an easy, breezy watch for a romantic comedy. It’s a metaphorical wonderland for kimchi, but I’d skip this drama if you’re expecting any marriage plotting to be had.
Tastes like…: Unripened kimchi. A bit bland but makes you think of what ingredients to add to the batch.
Queen In-hyun’s Man
If you felt that Operation Proposal got too many wasted chances, then Queen In-hyun’s Man made our couple work to travel across three centuries. Boasting a strong narrative, it struck me as a modern storybook romance that swept me right off of my feet.
Kim Boong-do (Ji Hyun-woo) wins in my book (hur) as the Most Resourceful Time Traveler award this year. You see the discombobulated-OMG-where-am-I type so often in so many shows that his calm and collected personality was a breath of fresh air. An entirely different era didn’t ruffle his feathers and his curiosity to learn the ways of society was just plain adorable. And then he and Yoon Inna were even more adorable together, if that’s altogether possible.
Each episode was more addicting than the one that preceded it, and the clear indication that love is a choice felt more real (as real as fiction can be) in a land where love is otherwise dictated by fate and destiny.
There’s a certain magic that holds this show together and I don’t need a time-travel gimmick to feel that connection.
Tastes like…: Dippin’ Dots. Unique, futuristic, fantastic, and just plain fun.
Gaksitaaaaal!! By far, one of the most memorable dramas for me this year. This comic book-esque historical action series kicked my summer into high gear from the premiere. Heart-wrenching and heart-pounding, I can still feel the pangs in the distance.
This show nearly got everything right – from the origin story to its rocking pacing to characters you actually laughed, screamed, and cried with. Sure I questioned Kang-to’s perfect coiffe, the multiple identities, or how Angel Club seemed eerily close to the police station. But all of those paled in comparison to the larger story at hand.
A perfect example of intentional storytelling, the directing took us from scene to scene in a fluid motion as if we were seeing frames from a comic book played out before our eyes. And even though this show fell victim to the live shoot system like so many shows before it, you would have never known given its execution. If ever there was an ending that wanted me to pump my fists into the air, it was this one.
1930s Korea isn’t the easiest waters to tread, but I loved that it dared to shine a spotlight on some of the darkest moments in history. Swinging us back and forth through the deepest and most intense of emotions like a pendulum, you saw the upswing in Joo Won‘s performance and how it affects Park Ki-woong (Shunji)’s resolve to the very core.
Listening to the OST still grips me to this day and if I ever have to see a box of nails in my life again, it’ll be too soon.
Tastes like…: A black and white cookie you have no idea which side to bite into first.
I Do, I Do
By the time I Do, I Do stepped in, I was ready for a refreshingly light-hearted summer romantic comedy. Gorgeous shoes a plus, of course.
We got just that: a sweet, bumbling workplace romance between a driven careerwoman and idealistic and innocent hero. Though the icy outer shell of our heroine left us with a question mark in the earlier half of the drama, Kim Sun-ah reminded us why we love her in the first place by shining in moments of complete vulnerability. Pair that with an earnest and warm Lee Jang-woo in search of his own niche and you have a simply electrifying onscreen couple.
Moreso than that, I was invested to see how a sudden pregnancy from a one-night stand and the daunting notion of motherhood would affect a single woman in her thirties. So I was impressed when hush-hush issues of pregnancy and motherhood were breached (e.g. abortion) but they were subsequently dropped as the drama progressed. These particular episodes were when the numbers started to climb and in retrospect, such a shame since this series was so understated compared to its competitors (Gaksital, Dr. Jin).
The show itself was mostly absent of any major opposition and some characters defied any reasonable medical and personal boundaries (Here’s lookin’ at you, Dr. Without Borders). In terms of plot development, I felt like I was tapping my foot for the majority of its run, waiting patiently (Okay, not so patiently at times) for the payoff that seemed like would never come. When it did, I was grateful but still frustrated knowing the drama’s potential if it delivered sooner rather than later.
What I appreciated though, was that the series took its own spin on the classic romantic comedy dilemma: Do you choose love or career? If the ending is any indication, maybe you can chase after both without breaking a heel.
Tastes like…: A slow-roasted bun in the oven.
Big anticipation, Big expectations, Big …disappointment. It’s like a logic defying drama recipe. You take a pair of Hong Sisters, add a serving of Gong Yoo, mix in a dash of whimsical with a sprinkle of mystical. Failproof, right?
[Possible Spoilers Ahead. You've been warned.]
The show struck a different tone than the Hong Sisters’ previous works, dialing down the zany but still humorful and thought-provoking. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t appreciate the shameless chocolate abs display in Episode 2, but I was hooked because I was promised body-swapping. So I was willing to wait a few episodes and charmed by how the story kept luring me in, even subverting my expectations early in its run.
And deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole we went, as the drama played with our hearts between Team Kyung-joon and Team Yoon-jae. I was even impressed when the savior sibling twist came to the foreground (when a child is born to be a possible organ donor match) ’cause that’s just rich with conflict.
My expectations were raised higher now. Surely Shin Won-ho (or WonderHo as I like to call him) can’t stay asleep for that long, right? I fed on every glimpse of him, ready for the answer to that burning question, “Who is Yoon-jae?”
When all was said and done, my question was never answered and I never saw WonderHo again. And I still don’t know who Yoon-jae is. So after much gnashing of teeth and a plethora of cursory remarks that boiled down to WTF, I chalked this drama as my biggest disappointment of the year. Even a miracle wasn’t enough to save this sinking ship.
In the words of Kang Kyung-joon: “Uh-oh.”
Tastes like…: Melted chocolate you forgot in your glove compartment on a hot summer’s day.
Answer Me, 1997
Now I’ve realized I’ve watched a lot of tvN this year. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing but it does say something about the relationship between the level of quality from this cable network and my level of interest. And I’m not that good at math, so let’s call it a direct relationship.
This show was a stroll down memory lane for me: the static noise of dial-up, the H.O.T. obsession, the realm of internet fanfiction. These pieces of nostalgic references were little drops of fangirl heaven compared to the rest of the drama’s charm. I loved that we were transported to someplace outside of Seoul (for once), and Jung Eun-ji is as winning as they come. It even took me a few episodes to realize that we were watching a band of newbie actors because they fit their character molds so naturally.
It was Answer Me‘s droll, witty humor that pulled me into its unconventional storytelling of six friends who transitioned from their awkward teenage years to… their awkward adult years. The heartfelt relationships came in all forms through family, love, friendship, and kindness. I mean, what better way is there to mend a relationship than seeing your best friend sport the same hideous ‘do? *tear*
Overall, I felt assured at the story’s pace at the viewer, though sadly,the drama’s own awareness of its success did the plot no favors (Think of that hot boy-next-door who realized that he can become a model.). But even then, I held on tight to those golden nuggets of nostalgia. One thing’s for sure – Tuesdays will just never be the same.
Tastes like…: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Smooth, a little nutty, and a yummy throwback to childhood.
To the Beautiful You
To the Beautiful You OST – J-Min – “일어나” (Stand Up) [ Download ]
Hi. My name is gummi and I’m a die-hard Kpop-aholic. When I heard the first whispers of this classic Hanazakari no Kimitachi e remake produced by SM Entertainment and saw the promotional teasers, I was totally on board. I had enough faith in the premise and sincerely hoped that this could be an idol launching pad like Dream High that I was willing to turn a blind eye to its possible flaws.
So what could have been a cute Disney Channel-esque show that caters to a young audience sadly turned out to be an illogical loosely-strung story of a girl who flew halfway around the world to an all-boys high school to spur her idol to high jump again. Why? No one knows from this side of the television screen.
Without a character motivation, Jae-hee takes the cake as the densest, most infuriating heroine of the year. As a viewer, we want to cheer, laugh, and cry with you as you chase after your dreams. But if we don’t know what those are then how can we root for you?
To the show’s credit, the cinematography is gorgeous and the lavish dorm rooms makes you wish you went to Genie High. You can call this series a delightful treat for the eyes even before you got to the idols. But all of those pieces still weren’t enough to salvage the directing that stretched you from one extreme to the other or an internal logic that failed at even supporting its own inconsistencies. Though the show successfully delivered the source material to appeal to the purist of manga fans, the production missed an opportunity to take creative liberty and build upon that success to attract a larger populace.
Unable to handle the ensemble we were initially introduced to, supporting characters were swung in and out like a revolving door when the occasion called for it. The biggest travesty of all was that the show wasted the acting chops of two powerhouses, Lee Hyun-woo and Seo Joon-young, and we were given snippets of the range we might have seen in their previous projects.
The adorable romance in To the Beautiful You managed to buoy me through the serious notes of the series and Minho‘s smile has won countless hearts of noona fans everywhere.
Tastes like…: A delicious-looking s’more but a cardboard imitation at best.
Arang and the Magistrate
Bellowing Arraaanngg!! doesn’t quite carry that same gravitas as say, Gaksital, but the earnestness of this fantasy fusion-sageuk reminded me of folklore I heard as a child. Establishing a world can be a tall task in dramaland, but Arang took that a step further and built a universe that was both mystifying and mystical.
With ghosts, reapers, fairies, and goats running around, the possibilities of mythological creatures were endless and you wondered what can’t exist rather than what can. I mean, what’s more fun than a playboy Jade Emperor and a crankypants Hades bicker about the rules of the universe?
Where this show excelled was at slowly unraveling the mystery that surrounded this enriched fantasy realm, teasing the strands bit by bit; sometimes subverting our initial hypotheses, sometimes rewarding us for using our noggin’. But even if we chose not to make guesses, the writers handled the story with delicate hands so that we never felt like we fell behind at any point.
The undercurrent of character emotions was an added plus I didn’t expect. They tugged at your heartstrings at just the right moments and reminded you that not everything is what it seems. If only the show wasn’t so dark (as in, I can’t see you Lee Jun-ki) but that minor complaint doesn’t detract much from the whimsical that made this show a pure delight to watch from start to finish.
Tastes like…: Ghouly and eerie, kind of reminds you of liver. Wait, that’s not right.
Vampire Prosecutor 2
After a fantastic, jaw-dropping first season of Vampire Prosecutor, I was fully ready to embrace what was sure to be a heart-stopping, slick second season. As if I would turn down a chance to stare at Yeon Jung-hoon for twelve hours.
The intensity of the premiere sure stopped my heart all right. And though I was happy to see the ol’ gang back together again with our ageless vamp prosecutor-detective at the helm, I looked forward to getting some answers from the previous season. Because what’s the point of another season unless you intend to give us more clues, right?
The episodes were slicker, grittier, and darker than last season and yet, it still felt a bit lackluster. It took a while for me to become invested in the overarching storyline that supposedly tied this world together and I asked myself, “Wait, who turned who? And wait, who are you supposed to be?” With all these clues piling on top of each other without much of a payoff, it felt like we were watching one long trailer setting us up for a finale.
At its strongest moments, we got a chilling enemy in L or Red Eyes (Kwon Hyun-sang) who seriously made me fear for Tae-yeon’s safety. Thankfully, the season finale pulled out all the stops and because curiosity always gets the best of me, I’ll be tuning in til the end.
Tastes like…: A rich red velvet cupcake soaked in blood with guyliner icing.
Melodramas can be a tricky thing in my book. And if one is entitled, There’s No Such Thing as Nice Guys or better known as Nice Guy here at DB, I’m going to expect an anti-hero streak in our protagonist.
Oddly enough, this was the only melodrama I stuck with this year (save for I Miss You, which is still airing) because this is a show that scrutinizes the human psyche under a dramatic microscope. What makes someone tick and how far must you chase after your desires? From the onset, this is what the show excelled at: introducing us to cryptic, puzzling characters we wanted to solve – let’s be honest – in the prettiest of ways. And I’m not just talking about Song Joong-ki.
As much as I was fascinated by these characters who lived in an enclosed world that consisted only of themselves, I saw the same brush strokes of Writer Lee Kyung-hee that was reminiscent of her previous projects. That isn’t to say that every drama should be innovative because there’s a reason why melodramas fall under this category. But we have an orphan hero on a revenge path but can’t help but fall in love with our heroine. Sound familiar? It should. (I’m Sorry, I Love You, A Love to Kill)
I grit my teeth through the amnesia storyline, not because it’s a classic drama trope but rather it sucked the snap, crackle, and pop out of our once cold and calculating Eun-ki (Moon Chae-won) and we had to bear a few episodes of not-all-that-exciting E3PO. Song Joong-ki brought a compelling Maru to the table and it’s not Park Si-yeon‘s fault that the name ‘Jae-hee’ has scarred me for life.
So at the end of this metaphorical tunnel, I think I came out pretty unscathed. Wait, I think I sustained a life-threatening brain injury after all.
Tastes like…: Wait, what did I just eat? I forgot.
Full House Take 2
After nearly eight years of off-again, on-again talks of a possible sequel after the original Full House, I raised an eyebrow when production finally gave it the green light to air after all. If you’re looking for the same kind of charm that made you fall in love with Rain, this ain’t it. Because this series is a fascinating show on its own. And I’m not being sarcastic.
You only need two seconds to figure out who will end up as our leading couple (hint: they’ve got the same ‘dos) and another two to wonder why someone who would wear a teddy bear accessory would be in charge of someone else‘s fashion choices. But once you look past those barriers (I know it’s hard), what you’ll find is a gem tucked underneath the ridiculous.
Blink twice and you’ll miss the satirical jabs at the entertainment industry between the hilarious Kpop references. It’s enough to make you think twice about not only who Oppa really is but why he’s working so damned hard. Maybe he has a Full House on lien and he has to rely on brand name lotion samples to get it back.
What started as a ridiculously hilarious and zany series in its earlier episodes took the exit towards Angstville, which sadly, did the drama no favors. Though it gave both of our boys great depth in their tragic childhoods (Seriously, Tragic Triangle could find work here.), this is when the series felt out-of-place and conventional. But stick with it all the way through and you’ll be rewarded for your infinite patience.
The bromance alone is worth the watch and – dare I say – a formidable rival to the romance. Both Noh Min-woo and Park Ki-woong are so damned cute in this series that you know that Shunji would roll his eyes at them and say, “Bitch, please.”
Full House Take 2 just wrapped up on cable network SBS Plus this past week, so if you need a bit of hilarity before you ring in the new year, this is it.
Tastes like…: An allergen-free fluffy marshmallow.
Time to put the Taste O’Meter back on the shelf until next year! Let’s hope the Mayans were wrong because 2013 looks like it’ll be a pretty fantastic year.
- 2012 Year In Review, Part 2: Life Lessons from a Mixed Bag of Dramas (kaedejun’s review)
- 2012 Year In Review, Part 1: Something for everyone? (javabeans’ review)
- 2012 Beanie Awards: Vote for your favorite dramas of the year
- 2011 Year In Review, Part 5: Editors’ Picks
- 2011 Year In Review, Part 4: The dramaMeter: highly scientific and foolproof (girlfriday’s review)
- 2011 Year In Review, Part 3: Somewhere Over the K-Drama Rainbow (Dahee Fanel’s review)
- 2011 Year In Review, Part 2: The Good, The Bad, and The Hmmm… of 2011 (kaedejun’s review)
- 2011 Year In Review, Part 1: Measuring 2011 on the Sticky Scale (javabeans’ review)