Drama Reactions & Reviews
Cheers to Dramaland 2013 [Year In Review, Part 1]
by | December 9, 2013 | 342 Comments

Another year has flown by, and it’s time to look back, reminisce, and assess how 2013 treated us in dramaland. And in taking a trip down memory lane (sure it’s a short lane, but so’s the memory), it strikes me that 2013 was pretty good in churning out a steady diet of watchable dramas, but a little stingy on the standouts. Which is to say, there were many, many dramas I enjoyed (including some that were so flawed that there was no reason to have enjoyed them as much as I did), but few if any that I really loved.

In my very unscientific approach to judging a year in dramaland, I generally feel that if a year brings me at least one awesome drama that gets me in both the head and the heart, it’s been a satisfying year. By that criteria, I’ll have to say 2013 falls a bit short of drama excellence, because I missed having that mind-and-body absorption into a drama and its world. Yet there were enough solid offerings to keep me well entertained, so I can’t be too disappointed.

And yes, there were some stinkers too, but that’s what man invented liquor for. So grab a drink, raise your glass, and join me in looking back on the year that was. (If you don’t see your favorite drama in this review, there’s a good chance it’ll be covered in the upcoming reviews. We’ve done our best to cover as much as possible, we swears. We have the dark circles to prove it.)

SONG OF THE DAY

Suspicious Housekeeper OST – “First Love” sung by Kim So-hyun [ Download ]

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So. What’s your poison?

CELEBRATORY DRINKIN’
 

Nine: Nine Time Travels

Raise your glass of: Single malt scotch. Complex, layered, and a little bracing.

Hands down, Nine is dramaland’s best take on the time-travel premise (and we have had many to compare against). But more than being head and shoulders above the other Korean time-travelers, I’d argue that Nine, with its intricate and intelligent handling, is one of the best onscreen explorations of time travel, period.

Where other dramas often relegate the time travel element to role of narrative tool—a reason to kick off a romance, for instance, or pluck our fish out of water—Nine put the time travel front and center and built a complex mythology with rules, complications, and consequences fully thought out. Sharp and smart, the plot kept the gears in our brains turning and our worry meters dialed up to ten at the hero’s ever-tangling predicaments, making for a suspenseful and often unpredictable watch.

While there are dramas that try to outsmart audiences as a gimmick (withholding info or deliberately being contrary), Nine outsmarted us just by being inherently smart. And the show assumed I was smart, too, never talking down to its audience. The details were laid in thoughtfully, but it wasn’t so caught up in its own cleverness that it became incomprehensible to the average viewer, which is something that shows like Lost couldn’t always manage. Nine provided a good balance between an accessible story and a complex framework holding it up, so that it could be enjoyed on multiple levels.

It wasn’t a flawless show (though it’s still on a shortlist of the year’s best-executed), and neither was it very fast; even when the story picked up steam, it didn’t actually move very quickly—the relationships played out in somewhat leisurely fashion. It’s to the drama’s credit that every development was wrought with intrigue despite that; sometimes the fallout was more interesting than the conflict itself. The drama wasted nothing on filler, giving us lean, economical storytelling with tight internal logic.

I came away from Nine with admiration for its intellectual streak and awe at the deftness of its directing, which kept me happily engaged on a mental level and on the edge of my seat through all the unexpected twists and turns. And while I’d classify it more as a cerebral treat than a gooey emotional one, that doesn’t mean it was without emotion; it was, however, refreshing for the brain to get as much a workout as the heart.

 

Master’s Sun

Raise your glass of: Makgulli. Sweet, fizzy, comforting.

Perhaps Master’s Sun wasn’t the Hong Sisters at the pinnacle of their writing game, but they have bounced back from recent missteps and toned down some of their excesses, which made this series a solid return to form. Past dramas have showcased the Hongs’ tendency to take their wordplay and jokes a beat too far; in Master’s Sun, they showed a restraint we’d not seen before. Sometimes a joke can be just a joke, and they finally got the memo, toning down that frantic impulse to turn everything a metaphor, and then make all those metaphors collide into a supernova of tongue-twisting semantic gymnastics.

While the drama didn’t have quite the fast-flying dialogue or addictive punch of their past shows, it drew me in with its slower burn and the fantastic chemistry between Gong Hyo-jin (so relatable and winsome) and So Ji-sub (hilarious and absurd, but played with a thread of longing that was just lovely to see). Thus while Master’s Sun employed a more sedate pace, it offered a nice change from the breakneck speed of past dramas—I got to enjoy moments a little longer before zipping along to the next joke. Not to mention: Skinship as a legitimate plot device? Who knew! (Also, this must become A Thing.)

The ghosts of the week could be hit or miss, and the drama was the better for dropping the episodic ghost cases once the central loveline was in full swing. For instance, the hero being haunted (literally) by a past love was a key point of his character, but the drama tended to slow when his ghost backstory stepped to the fore, marking one of the show’s less successful handlings.

Not that ghosts on their own were a detractor. I loved that ghost-seeing was an intrinsic part of who our heroine was, so the conflict went deeper than “Make ghosts go bye-bye.” Was there a way to live without being forever haunted, and if not, could she be her own person anyway? And while the hero’s hot, hot body conveniently provided a safe haven from her unwanted gift, it was at best a stopgap measure, a band-aid to deal with the problem right now without fixing the source of the issue. So agency and identity were very much tied into the paranormal conceit, which makes one of the year’s more thoughtful and complex explorations of an otherworldly device.

 

Two Weeks

Raise your glass of: Soju, preferably in shot form. To take the edge off the nail-biting.

Two Weeks marks the second year in a row that Lee Jun-ki put in a strong performance in a solid show that nevertheless didn’t quite garner the popularity it deserved. The condensed-time thriller wasn’t a flop—it had a modest fanbase and drew mostly positive responses—but felt underrated anyway, considering how well-written its thriller plotline was and how strongly it kept up its brisk pace.

Careful plotting was one of Two Weeks’ greatest assets, because it doled out its story in a consistent series of payoffs and setbacks, testament to a well-planned plot. The live-shoot never betrayed the drama’s narrative integrity, and we never felt like the drama was scrambling to pull twists out of a hat; the twists were set in place from the outset, which is probably why I never feared that the show was about to take an obvious dive in quality, no matter how tight the shooting schedule became.

I have to give Two Weeks serious props for daring to make its hero genuinely unpalatable at its outset, which was ballsy—going too far could endanger our inclination to root for him. On the flipside, holding back would have shortchanged his redemption arc, which in turn would’ve defanged his gratifying turnaround. We didn’t merely want to see a guy clearing his name after being beaten by the system; we wanted to see him change and become the better man in the process, and Tae-san earned every bit of his redemption. The show took care to explain his bad behavior, but to its credit the hero didn’t shy away from taking responsibility for his actions, regardless of whatever extenuating circumstances led him to them.

Two Weeks also succeeded in making the hero’s flight from justice feel harrowing, and there were moments I had no idea how Tae-san was going to get himself out of his fix. The writing deserves credit for maintaining a relentless pace that made us feel like we were on the run with the hero, frantically thinking up desperate schemes to save our skin along with his. Perhaps it’s because he was no brainy genius who could easily outmaneuver his chasers that his victories felt so triumphant, and we saw the spark in his eyes flickering back to life after lying dormant for so long. After wallowing for years in defeat and purposelessness, our hero plugged into his own life in his lowest moment, and I couldn’t NOT root for a guy who’d finally figured out that life is worth fighting for. Would that we all knew that secret.

 

Mandate of Heaven

Raise your glass of: Long Island Iced Tea. So many shots of different things. But tasty!

I have a lot of warm thoughts for Mandate of Heaven, which was an example of a fusion sageuk that knew when to draw upon real historical facts to enhance the story it wanted to tell, without going to either extreme of being shackled to historical record or disregarding it willy-nilly. The drama set its characters in a political conflict that is fairly well-known, then layered on its own interpretations; thus it didn’t greatly diverge with what we knew about this slice of history, but still did the work of fleshing out the characters’ motivations and conflicts.

Though the one-sentence logline is nearly identical to that of Two Weeks, the two shows are distinct entities, and not just because one takes place in contemporary times and the other in the Joseon era. Mandate of Heaven was the warmer, friendlier version of the framed-fugitive story (Two Weeks was the darker, suspenseful one), allowing its beleaguered hero refuge in a growing circle of allies to back him in his desperate plan to clear his name. Not only did those side characters provide a much-needed dose of levity amidst all the court intrigue and coup plots, they became a highlight of the show and often even outshined the hero.

It’s a shame that the lead actor (Lee Dong-wook) ended up being the show’s weakest link, and he fell flat pretty spectacularly. It didn’t help that he lacked any sort of spark with his love interest (Song Ji-hyo), the two of whom were morally upstanding people with righteous hearts who made for boring television. Thankfully the love story wasn’t the focus; the driving force was always the father-daughter love story, and there the connection held strong. It’s a lucky thing that the drama also had a steady stream of engaging personalities on the side, ready to add charisma and humor to the proceedings. (A few standouts: Song Jong-ho as the fugitive-chaser-turned-ally, Im Seul-ong as the lonely prince, Kwon Hyun-sang as the devoted bandit leader.)

Mandate of Heaven was one of the prettier dramas of the year, thanks to that gorgeous camera, and with its steady escalation of conflict, the show mixed humor with thrills and intrigue in a skillful combination. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it kept it moving with dexterity.

 

Answer Me 1994

Raise your glass of: Egg nog. Hearty and substantial. A little much.

I’m in a strange place with this show, which is a few weeks shy of its wrap-up, which makes an overall review difficult to write as I’ve yet to come to terms with how I feel about it all. (And likely will not have a fully formed conclusion until it actually ends.) The experience of watching Answer Me 1994 has been a bit of a roller coaster, because while I very much love many aspects about the show, I also have significant dissatisfactions with it. Answer Me 1994 is like a prime cut of meat, cooked to perfection, making your mouth water—and then you bite in and get a mouthful of fat. You’ve gotta trim that sucker, chef! Otherwise it doesn’t matter how awesome the rest is, because the excess is getting in the way.

After the massive success of Answer Me 1997 last year, which snuck up on everybody to become a sleeper hit, going into this series my question was whether it would retain the witty writing and heart-feels of the first drama, and if so, how it would set itself apart. And despite a few jarring moments early on where 1994 did feel rather familiar (repeat castings, reuse of the same sound effects, the same flashback structure and “Who’s the husband?” mystery), it did succeed in creating its own distinct characters and a world that felt every bit as real as the 1997 world.

I’d argue that 1994 beats 1997 in emotional warmth and lovable characters (especially the supporting ones), which is probably why I was drawn to this story more than I had been last year. However, I will say that it has been the less satisfying watch for me, in story and overall execution. Apart from the meandering episodes that take forever to get to the point, 1994 commits a fatal flaw: It lacks follow-through. Scenes are routinely built up to a climax, only to zoom forward weeks or months, thus depriving us of the fall-out or reaction and bypassing huge narrative moments. I suspect this is at least partly to preserve the husband mystery, but it cheats us of developments that are frankly pretty vital.

So while 1997 never had my heart, 1994 did—which it jerked around too much until my feelings went sour. I’m not sure which is better. It says a lot that even with several large gripes, I still come away from this drama loving all the characters, who feel fleshed out and real, like people whose lives we get to peek into rather than fictional creations of actors and writers.

Go Ara hasn’t been known for her strong acting in the past, but she also hasn’t been this good before—she pours herself into Na-jung with commitment, wearing her character’s emotions on her sleeve like they’re her own. Secondary characters are all distinct and endearing, and the love triangle has been so effective as to cause wars among fans, which is (glass half full!) at least proof of its efficacy. Not that I blame either ship’s side for being so devoted, as both Jung Woo and Yoo Yeon-seok are earning every bit of the love being sent their way for their sensitive, nuanced interpretations of their characters. The drama ends in a couple weeks, and in addition to hoping we all survive the husband wars, I’m crossing my fingers that the show gets back on track with what it does best, which is not about sending us sly winks about a mystery, but all about depicting their characters with thoughtfulness and care.

 

I Hear Your Voice

Raise your glass of: Bloody Mary. Spicy and salty with a kick.

Although the main character of I Hear Your Voice is presumably the hero who can hear your voice, for me this show was really all about Lee Bo-young. Not to sell Lee Jong-seok short, who was no slouch as the stubborn, strong-willed young man with the unwavering sense of justice—it’s just that the heroine was the one who breathed life into the show with her strong personality, hilarious sardonic attitude, and dramatic trajectory.

I love that the heroine was allowed to be a bratty, snarky woman who was in no way held up to (and constrained by) traditional drama characterizations of ideal femininity. She got to be delightfully bitchy and jaded and wasn’t painted as a terrible person for it; it was just one facet of her personality, just as it was part of her personality to be a monster slob and careless cook. She was refreshing and awesome, and dramaland could really use more characters like her, as well as more relationships like the one between her and her childhood antagonist. Their grown-up rivalry became something much more meaningful than the standard expected clash between bitchy females, and I was thrilled that for once a relationship between two strong-headed women at professional odds with each other was still portrayed in a positive light.

The plot itself was a little hole-y at moments, and there are still unanswered questions I wish they’d addressed. (Like how Su-ha gained his ability to read minds, then lost it, then gained it again.) But I Hear Your Voice was the best kind of fast-paced, driven by strong character developments as well as convincing external forces. And you don’t get more convincing than a homicidal maniac out on the loose determined to kill you.

Speaking of whom, yes the villain was outrageous, but I appreciated that at least he was a vastly entertaining one. If we must put the main characters under this ax of potential life-threatening danger, then I want to at least feel the weight of that threat. With this villain the threat felt real, and you know, that just made it extra-fun to force the leads to live together. We’re savvy enough as viewers to recognize a flimsy excuse for cohabitation when we see one, but if the drama can at least go through the legwork to make the reason convincing, we can enjoy the payoff all the more. Wink-wink. Snerk.

I’ll admit that I’m not such a fan of noona romances that I’ll feel an automatic draw to them, so I wasn’t entirely sold on Voice’s pairing. I felt they had wonderful rapport as roommates and longtime friends, but I never quite felt the romance, and perhaps as a corollary to that the drama never quite had my heart, either. I realize this puts me rather on the outside of the fandom, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a fan. It just means I’ll let y’all do the fighting over the young adoring puppy, and I’ll be over there waiting for Oppa.

 

BEER GOGGLES TO BLUR THE FLAWS
 

Suspicious Housekeeper

Raise your glass of: Chardonnay. Serious and dry. Hint of sweet.

Suspicious Housekeeper snuck up on me, but once I got a taste of its darkly dry tone, I was intrigued. It wasn’t a straight-up melodrama, nor was it black comedy or outright mystery, though it had those elements. It was both coolly detached and heartwarming, and the line it walked between those was what gave it its unique atmosphere.

At the center of the story was Choi Ji-woo as the suspicious housekeeper, whose robotic demeanor and superhuman competence roused curiosity—who was this woman, and what was her story? Was she even human? Were we going to get paranormal explanations, or were we dealing strictly in the real, material world?

It’s this angle that gave the drama its fresh feel, because the steadfastly unemotional housekeeper provided a mystery we were eager to unveil. She also presented the ideal foil for the family she came to work for, her uber-efficiency and no-nonsense personality a stark contrast to their messy, confused, emotional tribulations. The story slowly grew out of that initial coldness as the family bonded and rebounded from its earlier setbacks, but even then the show retained its cool, slightly eerie tone, which kept it from veering too sappy. That was a welcome approach (I enjoyed a drama dealing in subdued emotions for once), though I could see the potential for frustration over its constantly even-keel tone.

I’d argue that the drama could have been even more compelling had they played more with its sardonic streak and dry sense of humor, because Bok-neyo was a fascinating new type of character for dramaland. Frankly I love that Choi Ji-woo took on a role like this after such a long run dominating as a melo queen—she had a wonderful handle on her character’s trajectory, playing the repressed emotion and glimmers of feeling with carefully calibrated control. She never fully lost her robotic mannerisms or melted into a warm, inviting character, but we were able to see, gradually, past the outer layer to the person underneath.

The drama did veer a bit extreme once it brought in the housekeeper’s past demons, and the tone threatened to tip into melodramatic waters. It was to the drama’s benefit that it maintained its cool undertone despite that shift, to temper what could have become makjang excess.

The housekeeper wasn’t a mere deux ex machina, either, and found herself unexpectedly the target of others’ helping hands, a strange position for somebody who’s spent so much time being the efficient helper. I didn’t want to see a mystical know-it-all swoop in to fix problems and put a broken family back together, because then she’s just playing god, and that’s not interesting. I appreciated that her presence spurred the family toward understanding, but once they were on back on solid ground, they took it upon themselves to help her right back, however much she resisted that interference. Healing is a two-way street, don’t ya know, even for supernannies and robot-genius housekeepers.

 

Flower Boy Next Door

Raise your glass of: A hot toddy, warm and sleepy.

Flower Boy Next Door OST – “I Want To Date” sung by Yoon Shi-yoon [ Download ]

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The Flower Boy series, despite its frivolous name, had exceeded my expectations with its first two series (Flower Boy Ramyun Shop and Shut Up: Flower Boy Band), so I was in for the third installment automatically. And while it shared some traits in common with the other dramas, this franchise has managed to successfully build a brand that still allows its shows to have their own distinct personalities.

Flower Boy Next Door was slightly moodier and more introspective than its premise had led us to expect, less about comedic neighborly hijinks and more about two lonely souls connecting. The show felt appropriately timed to deliver a dose of warmth in the winter television season, a little darkly shaded but without dolor.

Ultimately, the drama was both more and less than I wanted it to be. Starting off strong with a strong dash of quirk, the drama built up a lovely rapport between its intriguingly wounded heroine and the chatterbox hero, two characters who seemed at complete odds and yet found kindred spirits in each other. Though it initially seemed the hero was trying to draw the heroine out into the world for her own good, as their connection grew it became evident that the healing flowed in both directions. More than romance or even friendship, Flower Boy Next Door was a story of communication, told through characters who were simultaneously hyperconnected to their surrounding worlds (through the internet, their gadgets, and their views into each others’ personal spaces) and completely disconnected (by shutting down the pathways of communication). As the characters worked to bridge that divide, the series provided insights via the heroine’s narration that were eloquent and often poetic.

It’s a shame, then, that the latter portion of the drama fell back on cheap conflicts arising from external sources, taking a step backwards in the name of unnecessary angst that was a disservice to the character growth we’d witnessed thus far. The show’s forte had hitherto been its internal developments and exploration of the characters psyches, so to dump a last-ditch separation in their laps felt weak and dissatisfying. An unfortunate misstep for a drama that had begun so strongly. At least it gave us Enrique Panda, one of the year’s more winning and memorable characters.

 

Monstar

Raise your glass of: Bitters. Because it’s bitter.

When Monstar premiered, I watched with a sense of growing excitement, feeling the potential to be hook-line-and-sinkered by this youthful melo about a band of misfits grudgingly coming together to find friendships, and maybe also themselves. The series was marked by a looser format than other dramas, its slot on cable music station Mnet allowing for something of an experimental vibe—it was fresh, thoughtful, a little meandering, and peppered with musical numbers that were thematically relevant as well as just plain well-done.

Because of the languid pace, the drama took a little getting used to, but there were quirky and compelling characters (in particular Ha Yeon-soo’s heroine, delightfully 4-D and left-of-center) and loads of potential for complex relationship developments: the idol star being flustered by the strange girl who has no idea who he is, the perfect class president jumping from the winners circle to the misfits, the signs of past friendships now broken. The drama used music in a few clever ways, such as reviving bygone hits and dusting them off with modern interpretations. Some unfolded as fantasy sequences, with the glossy imagined performances reflecting a character’s daydreams or hopes for future developments. Yet others acted as musical soliloquies, fueled by feeling, such as the bullying victim singing defiantly in the face of his tormentor.

Alas, the show started to lose its way, fizzling in earnest once the big showdown took place. Or perhaps it never had a planned arc to begin with, and once the sing-off had come and gone, there was nothing left to fill that space. The day I realized the show wasn’t going to fulfill all its wonderful promise was a disappointing one, because I could just see the flashes of specialness scattered here and there. But those grew sparser and sparser, and the plot ambled along like a wanderer without a destination, pausing in places to drop in musical numbers that were becoming increasingly irrelevant.

If Monstar had at least resolved relationship issues in the end, I would have been content to overlook the absence of a plot. But even here the show didn’t appear to know how to make up its mind how to leave the characters, and so we just sort of… left… and they went on doing their thing. There’s slice of life and there’s pointless, and I’m not convinced Monstar fell on the happy side of that divide. The beat we ended on wasn’t so much bittersweet as it was downright bitter, a taste that lingers and mars my enthusiasm for the first half of the show. It was rather the opposite of fanservice, leaving us dangling without a definitive ending. How dismaying, to be wrapped up in somebody’s storytelling and then come to a point where it cuts out without completing its thought or—

 

Dating Agency Cyrano

Raise your glass of: An appletini. Liquid candy.

When you’re talking romantic comedy, light and cute is pretty much the main point. In that respect Dating Agency Cyrano achieved that goal, characterized by a lightness of spirit and a consistency of tone that made for a breezy, good-natured watch. Its case-of-the-week format was an efficient way to demonstrate the premise of the drama—that love could be nurtured by helping people initiate a connection—and the variety of personalities in the agency’s clientele offered a range of stories. Despite some hints of a more ominous turn, by and large Cyrano was a cheerful show, populated by good folk whose warm rapport brought a smile to my face.

Even so, there are limits to light and cute, and going too far can be just as much a detractor than not getting there at all. The drama that overdoes the lightness becomes too surface, too lacking in emotional heft, and such was the case for Cyrano. The cases were often interesting, and the drama did a good job mixing up the strategies employed to nurture the spark of interest into something more, but there was a slickness to the proceedings that kept it from engaging the feelings. I understood that the hero was traveling a trajectory from being emotionally shut off to opening his heart, for instance, but the developments frequently felt like a plot necessity, not a natural development of the character.

This translated into a romance that was cute but not fundamentally believable. So while the romance worked narratively, the actors felt like stand-ins for an idea more than two people in love, and my feelings remained disengaged. That’s not a dealbreaker, since not all dramas have to break your heart. You don’t want to go around giving that power to every drama that comes your way, do you?

 

Good Doctor

Raise your glass of: Mudslide, the Kit-Kat of cocktails.

I can see why Good Doctor became a hit drama: It had a simple, straightforward premise, a heartwarming story structure, and an underdog played by a much-loved young actor (Joo-won). It’s sort of the Kit-Kat of dramas, easily understood and good for instant gratification, though there’s not much underneath the chocolate coating.

What you see is what you get with Good Doctor, which painted its conflicts in black and white, with oversimplified villains and conflicts that often turned preachy—our team of doctors is good. Anybody who interferes, for whatever reason (say, bureaucracy or the law) is wrong and therefore the enemy of the greater good. In making our core team of docs sufficiently good, the drama then pushed opposing forces into the land of cartoon villainy.

For instance, the drama had opportunities to delve into some interesting issues of medical ethics, particularly when our doctors kept breaking rank, disobeying orders to care for the patient in the way they thought best. But what if something bad happened, instead of the rebel doc turning out to be right and saving the day? How could somebody like our autistic doctor actually survive within a hospital bureaucracy? And yet, the drama always chose the easy way out, rewarding the rogue doctors for being correct, which seems to me a dangerous portrayal. As a result, Good Doctor also did away with any opportunities to deal with medical questions with any sort of nuance.

Joo-won’s performance as an autistic doctor was lauded, and you certainly see Joo-won putting his whole body and mind into the portrayal, which is one thing we have come to expect of him. On the other hand, it made for a one-man show, and none of the other doctors were given anywhere near that level of development. Mostly they were there to antagonize and then support our wonder doc, as the story dictated. What we got was feel-good stories that always worked out for the better, so overall my memory of watching Good Doctor was that it was a warm, simple drama with a cutesy sense of humor. Not really big on substance, it at least supplied a reliable dose of instant gratification.

 

Mi-rae’s Choice

Raise your glass of: Gin and tonic, but the bartender forgot the gin. A little gutless and sobering.

Mi-rae’s Choice (aka Marry Him If You Dare) was a late entry into the time-traveler genre, but while that was a pivotal part of the premise—the heroine tries to convince her younger self against a marriage that would make her unhappy—the drama wasn’t really much of a time travel story at all. That was both a good thing and a bad thing, because it employed the conceit in a different way than other dramas had (so, points for freshness), but never really had a handle on its own mechanics (minus points for muddled rules).

The drama started off promising and won me over with its refreshing tone, and I have a great appreciation for any show that can built a convincing conflict while letting its characters remain fundamentally decent people. This was a story of likable people up against a dramatic circumstance (for instance, a rewritten Fate), with the conflict coming from the inherent drama of human emotions and life choices. As an added bonus, it was a fun touch to make the one quasi-antagonistic character an obstacle not from evil intent but sheer stupidity (by which I mean Miranda, the grandma CEO with the terrible business decisions).

A promising message emerged midway through the drama’s run, as heroine Mi-rae struggled with her desires versus her knowledge of what was supposed to be best for her, reminding us that the future doesn’t define our choices. Our choices are what create our futures, and therefore, Mi-rae wasn’t quite as caged in by her future Fate as she was worried she was. Yet for some curious reason, the drama refused to move forward with its story, and for a long while it spun its wheels in place, letting an unresolved love triangle stagnate there with no momentum. How could you build an entire drama around a choice, and the withhold from us that choice? Ironically or not, the drama was sunk not by picking the wrong option but by its own indecision.

 

Who Are You

Raise your glass of: Lite beer. Lacks body. (Har har.)

Ghost procedural Who Are You was a bit of a cold watch, and I don’t attribute that to its paranormal element. In fact, it was early on when the drama was incorporating a chillier horror vibe that the tone was most interesting, with the spookiness of the ghosts fueling the mystery of the heroine’s connection to the ghost world and her lost love.

The drama soon smoothed out into a romance melo, which should have drawn us; the conflict was an inherently heart-tugging one, with her being unable to move past her dead fiancé, whom she can still see lingering around her in ghost form. It should have been more of a conflict as she formed an attachment to a new love interest who was, at the least, alive and in the here and now… yet all I could do was lament the fact that the dead guy had to be dead. Maybe the puppy-dog cuteness of Taecyeon couldn’t compete with the soulful tragedy of dead Kim Jae-wook, or maybe Kim Jae-wook just really needs a role where he gets to speak. In any case, the drama moved away from spooks and settled into something more mundane, and there was no reviving that early spark of interest.

Furthermore, the focus to the new love interest came hand in hand with a shift toward police procedural stories, which, yawn. Not to mention the show working in a bumbling-cops vibe that gave the proceedings a distinctly jokey air—a jarring contrast to the tragic lovers-separated-by-death storyline unfolding alongside it. (They take a team of cops… to a cop retreat… and have to call the cops for help.) On top of that, Who Are You took the standard Ghost Whisperer approach to its ghost cases of the week, which resolved in predictable ways and stirred little emotional connection with us.

Ghosts in dramaland are not a new conceit, so it’s possible the producers felt no need to explain the paranormal rules governing their inclusion in the story. Even so, a drama that raises plot points that don’t exist in our natural world bears the responsibility of explaining its premise. People gained, lost, and gained ghost-seeing skills without clear reasoning, and once it became clear the show wasn’t going to bother to have an explanation, I couldn’t be persuaded to care either.

 

DRINK TO DULL THE PAIN
 

You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin

Raise your glass of: Box wine. At a certain point you’re just trying to finish it off.

You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin – “완전 사랑해요” (I totally love you) sung by Jo Jung-seok [ Download ]

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You’re the Best, Lee Soon-shin had all the makings of a decent, perhaps even strong, family drama: a likable heroine, an adorable lead romance, an underdog trajectory, appealing side romances, a birth secret to add conflict, and solid performers in the cast. And from time to time those elements came together in just the right combination, bringing a smile to our faces with the heartwarming, feel-good developments. Sadly for us, however, it was more often that Soon-shin focused on all the wrong things to prove that even with good ingredients, mixing them together in all the wrong proportions will still yield a failed recipe.

Family dramas are often tonal hodgepodge by nature, alternating between story threads to keep the overall pace quick; light plots temper the dramatic melo turns, and multiple romances will develop at different rates so that there’s always somebody to carry this week’s episode. Done well, this formula can be quite nifty: The weightier elements are always present as a source of conflict, but can get set aside periodically so as to not drag down the whole production.

Of course, Soon-shin did it all backward by putting the romance on the back burner in favor of the makjang-y birth secret storyline, which soon turned the angst tedious. (Is birth secret angst ever not tedious?) Birth Mom was a brat, Adoptive Mom was a mope, and Grandma was a pill—why did we have to focus on these characters when we had such a bevy of fun, boisterous, likable folks just waiting for their turn in the spotlight?

On the upside, the drama proved to be a solid leading turn for newcomer IU, who put in a strong showing as the mostly plucky heroine, and her romance with Jo Jung-seok was seriously adorable when it was allowed to shine (which was less often than I wanted). And while Jung Woo is currently enjoying his star turn for Answer Me 1994, it’s Soon-shin we can thank for giving him exposure to mainstream audiences as a small background character who stole our hearts and every scene he was in. All hail the Bread Man.

Despite the disappointments, Soon-shin wasn’t a bad family drama, just a standard entry into the weekend makjang that makes you wonder why this is such a popular category, except that it’s exactly these kinds of shows that get popular: There’s just enough to like about it that you tune in for what you hate about it anyway. Aren’t we drama-watchers a perverse bunch?

 

King’s Family

Raise your glass of: Prison wine. You’re in prison, but at least you have wine.

King’s Family (aka Wang Family) is a strange breed of makjang, but it’s not necessarily a bad one. Or should I say an unwelcome one—because the drama is, in fact, some kind of terrible. It’s off-the-rails absurd with its story logic and there is nary a subtle bone in the drama’s body. But it’s not makjang in the sense of provoking you to mad rage at the characters’ misdeeds, or the kind that rips your heart out until you just want to die. It’s entertaining makjang—extreme people behaving in extreme ways, whose outrageous antics you can either yell at or laugh at. I choose to laugh.

King’s Family is not a drama that requires you to puzzle out how this world or its characters operate. That would mean there’s some sense to be made in the first place. On the other hand entirely, this is a drama you watch as though examining aliens in their native habitat through an observation window, understanding that there is some fundamental logic driving these people that defies human emotion.

The premise is no different from every other weekend family drama to grace the airwaves since the beginning of K-dramas: There’s a multi-generation family at the center, and through the sprawling network of relationships the drama explores contemporary issues of marriage, dating, career, family, and the like. What makes King’s Family so incomprehensible is the way these parts have been woven together, which is to say with all the skill of a baboon knitting while drunk. One bad twitch and somebody’s bound to lose an eye. Somebody take away his prison wine.

Take, for instance, the wife who is proud of the fact that she has no marketable skills and is an incompetent mother (it’s her excuse not to parent). There’s the self-sufficient breadwinner wife who finds out her loser husband has a girlfriend—and begs him not to divorce her, taking the blame for driving him away. And there’s the father who refuses to let his son marry his beloved, and thus organizes a Daughter-in-Law Audition (’cause he saw a show on the teevee, yunno), in which the forbidden beloved is allowed to compete. The mere inclusion of such puzzling characters is not what makes the drama so strange; it’s that everybody in this world accepts this rationale as sensical. And so we are left to shrug, figuring that WTF is just a theme inherent to the show.

King’s Family is just past its halfway point so judgment is still incomplete, but we have certainly seen enough to know that crazy makjang is its modus operandi, and also the reason for its ever-climbing ratings. These things are directly correlative, so expect the whackadoo antics to continue as the drama aims to break the 40% ratings mark. I won’t be following anybody’s demented logic, but I’ll be enjoying the daftness. Pass the prison wine.

 

Basketball

Raise your glass of: Robitussin. It’ll do the trick, for all the wrong reasons.

I was SO looking forward to Basketball, y’all have no idea. I wasn’t even expecting it to be another Gaksital, which is the obvious point of comparison for every Occupation drama going forward; my hopes were stirred entirely by the premise and the richness of the historical backdrop the show was invoking as its main storyline. Basketball in the 1940s! Poor boy makes good! The rivalry with the rich basketball star! THE OLYMPICS.

Such a promising premise, such a shame it got weighed down by plodding execution. There are a number of issues with Basketball and you can’t quite pin its failure on one factor alone, but I feel like it lost its way early on by fixating on the wrong things. This is not a case of trying to pad out a thin story with any plot you can get your hands on; it’s a world crammed with so much story material that editing those elements down into a tight, compelling narrative is as crucial as thinking up that material in the first place. It feels as though the producers were so excited to depict everything that they couldn’t kill their babies (er, that is to say, let go of things they considered precious for the benefit of the whole). So instead of picking a direction, they continued to go in all directions. This… does not work.

I wondered at the number of episodes that were passing by without getting anywhere near what I considered the core premise of the show: Korea’s liberation, the united Olympics basketball team, the division of the peninsula. Why so much attention on a love triangle that nobody really cared about? The cutdown from 24 episodes to 18 seems to have taken the wind out of the drama’s sails, but let’s be honest, the show was floundering long before the cut was decided.

The characters are an odd bunch as well, because I’ve always felt that Chi-ho (Jung Dong-hyun) was getting the better hero’s arc, while basketball phenom San (Do Ji-han) was getting short shrift by being moony-eyed over his honey. She was badly written and even more badly acted, and his infatuation with her made me lose respect for his character just by proxy. That’s a sad story.

It feels as though Basketball got caught up trying to be more important than it is, and I can understand the compulsion to do that—the Occupation isn’t something you want to gloss over with careless or inaccurate writing, and by all reports the drama has been praised for its meticulously researched historical details. But in doing so it lost sight of the story it should have been telling, and therefore we had little to connect with. It isn’t an awful drama by any means, but it hasn’t made it a priority to be very entertaining. And who wants their entertainment to be dull and serious?

 

Heirs

Raise your glass of: The fanciest champagne cocktail money can buy, which you can’t drink because you spilled it on your ugly sweater collection. You win some, you lose some.

I wasn’t so ambitious as to expect Heirs to be the best high school drama ever, but I did have the hope that it would at least be entertaining, of the Boys Before Flowers variety—despite character inconsistencies or outrageous twists or frustrating relationship angst, that show was at least good soapy fun. Heirs’ writer, as much as she can drive me nuts, has always demonstrated a talent for glib dialogue and witty banter, which seemed exactly the sort of thing to drive a glossy teen romance fantasy set in the world of the uber-rich.

There’s still a week left to the show but it seems fair to say that Heirs has fallen short of that expectation, having misstepped on a few levels. First of all, for being a modern show featuring a new generation of rising stars, the story is remarkably old-fashioned, and not in a clever way. I was hoping for a fresh twist on the ole chaebol-Candy romance, because in this day and age how do you get away with that trope without twisting it somehow? Yet nothing we’ve been given is something we haven’t already seen in every stereotypical chaebol drama of the past decade.

The cast is, by and large, populated with solid actors who have been carrying the drama more than the writing supports. The drama owes much of its popularity to the one-two punch of Lee Min-ho and Kim Woo-bin, who certainly give their characters a charm that the writing does not. I will contend that both man-boys need serious lessons on how to not be a neanderthal with women, but I can only imagine how much more horrible these characters would be in the hands of less talented (or at least less charismatic) actors. Then again, maybe the writer would finally be taken to task for her awful characterizations, so maybe that would have had its own brand of silver lining.

There are lots of other little flaws dotting the drama that we could point to, but my umbrella complaint is that Heirs takes itself entirely too seriously. You can’t call yourself the Korean Gossip Girl and then be humorless about it. There are a fair number of witty one-liners peppered throughout, but by and large this is a drama full of dialogue that goes nowhere, without a story actually holding it up. You can put icing on a cake, but nobody wants to eat a cake made only of icing, and that’s what we’ve got here. It may boast a pretty surface but it’s ultimately empty of content, a drama made almost entirely of filler.

 

Secret

Raise your glass of: The vodka you chase down your pills with. Dangerous and loopy.

Secret OST – “폭풍의 언덕” (Wuthering heights) sung by Ji Sung [ Download ]

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What made Secret one of the miniseries hits of the year was the wild ride of emotion it took its audience along on, presented via characters acting in extreme, intense, and yes, sometimes psychotic ways. The characters didn’t always make the most sense, but the show swept you up in its fast-moving dramatic excesses so that you didn’t always care about the flaws. What mattered more was the emotional payoff.

At its best Secret was a compulsively watchable experience, of the kind that keeps you reaching for more popcorn with eyes glued to the screen. At its worst it was a parade of single-entendre histrionics engineered to blatantly push your buttons. That isn’t necessarily a failing, in light of the fact that Secret never made any bones about aspiring to nuance or even depth. Its in-your-face melodrama was a large factor in its raw appeal, drawing viewers into the plight of the heroine who got beaten down again and again by those who used and tormented her. And judging from the reactions of fans, the drama succeeded in connecting with viewers and sparking a fervent emotional response.

The series employed an unusual dynamic with its main romance, and for better or for worse (I’d argue worse), that fierce connection hooked fans in with its intensity—even though one would be hard-pressed to find anything healthy about it. The “hero” (a word we’d have to apply with comical looseness) frequently made me uncomfortable with his blazing hatred of the heroine, whom he stalked, threatened, and abused on the way to falling deep into passionate love with her, and sometimes even afterward. Lest you think I exaggerate, a key moment in his path to love is his anguished realization, “Why does it hurt me when I hit her?”

That’s no indictment on Ji Sung, who was undoubtedly compelling in the role; it’s his deranged manchild character I could not connect with, he who wielded power like a destructive toy. Not that Hwang Jung-eum’s victimized heroine was much better, playing the martyr role to the hilt and ultimately equating love with pain. (This is a connection made explicitly: “Thinking of someone and feeling pain—that’s love too. You brought me a lot… truly a lot… so much pain.” So many facepalms.)

But I will give Secret this: It was entertaining, addictive, and paced with such speed that it was able to kept its entertainment factor high. These people were cracked, but there was an undeniable pull to keep watching to see what they’d do next. Would they destroy each other? Band together as allies against the other enemy? Decide to let love do its magical healing thing? Those questions propelled the drama through to the end, helping to make even the messiest of plot turns palatable because the narrative swept you up with its momentum. I may not have liked anybody, but I sure wanted to see what became of them. Sort of like rubbernecking a trainwreck.

 

Nail Shop Paris

Raise your glass of: Bathtub moonshine. Throw everything together, toss it down, and hope your stomach lining survives the experience.

Nail Shop Paris is one-half of a good idea, mixed with about four or five bad ones. What an odd, jumbled, possibly straight-up awful drama, featuring a mishmash of tones and way too many genres to make for any sort of coherent plotting. It had crossdressing hijinks, flower boys, procedural therapy stories, nail art, love triangles, and gumihos, all rolled into one very strange mix that tried to be everything at once. There is only one reason it was saved from dropping into the category below this one, and while that was merely one positive in a sea of negatives, it was nevertheless enough: Song Jae-rim.

First off, the big discovery: Song Jae-rim can act? I have seen him in four dramas and it wasn’t until this one that I realized he was much better than the pointless sidekick he played in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, the slightly less pointless but nevertheless inconsequential sidekick he played in The Moon That Embraces the Sun, and the silent assassin in Two Weeks (which he did after Nail Shop but which I saw first). Perhaps it wasn’t until he was dropped into an entire cast of bad actors that I could see the full extent of his ability, in that he stuck out like a sore thumb for not sucking.

It wasn’t even that his character was all that special—it’s that he took a common role in a subpar drama and acted with commitment, and as a result he got me hooked to this terrible, terrible show. Damn you, Song Jae-rim! Because aside from him, the show is mostly crazy: In addition to the Coffee Prince-lite setup, we were dealing with fantasy interstitial sequences, a strange fixation with gumihos, and a team of nail artists who took as their mission the healing of strangers’ emotional pain via some inappropriate meddling in their personal lives.

Nail Shop Paris did manage to pull out one big surprise, which for me was its saving grace. (This next point cannot be made without spoiling the ending, so skip this paragraph if you’re spoiler-phobic.) I’d long resigned myself to another suffering second lead ending—Girl has crush on Pretty Boy, Second Lead falls for Girl, Second Lead suffers while being the silent pillar of support. We all know how this ends, right? So it was to my great surprise that the show didn’t insist on pairing anemic lead actress (KARA’s Park Gyuri) with the dull-as-dirt love interest she’d been pining over (Jeon Ji-hoo), subverting expectation to go with the underdog. I cheered out loud and then felt shame, but also a wave happiness for Song Jae-rim. So the show somehow got me to care about it after all.

Nail Shop Paris may have been a messily conceived procedural-paranormal-mystery-romance drama, and I really can’t recommend it to anybody as a good example of anything other than How Not To Mix Genres. But you know, it taught me that some silver linings can make up for a lot, and that’s a lesson worth learning.

 

DRINK TO FORGET
 

Level 7 Civil Servant

Raise your glass of: A bucket of cheap champagne. Leaves you with a pounding hangover and a puddle of regrets.

Yeaaaah, that picture pretty much sums up the Level 7 Civil Servant experience. Two lovebirds, flying weaponry, general spying incompetence, a look of confusion (on our faces).

The funny (or perhaps sad) thing is, there was no reason this drama couldn’t have worked in theory. When the movie version was first announced, I thought it would make a fantastic drama series, and after I’d watched the film—which had some ridiculous plot moments but was largely rollicking fun—I could have easily hopped aboard to watch fifteen more episodes.

But there’s no such thing as a sure thing, and even proven hits can be ruined with crazy writing and bad casting. Was there ever a more mismatched pairing? Even in the worst cases, I can usually put aside my misgivings to accept the drama’s reality of the coupling—but there was no saving Joo-won and Choi Kang-hee, who took non-chemistry to new depths. This awkwardness had little to do with age—I’ve been swayed by bigger age gaps—and everything to do with their aunt-nephew vibe, and once a rom-com fails in the romantic chemistry department you’re fighting a losing battle, even if everything else is working.

Of course, in Level 7′s case, everything else was failing in equal measure, from the juvenile logic driving the characters to the flimsy bad guy revenge plot to the incredible fail that was the NIS. Secret agents giggling over misfiring their guns, supposed professionals routinely ignoring their work (upholding national security) to angst over their love lives, and bad guys who just really needed a hug to make it all better—that was the thrust of the show. It was pretty much a universal fail, and you wanted to tell all parties involved that they were better than this. Well, perhaps except the writer, who should never be allowed to write women characters ever.

To find a silver lining in the mess, the experience of covering Level 7 Civil Servant was unexpectedly much more positive than the show itself. Without it, we wouldn’t have gotten the chance to try our hand at artistic expression via stick figures, or whip up recaps like this one. Not everything was a downside, although I think the more pertinent message to come out of our Level 7 experience is that our DB community can be a pretty awesome place of support and good humor, and I’ll always look fondly upon that reminder.

 
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342 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. snow

    Yay….it’s here… :-)

    My favorites this year:
    Master’s Sun
    Two Weeks
    School 2013
    Dating Agency Cyrano
    Incarnation Of Money
    Heirs

    • 1.1 KDaddict

      Yay…

      My favorites this year:
      Master’s Sun
      Two Weeks
      School 2013
      Heirs
      Reply 1994

      • 1.1.1 lian

        My favorites this year:

        Good Doctor
        Two Weeks
        Answer Me 1994
        Cruel City

        • 1.1.1.1 kate

          Love/Favorite: I Hear Your Voice
          Like: Two Weeks, Answer Me 1994, School 2013, Dating Cyrano Agency
          OK: Master’s Sun, Mandate of Heaven, YTBLSS, Heartless City, Flower Boy Next Door, Monstar, and Who Are You.
          Quited so idk: Mirae’s Choice & Nine
          Hated w/burning passion: HEIRS

          • 1.1.1.1.1 eny

            love/favorit :good doctor, empire of gold, shark
            like : sword n flower, I hear your voice, unemployed romance
            ok :mandate of heaven, secret,level 7 civil servant, iris 2, master sun

          • 1.1.1.1.2 saema

            LOL! :D not many people hate heirs. im glad im not tthe only one.

          • 1.1.1.1.3 Cid

            I quited mirae’s choice & Nine too. Heirs is overrated!

        • 1.1.1.2 kuxi

          Sorry for ride your comments. Last year,I only watch Good Doctor & Two weeks. They both awesome dramas

    • 1.2 redfox

      Two Weeks, IHYV, Mandate of Heaven out of this mix. Pretty Man is trying to sneak in, but he only has a reservation for next year. not yet I say.
      Picking out the ones from the hot pot I havent seen and can´t judge: Nine, King´s Family, Secret.
      Ran away witha bunch of screaming fans chasing: Masters´ Sun, Monstar, Lee Soon-Shin.

      all the rest for all I care: into the mincer for new hamburgers to be made.

      feels like I have stepped into a restaurant, they serve me a totally botongie burger, when they could have at least made it steak, but better yet, they could have remembered me mentioning 5 times that I was a vegan. and it feels like the burger also consisted of leftover meat from previous years´ burgers. take it away.

      • 1.2.1 redfox

        and now there is a hole in my floor shaped like a person. cause in Golden Rainbow, Jung Il Woo appeared.

        • 1.2.1.1 redfox

          ah I hope in the next reviews you say your opinion of the GR episodes that already have JIW as well. I really want to know what you think of his next wacky character.

        • 1.2.1.2 redfox

          oh my gosh you really need to review this, I am biting my tongue, this is an unexpected twist and I am not sure if he is a good guy or a “bad boy” and it is so funny. SO. FUNNY. A mini review of Golden Rainbow ep 12-13? pretty please?

    • 1.3 Requiem

      My favorites:

      Two Weeks
      Dating Agency Cyrano
      Nine (below other two)

      My “I wish they had finished as strongly as they started”:

      School 2013
      Monstar

      I think I’m a sucker for school dramas, but unfortunately, I’ve been busy so I haven’t been able to see AM94, especially since I loved AM97.

      The school dramas I DID see captured the crazy emotions of school where EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS IMPORTANT, but unfortunately, didn’t really do much else after the midway point.

      • 1.3.1 pogo

        In terms of open endings, School 2013′s worked for me, while Monstar’s really didn’t.

        School 2013 really nailed that sense of living and dying by friendships (which, at Nam-soon and Heung-soo’s age, can be every bit as epic and important as romantic relationships, and with a great deal more depth), and it was great to see that in a kdrama for once. Though it would have been nice to have maybe 2 more episodes to play with and maybe spend some more time with the girls.

        Monstar, otoh, I agree with javabeans and you – it started off so strong and then just began fizzling around episode 10-11 by being just too slow. Which, in a 12-episode show, is ridiculous.

        • 1.3.1.1 redfox

          friendships ARE epic cause rain or shine, they last. suddenly you´ve been friends 60 years some day and think woah how did this happen.
          I have a best friend of 25 years. friggin 25 years OMG. it is crazy.

          • 1.3.1.1.1 pogo

            I want to hug this comment. (but I’ll settle for liking it)

            It’s so true, friendships ARE epic. I’ve been far more heartbroken over losing friends (it has not happened that often) than over any boyfriends I’ve ever had.

          • 1.3.1.1.2 redfox

            they even surpass family for me. it is like the dramabeaners love of a non-blood-related family thing.

    • 1.4 pogo

      Mine are (in order of airing)

      School 2013
      Flower Boy Next Door
      Cruel City
      I Hear Your Voice
      Master’s Sun
      Two Weeks

      (Monstar should be in there too, but its slowness stops me loving it as much as I would otherwise)

      • 1.4.1 readlead

        same with me, the slow pace kill my love for that show :D
        I love monster at the beginning too also I love yoon seul chan so much, yoon jung hyun portrayed his character very well but the pace is too slow for me and lost it’s momentum, in the end monstar doesnt meet with my expectation… :) btw seul chan is still one of my favorite school character :D

        • 1.4.1.1 pogo

          yeah, the entire cast was very good and I was really impressed by him as Seol-chan. It’s a shame the script went SO SLOW for those last episodes, though.

      • 1.4.2 soomp

        this is my list EXACTLY *hi-5*

        I’d rank them, in terms of my overall love for them
        1. Cruel City
        .
        .
        .
        2. School 2013 (does it count since it started last year? I watched it this year anyhow)
        3. I Hear Your Voice
        4. Two Weeks
        5. Master’s Sun
        6. Flower Boy Next Door

        • 1.4.2.1 AJ

          Definitely a wide gap between Cruel City and every other drama this year. I agree 100%

    • 1.5 nina

      Master’s Sun
      Reply 1994
      Good Doctor

    • 1.6 Startulle

      1. Nine
      2. My Daughter Seo Young
      3. Master Sun
      4. Heirs

      I couldn’t finish the other dramas! Lol

      • 1.6.1 Bidan Ran

        Yes, My Daughter Seo Young is the Best Drama of all time. It won the Best Drama Award at this year Korea Drama Awards festival, and other accolades for its director and stars. The writing of this weekend 50 episode drama was far superior than any other piece of work, and I should say in the world. One thing is to write for a single, a few or a 20 episode, but to write an engaging series throughout its all 50 episodes is something else, a true Genius. I am still wondering how such a sophisticated and delicate story could have garnered so much attention from the general public. It started strong and got stronger and reached viewership of almost 50% towards its conclusion. It always kept its number one position for every single episode.

    • 1.7 KenyanKorean

      1. Master’s Sun (Kojo!)
      2. Queen’s Classroom (Those kids!)
      3. Heartless City (Baksa Adeul!)
      4. Nine (Hyung’s daughter is my lover!)
      5. Two Weeks (Jun Ki baby!)

    • 1.8 tombrady's girl

      Favorites:
      Master’s Sun
      Heirs
      I Hear Your Voice

      The One’s I Dropped:
      Good Doctor
      Wang’s Family
      Lee Soon Shin
      Mandate of Heaven

      I know some people hated the Heirs. But what’s the point of finishing a drama if you didn’t like it? I would drop it in a heartbeat and not waste time.

      The Heirs’ writer KES could have done so much better. Lucky they had Lee Min Ho and Kim Woo Bin who gave their characters (flawed as they are) heart and made it interesting for me. I shouldn’t be surprised at KES though – I hated sticking til the end for Lovers in Paris fully expecting somethng better. LOL I have learned my lesson since then.

    • 1.9 JOJO

      FAVS:
      I Hear Your Voice
      Good Doctor
      Suspicious Housekeeper

      LIKES:
      Monstar
      Heirs
      Medical Top Team

  2. Mawiie

    You know, for a few years now the Year-End reviews at DB have became my first indicator of the Holidays :P It’s the first festive thing that make me perk up and realize that the Holidays is just around the corner!

    Thanks for the review, and let the festivities begin! *opens the whine*

    • 2.1 Jules

      The whine? Is that a typo, or an indictment of the holiday season? *g*

  3. jf

    Generally a good year for me. Especially loved Master’s Sun and That Winter the Wind Blows. Thank you Javabeans for your highly informative and witty website! Merry Christmas!

  4. celloangelninja

    IT’S HEREEEEEE YEAH I’VE BEEN WAITING AND WAITING YESHHHH ok time to read.

  5. Perrie

    Anyway, there were a lot of good dramas this year even though I felt a bit of a dry spell during the summer.

    My top dramas from this list are:
    Secret
    Master’s Sun
    Good Doctor
    Cyrano- I really enjoyed Cyrano. I feel like it was the most bubbly rom com this year without any kind of angst, even though it tried to create one.
    I want to be on the band wagon where everybody loves IHYV but…but..but…I wanted her to end up with Oskaaaaaa~

  6. latteholic

    Yeay, Mandate of Heaven.. :) Funny enough, out of all the dramas I watched this year (granted I watched less dramas this year) including all the big hits, this is the only drama that I kept going back to to rewatch some of the scenes. Just feel a bit sad that only a handful of people watch it…

    • 6.1 jomo

      I liked it Song Ji-hyo a lot. Song Ji-hyo I found it entertaining Song Ji-hyo sweet Song Ji-hyo. A little scary Song Ji-hyo, and a little sexy.
      Im Seul Ong did a great job as the sad sad king.
      Song Ji-hyo

      • 6.1.1 latteholic

        lol. And didn’t you mean Song Jong Ho there, jomo?

        • 6.1.1.1 jomo

          Thanks. Yes, I did. Lol
          I will fix and everyone ignore the one up there.

          I liked it Song Jong Ho a lot. Song Jong Ho I found it entertaining Song Jong Ho sweet Song Jong Ho. A little scary Song Jong Ho, and a little sexy.
          Im Seul Ong did a great job as the sad sad king.
          Song Jong Ho

          • 6.1.1.1.1 latteholic

            Yeah, couldn’t agree more! :)

        • 6.1.1.2 heartieme

          Man,luv him.The stalker in suspicious housekeeper.i might be the only one who wants boknyeo ended up with him..

  7. jomo

    Of the ones I watched on your list, I fully agree. I voted Nine as my top and really want to see what this creative team puts together next. I barely survived Nine and QIHM, but I know it’ll be entertaining.

    Love you Heirs description: The fanciest champagne cocktail money can buy, which you can’t drink because you spilled it on your ugly sweater collection. You win some, you lose some.

    PS I love love LOVE Ji Sung’s OST from Secret. It makes me think he needs to do musical stage work if he hasn’t already. You can feel every single emotion he’s feeling during that song. This may be overacting, but ohemgee is it captivating. The cracks in his voice, the straining, the BIG vibrato, I effing love him during this song.

    And the last tiny bit, does anyone else hear: Tale as old as time… dropped in there? A little Beauty and The Beast to close it out?

    • 7.1 xippxingone

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Ji Sung’s OST from Secret too. No words to describe how I love it. You said it all.

    • 7.2 Windsun33

      I think one of the things that hooked me on Secrets was the OST – somehow the songs just seemed to all fit the scenes perfectly. Secrets was not perfect (even though I was a certified fanatic about it), but the music was a definite plus that I am sure influenced my like for it.

    • 7.3 Gidget

      Pretty song. Deft sound engineering.

  8. Alicia

    Love this so much!

  9. Mish

    The prison wine…I laughed til I cried! Love this post.

  10. 10 yoeda

    you’re the best lee soon shin still my most addicted drama this year. about how it was so popular, all i can say its because a lead couple. we watch it for the story at first and when it change a little bit worst there’s nothing we cant do anymore because we already addicted to Junho and Soon Shin. both lead chemistry and the cuteness make us just endure and swallow all bitterness and the pain. and such a great experience for my first ever weekend drama.

    agree with JB about Jung Woo, he maybe popular in Reply 94 but YTBLSS is his turning point. not really a good show but the important thing is the experience that the cast gain not only Jung Woo but IU who become better actress there.

    • 10.1 Minea

      I liked You’re the Best, Lee Soon Shin, too, because of the main OTP and Bread Man but I tend to fast forward when it’s not them on the screen. The drama is a head scratcher and an eye roller most of the time so what I did was read the recaps on DB and go the episodes where there’s cute. Saved me a lot of time. :D

      • 10.1.1 Luv_KimRaeWon

        LOL at the head-scratcher and eye-roller expressions..I didn’t know zilch about this drama coz I didn’t watch it or even read about it, but thanks for introducing me to the phrase ‘head-scratcher’..

  11. 11 snow

    IHYV….totally with you about the romance….i liked the characters and their interactions but never felt giddy….wasn’t invested in their romance at all….

    But for Dating agency Cyrano….I LOVED the OTP…. :-)

    And yes…in Heirs…the writing doesn’t help at all…it’s the actors who make it work with their charm….and well, i like it despite all flaws ;-)

    • 11.1 canxi

      I agree about IHYV’s romance as well. I don’t mind the noona romance (I quite like it sometimes) but I guess I just liked them better as and always thought of them as roommates and friends.

      I really liked Lee Bo Young’s character with Yoon Sang Hyun’s and actually felt like they had more [sexual] chemistry, too.

      • 11.1.1 marchelunaire

        “I really liked Lee Bo Young’s character with Yoon Sang Hyun’s and actually felt like they had more [sexual] chemistry, too.”

        Agreed. Remember the chocolate scene? Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

    • 11.2 Mandy

      I second that! I was never invested with IHYV; neither the story or the romance. I really like LBY’s character and that independency and sassiness we hardly see in kdramas, but I didn’t quite like the OTP or their chemistry. I was hoping she ends up with the second lead – a couple I felt more connection towards.

      Heirs… doesn’t work for me. I dropped it because actors aside, if a story and romance don’t move me, then I zone out.

    • 11.3 MikaSan123

      What. How did Lee Jongsuk’s puppy eyes not melt everyone? D: I was so happy for Sooha when he found out that Hyesung liked him back – heck, I was probably happier than Sooha himself! It’s literally the only time I thought I had Second-Lead Syndrome (I mean I knew Sooha was the protagonist but I had assumed he was a second-lead in terms of romance) and turned out to be wrong because he wasn’t a second-lead after all. :O

      And I guess this is kind of terrible but I find it more entertaining to criticize Heirs than to watch it. Please tell me I’m not the only one. I feel like such a hater.

      On a side note… Does anyone remember if School 2013 was already reviewed in last year’s Year In Review?

      • 11.3.1 Windsun33

        re: Heirs – :D and I thought it was just me that did that…

      • 11.3.2 Requiem

        Re: School 2013, yes it was, at least javabeans did for her 2012.

        http://www.dramabeans.com/2012/12/2012-something-for-everyone-year-in-review-part-1/

      • 11.3.3 DayDreamer

        I read Heirs recap just for Woo Bin and to see people praise his acting. ;) But I do find the criticisms a fun part of that drama too.

    • 11.4 ilikemangos

      I dont know, but for me i always rooted for pairings with a natural progression that buys my heart. There doesn’t really need to be apparent sexual or romantic chemistry of some sorts.. there’s tons of different kinds of chemistry. I’m not really big on noona romances either, but i loved how in sync soo ha and hye sung were whenever the two were together. whether they lasted or not is a different story, but them together just made sense. That’s the thing about pairings: you just have to sell their character’s relationships and convince the viewers through that relationship.
      Some totally bought it, and some definitely could not look past the age difference, or rather the fact that he was puppy and she was lawyer.

      • 11.4.1 pogo

        Same here. I’ve never liked noona romances as a genre, but in this case the characters were so well-written, ad their relationship progressed so believably, that I found myself converted and rooting HARD for them less than halfway in. Even if I’d have been equally happy with a Hye-sung/Oska pairing.

        I agree there wasn’t anything by way of sexual chemistry (the story called more for puppy than rawwwrrr, you know what I mean) but they had something. Not the nuclear blaze of Joogun and Taeyang in Master’s Sun, but definitely not the wet blanket damp squib of Heirs either.

        • 11.4.1.1 DayDreamer

          Well said! IHYV didn’t have sexual chemistry but it was nice to see Su Ha and Hye-sung grow closer together and come to love one another. This is the only noona romance I rooted for. Besides, I can imagine later in their lives developing an even stronger chemistry as I imagine Su Ha growing up to be one fine man.

      • 11.4.2 canxi

        I get that. I liked the progression of their relationship very much–I just didn’t feel it as a romantic one. And for a couple, I do think you need romantic or sexual chemistry. They were cute but I was never really on board.

        Maybe I just wanted to see them…no, I did see them as more of a makeshift family. I think you can have that between a man and a woman as well and I think that would have been great for a drama in which two people who have lost their family found family in each other (but not necessarily in a romantic way). When the feelings came around, I just didn’t care much even though I wanted to. I actually started the drama because of the rave reviews for the couple.

        But, I liked LBY and YSH’s relationship more because I felt like they balanced each other out and had something each other lacked. I thought they were very cute together and had a crackling chemistry that was sexual but also at times was just comedic or rather natural–especially for a couple.

    • 11.5 redfox

      what appealed to me in IHYV was Su Ha´s earnest, passionate, even obsessive desire to prevent any harm from happening to Hye Sung. His youthful passion, not necessarily a romantic one but universally human. weird but at first he was like a Second Mother, like a mother-bear…

  12. 12 chane

    Been waiting for this, thanks jb. Off to read…

    • 12.1 chane

      I felt the same way about IHYV, it really was all about Bo Young’s character and I couldn’t care less about the noona romance, I always shipped her with the lawyer and that’s probably why I wasn’t compelled with this drama.

      Lol at that level 7 pic. So. Much. Fail. The drama got off to a great start despite a very slow first ep, it was still good up to ep 4 when they were still in the spy academy and when uhm force’s character died. After that, it just went downhill from there, they were supposedly top spies but we never saw that materialize, they all acted like they were still in high school. I would have have preferred a drama were it was about Joo won and uhmforce fighting alongside each other because honestly they had more chemistry than our main otp. SMH.
      Oops, didn’t mean to rant, I’m just really disappointed with this drama. I had more fun reading your recaps than I had watching it.

      I was also soooo excited about Basketball but because I really did expect it to be like Gaksital(fave drama ever) or it at least was as good as Gaksital, but alas I put it on hold just after 7 episodes. I just can’t force myself to watch it.

      Secret- no love for Bae Soo Bin? He was the best thing in that drama.

      A really awesome review JB. Thanks again!

      • 12.1.1 Thursdaynexxt

        Haha, just when I’d managed to forget it, it’s time to bring back the (traumatic) memories! :D

        Think I read somewhere that it really shoulda been called “Grade 7 Civil Servant” rather than “Level 7 Civil Servant”. Too right!

        That screencap perfectly encapsulates my feelings – LOVE it!!

      • 12.1.2 eny

        bae so bin is the best from secret, glad i’m not the only one who thinks like that

  13. 13 canxi

    LOL Nail Shop Paris–I went to watch it and totally thought I was in the wrong drama. I clicked out from fear of what would inevitably be a mess. But, I might go back and watch it anyway. It will probably make me laugh and I wanna see Song Jae Rim act forrealsies and not just on the side.

    I was really surprised at how melancholy a show Monstar was o_o The episodes were super long, too. But, yeah these kids were so sad.

    Gotta watch Nine!

    • 13.1 Minea

      HAHAHA at Nail Shop Paris. I had no idea what it was trying to do but I managed to watch it to the bitter end thinking it would somehow get better.

      But, of course, it did not and just continued its downward spiral of nonsensical weekly mess which culminated in the best WTF ending of a drama this year. Bottom of the barrel, that drama was. *laments the loss of 10 hours of my life*

      • 13.1.1 canxi

        Well, hey it’s nearly the end of the year and maybe I will drink my way through it! XD

        • 13.1.1.1 Minea

          LOL. Bring out the bubbly! ;) At least, Song Jae Rim is there so all is not lost. Nothing like a broody Song Jae Rim (and a glass of bubbly) to carry you through it all :)

  14. 14 Mandy

    LMFAO at L7CS picture. I kept staring at it not sure what “that picture pretty much sums up the Level 7 Civil Servant experience” until I noticed the gun. I must be blind! But I burst out laughing. I haven’t seen it, but I think it may just be worth the laughs.

    Thanks for the year review JB! I haven’t read it all, but finally some thoughts on Secret! Personally, I loved it – all makjang, madness and creepiness included. The stalker like ‘hero’ wasn’t my cup of tea, but damn Bae Soo-bin as the evil, son of a — was such an enthralling character. He was perfection as is the emotions that flow from his eyes. He better be getting a few awards this year from KBS!

    I also am one of the few freaks who loved the second female lead. Se-yeon is such an interesting character in that she wasn’t the screechy, screaming and wailing type. She had this iciness to her, almost like a block of wood – yet it made her so intimidating and powerful. I loved Lee Da-hee, she was fantastic! I was more fascinated with the second leads, their interactions and actions than I were with the main leads – but it Secrets was my favourite of the year.

    • 14.1 DayDreamer

      I loved the makjangy Secret too. And even though I never said much about Se-yeon in my discussions about the drama, I did rather like her. I especially love how the show perfectly captured her in that single image of her sitting atop white stairs with a rose in her hand. Actually, it perfectly captured what all the characters were all about, not just Se-yeon.

      Here’s the link to what I’m referring to:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJJtCeBMcZw

  15. 15 ty

    YAYYY

  16. 16 Galia

    I’ve watched 5 or 6 of the dramas on this list, and I totally get the whole good vs. great thing…there were a few good ones, but the only drama I REALLY loved this year was Two Weeks. What can I say, I love action AND anti-hero redemption, and Two Weeks definitely did that even better than I was expecting. :D
    As for Heirs…well, I must say that I absolutely despised Boys Over Flowers, so my expectations were already about as low as they could get. I’m not ashamed to admit that I only tried it for Kim Woo-bin (and can I just say, thank god for last minute character transplants. It already made very little sense, might as well fix what you can, right? To make it watchable? …Did I mention Kim Woo-bin?) xD

  17. 17 Anon

    If I had to choose one drama which got me fully immersed to the point where I find myself randomly thinking about it, obsessively reading blogs, stalking the tumblr tag and rewatching scenes over and over, despite the fact that its still airing I’d pick Reply 1994. The recent episodes may not be everyone’s cup of tea but if I’m honest I love the characters and actors too much to care. I think everyone has that one show they can defend despite its flaws and for me its this one. Totally agree that its akin to being on a roller coaster ride. I’m going to assume that if a show can evoke this much emotion from me it has to be good. Loving all the relationships and how they are being portrayed! Besides R1994 nothing really stood out for me in terms of memorable shows which I would catch myself watching again in the future, but I will say 2013 was full of addictive shows which I couldn’t get myself to stop watching regardless of how busy I got. Overall 2013 was a good year! I’m looking forward to the rest of the reviews coming up!

    • 17.1 ilikemangos

      Same. I don’t think AM1994 is the BEST show of the year what with the dragging execution in the recent episodes (sniff) but it’s the only show this year which made me stalk bts, soompi forums, and read every single DB comment on the thread. Yes, i am addicted. Disappointed, but still addicted.
      Addicted is when you watch raw, try to distract yourself until subs come out, watch with subs, read every word of the recap, and then go back and watch select scenes that gave you feels.
      It couldve been so great if we didn’t have the mystery. Because like JB, i loved the set up and the characters so much more in AM1994 than AM1997, even if AM1997 was obviously the better executed show.

      • 17.1.1 pogo

        I really WANT to love 1994 the way I did 1997, but somehow it meanders way too much, even early on. 1994 does flesh out the supporting characters better than 1997 did and that’s what keeps me coming back, but even an improved Go Ara doesn’t quite hit the spot for me the way Jung Eun-ji did.

        And yeah, the mystery. We could do without it, it’s just an exercise in frustration at this point.

  18. 18 coffeenlucia

    I like(d):

    Nine– Lee Jin Wook’s awesomeness
    Reply 1994– Yoon Jin + Sam Cheon Po
    I Hear Your Voice– the noona romance is ADORABLE

  19. 19 Minea

    Yay! First installment of the Year in Review (the gift that keeps on giving) is here!

    Reading this review made me realize that there’s still a lot of dramas that I need to catch up on. Groan. I need a time turner.

  20. 20 Kelly

    Yay! My favorite time of year at Dramabeans! I actually agree with most of your reviews, except perhaps “Good Doctor” and “Secret”–yes it was simple, but for Joo Won’s performance alone, it’s a drama that I won’t forget anytime soon! And I thought “Secret” was such a crazy but addicting show.

    By far, my favorite was “Master’s Sun”–just love So Ji Sub <3

    and OMG, I sooo agree with your "Who are You"…

    GIVE KIM JAE-WOOK A LEADING ROLE ALREADY DAMN IT!

    • 20.1 pogo

      So Ji-sub doing comedy was nothing short of a revelation – I’ve never really loved him before, but here? UNF. And I loved Gong Hyo-jin even more. He hasn’t had chemistry this good with any of his leading ladies since Im Soo-jung, he and GHJ NEED to work together again in something that gives them even more skinship.

  21. 21 Panda

    My top list this year is probably Master’s Sun, Reply 1994, and Secret. Btw did anyone catch hope for dating? It was good!! I love mini series.

    • 21.1 meanrice

      With Daniel Choi and BoA? I really liked it…wished there was an epilogue though.

    • 21.2 lian

      I loved the first ep but completely hated the 2nd ep, what was up with that ending? And thw last scene felt rushed and forced.

      • 21.2.1 owl

        I wish there were more episodes, which there could have easily been.

  22. 22 meanrice

    I remember watching some interview with Joo Won and in it he talked about remaining humble because he knew that not all his dramas would be “Gaksital.” He must be psychic. I almost DID forget about L7CS! I will admit I stopped watching both of his dramas before they ended. I could not take the politics in “The Good Doctor.” I thought his performance was fantastic though.

    I don’t get the deal with “I Hear Your Voice”…it was decent maybe a 7?

    “Master’s Sun” was my jam this year.

    I should make a list of what I wanted to watch but didn’t/couldn’t it would be longer than what I actually watched this year.

    I stopped watching so many dramas this year because they were so trope-y (that’s a word). My 2013 was spent watching older dramas because I hardly connected with anything this year.

    • 22.1 lian

      I remember that interview, it did came true he had a drama that was forgettable and flopped in the ratings but thankful

      Have you tried mydramalist.com? You can list all your dramas there (Completed, Dropped, On Hold, Currently Watching and Plan To Watch) It’s a really great site.

    • 22.2 lian

      I remember that interview, it did came true he had a drama that was forgettable and flopped in the ratings but thankfully he bounced back with Good Doctor.

      Have you tried mydramalist.com? You can list all your dramas there (Completed, Dropped, On Hold, Currently Watching and Plan To Watch) It’s a really great site.

  23. 23 dal

    My favor was Secret. One of the best drama I watch this year.

  24. 24 jennipoh

    Javabean, you are SO CLEVER with your themes.

    I suppose I should look into Nine and Two Weeks since this year was pretty wretched for me :P

  25. 25 hangukdrama

    Heartless City was a hidden gem in 2013 and also my personal favorite. Not many dramas can make you think and reflect about it after you are done (more films have that effect) but Heartless City definitely succeeded on that count.

    I love how each character betrays stereotypes and are well written, complex and layered.

    Visuals are georgeous as well!

    In that, 2013 has been a good drama year!

    • 25.1 little-muffin

      I agree. Heartless City is definitely my fave for this year, hoping that it will receive more recognition :)

      I love Two Weeks and Nine too!

      Makes me want to re-watch Time Between Dog & Wolf since both Lee Junki and Jung Kyungho are there..

      • 25.1.1 tortyserox

        Time Between Dog & Wolf is def. a must watch! it was awesome!!

        • 25.1.1.1 little-muffin

          Yup, it’s one of my all time fave and also the drama that made me fall for Lee Junki! They were so young then ^^

    • 25.2 owl

      Oh, Heartless City, I almost forgot. But we can raise our glasses of smooth clear amber (scotch, I presume), which was the liquid diet of the cast.

      • 25.2.1 rui.is.assez.hot

        How can you almost forget? Heartless City was definitely the best drama this year! Loved the cast, the bromance, and the music. Shi Hyun and Jin Sook were my two favorite drama characters this year.

        • 25.2.1.1 owl

          a man’s man and a woman’s woman!

      • 25.2.2 pogo

        @owl – oh, yes. While suitably attired in three-piece suits and fitted dresses (depending on gender/preference, of course).

    • 25.3 ilikemangos

      Hidden gem is definitely an accurate description of this show.
      I’d personally put it on my top 5 dramas of this year.
      One major pet peeve for me however, was the heroine. The show, however, did make up a bit for it by giving us a strong female character, auntie (kim yoo mi)
      I really did love the tone, which i’ve never really felt from your standard action/thriller k-drama.
      This show was definitely Jung kyung ho’s turning point in his career (in my eyes) even if it was criminally underrated.

      • 25.3.1 pogo

        One major pet peeve for me however, was the heroine.

        You and me both. I didn’t mind Soo-min so much at first (fighting back!actually asking to sleep with Thighs!), but as her role deteriorated into damsel in distress/too stupid to live, it was hard not to actually be relieved by the OTP’s ending.

        Jin-sook, though, SHE more than made up for it.

    • 25.4 rheapill

      yeah, Hearless City was good unexpectedly, but it wasn’t on the choices above so i didn’t mention it in my post :)

    • 25.5 KenyanKorean

      Yay!!!My Heartless City Fan Corner!!

      Anyeong Hasaeyo fellow funs.

      Best scene 2013 has to be when Jin Sook found out about Baksa’s real identity and how she just congratulates him and he cries this deep heart-wrenching cry from the deepest pits of his strung out heart. It was pain and relief and guilt and the realization “she loves me so selflessly” all wrapped up in one cry. Broke.My.HEART!

      The Bromance!!!The Action!!!

      So much to say about that show!

      And SAPARI! I love his afro!

  26. 26 maybe8282

    school 2013
    i hear your voice
    masters sun

    those were my favorite dramas of the year, hands down.
    heirs is entertaining but overrated, in my opinion. (not saying its bad in any way, just not the best for me)

    these three just “clicked”..i was really invested in all of them when i watched them, and they were just so fun to watch. they’ll always hold a special place in my drama-addicted heart <3

  27. 27 snow

    Well…I also watched some older shows this year….Dalja’s Spring..City Hunter..Sweet 18..Secret Garden :-)

    • 27.1 damianna

      dal ja’s spring is fun. started watching sweet18 few days ago. old one yes, but lee dong gun doesn’t seem to age.

      • 27.1.1 tebz10

        The man is like fine wine. He gets better with age.

  28. 28 melon

    I like Secret… However I found the ending was a bit rushed. Just a fiinal episode to conclude everything, did not work for me

  29. 29 Amiga

    I watched 8 of the above, dropped 4 other ones because they were boring and did not watch the remaining. My general reaction to all was meh! My crack drama this year was Heartless City.

  30. 30 rheapill

    Among the List above, i have watched 4 and dropped 4. My list goes:
    Finished: Best to least:
    -I Hear Your Voice/-Secret (their tied, i cant decide which is which)
    -The Master’s Sun
    -Two Weeks (my love for Lee Jun Ki covers everything for this drama, & since i was guilty for not watching/dropping Arang and the Magistrate)

    Dropped:
    -Flower Boy Next Door (gawd, i tried honestly, i tried to like it & jump to the bandwagon of the dramas hype but after 3 episodes, dang, i knew it, the drama was too cheesy, predictable, obvious, like im making a lot of faces while watching the drama about that popular/rich kid falling for an ugly, no life girl? its totally unimaginable plus I dont like that they made the second-lead male the 2nd lead. I like him back in the drama Stars Falling From The Sky. This cemented my dislike for Park Shin Hye, no wonder i never liked watching Heirs.
    -Heirs (i watched the 1st ep. but the drama as expected was nothing serious and really? a rich kid again immediately falling for an unknown girl?like really? but then again, i realized i can stand watching this drama despite its cheesiness if other actors were acting on it. LEE MIN HO, i never liked him! his nose always bugs me and i know im in the minority who finds him unattractive and with PSY, i already stated my reason above. I know its superficial to say not liking a drama because of the actors but i cant help it and the story wont help them either.
    -Reply 1994 ( im a fan of Reply 1997, the story was different and i hate the exaggerated facial expression of Go Ara. Im not liking the script but i may change my mind about it, who knows.
    -Mirae’s Choice (i watched until ep8, i was half-way on the drama. Then i realized, why am i watching this non-sense drama? The writer, in my opinion failed to capitalize on the plot-Changing The Future/Going back to the Past/Meeting Your Past Self. The idea was sooo good but the way the story was told was such a fail. I was thinking if this concept was adapted into a Japanese drama, the whole thing would be different and the drama would be classy (Proposal Daisakusen, right?)

    • 30.1 omona

      Hi, I know Go are overdone a bit but she toned down a lot, try again ^^

      • 30.1.1 rheapill

        yeah, i heard that too. Some say that you will get used to it as it goes but somehow i’m kinda of torn on the drama’s plot. I may try it again who knows. Sigh, if only they change the actor playing his older brother, then maybe things were different at least for me :)

    • 30.2 soshiseo

      not questioning your dislike for PSH or anything but how does Kim Ji Hoon being second lead “cemented” your dislike of PSH? o-O It’s not her fault he is second lead…

      • 30.2.1 rheapill

        it was not because of Kim Ji Hoon that made me dislike PSY more, my sentence just happen to flow in a way that it seem so, but no. Her acting (facila expressions) & the story itself (her choices of drama), made me dislike her. And i guess, i would really blame it on that drama Flower boy, because of that, my little admiration of Yoon Si Yoon went down the drain :( I believe those bad choices of drama made him a second rate leading man. He used to be ahead of Joo Won during Baker King but then…the rest is history.

        • 30.2.1.1 spi

          I might be able to relate to your dislike for PSH’s choices of dramas. I enjoyed the few first episodes of Flower Boy Next Door but then it gets so boring. PSH’s character is so bland, and the things she writes about herself put me off the most… Oh yea I recognize this in Heirs, PSH seems to often choose characters that have so much self-pity. I cannot stand it. Even with You’re Beautiful, I just could not stand her inflexible facial expressions. She’s so pretty, but that’s it.

          • 30.2.1.1.1 rheapill

            i really don’t know about her. I’m not the type to really dislike a person based on superficial reasons but even her little role/acting in Miracle in Cell #7 irks me. Her crying and the facial expression is always the same even when she’s just mad. I dont know, hopefully she’ll get a better role/casting soon. I remember Hwang Jung Eum, i dislike her, her acting and as a whole, as an actress ever since i saw her acting in Giant, the one w/ Soo Ji Sub, & Full House 2 (this drama made me hate her, her eyes is always twinkling & the surgery she’s done making her face stiff. I was hesitant to watch SECRET because of her but due to a lot of positive articles about it, i gave it a shot, then bam! all 90% of my dislike towards her has been erased. I guess it all depends on the drama & your portrayal of that character. :)

    • 30.3 atz

      Oh, My, I thought I am in such a tiny minority that I dislike Lee Min Ho.
      As for Flower boys next door, I did not care much about PSY’s romance. I actually really enjoyed the romance between sleep derived comic book editor and Kim Ji Hoo’s assistant who now plays CEO @Potato Star. They are so cute together.

      • 30.3.1 rheapill

        LMHs fan base lies majority in the international arena. He hasn’t done anything bad at all but i cant seem to force my self to like him nor watch any of his starer dramas- i only watched BOF. It was my 1st time seeing those faces as i wasn’t soo focused in kdramas at that time. I like Jerry Yan & Matsumoto Jun but for LMH, i dont know, i like Kim Hyun Joong much more than him.

        • 30.3.1.1 atz

          Maybe the word I used’ dislike’ is a tad strong. I see he is considered handsome.
          I like Matsumoto Jun for Kimi wa Petto and I think he in BOF is the best among other versions because he had a good rapport with the actress who played Makino.

  31. 31 Sintia

    I think Joo Won’s performance in Good Doctor was outstanding, I was really impressed by his acting. It made the Good Doctor the best show of the year for me, I really love it.

  32. 32 mini

    My favorite drama is Good doctor.The plot maybe simple but Joo Won acting simply makes it enjoyable. It is heartwarming and thus kind of like a break from all the angst in K drama land.

    and…
    PLEASE,take out L7CS from Joo Won’s agenda.take it as it never happened.

  33. 33 owl

    I’ll drink to that and add a banana milk on the rocks for School 2013. It is so fun to look back on the dramaland ride with your toasts, javabeans.

  34. 34 june_rain

    Nine was indeed the best drama for me this year. I had both my head and heart in this one. I agree with everything above except for Mirae’s Choice. I think that one deserves to be relegated to the “drink to dull the pain” section or the last section in this list. Yes, I’m still bitter about this one hah. LOL at Heir’s ugly sweater reference. Thanks for the review, Javabean. It really does feel like Christmas is around the corner, now.

  35. 35 damianna

    the ones that really stay in my heart are nine and the master’s sun. both made my heart raced for many reasons.

  36. 36 Mashimomo

    Thanks JB! Most of the dramas I watched this year are on your must-watch for 2013 except for 2 weeks and Mandate of Heaven. Might have to watch these after am1994 wraps up, which has been my most commented drama to date in DB,malthough I would say Nine remains my favorite this year. Masters Sun completely wins it on the chemistry and romance. Cheers to another great year and thank you (and gf, gmm and h#2) for all your hard work in bringing additional insights and layers in drama watching!

  37. 37 Evie

    Surprisingly, my favourite drama of this year definitely has to be Dating Agency; Cyrano. The drama is not without its flaws, and certainly the last minute -have-to-build-up-tension-because-it’s-the-finale- situation was ridiculous, but all the same I fell in love with the set-up and the premise enough to overlook these things. Having named Gaksital as my favourite drama of 2012, it was just nice to be able to watch a light hearted rom-com that delivered in humour and hi-jinx. I think a lot of it also has to do with my own personal tastes, because I quite like the slick pace and case-a-week format. Also, I was able to buy into the romance, which I think is what essentially makes you like or not like this drama. Lee Jong Hyuk certainly helped a lot in that department. I didn’t have high expectations for this drama, but it surprised me.

    Reply 1994 could have been my favourite drama, it came this close really, but it has disappointed me – mainly because my expectations for it were lifted up so high at the beginning. They dragged out what they shouldn’t have, Trash side-stepping his confession, and failed to really build tension by giving us even the tiniest indication that Na Jung had feelings for Chilbong. I feel like the writers realized that the husband mystery played a huge role in fueling the ratings and love for this drama, and focused on trying to tease us way too much, rather than hone in on the great cast of characters they had and opportunities for some really sweet scenes. I mean, I seriously would have loved seeing more of Trash’s feelings and thoughts. The cast is still amazing though, but it fails to be my favourite of the year only because I had such high hopes – sigh.

    Also, for the love of drama God’s, please give Kim Jae Wook a leading role, I beg of you dramaland.

    • 37.1 snow_white

      Same here…..my most favourite drama this year was Dating Agency Cyrano…..loved it…

  38. 38 ryoko

    Javabeans, have you watched the MV for Nell’s song The Day Before? Both Lee Min Ki and Song Jae Rim act in it. It never fails to make me cry. See, I’m starting to tear up just thinking about it. I don’t know if I can post links here, but here it is just in case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6AzbOupbxk

    • 38.1 Gidget

      Is there a drama this year for THAT drink?

  39. 39 coby

    Nine is mind blowing! I still have 4 episodes left. Its like a box of chocolates that I don’t want to eat everything yet and saving some for later just in case I need a boost.

    I agree that this year nothing stand out much in my heart as Gaksital did.

    I dropped Mirae’s Choice my love for Yonghwa did not prevail. That goes for Heirs too…

    Answer me 1994 is the only drama that let me skip all those smooching… and its cable smooching so we know we get more than the usual. Sigh.

  40. 40 coby

    Oh I forgot that this year, I finished a few weekend drama! 50++ episodes! yay!
    - Unexpected you
    - Smile You
    - Ojagkyo Brothers!

  41. 41 Iviih

    My top dramas

    Nine – every episode made me think so much, I really loved Nine.

    Answer 1994: It is hard for me to like so many characters in one drama, and make me care for them so much.

    Queen Classroom: Underrated, had heart and I really had a good time with the children. Who knew a drama with just kids and no love line could make me love it so much!

    Heartless City: This drama had many flaws, but I really enjoyed it and IT was really addicted. Doctor son <3

    -

    Dramas I liked but never won my heart:

    I hear your voice. This drama was well done, and has my fav. second girl of this year, I just loved SY!! <3 But like JB I also couldn't buy SH and HS romance.

    Two weeks: I really enjoyed it, it was a well done drama, but something left me cold. I loved the dad and daughter scenes though.

    Master sun: One of my fav otp of this year, but aside the main couple chemistry, the drama itself was… not that interesting – maybe because I don't enjoy Hong sister dramas much.

    Secret: It was addicting drama, and the main couple had good chemistry but I disliked the abusive behavior and people cheering for it.

    Dropped:

    Good doctor: It just never got my attention, I tried but no thanks.

    Mirae's choice: Worst drama of the year. It got potential but never touched it and it just kept getting worse and the end sucked balls.

    • 41.1 Iviih

      Oh forgot:

      Dropped also School 2013: focused too much on the bromance and never really got me.

      Heirs: I don’t see PSH and LMH chemistry and that drama just have too much bullying for my tastes, never disliked so many characters in a drama.

  42. 42 D

    thanks for the review – i hope Santa will be able to do one this year amidst his busy schedule. we’ve been (mostly) good this year..

  43. 43 cheekbones

    Thanks, jb ! Enjoyed the review, especially the dramas you didn’t recap.

    I couldn’t understand it when my mother complained several times about how bad King’s Family was, because you (jb) introduced it favorably. :D

    On the other hand, my mother liked Secret very much and highly recommended it to me. Ha.

    I guess I have to check Nine, then (and maybe Secret).

    • 43.1 cynkdf

      Your mother has great taste :) I’ll also recommend Secret – my favourite drama this year (but then I only watched Secret :)))

      Secret was so under-rated even before it aired, if that makes any sense – so it was with joy that I read many favourable comments on it on the internet – eg most of the viewers on viki.com love/like Secret, commenting favourably on the writing and acting in particular.

      IMHO the acting in Secret is phenomenal – my favourite actor Bae Soo Bin was amazing in it (he’s the villain though :(), Hwang Jung Eum made me a new fan of hers (I’d never watched any of her dramas prior to this) and Ji Sung was outstanding (though outshone by BSB :))

      • 43.1.1 Windsun33

        Ratings wise Secrets was one of those real rarities where I think word of mouth won out over hype. It’s first episode as I recall was around 3.8, it ended at about 20%, beating Heirs (same time slot) up to the end.

        I was one of many that almost passed up Secrets, but by episode 2 I was hooked. The acting was far better than expected – every time the lead actress cried, I teared up (when ES cries in Heirs, I have another shot of whatever unlabeled bottle I grab first – hint: canola and gin do NOT go good together, but it got me through the scene).

        • 43.1.1.1 cynkdf

          In hindsight, what Secret has achieved in ratings is a great accomplishment. When the show first aired, it was up against the final few episodes of both Master’s Sun and Two Weeks. Then Secret had to compete against two new shows that received way more hype and publicity.

          For a K-drama newbie like myself, the main lesson Secret taught me is never ever to judge a drama by its first couple of episodes.

          • 43.1.1.1.1 Bidan Ran

            A very keen observation yours, yes indeed. I also liked very much, however, the last two episodes were rushed and showed that the makers of the drama were not on top of their game. Still it did not bring it down. A strong performance by all the actors.

        • 43.1.1.2 Lois

          Note to self: don’t watch Heirs in the lab.

      • 43.1.2 LMHPUPPIES

        I can shrugg off reading the kind of comment. Out of sheer curiosity, it made me ponder why there are fans having the impetuous tendency to support their beloved darling by belittling others. My only conclusion is inferiority complex symptoms.

    • 43.2 djes

      Wang’s Family was promising. And JB was in love with the 3rd daughter’s storyline…which is still (pretty) good, compared with other stories.
      The characters are hateful, and I agree her words completely : “this is a drama you watch as though examining aliens in their native habitat through an observation window, understanding that there is some fundamental logic driving these people that defies human emotion”

      (and yet, I still watching it! You still drink wine even you know you’ll regret the hangover tomorrow )

  44. 44 liz

    People check NINE.

    I swear after episode 4, you won’t look back or think in dropping it.

    I watched episodes 1-2 and though it wasn’t that good but after it woah I don’t regret nothing.

    • 44.1 Ennayra

      Total agreement with you about watching Nine. I don’t remember when I got hooked, but once I did it was over.

  45. 45 pigtookie

    Looking back, there have indeed been quite a few solid offerings this year, thankfully.
    What rocked my year was AM1994, Cruel City, Nine, I Hear Your Voice, and Two Weeks.

    I also really enjoyed the shorts Puberty Medley and Yeonwoo’s Summer.

    Really wanted to like: Monstar, Ad Genius Lee Tae Baek, and Dating Agency Cyrano. They each have something that grabs at me but I dropped them partway in.

    • 45.1 cheekbones

      Ah, I like Puberty Medley, too ! That CUTIE PIE ! :D

  46. 46 bebecass

    The dramas I liked this year, made me respect the actors and actress that I didn’t know too much about.

    1.) Jo In Sung – That Winter, the Wind Blows. wow, this guys is amazing, I really didn’t know him from other dramas. but I don’t think many could play the role that he played in that drama. Very memorable.

    2.) Doctor’s Son – Cruel City. I still don’t know his really name, but Doctor’s Son had such a huge presence, it made the drama very addictive. Unforgettable.

    3.) Lee Bo Young – I Hear Your Voice. She wash’t an actress that was well known to me, like a Ha Ji Won. But she was so amazing and she made you cheer for her. I look forward to her future projects now.

    • 46.1 little-muffin

      The guy who acted as Doctor’s Son in Cruel City is Jung Kyungho.

      His past notable works would be Time Between Dog & Wolf and Smile You. A bit hard to believe it’s the same guy though!

  47. 47 djes

    While I don’t drink alcohol (shame, I know. I just can’t stomach them ), so I couldn’t really understand, I love your comparisons with the dramas!

    This year is just a so-so in dramaland for me. I think I watched least dramas for a year in my drama watching history ( I’ve been around since late 90s ).
    I dropped more and more dramas – which wasn’t my characteristic, usually I stick to the end, bitter or not – because I realized that I should not waste my time watching bad dramas.

    No drama satisfied me enough this year, I only like ( not love ) School 2013 and Answer Me 1994.
    This year I’m falling in love with Kim Woobin, and I hope he can grow better as an actor, and picks better project in the future.

  48. 48 lajs

    Great read!

    My faves (mostly means I was able to complete or will complete) were:

    Master’s Sun: it’s just love and more love. It’s hard to describe how much I love this show but I think much of it had to do with GHJ/SJS and their on- and off-screen chemistry. It was just love…mostly…

    Reply 1994 (even though I can’t bring myself to watch it till I find out what CB’s future is, it still captured my heart in a way few shows have)

    YTBLSS: ugh JJS! IU! Bread man! That’s about where my love starts and ends. Almost everything else was headache inducing, yet I still remember this show fondly, which is more than I can say for others this year.

    All the other shows really didn’t make me feel compusled to watch. MS was pretty much the only standout where I was waiting and waiting (and reading spoilers and searching and even made a profile on Soompi) for. Everything else began to feel like a chore to watch and I eventually gave up or skipped to the end after reading recaps. I started Monstar, IHYV, Heirs, Mirae’s Choice, Secret and FBND, but never completed. It makes me sad considering how I got into Kdramas in the first place and would always get addicted to a new show every week (mostly already aired shows so I could watch continuously and lose sleep…good old days…). Although, I’m not sure I want to go back to that obsessive period. Maybe it’s good that I only get pulled into one show at a time so I can make up for the sleep loss from the past 2 years. Lol

    Anyway, I can’t wait for next year! With Three Days already on my To-watch list. And for the rest of this year, hopefully I can get attached to YFAS (good thing it premieres after finals) and get my dose of KSH (he’s the reason I recently finished watching TMETS for my 4th time).

    All I want to say now is thank you K-dramas for existing and giving me an escape from the stress and hassle of life…even though you still make me stress from some of your inane choices and logic. :)

    • 48.1 lajs

      Oh and I also started School 2013…can’t remember why I dropped it though….

    • 48.2 Windsun33

      The first episode of Prime Minister and I is up on Viki – los good so far.

  49. 49 yoeda

    btw, i just realize that the OST JB put in this review is all from the actor of the drama.

    Kim So Hyun-SH
    Yoon Si Yoon-FBND
    Jo Jung Suk-YTBLSS
    Ji Sung-Secret

    DAEBAK and totally like it. for me, its really fit for the year in review. thanks JB

    • 49.1 merukae

      I never knew Jisung’s voice is so awesome.

  50. 50 Porcelain

    Aigoo… I realize… this year has got to be one of the most miserable dramas watching record of mine. I only watch 2 dramas, That Winter The Wind Blows and Answer Me 1994.

    Intrigue by the list… so many I want to check out like Master Sun, The Heirs etc… I shall when my clock has 48 hours… perils of a working adult.

    Awesome comparison to drinks… we all need one to drown our drama sorrows or celebrate the drama’s triumph…

    Can’t wait for the other installments… Been a tradition to wrap up the year reading Dramabean’s year end conclusions on the K drama universe.

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