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2016 Year in Review, Part 2: The doctor is in

Every December, I’m hit with a simultaneous feeling of anticipation and dread at dusting off our Year in Review series and taking a look back at the year as a whole. I always enjoy reading what everyone else has written, and the review-writing process is both fun and illuminating—sometimes you don’t realize you even feel a certain way until pressed to put all those inchoate feelings into words—but man, is the process also daunting. Probably our fault for making it that way, but we can’t help always wanting to do more!

This is my tenth year writing a year-end review, and you know what, it never gets easier. But one thing has come into clarity this year—something that has probably been taking shape over many years—which is that the older I get, or maybe it’s the more dramas I watch, the more I care about what a drama makes me feel, and the less I care about what I think I’m supposed to think about it. These days I’m more interested in a show moving me and sparking an emotional response than what might be called its objective merits, like the quality of the writing and acting and technical achievements. Not that those are mutually exclusive scenarios; ideally I want everything and the cherry on top. But life’s too short to feel bad about what you’re watching (or not)!

In the coming weeks, the Dramabeans staff will be looking back at the shows from 2016 that tickled our fancies, or maybe sunk our battleships. It’s been an interesting year for me: I’ve been generally satisfied with the quality of dramas this year, and think the overall level of quality has been rising, and that’s exciting to witness. On the other hand, it’s also been a pretty crappy year personally, mostly because I was stuck in bed for half of it (hip surgery in my thirties, yay!), which explains why I’ve still got medicine on the brain. Upside: It gave me a lot of time in which to watch dramas. Some were awful, but I was grateful for the distraction—and sometimes a bad drama is still better than no drama.

Because our staff has grown so much this year (welcome, hoobae minions, we’re thrilled to have you with us!), we’ve been playing with our format again, trying to find a way to get everybody involved without hitting you over the head with an avalanche of reviews. Maybe in another ten years, we’ll figure out the perfect structure. Till then, here are our reviews!

 
SONG OF THE DAY

Seo Hyun-jin, Yoo Seung-woo – “What Is Love” (Oh Hae-young Again OST)
Fun fact: Did you know Seo Hyun-jin started out in an idol group? *idol biases smashed*

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Doctor’s orders: Here’s a nice placebo to take the edge off. You’re fine, but you seem really high-strung.

This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair totally snuck up on me, coming late in the year and leapfrogging over other shows to become my favorite of the year. The director impressed me last year with the thoughtful, quietly powerful Awl, so I expected this drama to be solid; even so, I was taken by surprise by how deeply it engaged my emotions, given its dryly funny approach to the topic of a man suspecting his wife was on the cusp of infidelity.

Initially, it was the biting sense of humor that hooked me, because I found it fascinating that a character who was going through so much mental anguish could simultaneously be so hilarious to watch. The drama wasn’t mocking his pain, but it found the comedy in it and brought harsh truths to light via cutting wit, and I really dug that. Then as the drama progressed, it was the pathos that dug its claw into my heart, with a storytelling style that was realistic, sympathetic, and sensitive. Infidelity issues are rarely painted with much complexity in dramas, but this show actually broadened my views; it wasn’t an apologia on adultery, but it treated the couple’s marital issues as multifaceted. No one simple answer, no one party to blame.

This show did so many things well (Lee Seon-kyun was brilliant in his neurotic frenzy, and the side relationship between Lee Sang-yub and Boa offered a delightful respite whenever the main relationship veered too heavy)—but to me, this show was largely a feat of directorial command. It’s quite an accomplishment to turn the internet into a living, breathing character, but this drama did so beautifully—and then even gave the internet its own story of growth (in the form of the specific users who recurred throughout the show, although the beauty was that they were effective not only as individual characters with a story to tell but also as avatars for society at large). I loved how the drama portrayed the internet’s place in modern life, a mundane fixture that was at times capable of inflicting great damage or bestowing great kindness. My ugliest cry came at an unexpected show of solidarity by the netizens that caught me right in the gut; I was never so moved by the kindness of internet strangers as I was in this drama. (As a corollary to that, I’ve never felt such heart-pounding anticipation, sympathy, and fear over watching somebody read an internet message board, either.) We are capable of wielding power! Would that we all used it for good, not evil.

 

Doctor’s orders: Clean bill of health. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Signal delivered on all counts so solidly that I appreciated being able to sit back and enjoy the show without worrying that its quality might dip or its story would fail; it inspired confidence, and that isn’t often come by. Sure, I had lingering questions at the end of it, born of the producers’ choice to leave us with an open door (and hopes for a follow-up season?): I would have loved to have an understanding of how the magical walkie-talkie worked, or what triggered the connection between past detective Jo Jin-woong and present-day profiler Lee Je-hoon. But I don’t suppose those were questions that the drama ever intended to answer; they were a part of the premise we were meant to accept in order to tell the rest of the story.

Admittedly, the show wasn’t a very emotional one for me, and I watched with a removed sense of admiration for its technical mastery—superior directing, editing, pacing, acting, suspense-building. It certainly deserves its accolades, and I liked it very much. I have, however, been more moved by lesser shows this year—shows where my heart didn’t care that my brain recognized bigger flaws, because it was too busy rejoicing/crying/bleeding. Not that this is a mark against Signal, which earned all its superlatives—you can’t have everything!

Mostly, I think Signal is a message to tvN to do whatever is necessary to retain PD Kim Won-seok, who has by now demonstrated his talent with Misaeng, Monstar, and Sungkyunkwan Scandal. If he demands money and time and crew and sandwich delivery trucks? You do whatever it takes to make that man happy, because he will be the source of your bragging rights for years to come. Fun fact: I like to think girlfriday and I have star-crossed fates with PD Kim, having been originally scheduled to speak on a drama panel with him at KCON 2013; alas, he got stuck in traffic on the way (curses, LA freeways!) and missed the panel. Then he was brought back for KCON 2016 as the star of his own panel… which of course got counterprogrammed against our panel. (What were the odds?!) (We encouraged everyone to go to his talk, of course. We would have been there if we could have gotten away from ourselves!) One of these days, we’ll get our chance to talk to him, and by talk I mean word-vomit praise into his lap incoherently.

 

Doctor’s orders: Come up for air once in a while, will ya? You can continue the kissing marathon later.

1% of Anything was all about the romance. It was only romance. Plot was minimal, pace was leisurely, and what little conflict presented itself was never anything to take too seriously. Yet the show became addicting for its constant, steady delivery of sweetness, good nature, and satisfying romance.

The key to this drama was the incredibly natural chemistry between Ha Suk-jin and Jeon So-min, which felt so real that it was impossible to shake the suspicion that their real-life relationship was mirroring the strangers-contract-date-and-fall-in-love trajectory of their characters—that they’d stopped acting along the way and were allowing us to watch their courtship unfold onscreen. A story this simple hinges on selling the love connection, and this drama could have gone in a dramatically different direction if it had been any less convincing on that front; there was simply nothing else around to hold it up if it faltered.

The format was a secondary highlight, with episodes clocking in at a concise 35 minutes, which allowed the show to simply skip the random filler plotlines that often pad out the running time in other rom-coms. Ever seen a cute romantic drama and think, “This show would be so much better if we could just cut out [annoying subplot and side characters]”? This show is that wish realized. (Sometimes the drama gods do listen!) It was refreshing to watch the progression of a relationship actually be the whole point of a series, whose obstacles and bumps in the road were mostly of the real-life, universal couple kind. (I said mostly. There was that odd kidnapping blip, but let’s look past that, shall we?)

I don’t necessarily want all my dramas to henceforth cut out secondary plots, eliminate angst, and focus entirely on the love story, because that doesn’t work for every story. But 1% of Anything provided a shining example of a show of that nature being as heart-fluttering and addicting as more dramatic storylines. And all those kisses surely didn’t hurt.

 

Doctor’s orders: A crutch. To prop you up until you realize you can stand just fine on your own.

If Kim Sam-soon defined a generation of post-Bridget Jones urban modern women, it feels like Oh Hae-young Again gave voice to a new class of them. Not quite a new generation, perhaps, but we might think of her as Sam-soon’s kid sister: Hae-young’s struggles weren’t Sam-soon’s (age, weight, or even marital status), but she was made to feel just as belittled for being unspecial—just “just” in contrast to the exceptional version always casting her in shadow.

The character owed a tremendous debt to Seo Hyun-jin for her portrayal of the always overlooked Hae-young: raw and moving and full of pathos. I fist-pumped every time Hae-young stood up for herself and didn’t let people push her aside; she demanded a place for herself and insisted that people acknowledge her when they were more comfortable looking past her, and I found her fierce and admirable. Perhaps that fierceness made her a polarizing figure; it sometimes bordered on abrasive, and I do think the show misstepped in pushing it too far (any character who assaults someone unprovoked has crossed a line, and the character lost me in that moment). But for the most part, Hae-young’s sense of fight was inspiring, and it absolutely endeared her to me.

For me, the romance was secondary; I was intrigued with Eric’s visions and felt for his reluctance to open themselves up to pain, and rooted for Hae-young to get the love she wanted. But I wanted it because she wanted it, and less for the sake of the romance itself—more than anything, I wanted her to find a way to be completely whole regardless of which man threw her over or accepted her.

I forgive the late-game angst that slowed things down, but it does mar my earlier unfettered adoration of the show. I was so in love with its first half, so impressed and enamored, that when it settled from extraordinary to very good, it was actually a disappointment. But while it was extraordinary… wow did it have my heart.

 

Doctor’s orders: Five years. Come back then and we’ll really talk.

One of my favorite things about Mirror of the Witch is that the magic felt magical; this was a fantasy drama that delivered on the fantasy. Credible fantasy is not something that comes readily to dramaland, particularly in the sageuk realm, where magic and mysticism often skew campy, albeit unintentionally (see: Scholar Who Walks the Night, Records of a Night Watchman). So I was thrilled when Mirror of the Witch came along and presented a seamless vision of a magical world with witches and spells that didn’t feel cartoonish.

Among its best assets were Yoon Shi-yoon as the passionate, devoted Heo Jun, to become famous later in life as a lauded royal doctor, and Yeom Jung-ah as the dark witch, who found a humanity to the character’s motivations that made her a spellbinding (hur) villain. I thought Kim Sae-ron was well-cast in theory—she fit the sheltered young witch so well—but not quite so in practice, to my chagrin. Perhaps she really was just too young to emotionally connect with her costar. She connected just fine when the dynamics were familial or antagonistic, but the love story never took root for me because I wasn’t sure she understood what love was yet—fine when the character was young, but less so when she grew older, and into such an ardency that she would give up her life to save Heo Jun. (I couldn’t help but think Park Eun-bin might have sold it and tightened those last few loose ends, but fantasy casting will only take you so far.)

Mirror of the Witch impressed me with its ability to uphold its tone and style throughout, without betraying any lapses in the vision of its world—partly through strong directing, partly through attention to detail and good props and CG and an understanding that everything had to look credible. I’ve seen so many fusion sageuks that were unable to keep up that veneer consistently, and when the fourth wall doesn’t maintain a constant presence, that really impedes our ability to immerse ourselves in the drama’s fiction. This drama made it easy for me to enter its world and want to stay awhile.

 

Doctor’s orders: Group therapy to show you you’re not alone, and an aspirin for the hangover.

I expected Drinking Solo to be the unofficial Let’s Eat 3, swapping in drinking for eating, since the shows share one PD in common (different writers) and the motif of single adults bonding through food. Let’s Eat Seasons 1 and 2 were smart, funny shows that were nominally about the meokbang (eating onscreen) trend while really being heartwarming stories of neighbors and friends, and Drinking Solo turned out to be a worthy follow-up: It had a full world and satisfying character arcs that far surpassed the one-line premise of lonely people drinking on their own. I actually think Drinking Solo did things one step better by using each character’s drinking habits as part of the storytelling, and cutting out a lot of the gratuitous (though mouthwatering) food porn.

The drama didn’t merely shine a light on a small slice of society—the Noryangjin academy district—it filled it with charm and quirk and it turned it into a character of its own. The show felt like a perfect microcosm of real people, each the owner of their own stories, rather than support staff designed to revolve around a main character. I grew attached to everybody—ridiculous Key, faithful puppy Gong Myung, all the teachers—and while the conflicts remained fairly small, I felt invested in their success anyway, and rooted for them to make their way through their little corners of the world.

I found the romance to be the drama’s weakest element, partly because he was such an over-the-top ass and partly because I didn’t quite believe the connection. It was cute that they liked each other, but it was one of those relationships you buy for the sake of the story—it was the richness of the rest of the characters and the non-romantic storylines of personal growth that made this show a winning experience. Plus, given how the show premiered to little fanfare, it was gratifying to watch it grow from an underdog show to bona fide sleeper hit spurring talks of a Season 2. I’ll drink to that.

 

“Yeong’s Waltz” (Moonlight Drawn By Clouds OST)

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Doctor’s orders: An amnesia pill, to get me over that one last thing…

I did love Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, I really did. Mostly. Almost entirely. It was cheeky and brimming with youthful freshness, and Park Bo-gum, who has always been a promising actor, somehow dialed it up even further to charm the pants off the nation as a crown prince who was saucy, swoony, irreverent, and commanding. The main couple was adorable beyond words (I just wanted to squish them) with their delightful banter and mischievous interactions, which graduated into tender, sweet maturity as they fell in love. I would have loved for the second half of the drama to be as funny as the first, but I’ll give the show a pass on its gradual melo lean, because that comes part and parcel with the deepening stakes of standard sageuk trajectory, even when the sageuk is of the comical fusion set.

My sticking point is one that feels like it should be minor and overlookable, but which I just can’t quite shake, and that’s the historical problem: The story is built around the life of a real historical figure who died young, and the drama played with the tension in us knowing his impending fate. That question was a major point of suspense, because we all wanted him to live, but didn’t know how he could get around the confines of historical record. Instead, the show chose to ignore that question in the end, and built its resolution on making the character a king who never actually reigned, which effectively made moot all that tension it had built before. The reason I can’t quite let that slide is because that goes beyond mere poetic license, such as showing us a reinterpretation of history (you can’t simply reinterpret death as non-death!). It’s like putting a bomb on a bus, swerving through traffic, telling us there’s a bridge with a gap coming up, getting us all excited about how they would get us out of this impossible fix… and then saying at the very end, Oh, there is no bomb. On the upside, we’re not dead, but the absence of the bomb does, in fact, retroactively alter how we felt when we thought there was one.

I don’t have a perfect solution for what I wanted the show to do, but it made me believe it would have a clever solution or twist (because no way would Park Bo-gum be dying in this drama). Examples of how it might have dealt with that question without outright killing him and turning the story into a tragedy: He could have faked his death. He could have died technically and been revived. He could have lived in the short term, with the audience understanding that he would die in the future, after the drama’s curtain had fallen (Mandate of Heaven handled this well; Secret Door was less successful).

Even then, had the drama’s resolution been brilliant in how it kept the prince alive and together with Ra-on, I could have overlooked the historical inaccuracy blip. But it copped out there too, by never resolving that conflict either: Rather than explain to us how the couple overcame their insurmountable hurdle to be together (they didn’t marry, she wasn’t queen, and they ignored the issue of whether he would have to marry again), the drama just… hoped you’d forgotten that was a problem. *waves hands* *dances distracting jig* I totally understand that the circumstances made it difficult to come up with a satisfactory conclusion—but that’s your job, producers. That was the challenge you took on, so I expected you to do it.

I don’t want to overblow this point, especially when I found the show so seamlessly directed, beautifully scored, adorably acted, and brimming with exuberant chemistry between the leads, who had one of my favorite romances of the year. It was all those things, and I found the first half of the drama nearly perfect in pacing and emotional build-up—the kind of show that delivered everything I wanted and more. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t ignore this point, which keeps my memory of this drama from being perfectly content.

 

Doctor’s orders: Amputation. To save the rest from being tainted.

Arrrrgggh, Cheese in the Trap. How I loved you so. What could have been!

This drama felt so special—so sensitive, dark, intriguing—that I fell in love with it right away, and was so sure it would eventually take up a spot on my all-time favorites list. (This happened twice this year, with this show and Oh Hae-young Again, so I feel particularly bruised.) I hadn’t read the Cheese webtoon before the show aired (I did read it afterward, to soothe the sting), so I went in fairly blind and was instantly taken by the characters, and the way the director captured an energy that was at once loosely slice-of-life and charged with underlying tension. For the first half of the series (perhaps as much as the first 80 percent), the director was excellent, finding conflict in the mundane and skillfully peeling back layers of characters and motivations. It was introspective, even neurotic, in a very novel way. My expectations were more than met and I WAS SO HAPPY.

What happened toward the end will be a mystery that plagues my frustrated curiosity forever. Because how does one create such a sterling product—with universal acclaim and widespread popularity—and then… just change direction and decide, Nah, let’s not do this anymore? I don’t have a problem with widening the scope of a side character or deviating from the source material, and I was onboard with the development given to Seo Kang-joon’s character—because we had this understanding, the show and I did, that Kim Go-eun’s character was the heroine of the story, and that her growth was really the spotlight of the show, and that we’d return the focus to her and her love story with Park Hae-jin. We had a deal, Cheese! This was a sacred drama-to-viewer trust, and the show spit all over it. Despite the outcry from the viewership and quickly slipping ratings, the show continued to go off in its own strange direction, and suddenly I was wondering what I was watching.

The ending felt like a half-assed concession to try to swing the narrative back in the direction that had made the drama a show a success in the first place, after shooting had already wrapped for some actors and footage was in the can. I felt like someone took me for a ride, dropped me off in the middle of a field, and then gave me a pogo stick to get back home, leaving me bewildered and bounced about without explanation. Where did my beloved Cheese go and why did you take it away from me? *weeps*

 

Doctor’s orders: IV drip. You seem good, but maybe could use a little energy.

I don’t hear this opinion much so I’ve often wondered if it was just me, but I’ll confess now that when Age of Youth premiered, I kind of hated it a little. This writer, Park Yeon-seon, has a history of writing underrated little gems that fly mostly under the radar and pick up mania followings, like Alone in Love, Mixed-up Investigative Agency, and White Christmas, so I was sort of maybe a little bit expecting a masterpiece. I know, my fault with the impossible expectations! I was just so glad to have her coming back with another drama, since she often takes years between projects. But that first episode was slow and plodding, with unlikable characters and a production quality that felt super low-rent, like a public-access community theater project. I was so turned off that I wondered, did JTBC not give them any money and just want to burn off the project quietly?

I’m glad that I stuck it out, because as the show slowly took shape, I could see that there was substance there in its cast of five girls who were wonderfully complex and disparate. The bonds that sprung up between the housemates felt organic, and it was gratifying to watch them work through initial bad impressions and annoyances, moving past the surface conflicts to come together when it really mattered. Park Eun-bin sparkled as the cheerful roommate who was the glue that held them together, but each girl had her moment to shine, too, whether it was Han Yeri weathering her miserable life with a stiff upper lip, or Ryu Hwa-young finding herself adrift after a second lease on life seemed to sap her of any interest in doing much with it.

I never warmed to the directorial style (or the picture quality, which was almost video-quality bad), but as the writing took center stage and the plot drew me in, I was at least able to ignore my dissatisfaction with the rest. It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific storyline as the heart of the show or main highlight, because the appeal of Age of Youth for me was in all the quotidian details that, put all together, painted a lovely picture of youthful struggles and coming of age.

 

Doctor’s orders: Pre-emptive bandages. It’ll cut deeper than you realize.

My first impression of Dear My Friends was that it was a powerhouse of performances and emotion, but one that I wasn’t sure I could keep watching—because it hurt, often in unexpected little bursts, the kind that lead to ugly-crying and an aching chest. The show was well-written and brilliantly acted, but as the stories unfolded, there was so much pain tucked into the folds of these (mostly) women’s many decades of life, displayed in a matter-of-fact way that belied the tragedies they’d lived and absorbed.

Dear My Friends wasn’t a show that tried to make you cry; on the contrary, it presented the lives of this eclectic group of seniors through the most mundane a lens as it could, and if you cried it was because you read the heartbreak between the lines. We often got glimpses into their backstories in sneak punches that caught us off-guard and stole our breaths. By degrees, the show peeled back the surface layers to show us that behind every character was a full life, more than the moms and grandmas they’d become. It’s like reliving that moment when, in adulthood, you are first hit with that realization that your parents were people before they were your parents; they were the stars of their own lives, and weren’t put on this earth to merely play parts in yours. You mean the world doesn’t revolve around me? Imagine that.

 

Doctor’s orders: A neck brace, to save you from plot whiplash.

W–Two Worlds was incredibly thrilling, innovative, and exciting—for about six or seven episodes, when every hour brought new changes to the mythology and mechanisms driving a manhwa character who could step into the real world and back again. I haven’t been so intrigued by a drama’s concept in ages, and it was an incredibly welcome breath of fresh air.

It’s unfortunate that the concept caved in on itself a bit, because the initial premise was so exciting and well-executed that it’s a shame the show wasn’t able to keep up with its own potential. What I find interesting about W is that its fatal flaw was really just an extension of its greatest asset—its agility in changing its rules, evolving the world, and being willing to turn on a dime to deal with every added complication—which is why it’s a show that did fall short and disappoint, but one I still consider a step in the right direction for dramaland. Its downfall was going too far, too convoluted, that the story started to feel haphazard rather than neatly plotted. Halfway in, I hardly knew why anything happened, and was only about half sure the writer knew what she was doing, either.

But for the very reasons that W stumbled as a K-drama, I actually think it would make a brilliant series in the American TV format, with longer seasons and more of them, allowing for us to really explore each rule change as it happened. It was exciting when the show kept twisting the twist in order to keep us hurtling toward an unpredictable finish line, but there just wasn’t enough time to work out every point the show raised. The twists needed time to breathe in order to make sense, and when presented at the breakneck pace of a 16-episode series, I often felt like my head was spinning. Imagining a W where the plot has more room to develop and feel organic—and less like it’s jerking us along by the collar—is an idea that still excites me, so I consider W a measured success with major flaws, rather than a failure of any kind.

 

Doctor’s orders: Dan-tae goggles, to see the world through his kooky eyes

Beautiful Gong Shim was a delightful surprise. Two surprises, really, in the form of Namgoong Min and Minah. I don’t know if anyone was prepared to see Namgoong Min make such a U-turn from the murderous psychopaths that revitalized his career out of the bland-second-lead doldrums, but he made as much of an impression playing zany as he did going evil. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a romantic hero this aggressively weird before: His Ahn Dan-tae was unpredictable, goofy, shrewd, and charming, all wrapped up in one very eccentric package. Minah successfully shed her idol image to take on an oddball character to match him, giving her Gong Shim a hint of dourness that I loved, like she was a little misanthrope constantly followed around by a mini storm cloud. It was adorable, in the way that angry puppies are adorable.

Like so many dramas, Beautiful Gong Shim was a tad too long for the story it told, resulting in a few plot detours that padded time but slowed down the zippy comedy that was its forte. If we could cut entire storylines out to preserve only the best parts that deserve to shine on their own, we’d have such a winning comedy, unburdened by filler. I could have done with less of the chaebol family or the birth-secret-that-wasn’t-really-a-secret, especially if that made room for more Namgoong Minah’s strange courtship (and their good-natured third wheel, Ohn Joo-wan). (Though if there is an upside to the capricious live-shoot process, it did enable us to sideline the hateful unni the minute it became clear she was going nowhere.)

To the show’s credit, the things it did well were strong enough to overshadow its detractors, and when looking back on the show, it’s only the hilarious, entertaining moments that stick in my memory: the severe Gong Shim wig, drunken hide-and-seek, endless parade of capri pants, convenience store lunches, faked injuries, petty jealousies, and the way it all lifted my mood and brightened my day.

 

Doctor’s orders: Is Louis actually a shopaholic with abandonment issues, or is it all better because he’s rich now? He might need some therapy for that.

Shopping King Louis reminds me a lot of Beautiful Gong Shim—not necessarily in premise or story, but in the general sense that they were both winsome, chipper shows that engendered tons of goodwill and delivered laugh-out-loud comedy, and succeeded based on lovable characters rather than plot.

It’s amazing what two charming leads can accomplish in the absence of other elements like stakes or conflict. At the outset I was halfway convinced both leads might in fact be too stupid to live, but the actors brought such genuineness to their roles that somehow, I found their naivety sweet, rather than aggravating. And man, would this show not have worked without Seo In-gook and Nam Ji-hyun—I’m convinced that they are the primary reason that the show, which started with bottom-of-the-barrel ratings, garnered word of mouth and shot it to the front of the pack. It also helped that the cast was wholly game for the silliness of the story and played their parts with conviction—how Yoon Sang-hyun pulled off those fantastical fashions with a straight face is beyond me.

I enjoy a good nail-biter or a conflict-ridden angstfest any day, but it’s also a skill to sustain a good-natured drama that lacks major conflict, yet still remains engaging through the end. Shopping King Louis may have defanged its villains and put its characters in some ridiculous situations, but it had a knack for keeping its conflicts just pesky enough to deliver us to the conclusion—with only as much turmoil as was necessary, no more. Why spend any extra time on trouble when there’s so much laughing and cheer to be had?

 

Doctor’s orders: A vacation for that tired editor. Also, a new editor.

What a weird experience. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo was a hot mess in so many ways, yet I was always eager to watch the next episode. I had a lot of complaints about the show, from writing to acting to execution, and it killed me to think of all the ways the show could have just tweaked this, or recast that, and been so much better. I wanted it to be so much better. You know that feeling when somebody is in the process of bungling something you could do in your sleep, but you’re forced to stay and not interfere, and must therefore witness every excruciating mistake? Yeaaarghhh, that’s one clenched jaw and one bad twitch away from a frustration-induced hernia.

I almost would have preferred if Moon Lovers had been consistently mediocre all the way through, because then it would have been a simple matter of disconnecting emotionally and walking away. But it had these occasional flashes of something gripping and provoking, and because we could see that it had some great ingredients, there was always the faint (ultimately futile) hope that those ingredients might congeal together into something better, as though congealment ever described anything good.

To give the drama one well-earned kudos (a kudo?): Moon Lovers did that thing with history that I dearly wanted of Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, which was to use history instead of ignoring it. I found the show’s treatment rather clever in meshing the heroine’s black-and-white visions of history (depicting the hero as a ruthless murderer) with the flesh-and-blood, pathos-stirring example in front of our eyes. The drama didn’t ignore inconvenient truths, like Wang So killing his brothers, marrying his half-sister and niece, and claiming the throne—rather, it reinterpreted those acts within new context to show the hero/tyrant in a more sympathetic light. (He married his niece to save her! He killed his brother because his brother asked him to! It was all a tragic misunderstanding!)

It wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that the drama was directed badly, and with pretensions of grandeur, on top of being written sloppily and edited like something a drunk monkey might produce. The casting was another mess, with only Lee Jun-ki and Kang Haneul really pulling their weight (and more, considering that they carried the drama between them), and as much as I tried to make allowances for IU not quite connecting in the role, I have to admit that ultimately, her performance felt flat and kept me out of her sympathy loop. Never kick your supporters out of your sympathy loop! We can’t help you from out here!

 

New Empire – “A Little Braver” (Uncontrollably Fond OST)

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Doctor’s orders: A narrative enema. Bottling everything up that tight is no good for anbody.

Part of my disappointment in Uncontrollably Fond is my fault for having expectations. (I know, what was I thinking?) But really, most of my disappointment is the drama’s fault, for being narratively constipated to the point of pain.

I wanted this show to be better, so badly. I was in the mood for a wintry romantic angstfest (never mind its summer broadcast), and felt nostalgic for this writer’s moodily romantic 2010 melodrama Will It Snow For Christmas, which is not her best work (see: Sang-doo, Let’s Go to School; I’m Sorry, I Love You; A Love to Kill; Thank You) but is somehow my favorite. (And worth watching for moving child-segment performances by early-career Kim Soo-hyun, Nam Ji-hyun, and Song Joong-ki.)

Uncontrollably Fond had many of the same elements of Lee Kyung-hee’s past works, many of which practically redefined the melodrama genre in the mid-aughts: thwarted youthful love, being torn between love and family, terminal illness, a struggle of one soul to overcome fate. But this time, it all felt wrong in the execution: Each plot point came burdened with far too much angst given how little it moved the story, which meant we tortured ourselves with misery for very little payoff. It’s bad enough when the story is sad in nature (a dying hero), but to make the entire process of watching the show equally sad felt unnecessarily masochistic. There’s no glory in suffering pointlessly!

It did, at least, give Kim Woo-bin a chance to shine in an example of spot-on casting. You know how sometimes an unknown actor plays a character who’s supposed to be a massive Hallyu star, and you just don’t feel it? Well, Kim Woo-bin played a Hallyu star who seemed exactly as famous as he’s meant to be, thanks entirely to his aura of confidence and charisma. Suzy… was less perfect casting, and I could complain about her subpar performance here, but in the scheme of things, she was such a smaller problem than the writing and the pacing that it seems a moot point. She wasn’t the one who made me want to throw things at characters’ heads, or dearly wish I could transport myself into the television world to talk some sense into people and get things moving already. Glaciers have moved faster than this plot! (And that’s not even a figure of speech.)

 

Doctor’s orders: Is there a growth hormone for feelings?

Fantastic took an uplifting, humorous approach to a terminal illness premise, which I found different and inviting. It had a welcome light touch when dealing with the topics of cancer and domestic abuse—by no means were the issues taken lightly, but the drama wasn’t about serious messages or dire overtones. I grew fond of the heartwarming circle of support the heroine found in her friends, showing that the most loving family in a drama can come from those who aren’t your blood relatives, and the secondary thread of a downtrodden housewife with a gratifying comeuppance storyline provided a satisfying distraction whenever the cancer weighed a bit too heavy. Plus, it’s worth watching just to catch Joo Sang-wook and his many renditions of foot-acting; I was legitimately impressed at how many ways he found to be bad.

Where the show started to lose me, however, was in how it seemed to equate cheerful with immature. For a modern, professional heroine with a sensible head on her shoulders, I was often perplexed at her reactions, and her romance with the movie star hero remained oddly chaste in a way that rang false. There were plenty of sex jokes and saucy girl talk, but then these grown adults acted like teenagers in their first relationships, and this flattened out what could have been greater depth to the show. On a surface level I found the show endearing and cute, but it did feel quite out of step with the characters it had established—there’s innocent, and then there’s unbelievable. Not quite the fantastic the show meant, I think.

 

Doctor’s orders: Surgery, to separate these conjoined twins

Come Back, Ajusshi was half a really charming, funny show, and half a wet blanket. One of the two ajusshis sent back to earth after death had a well-thought-out, poignant, comically rich storyline anchored by an uproarious performance by Oh Yeon-seo playing the body inhabited by a middle-aged gangster. Everything in that storyline clicked. Unfortunately, the other ajusshi, sent back in Rain’s body, was thoughtless and short-sighted and often dragged the mood down by acting selfishly when he was supposed to be using his time to help his family, and that inspired frustration.

On the upside, this structure made it really easy to tune out the duller storyline and only engage with the interesting one, and as a result I have a lot of fondness when looking back at this show, since the aggravating threads never really stuck in my mind. There were significant stretches where the story slowed and the mood dipped, so I understand why it remained a low-rated underdog, but despite its low lows, I was so charmed by its highs that I think it deserves a nod for its delightful moments: the zany gangster family, the whimsical celestial secretary played by Ra Mi-ran, the mistaken-identity hijinks (particularly when a young gangster fell for the pretty girl, not knowing it was his beloved hyungnim’s soul inside), and the touching friendship that sprang up between the two ladies. I’ll take the half-victory.

 

“Witching Hour” (The K2 OST)

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Doctor’s orders: Lipo. Suck that filler out and leave only that lean, mean core (story).

I swear, every time this PD comes out with a new drama, I know what I’m going to get—overblown action, dearth of plot, slightly cringeworthy attempt at grandeur—but I can’t help it, I get sucked in anyway, hoping for better this time. Maybe I really do like flashy action more than I think I do, or I could just be an optimistic sucker—but really, I think it’s the flashes of something great that I see in his works and it makes me want so much for PD Kwak to finally learn that more isn’t more. Maybe he has a good director friend to deliver the cold hard truth that he needs to stop trying so hard to be cool and show a little restraint. Because I don’t think this is a mediocre director who makes mediocre dramas; I think this is a talented director hamstrung by his own indulgences, which drag down what could be great shows and muddy their accomplishments. Which, by the way, I think is a much sadder story than if he were simply untalented.

When The K2 worked, it was thrilling and epic—the extensive action sequences, despite being gratuitous in almost every way, gave it scale that we don’t often see in dramas. I even thought the director’s love of faux-sacred choral music was for once effectively applied, and the director had a way of building scenes to an effective cinematic climax. The problem is, I’ve noticed that he also likes to build to a climax even when the plot is too empty to support it—and then everything ends up collapsing into the void and the scene comes off silly rather than cool. It feels as though the bodyguard and angel romance was only meant to look good, and that the writer felt no need to flesh out the characters internally. That would be a fatal flaw, because of all the characters in the story, I found Ji Chang-wook’s hero the flattest, with the exception of Yoon-ah’s helpless victim character who was mostly there to provide motivation for those around her. It’s like the producers decided that romance always carries a drama so they’d focus on this thoroughly dull pair, at the expense of the things the show was actually good at.

After all, it’s not like there weren’t interesting characters to choose from: Song Yoon-ah rocked her Shakespearean monologues (the evil laugh is by nature cheesy, but I’d say she pulled it off as well as could be done), and I dug that intense undercurrent from her secretary, putting on her best Mrs. Danvers act. The lothario politician was repulsive but at least had dimension, and the false friendliness amongst the vicious chaebols actually made the corporate war feel kinetic and high-stakes—something Yong-pal (this writer’s previous drama) attempted but couldn’t quite pull off. So the problem was that the drama ignored its assets in order to focus on a limp noodle of a romance, which is a much greater offense than if the drama had only a limp noodle of a romance to work with. You can only do so much when you don’t know better; when you do but choose the alternative, you’re to blame.

The drama did provide me with thrills and entertainment, so I occasionally think of what it could have been with a wistful sigh. There’s so much I wanted to like about The K2, but considering how it tanked itself, I’m left with disappointment but not sympathy.

 

Doctor’s orders: Fattening up. Could use more substance.

I probably don’t need to comment on how overwhelmingly popular Descended From the Sun was, since it’s probably the biggest commercial success of the year, and one of the most widely known. Everybody and literally their mothers have seen this show.

I liked it. I thought it was easy to watch and flew by quickly, and I got the Song Joong-ki love. I still think he was too baby-faced for the role (I kept picturing So Ji-sub, myself), but he pulled it off with a whole lotta flash and style. It’s a drama that got a lot of people really excited about the romance and buzzing about what a humongous success it was, and I respect what it was able to achieve—any show that gets that much love from that many people did something right.

For me, though, it was a middle-of-the-road romance that seemed built on banter and certain marquee moments, as though the writer had a picture in her mind (say, a slow-motion hero walk in glorious foggy backlighting) and wrote everything to get us there, and then to the next movie moment, and then the next. Movie romance hopscotch. It seemed very much aimed at being cool. Ultimately that approach made this drama feel empty to me, so I didn’t respond to it emotionally.

It was fun. I liked it. I don’t really remember it.

 

Doctor’s orders: An arrow sign. What this show needs is some direction.

I tried to write an honest review about Doctors. I sat here and thought a while, trying to remember what I thought of it, and went back to watch a few episodes to refresh my memory, and then decided that if it made no lasting impression a first time, I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit through it a second time just to remember why I didn’t have any thoughts about it.

I did watch all of it, so I’m sure it was entertaining. I recall often thinking that nothing happened, and that the main characters barely changed, and that I wasn’t sure what the point of the show was. In one sense, Doctors is the opposite of Descended From the Sun (it was slice-of-life, while Descended liked the dramatics), but it falls into the same category for me: solid acting and production, romance-heavy, and a little too slick to take emotional purchase.

 

Doctor’s orders: Here, drink this juice box while the adults read this review.

Before Cinderella and the Four Knights came along, I might have said that no teen romance was too immature for me—I’ve happily recapped shows on Tooniverse—but then this show came along and proved that you should never speak in absolutes, because those absolutes will come along and secondhand-embarrass you for 16 episodes to make its point clear. And yes, I was pretty embarrassed for Jung Il-woo and Park So-dam for being given such juvenile storylines and dialogue when they can (and have done) so much better, but since they chose the drama in the first place, that’s really their cross to bear.

Once I got used to the tone of the drama and lowered my expectations, which is to say lowered my mental age from teen to tween—it almost seemed too young even for tvN—I found a certain silly appeal to the light-hearted (and light-headed) fluffy romance that knew it was a light fluffy romance and didn’t aspire to be something other than what it was. It was also fairly consistent in tone from start to finish, and arguably even improved as the drama went on (once Jung Il-woo figured out to remove the proverbial stick from his rear end and became a happier person), so it was one of the rare dramas that didn’t take a downhill trajectory.

For a reverse-harem cohabitation romance, Cinderella and the Four Knights was very tame (again with the tween mentality), which was jarring at first because the guys were all way too old to be playing twentyish (Jung Il-woo has been playing twentyish for the last decade!). It’s not a feeling I ever completely shook off, but when I tried to put it from my mind, I did find the banter cute and Park So-dam plucky. The family-bonding missions she was charged with enacting between the hostile cousins were fun in a juvenile way, like the good old days of Saved By the Bell or Lizzie McGuire—plots unfolded in a straight line, with no twists or bends, but to general satisfaction because cuteness makes up for a lot, including stupidity. Friendly K-drama life tip!

 

Doctor’s orders: A jolt of electricity to get the heart pumping. Clear!

On paper, Wanted was a dark, high-concept thriller that had the potential to say something meaningful about society, in a way that was critical without being overly pedantic. The hook was so strong—movie star is forced by unseen culprit to fulfill missions on live television to get her son back from his kidnapper—that it was almost perplexing that the product could be rendered staid, or even boring.

It was thrilling at the outset, at least, and the kidnapper’s first few missions were tinged with a grisly vibe that sent a few tingles down my spine. It wasn’t clear what the criminal wanted, and by shrouding his motives in mystery, the drama played with our imaginations and produced some genuinely creepy moments. The problem was, the more we learned of the culprit and the closer we got to unraveling his agenda, the less thrilling the show got. It was like we were expecting the light to shine in on the darkness and reveal terrifying truths, and instead it revealed something more like bureaucracy.

I wish it had been produced with more energy, with tension, with more skilled pacing, with a better lead actress. (Kim Ah-joong was awfully anemic for someone who was supposed to be a desperate mother, and that killed a lot of the energy right there.) I feel like I’ve said this a lot in this review—I just wanted it to be better! Maybe my new year’s resolution ought to be to kill all hope. Surely that will fix this problem of disappointed expectations?

 

Doctor’s orders: A facelift for the hero, to give him a fresh start.

Neighborhood Hero completely missed landing on dramaland’s radar, though not, I suspect, for reasons of story or production or writing—at least, not primarily. It seems more like audiences just weren’t ready to see Park Shi-hoo back onscreen after his scandal, and thoroughly ignored his comeback. While it’s unfortunate that the drama never got a shot, I can’t cry about it, either, because even for those of us who remembered to watch it, the show ended up being largely forgettable.

Neighborhood Hero feels like another entry in PD Kwak Jung-hwan’s increasing resumé of overdone action dramas that operate on the philosophy of style over substance—and often style instead of substance—like Chuno, which cemented his reputation, as well as follow-ups Runaway: Plan B and The K2 (though Neighborhood Hero came earlier in the year than K2). Despite the picture physically looking crisp and gorgeous on my screen, there was a distinct lack of meat to this ex-spy-turns-masked-neighborhood-hero storyline. I do think The K2 marked an improvement on that score, but Neighborhood Hero felt narratively slapdash, not quite rooted in real characters or emotion or reality; it felt like the skeleton of a bigger drama whose plot points hadn’t quite been worked out yet.

If there is one reason to watch this, it’s to see Lee Soo-hyuk pretty much steal the show as a secondary character who carries all of the humor and quirk while everyone else is off brooding or fighting. He’s played a pretty wide range of characters by now, but I love him most as this bumbling wannabe-cop who thought he could fight better than he could and whose wimpy side often conflicted with his desire to be the hero. He was worthless in a fight, but hey, endearing trumps mechanically brutal.

 

Doctor’s orders: A brain donor. The heroine came without one.

What an odd drama; when Lucky Romance was first announced, I was excited about the quirky premise and the laugh-out-loud webtoon source material. I expected the drama adaptation to take certain departures from the original story, but I wasn’t expecting the show to take everything that was hilarious and interesting about the property and replace it with dolor and angst.

I’m not sure the drama would have worked at all if not for Ryu Joon-yeol; without him, the drama would have been a complete failure for me. Somehow, he took the tissue-thin stock character (uptight workaholic genius CEO) and found surprising and unexpected ways to make him boyish, warm, and hysterically funny. Sadly, Hwang Jung-eum was dealt a dud with this inexplicable character, and no amount of her trying could make the heroine a person who made sense. It was an exercise in frustration to watch her following the loony rantings of a quack fortuneteller, which the drama somehow turned into serious bizness; if you’re going to serve up a wacky premise and out-of-character behavior, it’s gotta at least be funny!

If you turned off your brain to the character motivations or logical inconsistencies, there were cute stretches in the middle between the awkward fledgling couple, buoyed by Ryu Joon-yeol playing a geek in love for the first time. That’s not nothing. That alone almost sort of even makes having watched Lucky Romance worth it for me. But that’s about all the silver lining I can mine out of the experience, after the fact; don’t make me go back there.

 

Doctor’s orders: X-ray, to see what’s broken inside.

Unlike a lot of disappointments in this year’s round-up, Goodbye Mr. Black wasn’t one that showed flashes of greatness; it showed flashes of adequacy at most, but what’s sad is that it couldn’t even manage to meet that lowered bar most of the time. As a Count of Monte Cristo revenge piece (ready-made plot!) starring solid dramatic actors, it should have at least met a baseline of mediocrity, but the show was sunk by what I consider egregious directorial incompetence. I should have expected disaster when I saw the PD attached, since he’s worked on some of the most awfully directed dramas I’ve seen (Dr. Jin, Personal Taste, Over the Rainbow). He often has a secondary PD attached, and the only speculation I can come up with, without being privy to insider information, is that sometimes his secondary PDs have more of hand in the filming (say, Empress Ki) and sometimes they don’t.

When I say bad directing, I don’t mean stylistic tics I disagree with, or off-putting habits. I mean fundamental lack of skills in knowing where to place a camera, how to cut a scene, how to use proper lighting so that we’re not squinting at a dark picture, and how to knit together narrative. The story is a proven classic; there’s literally no mystery to getting it right! And yet, this drama made revenge look haphazard, grown men look childish, and Moon Chae-won look stupid (unforgivable!).

There were issues not related to the direction, like casting too old; late-twenties would have been more believable in selling the childhood-friend-betrayal (I kept picturing Joo-won and Park Ki-woong, though I wouldn’t have wished this drama on them). And the tone jerked back and forth between dark revenge and over-the-top jokiness, which was jarring to say the least. But when a drama struggles to go through even the basic motions, those other flaws seem like minor quibbles, like complaining of a stubbed toe when you’ve got an ax in the head.

 

Doctor’s orders: Hey lovers, get a room!

Every year I debate the merits of only writing about completed shows versus including shows that are well into their runs. There’s only so much that can be said when a show isn’t over yet, and I often swing from deciding one way or the other, then usually fall on the side of preferring to include them. Because who knows what I’ll remember when it comes time for next year’s series?

Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim has an admittedly lame title (though to be fair, romantic doesn’t translate well from the Korean), and I was all set to make jokes about SBS being all about its lover-boy Monday-Tuesday doctors (see: Doctors), but then I watched it and shut up because I was hooked by the weird, fascinating characters and the sizzling romance that sparked from Day 1. (I’ve never seen Yoo Yeon-seok so hot. This may have sustained me over many episodes where his character was occasionally petulant and frequently selfish.) The show had seemed like it was going to be a benevolent-master-teaches-grasshopper human drama about mentorship, but Han Seok-kyu’s Teacher Kim turned out to be eccentric to the verge of nuts, and the grasshoppers were loaded up with Issues. I liked this much better.

I have little interest in the procedural aspect of medical shows, so I find the various patient cases and surgeries to be repetitive, but so far the show has kept them plot-relevant in terms of our main characters, and I’m so fascinated by these characters that I’m hooked whenever they’re at the focus. It’s less a matter of falling in love with the characters than it is finding them intriguing and unpredictable (and very flawed in an appealing way), and that certainly keeps me riveted to their progress. Also, that romantic sizzle! I’ll sit through a lot for crackling sexual tension and simmering chemistry.

 

Doctor’s orders: Visine. Those pearls don’t make themselves.

Legend of the Blue Sea came with a lot of expectations (unavoidable, given the cast and crew), and I think it’s done a fair job meeting them much of the way, but not entirely. It’s certainly popular and the reception is fairly positive, but I do think the bloom is off the rose and there’s no shaking the comparisons to You From Another Star, which makes this one feel a little less special. At least, less special than if it had come along without You From Another Star having preceded it. Sophomore slump is real.

I’m happy with Legend of the Blue Sea so far (I also loved You From Another Star, and think they’re comparable shows); it’s not knocking my socks off or reinventing the wheel, but I’m moved by the sadness of the sageuk storyline and entertained by the comedy, jealousies, and romantic chemistry of the present day. I don’t find Lee Min-ho a funny actor, per se, but he’s pulling off comedy better than I’d anticipated, and the writing of the character works well with his understated delivery. And while the mermaid is perhaps a little dimmer than I’d like, Jeon Ji-hyun’s interpretation is a hoot: The performance is every bit as outrageous as I’d expect from her, without repeating what made her Chun Song-yi character so iconic in You From Another Star.

I wasn’t entirely sure how the romantic pairing would work (I haven’t really bought Lee Min-ho’s last few drama pairings; I’m not sure chemistry is his forte), but once the hero came in with the bumbling denial and half-assed excuses to keep her near, I was sinkered and sold. Maybe bumbling is really Lee Min-ho’s best look, because I’ve never found him as endearing as I do currently; this may be Jeon Ji-hyun’s magic extending its reach, but in any case the effect has been entirely winsome.

The plot didn’t kick in in earnest until we were a few weeks in, but now that there’s a an actual life-and-death urgency about the mermaid’s growing-legs plan (and a sense that love comes with sacrifice), my investment in the story has ticked up, and I’m maintaining my level of hopeful optimism. Don’t let me down, hope! You’ve sort of made a bad name for yourself this year, so it’s time to make it up to me now.

 

Doctor’s orders: Take a deep breath, the air’s fresh.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju reminds me of how good youth dramas can be, and how much I love them when they are. This drama captures the uncertain giddiness that comes with being green and new to everything, and does it with a dear, wistful touch that makes me simultaneously long to be twenty again and be really, really relieved that I’m not.

I think the writing deserves the most credit for that (although the leads are pulling their weight, too), and seeing that the writer’s previous dramas include Oh My Ghostess and High School King of Savvy makes sense, because those shows were full of zany humor as well. But Weightlifting Fairy approaches its story with loads more heart, and its characters have wormed their way into my affections much more securely. The coming-of-age, friends-to-lovers development is still in progress, but so far it’s been calibrated just right—I look forward to where they’re headed, but I also appreciate that the show lets us take a moment to enjoy where they are currently as well, because this is a relationship that is just as good as a friendship as I believe it will be as a romance.

We’ve seen enough instances of older actors “acting young” to know that it’s not an easy feat; there’s a lot more to acting young than talking in a higher register or dumbing down the character. In this, Weightlifting Fairy and Lee Sung-kyung have done a lovely job conveying the doubts and trepidations that come with being an almost-adult. Bok-ju is unlike me in so many ways, but her emotions and experiences are painted in such a universal light that I feel like I understand exactly what she’s feeling. She’s captured how it is to be new to certain emotions (like love or jealousy), to certain kinds of relationships (whether romantic or platonic), and even certain kinds of doubts over things you always believed rock-solid and unwavering (like goals for the future). It’s been rewarding to see her pick herself up when she falls and work through her trials, and it’ll be a pleasure to watch her further growth in coming weeks.

 

Doctor’s orders: A slap upside the head. Because come on.

Calling Entourage a case of death by hype would be unfair to hype—it played a part in creating expectations for the K-drama remake of the Hollywood original, but can’t be blamed for the qualities that ultimately tanked the show. Namely, meandering plot, listless pace, and a cast populated by unlikables.

There are a lot of things wrong with the show, but I don’t think there’s one single factor that can be blamed for Entourage’s lack of success. But there’s nothing particularly good about it, either, and that’s probably why it’s failed to pick up much of a fanbase, which I find a rare feat in dramaland—no matter how bad a show is, there will be some people who love it, and more power to them. I’m sure we’ve all watched terrible dramas that had that one reason to continue, that somehow got us to feel something and keep coming back. Entourage, however, feels like it’s been painted over with a wash of meh, and it’s hard to get too excited about any of it when the stakes are low, the characters lackluster, and the attitudes cavalier. I sort of wonder why I ought to care about these characters when the show doesn’t seem to care that much.

I do think the main problem is that Young-bin is a terrible hero. Girlfriday and I have had extended conversations on whether he’s a true asshole or not, what constitutes an asshole versus simply self-absorbed, and whether that makes any difference. I don’t find Young-bin to be a mean person, and he doesn’t act with malicious intent. But his supreme self-centeredness makes him a blight on peace to everyone around him, and given that he’s also their employer, the power dynamic dictates that when he decides things on whims, everybody jumps to do his bidding. New whim, rinse, repeat. We’ve had awful characters in dramaland, but they’re usually the villains or interlopers—never have I found one so off-putting who is presented by the show as one we’re supposed to like. (I have enjoyed more of the recent episodes that focus less on him, but it’s rather too little, too late to save the show.) ‘

It’s enough to make me feel bad for Seo Kang-joon, who got a lot of flak for the Cheese in the Trap debacle, and then had the misfortune to follow it with a character who is a black hole of goodwill. It almost doesn’t matter whether his performance in Entourage is good or bad, because it’s so hard to look past that phenomenally shitty character. Can we all hit undo on this one and pretend it didn’t happen?

* * * * * * * * * * *

And that’s it for another year! If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more reviews from the rest of the staff. In the meantime, happy holidays and happy watching!

 
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Ah! I was waiting for these to start! Thanks Javabeans! :)

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Doctor’s orders: A brain donor. The heroine came without one.

Still snickering at how apt this is! Congrats on your 10th year JB. Here is to the next 10 and then more!

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"Calling Entourage a case of death by hype would be unfair to hype" is my most favoritest thing anyone has ever written.

(Also, how do I format here? I've never tried it. Is it just bold, italics, subscript?)

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:D

Try "blockquote" in the same way you use "b" for bold and "i" for italics

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Yesss... still laughing at that one! Sad that's true though.

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It's starting beanies!!

Congratulations on your tenth year JB! Happy to be in this community for at least 5-6 years!

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Happy 10th year dramabeans! I "met" you 8 years ago and never left ! And I love it here, a little more each year ! Long and healthy life to you Mother of Beanies !!!!

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Omg I can't believe its been 10 years! I've been reading Dramabeans since my sophomore year in college! I feel so old! :( but Happy 10th JV & GF! <3

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Wow this year was a long one wasn't it? Some of these dramas feel way older than 2016.

I feel like so many dramas this year either lacked substance/plot, or was too convoluted. This Week My Wife Will Have an Affair might have been my favorite drama this year. On the other hand, I barely remember what I watched this year so that answer might change lol.

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(about DOTS) : " I still think he was too baby-faced for the role (I kept picturing So Ji-sub, myself) "
Ohhhh... Now I'm wondering how it would have been if the male lead was SJS ! I wonder if he would have been able to say all those cheesy lines, although he was ok to knit before !

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a little over three years ago no one was sure if So Ji-sub could do comedy, and he gave us his fine self in clown-coloured suits and doing the 'get lost!' gesture (Master's Sun)

He might have just surprised us with an aptitude for cheese, too.

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I remember Javabeans saying she had a hard time buying Song Joong ki in DOTS, and it didn't agree. I thought, "what's the deal? He's fine for this--handsome, charming, and and adequate in action scenes. He makes as much sense as the rest of this drama, which is enjoyable enough."
Then in the review Javabeans mentions So Ji Sub.... *pondering back to the show, contemplating things.... "dammit, who was in charge that train-wreck????!!!"

Wow, the power of imaginary casting.

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The review said it all about my feeling with regards to DOTS. I never get the hype, could not even finished and more than half way dropping the drama.
Come to think of it, there was no emotional attachment. Not to disrespect SJK but thinking it over, I think SJS would have been the better actor to give the character more depth to at least resonated emotionally, at least to me.

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DOTS's plot was even shallower than OMV. I hope that's as low as SJS would stoop.

I gave in to the hype, and skipped through to the cute by way of db recaps. Then I watched the specials. I regret everything.

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I'm the opposite of all of u in that regard. I'm a total sucker for banter. Almost all fav romances of mine are banter-sharp-wit-dialogue driven. It makes me excited like no other when I witness interactions like that.

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I also liked Doctors (which lots of people found boring), and Police Unit 38.

I think I just enjoy watching smart characters interact with each other, no matter what the scenario, or what it's about, as long as I get quick-witted sharp or intelligent characters. LOL.

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Ok, so I thought again, and it's not entirely true the top favorite romances of mine are only banter driven. I should have said, some of them banter driven, some of them of cute and/or funny couples (like Bok joo, SKL, SGG), or with the male lead being left smitten to the point of becoming idiotic like in Healer, JI... So, basically, I just like a well-made romance. LOL.

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I think SJK did a fantastic job as a soldier in this show. I fully believed him as a soldier from his banter, fight scenes, and general demeanour when it came time to be serious. Sure, he has a bit of a baby face, and it's something I noticed at first, but are there not real military personnel who aren't the stereotypical rugged man type?

My problems with DotS is that it was sometimes too melo for its own good, and the breakup get back together indecision was pretty annoying. Other than that, I enjoyed it. It is also one of the few dramas which I like both the female and male leads.

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I only stuck to DOTS by the power of SJK.. mainly his face. Oh!! And the Gu-Won couple. There was such a severe lack of depth in the romance and relationship between the two leads, I couldn't buy into their romance at all especially juxtaposed against the dire natural disasters and drug ring lords and constant threats of danger and death.

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Sorry, you can critic his baby face and all... But It's Song Joong Ki. No one can be better as a leading man in DOTS than him... In fact, He deserved better than got this kind of character

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I myself kept picturing Gong Yoo

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I read somewhere that the role was offered to Gong Yoo first and went to Song Joong-ki when he rejected it. I can totally imagine GY in the military garb looking and smexy and droolworthy. What could've been..

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Thanks javabeans! This was an insightful and entertaining read and I agreed with everything that's written especially about W Two worlds which I felt was the most groundbreaking drama I have ever watched. Looking forward to more of these review posts!

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W was for me what Cheese was for javabeans: destined from day one to be among my favorite dramas of all time. It was new, different, exciting, Lost-like in its twistyness (oh, Lost, how I love thee!) and boasting a cast of actors I personally enjoy. But, alas, it all unraveled in the second half... Still, when I think back now, I can't help adoring that first half. Second half? What second half? If the writer can do amnesia, why can't I?

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I agreed. I love so much W and Cheese in the first half. I was madly in love with both dramas and then it unraveled like you said. I was so disappointed. I thought 2016 was going to be the year of the best dramas with Signal, W, and Cheese, but nope :( I have a 2016 broken heart. Actually, 2016 has been the worse! I am live the US so you can imagine how dramaland and my country disappointed me!

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ugh for some reason my name got cutoff!

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I too loved the first half of W and have wondered long and hard, what happened? I think they lost the emotional connection between the two leads which drove the story, in the process of executing plot points to lead the story to its conclusion. The heart of the story got lost, it's soul. When you can no longer feel the connection that made you care about the story in the first place, the rest just becomes: "what happens next?"

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That should have said: "its soul"---the editor nazi in my computer thought it knew better than me what I meant to say, dumb thing!

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I hope your health gets better in 2017, jb - and it's good to read another end-of-year roundup from you, even if this time it's through the lens of health.

2016's been quite a mixed bag, but I'm glad it brought us Age of Youth and my flawed-but-still-beloved Scarlet Heart (Lee Jun-ki, OOOOOOF).

And Weightlifting Fairy is adorable. Lee Sung-kyung is a gem - she's the only thing coming out of Cheese in the Trap that I have unadulterated love for, but she's more than proved she's got range. She needs to be in more things (drama casting directors, please start considering her for prestige projects, and now!)

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Also, in defence of IU, she had an absolutely crap role to work with but still came through like a trooper in episode 11.

It still upsets me, to think of just how great this show could have been and how aggressively it tried to throw all its good things away.

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Javabeans I am in love with your writing. I'd marry it if I could! ❤️

Hope 2017 is better health-wise for you, and thank you for your fabulous post. Read, nodded and grinned at some bits, and savoured every word!

Here's to 10, 20, 30 more year-in-reviews from you! 🍾

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Thanks for saying that, I totally agree with you about Javabeans' writing, especially considering the sheer amount of reviews she wrote here. Mind-boggling is an understatement.

But thank you JB for picking This Week My Wife Will Have an Affair as your favorite. My heart jumped a little bit when I saw that at the top of your post. I just love that show and am so dang happy that Lee Seon Kyun chose to come back to drama with this director. Makes all the years of waiting worth it.

And out of selfish reasons I am glad that JB and I assume the other recappers, too, are writing more than just five end-of-year reviews each. My heartfelt thanks to you all for bringing so much pleasure to our drama watching.

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I love the side comments and witty tag lines.

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I also love JV's writing and insightful recaps. I love all the writers here in Dramabeans, but JV's writing is uncomparable!

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My heart skipped a beat when I first read the title: 'The Doctor is In'. It reminds me of Thundie's fantasy mash-cap 4.5 years ago that had the same title.

Wow, time flies indeed, JB. Happy 10th year~! *claps*
Thank you for your witty and entertaining writing skills that you share with us and make us keep coming back to your site.

My fave this time:
Doctor’s orders: Lipo. Suck that filler out and leave only that lean, mean core (story). ~ Ohh, K2... *heavy-sighs*

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sniff....I miss Thundie :(

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I just revisted her blog. Oh my....fans are still leaving messages.

I haven't dared to ask anyone but does anyone know?

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Oh man every year I look forward to the year-end reviews to see if you guys had the same opinions I did. It hurts to know that ML could have been so good! It's just like you said if it had been mediocre the entire way I would have been okay but the hope of something amazing happening (like new editing staff bc wtf were those weird poorly placed flashbacks and odd pacing throughout?) to save it all, kept me onboard. It was like being a relationship with a really good looking guy (which in this case is the aesthetics of the show and LJK) with a crap personality (everything else in this show). You know it's not going great now but you stay in the relationship because you keep that he could change and it'll all be better. Hint, it never gets better. CITT hurt but in a different way because the first half was phenomenal! I read the webtoon so I was really impressed with the actors' portayal of them. I grew to love PHJ more than I already did. Then they cut him out of the show, so so cut the show out of my life.

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Aw, I hoped JB would have talked a little bit more about Village of Achiara since it was not mentioned in the end-reviews for 2015. It left and impression on me.

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I really liked Achiara too, seems to be very underrated.

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Last year when I first fell in love with this show, I felt weird, because others thought it only mediocre at best, and aggravatingly slow and even stupid in some part at worst. But then, I decided that if I love it, then I love it. That I don't need to feel bad for liking it so much.

Yes, It's kind of slow and they sure could make the heroine more interesting, but I savor every bit of it. Maybe it's the small town intrigue and the strong sense of 'us' versus the world. Or maybe it's just because the show is full of interesting and fleshed-out characters. I just love it, flaws and all.

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The "small town intrigue" was exactly what I loved about it. Everything felt just slightly surreal, slightly off as if that town was somehow on the fringes of reality and the heroine was the only character that was truly rooted in reality. I had no problem with the heroine because it always seemed to me that she was a stand-in for the audience and acted like what an average sane reasonable person would in her situation. She wasn't special or gifted with some off-the-charts courage or intellect, but she was very real to me, like someone who isn't aware she is in a K-drama and needs to make things interesting for the audience. The other characters fulfilled that role aplenty!

The show was really a treat for the creepy mystery lover in me.

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This year was definitely one of the better the k-drama years. There were so many high quality dramas; most of them were from tvn IMO. I also think I'm focusing less on the technical stuff and care more about how shows affect me emotionally. A few years ago, I used to be so caught up in judging dramas based on the directing, writing, characters, etc... Now, I only think about those things when I feel something is off with the drama.

Despite its flaws, the My Wife Affair drama definitely affected me the most emotionally too. I was surprised you said that Signal wasn't an emotional one for you. It was for me. I was able to easily connect emotionally with many of the characters, especially with Kim Hye-soo's character and many of the victims. It definitely helped that the acting overall was so good.

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which dramas did you think were the high quality ones?

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Most memorable ones to me are
Signal
Another Oh Hae young
Marriage Contract
Jealousy Incarnate
and can I sneak Goblin in?

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Haha..
You have the same exact list as me. ;-)

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Aww...glad to hear that. Is that your real name? Pretty. Like a female character in an Indonesian movie I watched years ago, Tentang Dia.

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to give Kim Saeron credit where it's due, I never disliked her character, in fact, she made me like her character, which is more than I can sai for some leads in other dramas. I didn't care that much for the romantic part of the romance, but there was enough in the drama to make-up for that.

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I thought she was really good at non-romantic stuff. Her love-hate relationship with her mother was so deliciously painful and wistful. Rather than focusing on the romance part, I wish they mine conflict from the twin's relationship. That was one plot point that I wish get addressed in the drama, though maybe it would be far too dark for TV show...

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Thanks javabeans, not only for this year-end review but for all you do throughout the year!

Wishing you good health and good dramas for 2017!

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Yay, it's that time of the year again! Man, reading javabeans's review has made me realise just how many dramas I've started, but ended up dropping during the final stretches of their run, which is definitely not something I'd have done back during my first few years of kdrama watching. The more dramas I watch, the less patience I have with them, it seems. HAHA. I feel like the more dramas I watch, the more I realise that my kdrama preferences, as javabeans mentioned, are definitely based more on emotional investment as opposed to objective merits. I've technically only finished watching six whole dramas this year, which feels surprising to me because I FEEL like I've watched a lot - but then I went through this review and I realised that I'd just dropped a lot of them around the two-thirds mark.

Kdramaland honestly felt a little empty to me this year, because a lot of the hyped and well-liked dramas (e.g. Signal, Oh Hae-Young Again, W-Two Worlds, MDBTC, DotS, LotBS) never ended up engaging me (I only ended up finishing Signal on that list), and a lot of the dramas I felt like I SHOULD'VE loved still didn't make me stick around until the finale (Drinking Solo, Police Unit 38, Shopping King Louis), and then one drama I DID love ended up massively misstepping (namely, Cheese in the Trap). And then there were the addictively messy dramas that I'd never recommend to anyone, but still finished (Cinderella, MLSHR), aaand finally, my two kdramas of the year (Jealousy Incarnate, Age of Youth). Crossing my fingers that Weightlifting Fairy will end its run satisfactorily too, because it's another one of the very few 2016 dramas that I've become emotionally invested in, despite its flaws.

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[blockquote]es: And then there were the addictively messy dramas that I’d never recommend to anyone, but still finished [/quote]
I know what you mean about addictively messy...but I would still recommend them to folks with caveats.

(Trying to use the blockquote, not sure if I'm using the right brackets, so if it doesn't work...hopefully next time!)

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your brackets has to be the pointy ones and you end your sentence with

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... /blockquote

I hope this appears

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Thank you for making our drama experience more fun, I enjoy all of your posts and reviews...fighting girls

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Hip surgery in your 30s didn't sound fun when we first heard, and it still doesn't sound fun now. Bless you! I'm praying for you! Also, thank you for the reviews! That's a lot of shows and a lot of work! I really want to try out This Week, My Wife will Have an Affair now--I wasn't really interested throughout all the promo but that's a pretty glowing review. And I'm interested about how the internet grows up. ^^ Thanks again and Merry Christmas!

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Happy 10th Anniversary of DB's year in review :)
Wishing you good health #Fighting
This is my first year being interactive in DB, so thank you JB & GF for brainstorming together and creating this wonderful website, that is a haven for Kdramas. Not only is your page a platform for Kdrama discussion but also provides an insight into other's perspective of life (values).

I enjoyed reading your opinions. Tagline for each drama had me LOL 😂

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Scarlet Heart is my ultimate drama favourite of the year (yes, despite being such a hot mess). As JB mentioned, there is something so addictive about the drama, idk what actually since I have watched the original c-version BBJX and despite the superiority of the original, I never felt the same kind of addiction. So in this regard, thank you for mentioning Lee Jun Ki being the main and sole reason for most of us continue watching to the very end, putting up one of his finest performance so far and for him to be able to rise above the mud and receiving so much love out of this fiasco makes him even more respectable as an actor and not to forget to mention that he is super hot and rawked that mane of glory (sorry Ji Soo....cough). Also, there were definitely Kang Ha Neul and Kang Ha Na worth mentioning. And finally, if there is anything about Scarlet Heart, it is the ability of the showat nailing that bit but poignant emotional scene - Lady Hae's death, Court Lady Oh's execution, Eun's death and that rain ritual scene which reveal Wang So's potential. Sadly, the show made me jumping and screaming with so much joy over the death of it's central figure death Haesoo and god knows why.

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Correction....JB mentioned despite the mess, there's still the eagerness to look forward to the next episode.

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Scarlet Heart is one of my favorite too despite its major flaws. I think the reason I like it so much maybe due to the beautiful landscape shots (I shall deliberately ignore the massive close-ups) and the intense emotions from the actors, namely Lee Jun Ki, Haneul, Queen SMS and Yo (as he joined the crazy realm).

When executed correctly, Scarlet Heart can be intense, like the ending of episode 3 and episode 11. These scenes are what hooked me up to the drama.

Moreover, Lee Jun Ki's performance on its own is worth the effort (come on, 3 versions!) required to watch this drama :-D

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I admit, I part hated Come Back Ajussi, but I was SO enamoured by Oh Yeon Seo and Honey Lee. it is like a relationship that frustrates you, but you can´t leave.

for Moon Loverr, I certainly don´t mind Teacher staring me in the face in close-up, but I would prefer it in reality not on screen. or do I? *gets weak knees from thought alone*

I counted my tweets and shares about Shopping King Louie. There was 135. yes, we worked hard to spread the word. I am glad it paid off.

Beautiful Gong Shim made me discover an Abba song I hadn´t heard. Ahn Dan Tae is honestly the Weirdest Character of the Year. While Soondae Soup guys from Bring it on, Ghost! are probably the funniest.

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I invented a new name for Moon Lover: Moon Lov-Error.

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HAHAHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHA. Thanks for the good laugh. OMG. Is that the rib I busted on the floor?

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Thank you Javabeans, the doctor of the clinic that keeps us healthy with the daily dose of kdrama that we all need!

On a serious note, you should probably consider getting a PhD on kdramas. Unless the course doesn't exist... then you and Girlfriday could probably start one and become lecturers.

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I agree on the PhD. The analysis provided for the shows that I saw was quite good, sometimes fresh. There are some hard truths in here and I think JB's long history in Kdrama land definitely provides a refined lens. Having said that, the enjoyment of art is a subjective experience--after you take of the objective analysis--so we are not always going to agree or look at things from the same perspective. These types of analyses and difference of opinion provide for great discussion.

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Thank you, Java beans, for the love, the time and the incredible insight you offer to Kdrama viewers.

As a (much) older viewer, I'd like to validate your statement; it is all about what the shows say, more than how they say it.

On that note, my two favorite shows were Cheese and OHYA. I loved Cheese because it reminded me not to pre-judge based on my interpretations/misconceptions. I truly loved OHYA for the lesson on what matters most; to commit to love and give it our all.

Love you all as well!

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Those two are my favorites this year, too!

I really didn't mind the second half of OHYA...

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Well, I think I'm one of the few people who really liked UF, I think more than a love story, it was a story of redemption. With complex characters who made mistakes and felt anger, frustration and disappointment with other people and with life. Of course I was not 100% perfect, but It isn’t bad as people say, at least for me.

Now with regard to Beautiful Gong Shim, the main character is sensational, and he fit so well with female lead ... And I'm very much hoping that he will take the lead role of Chief Kim ....

Another Miss OH - I did not watch it every week, but all at once, so I do not see all those problems that people mention, even though I found it necessary all the angst, so that the characters could mature and really see what they wanted out of life.

W - Two Worlds - It did not captivate me, I simply ended up watching as an obligation because I had already started.

Jealousy Incarnate – One of the best for me this year… Cho Jung-Seok was perfect from the start to the end.

The Good Wife - It was a perfect remake. I still dare say that this version of Alicia is simply better than the original and also the the actress, she is sensational.

And the other drama that I'm watching is Oh My Geum Bi that so far is interesting, and last week already started with crying, I think the end result will be satisfactory.

I watched other dramas this year as Kill Me, Heal Me, Reply 1988, Oh My Ghost, Discovery of Romance, Liar Game, Emergency Couple, etc. I'd rather have the drama finished so I could watch it.

My next drama will be Signal. Let's see if it's as good as everyone says

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I didn't think that UF was a love story, either. To me, it felt like a revenge story, with a very little bit of redemption in the very end. I wish it hadn't been advertised as a love story because I think it affected my perceptions of it--I kept trying to make it fit into one mold, when it wasn't that at all.

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Thank you for the long review. Both the good and the bad.

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Thank you for the detailed review!! Took me a while to read as I'm in the middle of running errands too! Unfortunately (fortunately?), I've not been able to tune into a lot of the shows of 2016, and the few that I did manage to watch, didn't leave much of a lasting impression.

I think I'm at a stage in my life where, like JB, I care more about what a drama makes me feel, as oppose to just how prettily it's all put together. True, the two are not mutually exclusive, but if the feels are there, I'm able to overlook some of the other negating factors. Sadly, that means opting out of the show as soon as I realise downward trajectory in the way I ought to be feeling.

Sometimes, I get lucky and do a rather energetic victory dance when a show is able to carry me along for the full ride, leaving me content and/or full of happiness. A truly deserving show that ends up on my list of faves, and one which I will happily recommend to others.

Alas, I feel such shows are few and far between these days. Now, I'm lucky if I continue with a show past 6-8 eps. As soon as I sense something amiss, something which dilutes how I felt when the show was good, I usually stop watching, unless I have complete faith in the show.

I loved JB's review of W, it encapsulated everything I felt about the drama once it had ended; and though I lasted till the very the end, I wasn't very enthusiastic about continuing with it, but did so to see how much more they could butcher such an interesting premise. It was a show full of lost potential!! But, at least it had potential.

Other shows I managed to watch in their entirety, though none were really all that memorable, aside from Mirror of the Witch, which I freaking loved:

- 1% of Anything
- DOTS
- Drinking Solo
- Shopping King Louis
- Mirror of the Witch
- Oh Hae Young again
- Moonlight

Shows I (happily) dropped:

- Doctors
- Moon Lovers
- Remember
- Bring it on Ghost
- Cheese in the Trap

Shows I'm looking forward to tuning into:

- Signal
- Marriage Contract
- Jealousy Incarnate
- Age of Youth

All in all, it certainly wasn't a good year for me. There were no IT dramas, most likely coz I hadn't tuned into many of them. I guess this is what they call a drama slump - here's hoping for a fun filled drama run 2017.

Thank you for all your hard work in bringing us the year end reviews, JB and team!! I look forward to all the rest!

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Slightly ot but - As a reader who's been here since it was just jb by herself, I'd like to take this chance to say thanks for ten years of Dramabeans. It fills my heart with gratitude for the way you've created a community of Beanies that stretches around the world. Any day I can't come to DB is a day that's just not right, and that's being kind. And every year it grows, not just in numbers of Beanies but also in the creative ways you make for us to interact:new categories like What We're Watching, This Week's Ratings, Beans of Wisdom have brought so much fun and amazingly there's always more (so much more!) to talk about.
Thanks to javabeans and the team, you definitely deserve all the cookies and all the flowers. And all the beans!

And, seriously, an award from the Korean government. 🏆

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Ditto this. What a lovely comment! You're right about not feeling right when you've not stopped by Dramabeans at least once a day!

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Thanks, bbstl, for articulating (well) much of what I wanted to say.

It's been wonderful to watch dramabeans grow and evolve over the years, and I can't look back on this year in Dramaland without first being grateful for the magnificent new minions here on db (💞to y'all!), as well as for the awesome new weekly features (What We’re Watching, This Week’s Ratings, Beans of Wisdom) that really enhance the weaving together of our community. And uri mary deserves a special shout out for for being a Comment Moderator Extraordinaire, and for all the other ways she makes dramabeans an even more delicious experience than it was before.

I'd say 2016 was a pretty remarkable year in the evolution of dramabeans. Manse!

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I always enjoy reading your yearly recaps. (I just wanted Squad 38 to be included.)

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Ah, I still need to check this one out too!! Caught the first ep, which I remember enjoying, but I've not had a chance to watch the rest.

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I just listening to the because I miss you humming version while reading this list and I think the history part on Moonlight is a continuation story,
the real prince Hyeomyong died at the age of 20 and Yeong hasn't reached that age, he was 19 at the end of drama as I remember,
I think they need to put that at the end of drama but they afraid of the backlash cause he was so loved, it's no longer yeong in people's eyes, it's Park Bo Gum,

This also reminds of Moon Lovers accuracy-not-accuracy history, I don't think they actually care or bring up the matter as a viewpoint because we can't see Hae Soo actually think about history or the morality in the latter episode, I mean as real person who knows and feels something different, they just follow the story and the commenter pick up the crumbs, so I am sorry to disagree with this point,
Despite finished it, I realised the reason I keep watching it is because I want to be proven wrong, that what I initially said in ep 4 or 6 will bite me back because somehow they just did and I was reckless + overthinking, Then I supposed to have this okay feeling cause my earlier comment is kinda right but the reality is I am more disappointed cause they managed to screw up with the overwhelming support and all editing they did, I think the story gonna be better with a voiceover and as viewer who can't invest time for all the fan explanation, this is a giant mess,
It just likes the drowning moon scene at the beginning which is gorgeous but yeah you are drowning and your life is in danger.

This year for me: personally is the year of Ha Seok Jin and Park Bo Gum also Hwang Chi Yeol (well he is not popular but gosh the ost and the new duet with solar is good).
The director and writer also show a various genre this year, DOTS, W, Signal, Moonlight Drinking Solo, 1% of anything, Ms Temper, Lucky Romance (the director only), Shopping King Louis, Police Unit 38 and many that I probably forget at this time (sorry, it's midnight here) .
Shout out to great OST too, I can listen to many OST because it is a good song as itself without the drama affiliation.
Still enjoy DOTS soundtrack, moonlight, Im Sun Hee ML, Drinking Solo, Louis, W and all,
So many excellent shows happen (not in term of the popularity) because of the teamwork rather than bringing the big name on the screen, like hoe director, OST director, the chemistry and actor teamwork make the show shines on their own ( disclaimer: Song Jong Ki is no that big at the starts of DOTS, I also didn't count LOBTS and GOBLIN)

2016: even though so many things are bad this year including my personal life, the drama is good, wish me luck next year

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This year for me: personally is the year of Ha Seok Jin...

For me, it is too :D

Very few actors make me binge watch their dramas. From Drinking Solo and 1% of Anything, I went to Once Upon A Time In Saengchori, Legendary Witch and I've started Childless Comfort although the low quality video bugs me to no end.

All the best of luck in 2017 @Sancheezy!

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Thank you ET, wish the best luck for you too ^^

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Ooooo, more than five? Well, 2016 was a pretty good drama year for me (though, strangely, exhausting) so I'm actually really glad you included all the shows you watched in your review :)

Thanks so much for making the effort these past 10 years! Though it doesn't matter so much now that I watch currently airing shows, there was a time when I was just coming back to dramas and your reviews led me to some of the most wonderful ones.

I love reading all your praise for This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair. The thoughtful focus on the connections forming between the internet community and the impact they had on each other elevated the production into something truly unforgettable. Special shout-out to the hacker couple, who made me nearly as giddy as Sang-yub & Boa in certain moments! It's certainly one of my favorites of the year.

Your feelings on Oh Hae-young Again are so in-tune with mine. It took a dip in quality, just enough to take it out of my all-time favorites (luckily, I have Jealousy Incarnate for that), but I still engaged with it on so many levels. It just dug its way into my heart and refused to leave. All thanks to Seo Hyun-jin. I also admit to caring a bit more for the romance and finding the writing truly insightful and engaging at parts. That, paired with with the wonderful directing and OST, kept me hooked throughout. Ultimately, I'm able to look back with fondness on the show, but with just a little bit of pain at the thought of what could have been.

About Signal though, it's funny, but the reason I actually love it as much as I do is because its one of the few thrillers to emotionally engage me. In fact, even when the show didn't perfectly explain or resolve all its mysteries (despite how masterfully it handled most of its twists), it was actually the more human element of the show that delivered for me. Honestly, I probably wouldn't be praising the show as much as many if it weren't for that. I do consider the show brilliant in many respects, with just a few places where the logic didn't fully extend. But the characters and their journey set it apart and made it far more memorable for me.

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Was there a K-Drama with "Cheese" in the title?

https://ktoonsbyfox.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/my-alternate-ending-for-cheese-in-the-trap/

I was so frustrated with this show that I drew my own (better) ending!

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I totally agree with you on W. It definitely wasn't perfect in execution, but it had all the crack factor and premise that more than made for what it lacked in other areas (which I don't think it really lacked that much. It got really convoluted, yes, but no worse for it). ^^

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SIGNAL : I agree plot wise it's well direct, well act, and well good plot. But I think What turn me off abit are they seems like want to lecture me explicetely. It's just quite subjective though. And the villain is abit stereotypes and make it less enjoyable for me. I'm with JB this show it's not connect with me on an emotional level.

Age Of Youth : disagree completely about the directing, there is nothing wrong with the directing. It's reliable diecting, the director let the actor breath, the editing is smooth and each scene is on point, and that is what matter for me. If there is directing I don't like, it's Moon Lovers and W.

DOTS : Let's just say, I don't find it a romance drama.. Once you get that, it will be more enjoyable to watch.

CITT : The initial episode might led you to believe it's about the heroine, no It's not. You should watch it with open mind. by episode 6, it's clear it's not so much about heroine story, more about selfish people with greed and how they react in a situation where it's not benefiting them. And Yoo Jung is one of them. Watch it as a psichological thriller drama, it's never been slice of life drama.

W : bad acting from lead make it less enjoyable. and I don't like the way it's directed.

LOTBS : lackluster from production value, dull acting from the lead (I swear this drama change my perception of Joon Ji Hyun. She is not commit in this, her performances is very lackluster), and mediocre witing so far. Park Jie Eun make JJH character is so caricature, and it seems JJH realise it and not giving her all.

My wife is having an affair : I agree completely. It's definitely my surprise drama of the year. It's awsome. But we have different opinion what makes this drama a gem. the credit must be goes to the writers who also writes another gem I live in cheongdamdong. And Le SUng Kyun performances in this make it more worth watching.

Uncontrollably fond : this seems one of those show when I uncontrollably fond at it, while so many don't. It's overall well act drama, with good director at the helm who know How to make me feel. My only issue is too slow pace and tried to be light in earlier drama when it doesn't. It's never been Lee Kyung Hee's strong point. If only it's 16 episode long, it will be more memorable. Because of this drama, I become Appreciate Kim Woo Bin more. For me He is my pick for most improved actor of the year. And yeah, my second issue is Suzy. If only the drama has more reliable leading female, it will be so much better. It's like the same case Eric with OHYA

OHYA : I agree completely regarding Seo Hyun Jin. She is the bomb. And It also credit to the writers who create her character with such depth. It's been a while A show put so much effort into female character. It's feel refreshing to watch. She makes me laugh, cry, butterfly.

sorry for my long ranting... It's very subjective indeed, and feel free to disagree.

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come back ajusshi : it's all round bad drama for me. with unbearable acting from Rain and dull Lee Min Jung. the plot is also silly.

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As a fan of Eric Mun I disagree with your statement about Eric. While he's not best actor in Korea, he's better actor than you thought. You can check his other dramas to know his capabilities and versatility. The character of Park Do Kyung made him acted like that. And I give applause for making Park Do Kyung is more charming by Eric's touch. No matter how good Seo Hyun Jin's acting (in your opinion), OHYA won't be the same without Eric. Just saying.

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Eric is one of best idol actor. Otherwise he won't survive till now. He's the very rare actor that willingly to play such an asshole in Que Sera Sera (and made me became his fans) and complicated leading man in Discovery of Romance. He and Jo In Sung are the best when it comes to raw emotion. There is a reason why KBS and TVN drama awards ever nominate him for a daesang. He has capability to act even using no words.

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Signal was perfect except for the ending. If it wasn't for that, it would have shot itself straight to my best drama of 2016. I hope there is a Season 2 to explain everything but I believe it is unlikely. The directing was really amazing though.

I've watched Oh Haeyoung Again until episode 9. I still remember the cliffhanger of the kiss at the end of the episode. Normally, I would have clicked on the next episode in anticipation but I didn't and never came back since. It was so good but then it became too aggressive and heavy for me, I had to leave.

Mirror of the Witch had the best CG in all the dramas I've ever seen. They deserve all the CG awards. It was good in all aspect but then they couldn't really sell the romance. Half of the drama became about Hongjoo while the leads were kind of left in the background. However, it's still one of the few dramas I really enjoyed this year.

Oh, Cheese. You were so good. Dropped it halfway as well. Nothing's worst than a drama that looks like it will be everything you need in life only to leave you hanging in the end. I think that scenario you had at the end perfectly describes what Cheese viewers felt.

I really liked Age of Youth! It was the drama that I watched while trying to cope up with my Dragons withdrawals. It was overall short by 2% of something but was a really enjoyable watch. Kang Unni!!!!

I had to stop Dear My Friends because it hurt. It hurt so much! Maybe one day when I need a good cry, I'd come back and finish it.

Come Back, Ahjusshi was exactly as you described. It was so fun during the Oh Yeon Seo bit but then became a downer when Rain's story comes on screen. Oh Yeon Seo-Honey Lee is probably my most shipped couple this year.

I'm two episodes away from finishing Doctors but just never got around to it. Despite my love for Yoon Kyunsang, the only part of Doctors that I remember is Namgoong Min's arc.

Wanted felt like it's trying to look smarter than what it really is. My high expectations played a big part on the disappointment so I guess there's only me to blame.

Doctor’s orders: A brain donor. The heroine came without one. I died laughing.

Legend of the Blue Sea is a laugh out loud watch. It's not that fresh (because of YFTS and how similar they are) but it's still a drama I enjoy watching. I only hope it gets even better from here.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bokjoo has taken my heart and ran away with it. I've always liked Lee Sungkyung and she's playing Bokjoo with so much heart that I just can't help but root for her. I was wary of the show at first because of Nam Joohyuk but this role suits him so well. He's so annoying yet sweet. Argh. Please keep on being awesome, show!

It must have been hard writing year-end reviews, javabeans. I've seen your manic tweets. Still, thank you for gracing us with awesome reviews every year!

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Off-Topic - I was bummed to miss JB and GF panel at KCON this year, but I attended PD Kim's panel, and it was so worth it! He should be given everything by TvN. I hope he continues to direct great dramas like Signal and Misaeng. Off, off topic...anyone going to KCON next year? I would love to meet fellow beanies there!

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Thanks, javabeans, for a year of enjoyment and insight into Kdramas. I wouldn't groove to my viewing experiences anywhere near as much if it weren't for the dedication of you and your devoted colleagues at DramaBeans Central. Please take a bow!

Although I haven't watched all of the shows you mentioned in your year-end wrap-up, it's comforting to realize that my spider-sense warned me away from a bunch that ultimately didn't cut it. And that I'm in good company about some of the ones I did watch that weren't perfect, but addictive in their own ways. I really appreciate DB reality checks.

As always, thank you for providing this haven on the Interwebs for those of us who don't have kith and kin in the physical world with whom we can discuss, bemoan, analyze, and jump for joy over Kdrama. It's an honor to meet so many fine kindred spirits from around the globe at this watering hole.

Blessings and best of health to all of you at DB HQ, from the bottom of my heart. And ditto to fellow Beanies, wherever you hang your hats. ;-)

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I agree with everything said about This Week My Wife's Having an Affair. The support from the netizens was absolutely my favorite part. It turned out to be my favorite drama of the year by a long shot.

Oh Hae Young Again and Age of Youth were enjoyable, but lacking in a few areas. If TWMWHA is a 10 they're an 8. W is an 8 too. It started really well, but became so convoluted the writer couldn't write herself out of the hole she'd dug herself into.

Moon Lovers was messy, but entertaining. Given a better director, replace some of the actors, a better writer, pretty much an entire revamp and it could have been a masterpiece.

Lucky Romance is worth ti for Jun Yeol, but it sucked that they gave HJE absolutely nothing to work with.

Uncontrollably fond was an angst-fest and not the good kind. It felt like it would have been well received years ago, but it's far too melodramatic and cliche for now. Loved that OST though.

Worst drama of the year hands down for me was Goodbye Mr. Black.

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Omg...i have been in denial eversince i saw the poll posting a couple of days ago. Is it really end of the year now, there's still so many shows that i planned to watch but never really started, so many shows that i planned to finish but never really finish. My fav this year is Page Turner, which confirmed my love for JiSoo.

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Wow! Tenth annual review! Congratulations, javabeans.

This is my third year reading the annual year review as it comes out. And every year that I read it, I get a bit sentimental about the importance Dramabeans, and the beanie community, has had in my life these past years. I get this wave of gratefulness; followed by, God, please don’t ever take them away, moment. <>.

Thank you so much for the time everyone, Dramabeans staff and beanies, put into this community. I was fortunate to stumble upon Dramabeans from the minute I discovered Korean dramas in early 2014. Having this community as my guide, my drama obsession was not only fueled by the community, but it was also enhanced. In the process of learning more about actors, tropes, PDs, plot, arcs and about the next crack drama, the process of it all has been an educational cultural journey as well. Thank you.

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Thank you for a great summary of the year 2016 JB and especially for those words "you are first hit with that realization that your parents were people before they were your parents; they were the stars of their own lives, and weren’t put on this earth to merely play parts in yours. You mean the world doesn’t revolve around me? Imagine that." I don't remember the last time when simple words and reality in them hit me and moved me so much.
As for Dramaland 2016 I nominate:
MLSHR - this show was the one that cut me out of my real life, when weeks were just Mondays and Tuesdays
MDBC - first half had it all and second hadn't
Jealousy Incarnate - loved it, love it and will recommend
Unfortunately, even if I watched all shows from above I can't remember it as worthy to remember.
As for now:
Weightlifting Fairy rocks with Goblin's beginnings as tasty as Goong Yoo famous chocolate abs :)
Happy 10th anniversary!
Well done! It's always a pleasure to read your posts!

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"MLSHR – this show was the one that cut me out of my real life, when weeks were just Mondays and Tuesdays"

Same here. I almost went to rehab after the show ended.

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Happy 10th year, javabeans! Thanks for starting this site and all the goodness that comes with it, and I'm sure all of us appreciate the hard work of everyone on the dramabeans team.

Appreciate your reviews, and whoa, you watched a lot of dramas! Totally agree with your take on Goodbye Mr Black, it was just a puddle of mehhh and wasted talent. And the miss on the historical bits was what took me out of Moonlight, although to be fair I was never as invested as some of the beanies here so I wasn't as "let down". Cinderella was tween level all right, but Park So-dam still managed to do a good job and was cute together with Jung Il-woo (once his character started smiling).

Have a great 2017!

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Firstly congratulations and well wishes to you...

I mostly agree with your reviews about the dramas I have watched this year.
As for your review of MLSHR,kudos!It was as if I wrote that myself,word for word,believe me.I'm very much pleased because this is my 3rd year of K-Drama viewership and so far I'd describe myself as a newbie but I now feel that I have moved several steps up.I'm a fairly good cinephile and that helps with my assessments about dramas.

My favorites are:
Beautiful Mind
Five Children
Oh Hae Young again
Weighlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Shopping King Louis
Romantic Teacher Doctor Kim
On the Way to the Airport
One Percent of Something

Painstakingly finished:
DOTS

So-So:
MLSHR
Lucky Romance
Beautiful Lady Gong Shim
Age of Youth
Cinderella and the Four Knights
The K2

Dropped:
W:Two Worlds
TLOTBS
Uncontrollably Fond
Doctors

Recently started:
My Wife will have an Affair this Week

WOW,I've done a great job :-)

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Your review on DOTS is spot on. It was fun while I watched it and it was super pretty pretty pretty! But the whole witty banter and picture-perfect scenes just didn't feel genuine enough for me to invest my emotions in the drama. Can I say that I was very aware I was watching a drama? It didn't feel relatable.

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Congratz on your 10th year anniversary on DB!!!

It's a really long list Javabeans. But I'm with you in that now I care more to what the drama I watched made me feels. I stopped feeling like a weird girl for loving dramas that everyone found aggravating or mediocre at best. And stopped feeling sorry for hating dramas everyone loved.

Reading your review on CITT made me realize that amnesia do happen in real life. I totally forgot that that drama aired earlier this year and that I loved the first half so much. But now, I realized I already wiped that drama clean from my memory. It's just too painful.

I'm sure the last time I watched Park Hae-jin and Kim Go-eun were in Bad Guys and Goblin. No one can tell me otherwise. Lalalala...

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So many good shows this year, yet I watched so few. Overall I watched 10 dramas, with only 4 of them being 2016 K-dramas. I plan to seriously catch up next year!

Age of Youth was probably one of the most well-rounded and charming shows I've seen in a good while. I had a completely different response to the first episode compared to javabeans. I am not the type to be easily sucked in a drama at all, but the first episode had me completely transfixed. This show easily clicked with me from the very 10 minutes like a match made in heaven and effectively grabbed me till the end.

I also loved Beautiful Mind and lamented its fate along with other fans: the ratings, the episode cut; I truly enjoyed this neglected and underrated little show that succeeded against all odds. Kudos to Jang Hyuk for rocking that role like no other! The man knows his craft.

Cheese... well, I won't talk about that. I tried writing down all the issues I had with this show at some point and I ended up with a 1 page essay when I wasn't even finished. That is telling enough of the effect it had on me and the massive bitter aftertaste it left me with.

And Moon Lovers which technically I am still watching... I've been stuck at episode 14 for a month now because I can't brace myself to watch Wang So suffer. I could really use someone to drive the point home that !!!it's just a fictional character!!! I think this drama is a shining example of how you can get away with a lot and generate lots of goodwill if you can deliver a few really great characters that your viewers thoroughly care about as if they're real people. Or I guess just one in this case. The show's glaring flaws and sometimes beginner-level writing be damned, I was glued to the screen even while I had to facepalm when one of its many issues graced the screen. And IU, while not delivering quite the awesome performance I expected and stuck with a badly written role, still managed to make Hae Soo sympathetic for me. For now, at least. So I'll give kudos to Moon Lovers for making me really really care and be emotionally involved! I know how it ends so I hope I won't hate it too much when I actually see it. I actually like unhappy endings - when they are executed right. Not like you did, Cheese!

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Forgot to thank for the reviews! And I see I accidentally used my old nickname in the initial comment, heh. I really like your writing style, you have a way of conveying the essence of what worked and what didn't in a show in a way that you get the point clearly even if you haven't seen it and without being spoilerific. I read these year end reviews religiously every year.

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Love ur open and honest opinion (esp if we have the same ones on certain shows). Yes, it's not just the story but how it moves u and you explain them well...ur opinion on why it was or was not good and how it could be better was great.

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With all the real world shittyness that's been going on this year, the fluff/happy dramas have really been a life saver for me. Shopping King Louis and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo will be my biggest takeaway for 2016.

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This year. My Ultimate Favorites are:

Signal - I'm glad i discovered this show when it's close to its end because if not, i'll be restless waiting for next episode the way i am now with Goblin and WFKBJ.

Cheese in the Trap - I'm still drawn to it. I still rewatch it upto the episode before it went downhill...

AOY- I just love how simple and refreshing this drama is.

Moonlovers- After watching each episode twice because of its different versions, this Drama grew on me. And of course there's LJK.

Goblin- because Gong Yoo and Kim Go Eun is on it. I hope the story will be good until the end.

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo - This Drama is an emotional rollercoaster. The Laughs and the Heartbreaks. My favorite characters this year are Joon Hyung and Bok Joo. I just want to be their friend. And just witness how their love blooms. Slowly but surely..Will definitely rewatch this.

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A year has been passed!

There are few dramas that hooked me goo but for now my #1 addict is Weightlifting Fairy and the good news is up until epi #9, the magic is still there.

#Moonlight was magical the first few episodes. My interest went down when the king's eneuch called her by her real name and I felt the story went south when the mother appeared again. Nevertheless, witnessing Park Bo Gum acts as Crown Price is one of the most fascinating experience I've ever seen years watching kdramas. I even think that 'Moonlight' craze can happen thanks to the cheeky and swoony Lee Yong.

#MoonLovers Sigh, what could have been indeed.

#MirrorOfTheWitch This is actually one of this year highlight for me despite not accepting the ending and the second half felt kinda repetitive. It's actually refreshing to see the interpretation of Rapunzel, Frozen, and western tale of witches and sew it into their own folk tale in Joseon background. The directing is also great. I agree with the lack romance chemistry. I went 'what when how' when Yeon Hee cried saying she shouldn't give her heart to Jun lol I guess she indeed was too young to sell the 'falling in love' part. Though I'm not that bothered since the story made up for it.

May the next year dramas top the ones this year had (though Signal set a whole different kind of bar). Thanks Dramabeans for always providing me with kdrama goodness. I swear I get anxiety if I don't visit this site at least once per day.

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I love Weightlifting Fairy too but I heard that it didn't give much viewer ratings and was a commercial failure which made me really sad cos it's so well acted and the storyline is realistic

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Firstly im glad Javabeans is not limiting your review to just 5 shows- am glad to read your review on all the dramas you listed

Now that i read Beautiful Gong Shim and Shopping King louis next to each other, did i realise they shared a lot of similarities.
Both dramas have adorable characters, characters that are silly or sweet but endearing to watch together. I find Shopping King Louis fared better cause the writing and directing was at least engaging to the end. In the former, the whole birth secrecy which wasnt that suspenseful to begin with keep dragging out til i got realllly bored. I stuck to the end cause of Dan Tae amd Gong Shim (such cute names to go with their character)

My biggest disappointment is also among my favorite drama- such a contradiction i know. W two worlds set a really high par for itself - the first 7 episodes i literally couldnt breathe or think- the pace and story just swept me along. I was intrigued, i was at the edge of my seat, i was so in love and became such a fan. Then the intrigue became a headache- i still love the show but as it goes along i find i shouldnt make sense of what i was watching- the same reason that i was invested in in the first place.
The other is obviously Scarlet Heart. I have no words to describe it- il just leave it at DISAPPOINTED.

My suprise comes in 4 dramas that i have little to no expectation. I picked them up out of the blue or by word of mouth and i found them to be such gems, polished or not.
Something about 1%. Fantastic. Age of Youth. Weightlifting fairy. The first one will know be my exemplar of how a simple romance drama should and could be but its winning point lies in the genuine feelings of its otp. The second for its approach at tackling a terminal disease, its friendship and its bromance - its true that its weakest link is its romance of the otp, i find the attraction of its second otp to be more engaging. The third was both a light hearted with dark moments peeking into lives of college girls and their past/history/secrets. It worked because the writing was awesome- the writer knew what they wanted to deliver in 12 episodes and the main cast despite mostly unknown to me delivered/ The forth-just reach halfway but boy am i so engaged and invested because it delivered on so many grounds- organic and natural friendships/love crush, good writing and solid acting from both otp who has really risen to the occassion.

Odd ones are DOTS and Lucky Romance. Both had their moments of awesome and then dud. The former got me hooked initially with the banter - then i became disengaged. The latter shined through nerdy Soo ho, i still remember vividly how bumbling cute he was but Bo Nui tested my patience through and through. Her character and acting was really lacking.

The unfinished ones. Moonlight and K2. The former i watched abt 2/3. I love all the cute. I didnt care enough for the palace conflicts. The latter, i watched clips but nvr got interested to watch the whole...

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is goblin gonna make next year's list?:(

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reading your review make me realize how this year's drama tend to make me watch only the first half of it. just like how you comment on how good this drama for the first half. nad how good that drama could be if only the second half be as good as the first half. si that happened to me too.
I found myself watch the first half of a drama, really loved it then because of distraction of real life I leave it for a while then I found myself not so interested anymore to continue the ride for the second half.
of course not all the drama are like that. some I got to ride fully till the end and found happiness that I got to finish it and satisfied by it, and some other I got to finish just because I don't have anything to do or I just feel like I have to orrr I kinda wait for the show to be fun again or found it's way of make it fun again.

this year too, I found myself really expecting a new drama while it was still in casting news, found its casts and was joyfull for my favorite actors to get paired and hope for the drama to be fun but then again, I cannot just rely on my fave actors. (i didn't even reach the first half of lucky romance)

As this year end, I pick up Goblin and Romantic Doctor as my last for this year, hopefully soon I can finish moonlight drawn by cloud, dear my friends, 38 task force and the man living in our house. Still long await list of drama to watch such as 1% of anything, Healer (I knowwww), beautiful mind, the legend of the blue sea (maybe), weighlifting fairy seems good. aah jealousy incarnate. gosh so much and i don't know if i can make it.

this year I finished Reply 1988 (the last 2 episode needed a little more time #teamjunghwan), signal, age of youth, drinking solo, this week my wife will have an affair, W-with a little effort, i can't think of the rest *not so much ehh.

I can't bring myself to finish Cheese in the trap, doctors, and DOTS (the heaps on drama is such a turned down for me).

finger-crossed for the the next year drama. I am waiting for you "Tomorrow with You" and the rest of Goblin hopefully will still be fun. and man to man hopefully will fix the hurt of the lack of Park Hae Jin. Cheers!

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aaah I forgot Bubblegum (is it this year or last year?) I still not finish it yet but Lee Dong Wook keeps calling me back as I see him in Goblin

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