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*
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)
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)
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)
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!
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 1: The Bean Count
- 2016 Beanie Awards: Vote for your favorite dramas of the year
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 11: Editors’ Picks
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 10: Sweet heroes and fierce heroines (Saya’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 9: Drama tasting notes (odilettante’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 8: Santa goes Zen (Santa Claus’ review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 7: For the responsible addict (dramallama’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 6: A sweet year of dramas (LollyPip’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 5: The fifth wheel in dramaland (gummimochi’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 4: The five stages of grief (HeadsNo2’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 3: Five by five in 2015 (girlfriday’s review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 2: Giving 2015 a hand (javabeans’ review)
- 2015 Year in Review, Part 1: The Bean Count
- 2015 Beanie Awards: Vote for your favorite dramas of the year
Tags: 1 show to rule them all, 1% of Anything, Age of Youth, Beautiful Gong Shim, Cheese in the Trap, Cinderella and the Four Knights, Come Back, Ajusshi, Dear My Friends, Descended From the Sun, Doctors, Drinking Solo, Entourage, Fantastic, featured, Goodbye Mr. Black, Legend of the Blue Sea, Lucky Romance, Mirror of the Witch, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, Neighborhood Hero, Oh Hae-young Again, Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim, Shopping King Louis, Signal, The K2, This Week My Wife Will Have an Affair, Uncontrollably Fond, Wanted, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju, W–Two Worlds, year in review, year in review 2016