And now comes reviews from the newest members of our minion army, our Hoobae Minions, who’ve all pitched in to help make this year our best yet. It’s been amazing to have so many new voices here on Dramabeans, so we’re delighted to present their thoughts on how 2016 shaped up compared to years past.
Since we love
torturing our minions, we asked them to write about just one or two dramas from the whole year, causing much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. You’ve already seen their recaps and articles floating around, so give their reviews some love, y’all! –HeadsNo2
Descended From the Sun: As an unabashed and fervent fan of Song Hye-gyo, I went into Descended very excited to see her otherworldly beauty grace my screen. However, when I heard she’d be starring opposite Song Joong-ki, I was feeling pretty iffy about the pairing. I couldn’t picture it, and I thought she deserved someone more strapping and rugged. After all, the male lead would be playing a special forces captain, and not some rookie soldier.
But then the show premiered, and I found myself so pleasantly surprised by how charming and authoritative Song Joong-ki was. I felt the ends of my doubtful lips curl up without my permission and relished all the witty romantic and bromantic moments he shared with Song Hye-gyo and Jin Gu, respectively. I was smitten! For a wartime romance, the stakes were curiously low, and I never once feared for the lives of any of our leads; they were always going to live another day and reunite with their beautiful and badass significant others. The details and inhabitants of the fictional country Uruk were laughably cursory for the most part, and the villain came straight out of a comic book, equipped with a diabolical cackle. Of course.
However, in spite of all that, I was swept up in the Descended craze just like the millions of viewers who made it the biggest show of 2016. It was fun to watch the astronomical numbers go up every week and wonder just how high the show could go. Descended wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly enjoyable thanks to the lovable medical and military team who were good at their jobs, but who were also just real, funny, and well-rounded human beings at the end of the day. Saving lives and squeezing in romance? All in a day’s work.
Signal: I decided to check Signal out on a whim and went in with zero expectations, only to end up completely engrossed from the first gripping minute to the very last; a drama this consistently stellar is a rare gem.
This show knocked the wind out of me in the best way possible. My heart would burst out of my chest and shatter into a million jagged pieces more than once, but the pain was so worth it. In fact, I’d watch every single episode late at night with all the lights off for full effect and maximum suspense. I was broken and emotionally spent after every episode, but I always came back for more, making sure tissues were within reach. The slick direction expertly augmented the deft story structure, and I was continually impressed and moved.
Signal was a smart show, and I appreciated the fact that all three main characters were smart as well. None of them had to be bumbling and dim in order for the story to unfold, and I especially loved Kim Hye-soo’s turn as a badass, no-nonsense detective who wore pink to appease her mom, but was better suited and genuinely herself in darker colors and casual dress. She didn’t serve as an arbitrary vertex of a love triangle because there wasn’t a central romance in the first place, and that was such a welcome relief. It probably doesn’t even need to be said at this point, but Jo Jin-woong was phenomenal as the tenacious detective from the past and the beating heart of the show, and Lee Je-hoon delivered as his counterpart in the present.
Whenever the clock strikes 11:23, I like to think that past and present briefly merge even today, because clearly, my love for this show still endures.
W—Two Worlds: Oh, W. Every time I think about this show, I feel a dangerous mix of rage and despair. There were a sad number of dramas this year with great beginnings and tragic endings (not the good kind), but W’s downfall was the biggest blow for me. When news of W’s premise was first released, it sounded like a top favorite drama just waiting to happen. When it finally aired, I was 99.99% sure it would be my new favorite. It was new and exciting, and the wait for each episode proved to be an entirely different level of agonizing.
And the show had everything going for it except the writing, even though I hate to say it. Writer Song Jae-jung’s decision to hit reset almost mid-series just steered the show in the wrong direction. At that point, it was like watching an inevitable car crash in slow motion. I was waiting for the show to pull itself together, but alas, it never happened. Once we were in reset mode, the romance was pretty much thrown to the side so the plot twists could get more attention. Writer Song did deliver some mind-boggling twists (some of which still haunt me to this day), but I didn’t come for the twists—I came for an epic, forbidden romance between fangirl and fictional hero. With that hope diminished, the twists alone couldn’t buoy the rest of the show. It really is a crying shame. For me, if W were a guy, I would’ve thought I had found the most perfect partner in the world, only to discover later down the road that we wanted different things: He wanted plot. I wanted romance.
Age of Youth: When I think about the entirety of 2016, there were many cracktastic dramas that surprised me (more than expected). But it was the small underdog of a drama Age of Youth that got a firm grip on my heart, and it hasn’t let go since. This show broke me. Like, seriously broke me—I actually spent an entire afternoon crying and inhaling cookies after the finale. Dramas are meant for entertainment, and Age of Youth was certainly entertaining (The catfights! The first loves! The… ghosts?), but I loved that its characters felt like real people caught on camera rather than actors doing a job. The show focused on all five heroines equally, making each of them feel like important pieces of the whole picture, and made their worries feel like more than just silly young adult problems.
I guess since I’m a twentysomething with silly young adult problems myself, I connected with the Belle Epoque ladies almost instantly. I would constantly nod at my computer screen, saying, “Yup. Totally. This show gets me.” And I really have to praise the show for creating such weird characters that were also surprisingly relatable. It’s easy for quirky characters to be nothing but quirky, and I was impressed to see that Youth always brought its characters back to reality, and in the most heart-rending ways possible. So if Youth were a guy, I would’ve married it after only two
dates episodes. Is that stupid? Maybe. Risky? Oh yeah. But I could tell that this show was the one for me.
Jealousy Incarnate: I honestly didn’t expect to like Jealousy Incarnate as much as I did, even though I’m a fan of leads Gong Hyo-jin and Jo Jung-seok. There were too many elements that could have gone wrong: A ridiculously long twenty-four episodes for a rom-com? Check. The been-there-done-that premise of a love triangle between a plucky heroine and two men? Check. Go Kyung-pyo as the second lead? Check. Did I mention that it was twenty-four episodes?
The show took a little while to find its groove, but a few episodes in, all my doubts drifted away one by one. Everything about the series clicked, from the fresh and sometimes unexpected writing, to the quirky and perfectly timed OST, and to the lovable cast of characters who didn’t miss a beat throughout the show’s run. Above all, Jealousy Incarnate was really and truly funny—and I mean snorting with laughter funny—from beginning to end, cementing its place as not only my favorite show of 2016, but my favorite rom-com of all time.
As much fun as some of the supporting players were (Pal-gang’s moms win my vote for best couple), it was Jo Jung-seok’s standout performance as the prickly Lee Hwa-shin that took Jealousy to a whole new level. In the hands of a less capable actor, Hwa-shin could have been a terrible hero to root for—he was arrogant, selfish, childish, and sometimes, even downright cruel. But Jo Jung-seok imbued his character with a vulnerability that made me believe that underneath his outer layer of petulance, there was a good guy in there, one that was capable of loving one girl with all his heart, and one who was worthy of said girl.
Yes, Hwa-shin, you won. You won all of the things, which not only includes Pyo Na-ri’s heart, but my heart, too.
1% of Anything: To be honest, I was such a fan of the original 2003 version of 1% of Anything that I was completely prepared to hate this remake. I am pleased to say my preconceived prejudices were proven wrong—remakes can be done well, and may even add to the enjoyment of the original. By staying true to the spirit of its source material, the new 1% of Anything took me to a nostalgic place in my memories where the older version resided—a bit dusty, but surrounded by fondness.
Let me start by saying that Ha Suk-jin and Jeon So-min had great chemistry (actually, much more than Kang Dong-won and Kim Jung-hwa). Exhibit A: That jungle gym kiss. Need I say more? I also liked that in keeping with the moving times, this 1% of Anything replaced many of the archaic familial stricture subplots with more relationship-building scenes. I thought it was a nice touch, because it helped the drama feel more modern and in-tune with the reality of today’s romances.
This drama didn’t reinvent the wheel, but I thought it raised interesting, unexplored questions regarding a chaebol’s happily ever after. Often in Dramaland, we’re treated to Cinderella stories that end at the wedding, but what happens to a blissful couple when the realities of running a major conglomeration keep them apart after the drama’s conclusion? These two seriously contemplated the impact marriage would have on each other’s lives, which made me much more invested in their relationship, because it proved their sincerity. But ultimately, it was Da-da and Jae-in’s soulmate connection that sold me on their mismatched relationship, and which helped me to believe it would be in the 1% that’s built to last.
Ms. Temper and Nam Jung-ki: Ms. Temper and Nam Jung-ki was a refreshing, hilarious, and poignant show, with one of the most memorable characters of 2016. The show tackled issues of gender discrimination, contingent employment, and power abuse, but it never took itself too seriously and balanced the story with bits of wackiness and exaggeration—usually supplied by the hero’s overactive imagination.
The male protagonist, Nam Jung-ki, was a timid beta male who avoided conflict, worked diligently, and eventually learned to value himself, and Yoon Sang-hyun imbued him with heart. The whole show was filled with memorable characters, each with their own flaws that made them deeply human. No one was perfect, and while that may frustrate some people, it’s what I loved most about the show. While I enjoyed the entire ensemble, it was Ok Da-jung (aka Ms. Temper) who stole my heart.
Contrary to her nickname, Ok Da-jung was not an uncontrollable tempest who snapped indiscriminately, but a levelheaded business woman who had adopted too many masculine characteristics in the eyes of a patriarchal work environment. Ok Da-jung never lashed out first, but only ever retaliated, and society judged her actions more harshly than her male counterparts because she failed to fit into her prescribed gender norms. Despite the obstacles that disadvantaged her, she succeeded and proved that a woman can be confident, successful, and independent without compromising her sincerity, ethics, or sense of hope. Lee Yo-won was amazing as the fiery Ok Da-jung, exuding charm and poise, and it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen of hers.
Though the drama has its share of convenient plot devices (suspension of belief is your friend), it was a delightful show filled with wonderfully crafted characters and a surprising amount of pathos with dashes of realism. It made me cry, laugh, and fist pump in the air.
Beautiful Mind: Or: The woman who forgot that she was a cop on a mission. Beautiful Mind wanted to tell the story of a man who believed he couldn’t feel, and how everything in his life was colored by that conviction. After weeks of watching Jang Hyuk deliver a wonderfully pathos-filled performance, I realized that the show really did have just that one tale to tell. Everything else was filler. Everyone else was a foil for Young-oh’s journey of self-discovery. A crucial character to fall under the bus of Young-oh’s character development was Park So-dam’s Jin-sung. She began as an inexperienced traffic cop who spent a large chunk of the show accusing Young-oh of nefarious misdeeds with little proof in hand. It was like she believed that her righteousness would always magically put her in the right. In short, she was extremely annoying.
But here’s the thing: I liked her. I liked that Jin-sung was dogged and plucky. I liked that she was facing off against a large corporation and a well-known, powerful neurosurgeon, but she wasn’t cowed. Yes, she had plenty of too-stupid-to-live moments, but I hoped desperately that it was part of her character’s arc. In my version of the perfect show, Jin-sung would go from being a headstrong, heedless rookie cop to a responsible, meticulous police officer. I wanted the story where Young-oh makes Jin-sung look at the mess she created with her impetuousness and rethink her life. And, yes, we got a version of that, but it was a sadly truncated version. I would dearly love to blame this on the episode cuts, yet I have to be honest and admit that by the halfway mark, the writers had already shown that they were uninterested in giving Jin-sung her own story.
This show introduced me to the wonder that is Jang Hyuk, but it made itself less memorable by diluting the depiction of its hard-headed, earnest female lead. She set out to seek justice with guns blazing, and then kind of… got over it.
W—Two Worlds: Or: The woman who forgot that she was also a hero of the story. W—Two Worlds spent the first few weeks of the show repeatedly knocking me off my I-know-where-this-is-going high horse. It turned me a bit demented, really. I loved the premise so much that I spoke in a high-pitched, chipmunk voice whenever I tried to explain the story to anyone. Kang Chul—played by a grown-up Lee Jong-seok, suave and flirty with an intent to seduce—slayed me with his charm, strength, and ability to see to the heart of any situation. Even his flaws made him perfect. It took Kang Chul 2.0 for me to realize that much of what I loved about his character transcended clichés and became remarkable only through his interactions with Han Hyo-joo’s Yeon-joo.
This young doctor’s struggle to learn the rules of world-hopping while grappling with fangirl feels was the most fun thing I’d ever watched in a drama. Her comic timing was perfect, as was her chemistry with Kang Chul. For a character with plenty of self-doubt, she was at her cleverest when trying to evade Kang Chul’s perceptive questions and prevent the two worlds from colliding.
And then the second half happened. Losing Kang Chul twice seemed to undo her character, as she turned into someone who was coping with depression and post-traumatic stress. Both were understandable reactions to her experiences, but that didn’t seem to be the story the show wanted to tell us. Kang Chul 2.0 never really got to know the Yeon-joo we all fell in love with. Predictably, the two ended up together, but I couldn’t understand why. I was left with the impression that Yeon-joo was still waiting for the old Kang Chul, and that these two didn’t really know each other any more. Just as the new Kang Chul was a sharper, more determined character than the old one, Yeon-joo had somehow faded. She became passive as Kang Chul became more vivid.
This show tore my heart into pieces and only glued half of it back. Watching it was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget, but I’ll always rue the disappearance of Yeon-joo’s smile.
Marriage Contract: This drama was so much more than the story of a marriage based on the need for an organ donor. I was interested in the drama because of UEE, and discovered the most touching love story in the process. Two lonely people were transformed by a love that blossomed in spite of insurmountable hardships. UEE surprised me with her performance, conveying such a broad range of emotions convincingly. However, the biggest surprise for me was Shin Rin-ah, a very young actress with a real talent. She had such good chemistry with both UEE and Lee Seo-jin, making the evolution of their little family believable. The other relationships in the drama stayed with me long after it ended: mother-child, father-son, sister-brother, best friends, a little girl and her kittens. They underlined how life is really about the people that we love.
It’s tricky to write a drama based on life-threatening illnesses, but the writer used them to provide a sense of urgency for the characters. As a result, the main couple’s relationship was bittersweet with no promise of a normal life together, but just a simple celebration of each day. The secondary romance of the best friends who kept running into one another provided hope for a happy future. This drama was a testament to what makes life so precious: the sharing of ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
Dear My Friends: This drama about childhood friends turned senior citizens was a terrific ensemble vehicle. It was a treat to witness veteran actors sharing the screen together. The characters bickered among themselves, but couldn’t imagine life without each other. They dealt with a number of issues: not wanting to burden grown children, seeing their last chances at love and companionship, illness, a broken marriage, and the reality of final goodbyes. Added to the mix was a grown daughter who was on speed dial to all of the friends, with their needs and concerns making her life chaotic. Her story most likely resonated with daughters of all ages.
I loved how much the characters were flawed. Just because they were advanced in age didn’t guarantee that they were mature. Yes, they had experience and knew each other much too well, but they still had lessons to learn. I found their stories funny, touching, and encouraging. As great as the veteran actors were, it was the younger ones who really grabbed my attention. Go Hyun-jung personified the daughter made crazy by an interfering mother. Lee Kwang-soo broke my heart with his portrayal of a loving son torn between his desire to care for his mother and provide for his young family. His scenes were particularly poignant and moving. Jo In-sung provided a calm counterpoint to Go Hyun-jung’s character, complementing her high-strung nature.
In the end, this drama was about the acceptance of imperfections, both in yourself and others. These imperfections are what make life both maddening and interesting. This group of friends was an endearing bunch, and I was happy to spend time getting to know them.
Age of Youth: It was difficult to choose just two shows to write about, but I’m giving the first spot to Age of Youth, a show that reminded me so much of my college days, presented from somebody else’s point of view. Whether it’s That Annoying Groupmate, or That Loud Kid Who Tells Uncomfortable Jokes, or That Girl Obsessed With Her Boyfriend, Age of Youth shone a spotlight on each of them and turned them from a caricature into someone who’s the lead in their own lives.
The painful first episode was misleading in its melodrama, featuring a Cinderella freshman silently swallowing injustices and trying to fit in with her three evil sunbaes. You can’t help but be 100 percent on her side and hate the sunbaes too, but once the show pulled back and said, “Hey, they’re not really Evil Sunbaes, but the heroines of their own stories!” in a way that didn’t feel like a cop-out, I was in love. Then they tacked on that new character and the twist at the end of the pilot, and I was begging the show to marry me.
I loved that it could bring me to one extreme of an opinion, turn around, and pull me to the other end without the cheating out-of-character twists that make mothers-in-law and greedy CEOs suddenly nice in most drama finales. Age of Youth even managed to flip my opinion on my favorite sunbae just by highlighting an aspect of her character that seemed fun at first but became problematic in excess, reminding me that up until the end, there are no easy, right answers, and there are no perfect people. There are just perfect little shows that end four episodes too soon and will definitely have a second season. Right, JTBC?
This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair: Every once in a while, there’s a K-drama that I really want my family and close friends to experience. Not just because it’s funny, or because Oppa is super hot, or because it’s mind-bendingly cool (though those are good enough reasons), but because it’s such a great show about life. This Week, My Wife Will Have An Affair was that show for me. At first, it seemed like a comedy about an overly imaginative husband trying to confirm if his wife is cheating, with the sometimes well-meaning but often misguided netizens egging him on. The show leads you to think that the reveal was the endgame. Instead, it went past that, and highlighted some ugly truths about a husband and wife’s roles in a marriage, and how we’ve come to accept those roles as right just because that’s how everyone has been doing it for years.
The show never preached or presented one solution that fits all scenarios. And depending on where you stand, you will either love or hate the ending. But what’s more important is that this show started conversations—some of the best, most personal ones I’ve read here.
Not all of us know a cross-dressing eunuch or marriage contract chaebol in real life, but we’ve all been witness to a marriage. Ours, our parents’, or a friend’s. I loved that our different backgrounds turned the comments section into a mirror of the online forum within the show, with some of us looking where to place the blame, some arguing for forgiveness or revenge—and some, like me, soaking up all that collective wisdom and hopefully retaining enough of it so that we don’t end up alone and penniless with shotgun fragments in the crotch. (Basically, steer clear of “La Promesa!”)
Oh Hae-young Again: This was the drama that took me completely by surprise. In the beginning, I tuned in purely to see Eric, and then I just couldn’t stop! I swear, if I weren’t already addicted to K-dramas, this one would have been my gateway drug. Admittedly, it had a few flaws, and there were some moments of repeated head-banging against my desk, but in the end, the characters and their stories won me over completely.
There was something about it all that was so moving. From Hae-young’s fight for individuality to Do-kyung’s regret over a mistake made in anger, everyone was imperfect in so many ways but still beautiful in their failings. I honestly had no idea I was going to like the show as much as I did, and I still can’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly that I so enjoyed. All I can say is, I’m truly glad that I watched Oh Hae-young Again, and again, and again, and again…
The K2: Oh, the show it could have been. I suppose this case is a perfect example of: “Be careful what you wish for.” As an avid fan of both action and Ji Chang-wook, words cannot express how much I looked forward to this drama–and how disappointed I was with the end result. There was indeed a lot of action, and a whole lot of Ji Chang-wook (nekkid shower fights!), but sadly, it never lived up to its potential after that.
All the pieces were there, with a kickass hero and a badass villain, plus an intriguing plot based upon the classic Snow White tale, but something fell flat. I was constantly waiting for more, and instead got just enough. I think my biggest annoyance was that it successfully strung me along all the way to the end—it was never good enough to have me hooked, but still not quite so bad that I could quit. Still, when the bitterness gets to be too much, I can always rewind to watch more shower fighting. There really must be drama gods, and they do listen to our prayers.
Come Back, Ajusshi: Though largely overshadowed by the massive popularity of Descended from the Sun at the time of its airing, Come Back, Ajusshi had its own appeal in its portrayal of warm, familial relationships that kept me hooked. From the gradual trust that developed between a downtrodden wife and her temporarily reincarnated husband who had to pretend that he wasn’t her husband, to the unforgettably hilarious bromance between Young-soo and Gi-tak, to the heartbreaking tears of little Hanna who just wanted her daddy back, this drama did a fantastic job of simultaneously tugging at my heartstrings and cracking me up at every turn.
While the show never quite allowed us the hope that Young-soo and Gi-tak would be able to permanently stay in the real world, I had nevertheless been optimistic—quite confident, even—that we would get the happiest possible ending: Young-soo and Gi-tak in heaven, villain Suk-chul in jail, abusive husband Jae-gook getting his comeuppance, and everyone else coming to terms with the deaths of their two loved ones. That’s why it came as a real shocker for me when Gi-tak sacrificed not just his life but his entire existence to save everyone he loved.
It certainly wasn’t out of character for him to be the selfless hero, but it was a twist in the lesson that Young-soo’s death had taught us at the beginning: treat your life preciously. While Young-soo’s death taught us to treat our lives preciously by showing us what it means to live a life in vain—surrounded by work, work, and work—Gi-tak’s complete disappearance from the world taught the same lesson by showing us a life worth living, surrounded by people precious enough for you to sacrifice everything for them without a second thought.
W—Two Worlds: In that vein, I’m reminded of a similar sacrifice by Yeon-joo’s dad in W—Two Worlds; though he was a much more cowardly and at times despicable figure, he, too, opted to disappear for the happiness of his only loved one: his daughter. I personally found Yeon-joo’s father to be awfully tragic in that the ultimate reason behind his spiral into madness was his terror of being overtaken by his creation, Kang Chul. To be fair, it’s an understandable reaction if you’re just a regular manhwa artist living in the real world (as Su-bong hilariously noted: Why should a manhwa artist have to live with his life in danger?), but the problem was that he became so engrossed in his role as a creator that he rejected the very real lives of the manhwa characters, even as he entered their world.
Despite my pity for Yeon-joo, who was left to deal with her father’s death, it was actually quite satisfying to watch her father transform from someone who so wholly rejected Kang Chul’s existence as a person enough to try and kill him, to someone who repented for killing even a minor character (the nurse at the mental hospital) by the end of the show. Overtaken by alcoholism and paranoia, Yeon-joo’s dad led a life in vain, but in the end, there was a sense of resolution when he came to peace with his eventual death/disappearance, having known that he paid for his sins while saving his daughter’s chance at happiness at the same time.
Although W was largely centered on the star-crossed romance between Yeon-joo and Kang Chul, it was the tragic father-daughter relationship (okay, and the terrifying character of No Face) that made this drama truly unique to me.
Jealousy Incarnate: In a year of great shows, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but Jealousy Incarnate is definitely one of the top contenders for me. I’ve always been a huge fan of writer Seo Sook-hyang, and she outdid herself here—her writing was nuanced, poignant, and gut-bustingly funny, with engaging, realistic characters and themes. Plot details that had one apparent narrative purpose would often come full circle a few episodes later in the most unexpected and delightful ways, enriching those earlier scenes that came before them.
Case in point: Has ramyun ever been this romantic? From the forgotten cup ramyun that was later rediscovered like Na-ri’s abandoned love for Hwa-shin, tucked away in a dark corner of her heart, to Hwa-shin’s definitely-not-a-proposal promise of a thousand ramyuns (and later, the saddest shopping spree ever), Jealousy elevated the metaphor of food for love to a whole new level.
Still, the writing wouldn’t have shone without skillful directing, evocative music, and an incredibly talented ensemble cast to inhabit these complex, lovable characters who grew so much throughout the show’s run. We saw Pal-gang’s moms go from outright war, to ceasefire, to the most moving friendship in the drama. Our central love triangle was sweet, wacky, and painful in the best ways, and even though I questioned how far this “two-timing romance” was willing to go at times, I had to respect the drama for fully committing to its themes. Hwa-shin was the heart of this show, however, and his hilarious, emotional journey from an insensitive jerk to a still flawed but genuinely dreamy hero, brought to life by Jo Jung-seok’s virtuosic performance, is what I’ll remember about this show for years to come.
Marriage Contract: I usually avoid terminal illness dramas, but the contract marriage is one of my favorite tropes, and I was curious to see the unusual pairing of UEE and Lee Seo-jin. Little did I know that these two would become my favorite couple of the year.
Despite Marriage Contract’s over-the-top premise, it was the relationships that grounded the story and gave it warmth and realism. UEE and her bestie were closer than sisters, with a rapport that almost didn’t need words. Lee Seo-jin’s developing relationship with UEE’s daughter, played with near-genius by Shin Rin-ah, was the most adorable thing I saw this year. There was a giddiness to watching this stiff, lonely man be completely charmed by a smart-mouthed, big-hearted little girl. UEE’s portrayal of a dying woman desperate to secure her daughter’s future while facing her illness with fierce dignity was both heartbreaking and inspiring. UEE was a revelation—she gets better with every role, but here she completely blew me away and left me sobbing like a baby multiple times throughout the show.
Unlike most cancer dramas, Marriage Contract was never hysterical or melodramatic, but it quietly devastated me with the small details of a life cut too short, all of which added up to the real stuff of tragedy. Yet this show was filled with so much beauty and hope, because it understood the magic of ordinary moments. It was a bittersweet tale of a man who finally found the family he’d yearned for his whole life only to find it disappearing before his eyes, and a woman who’d seen so much sadness she was afraid to believe in love. And, above all, it was about their courage to take hold of their present happiness anyway as they slow danced into the night.
This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair: Before its premiere, This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair advertised itself as a kind of black comedy with silly characters prone to over-exaggeration. True to its word, those components did come into play to varying degrees. The show never lost its sense of humor, but I was not prepared for the emotional punch it packed, as well as the heartfelt moments the size of Jupiter. While most Korean dramas depict a kind of fantasy, This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair was unafraid to get gritty and real with its viewers in covering the breakdown of its main family, and even the modern struggles of our secondary loveline. Although it could not quite rid itself entirely of those over-the-top moments (primarily through Yoon-ki and Ara), it did display a masterful sense of restraint and commitment to telling the story that it set out to tell, even if it meant challenging the characters a little more than we may be accustomed to seeing in dramaland. The various TOYCRANE followers were also given their moments to shine without ever distracting from our main story, and it all culminated in what was a genuinely moving moment that’ll forever be difficult to forget.
The second couple was winning and awkward in all the right moments, while the third couple was an all-around dark spot in an otherwise shining piece of work. My tolerance for the third couple’s narrative failures surprised me, illustrating how much I was willing to put up with because I believed in the story. And the story was what stayed standing in the end—the story about a man who turns to the internet with all his questions once his life begins to fall apart, but who ends up learning what it means to be both a good father and a loving husband.
Signal: Signal is one of those rare dramas that just got it right. In a class of thoughtfully written and unique dramas that premiered this year, Signal was one of those effortlessly brilliant students who seem to ace every exam without ever appearing to open a book. With its casting, superb writing, and direction, it took very few missteps. My only gripe would probably be the characterization of its main villain, but even that does not overshadow everything the show does exceptionally well. At the top of that list is definitely Jo Jin-woong’s portrayal of relentless, virtuous, and dorky Detective Lee Jae-han, who warmed our hearts and then crushed them into a million pieces over and over again. He singlehandedly made me want to believe in the old and now clichéd adage that “justice will prevail.” Kim Hye-soo was also stellar as rookie/veteran cop Cha Soo-hyun, and the contrast between her two portrayals was compelling and heartbreaking all at once. I would invest heavily in a buddy cop show with these two solving crimes until the end of time.
However, if the cast shone, it’s really because of the top-notch writing and world-building crafted by its writer, Kim Eun-hee. I found her ability to represent the majority of her characters as well-rounded and layered individuals, from the primary to the tertiary, beautifully done. The supernatural element of the walkie-talkie was what allowed our story to be told, but at its core, Signal was an exploration and celebration of the human spirit, and a reminder that you’re never really alone, even when you think you are.
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 5: Sunbae minions weigh in
- 2016 Year In Review, Part 4: Embracing the modern age (HeadsNo2’s review)
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 3: A drama for every day of the year (girlfriday’s review)
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 2: The doctor is in (javabeans’ review)
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 1: The Bean Count
- 2016 Beanie Awards: Vote for your favorite dramas of the year