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[2018 Year in Review] I, who didn’t expect poetry

Looking back on 2018, at first it was hard for me to see any unifying theme, until I realized that consistently this year, nothing was as I’d expected. It’s been nearly a decade since I started watching K-dramas, and I’m no longer the bleary-eyed serial marathoner who binge-watched dramas as if morning would never come, although I do occasionally get sucked in by an exceptional show. Nowadays I’m more likely to take my time, often watching things as they air; dropping dramas without (too much) guilt when they lose me.

Although I’ve learned to temper my expectations, I couldn’t help but eye some promising projects this past year. But the dramas I really fell in love with surprised me, while those I was excited for often fell short of their potential, or pulled a bait-and-switch, or made me angry–sometimes all three.

Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food started so squee-worthy, and ended so miserable and misogynistic; Fox Bride Star gave us an awful heroine, retconned her, and then made me forget even that with its jaw-droppingly ableist message at the end. What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim was catnip for twelve episodes, until it copped out on giving Park Min-young the independence we’d been promised in the beginning. And Handsome Guy and Jung-eum was a formulaic and mediocre waste of Namgoong Min and Hwang Jung-eum, who I was dying to see back together after their bittersweet ending in Can You Hear My Heart.

Instead, I’m left with an unexpected list of shows that gave me joy and healing this year. I’ll start with the one that surprised me most during its run, and which inspired the title and format of this year-end review.

You Who Forgot Poetry

so much heart
in such an unassuming package.
watching Bo-young grow up
beats any OTP–
and yet we also got
the way that Je-wook loves her
the way that Nam-woo loves his alligator
the way we all get through our days:
bonus.

The first couple of episodes of this drama didn’t impress me. Lee Yubi was very good as a trainee physical therapist, but every other character was so terrible, and they all had these cringeworthy, repetitive catchphrases–I nearly dropped it. But I went back to it after hearing how much everyone was enjoying it, and I’m so glad I did. This show has such a human and warm way of portraying the main cast, warts and all. It also accomplishes the rare feat of making even the patients-of-the-week feel real and sympathetic rather than just plot devices to advance the leads’ development, with beautiful, moving poetry that dovetails perfectly with the theme of every episode. Lee Yubi’s character coming into her own was a joy to witness, and her romance with stiffly earnest, secretly dorky Lee Joon-hyuk made me want to roll around in my blanket with awkward feels.

Just Between Lovers

a boy, a girl, a building.
now they stumble through the world,
bleeding invisibly

meeting again
is a disaster,
breaking open their fragile hearts;
meeting again
is a gift,
lighting their way
out of the dark rubble.

This drama grabbed me immediately; it was dark and sad and beautiful in a way that marks only the best melodramas. The leads, played by Junho and Won Jin-ah, are clearly the walking wounded when we first meet them, frozen in a moment of trauma from their teenage years that they’ve never truly processed. Na Moon-hee is also incredible in her role as Jun Ho’s substitute grandmother in his itinerant post-accident life. These are singularly, almost uncomfortably well-done depictions of PTSD: Junho’s intense, paralyzing flashbacks, and Won Jin Ah’s fragile stillness that suddenly explodes when she reaches her breaking point. It’s so true-to-life that I felt like a voyeur at times.

Yet the show never makes a spectacle of their pain or emotionally manipulates the audience, despite the almost makjang setup of the childhood tragedy that ties all of the main characters together, the ghosts of which have risen to explosive effect in the present. Both the leads give incredibly powerful performances as they fight, heal, and fall in love with each other. As I watched them find the courage to let each other in, they took my whole heart. My favorite drama of the year.

I’m Not a Robot

not a robot
but a real girl
when that was
the last thing he needed
and
the only thing he needed.

How can I sum up the utter joy that was my experience of watching this show? I rewarded myself with this after I completed the arduous process of applying to grad school (during which I’d banned myself from dramas), and it lived up to all the hype and more. Yoo Seung-ho and Chae Soo-bin are just perfect in their roles, separately and together, and the writing carries through on nearly every promise it makes, giving us a delightful sci-fi rom-com with emotional intelligence, a great ensemble cast, and wonderful arcs for both its leads. How did a show whose hero is literally allergic to intimacy and whose heroine who pretends to be a robot end up being this good?

Plus, best man-roomba bromance ever (or at least of the year).

Live

a sense of duty:
it’s the small moments
not the grand heroics
it’s doing it even if you’re afraid
it’s being honest about your mistakes
it’s remembering
to let your teammates help you.

I am so glad that Lee Kwang-soo seems to have joined Noh Hee-kyung’s roster of favorite actors, because I’ve been wanting to see him as a dramatic lead since his supporting appearance in Nice Guy. I initially gave this one a pass because I haven’t exactly been in the mood for stories about cops being hard-done-by, but I should have trusted this writer to deliver this slice-of-life fare with her trademark heart and integrity. She depicted the thankless and grueling nature of the job without ignoring issues of corruption and police brutality.

Lee and Jung Yumi are wonderful as rookie officers who took the police exam after running out of options in a tough job market, but who ended up finding their vocations, and even love–though theirs wasn’t my favorite romance. The last-chance reconciliation of estranged veteran cops Bae Jung-ok and Bae Seung-woo made me laugh, cry, and root for them as a couple and a family, despite their painful history. Bae Seung-woo is the standout in this cast of heavy-hitters and the heart of the show, as Lee Kwang-soo’s flawed mentor who has to learn that good intentions aren’t always enough, and unchecked idealism can cause its own type of injustice. His bromance with Lee was my favorite of the year; not only was it a journey from enemies to partners, but was a relationship that caused them both to grow as people–and as two members of a team that I’ll never forget.

Thirty But Seventeen

lost ducklings
made a home together:
a girl frozen in time
a boy who couldn’t grow up
a teenager learning what it feels like
to break his heart
the housekeeper
who mothered them all–
so cheesy
so good.

When I first heard the premise of this show–a girl who went into a coma at age 17 wakes up at 30, and falls for the boy who was involved in the same accident as her, who is also 30… All I could think of was that this was a way to do underage romance without actually using a minor, and using a cliched setup to boot. I love Shin Hye-sun, though, so I gave it a shot, and I’m so glad I did. Her slow-burn romance with Yang Se-jong is not icky in the least, and the show gives its heroine enough time to heal and grow up and find herself so that I felt as though I was watching her mature in real time. All the kudos to Shin for a nuanced performance that at every moment shows us exactly how old she feels, and how far along she is on her journey to regain her lost time.

The show can be super corny at times, and I was frustrated with the endless fake-outs when there’s more than enough conflict in the premise to allow secrets to be revealed organically. But on the whole, it’s the very definition of a healing drama and it left me with a lasting impression of warmth. Plus, Ahn Hyo-seop is a joy as innocent-but-wise Chan, who falls in the most heartbreakingly adorable unrequited love I’ve ever seen. Come to Noona, Chan-ah!

Honorable Mentions

There were other shows I watched this year that I really enjoyed, even if they won’t make it to my list of all-time favorites. Familiar Wife is a well-written and original twist on the second-chance romance, because Ji Sung’s time travel means that only he remembers that they were in love, while Han Ji-min has only the faintest deja vu. It devotes the first half of the story to his development from a pretty awful husband into a man who realizes what he’s lost, and why, and then makes the rest of the story about the heroine in a really interesting way. Han is excellent in this, alive with charisma in a way I’ve never seen her. The show gives us a romance with stakes, a satisfying ending, and a truly lovable ensemble cast. Plus, my favorite soundtrack of the year.

Your House Helper was another drama about healing and moving on (I’m sensing another theme here), this time about how decluttering your life can also be a way to make space in your heart for new friends, new love and a fresh start in life–surprisingly profound for a drama about a hot housekeeper. I especially loved the group of girlfriends in this show, who feel like real besties that fight, make up, and will always have each other’s backs.

Then there are the shows that just made me laugh out loud with their good-natured silliness. My Secret Terrius never took itself too seriously, and knew its strengths lay in the relationships that slowly developed between its no-nonsense mama bear heroine, unemployed spy hero, and the neighborhood intelligence network that manages to outdo both the villains and the NIS every time. More So Ji-sub in suits, please–but especially more So Ji-sub babysitting adorable children.

Top Star Yoo Baek is just pure, hilarious fun, and the cast is clearly having the time of their lives. Kim Ji-suk is perfectly greasy and absurd at the fish-out-of-water “Mr. Top Star,” and Jeon So-min is refreshingly unselfconscious in her role as an innocent but not naive island girl that gives him as good as she gets, and more. He is so out of touch with the way regular people operate due to the way the idol industry has shaped him, and it’s a joy to watch him be stymied at every turn by the practical, hardworking island people who have no time for his fancy airs–and no clue that he’s falling hard for the girl they’ve collectively adopted as their own. I’m loving it so far.

The shows that touched my heart this year were all about the human connections between people that ultimately make up real life, rather than grand gestures or epic battles between good and evil. The dramas I reached for and stuck with probably speak most to my mood in 2018, seeking comfort and healing as I geared up for some major life steps, both personal and professional. I’m grateful, as I am at the end of every year, that I was able to find what I needed in this dramaland that continues to become more varied in its offerings. Most of all, I feel blessed to have found such unexpected beauty, friendship and laughter here in the Dramabeans community.

it was a year of robot friends
of alligators lost and found
of creepy priests galore
of finding our way back
from the dark tunnels of the past
of cleaning out our closets
and our hearts

of friends falling in love
and love between friends–
bonus.

❤︎

 
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Aww, what a heartwarming review @laica. ☺

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I agree. EVERY SINGLE drama I loved this year are the ones I least expected to love and that I decided to watch on a whim. It's odd that the dramas we love the most are the ones that connect with what we are living at in the moment. Who says drama don't heal?

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Drama do heal people! I do find my energy back for the week just by staying at home in the weekend, watching drama, eating good foods, and sleeping....

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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEE
I love and adore this write-up, @laica ~!!!! Thank you so much!!!!

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What an awesome recap for the end of the year 😊
I’ve been considering watching Just Between Lovers, but I tend to avoid melodramas...is it still worth a watch for people who don’t usually go the melo route??

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Oh, absolutely. I rarely watch melodrama but I’m so glad I picked it up. It’s one of the few dramas that I’ve watched that deals with that kind of trauma in a way that feels organic and respectful. It’s a story that follows the aftermatch of a tragedy but it’s really a story about healing. Despite the heavy subject matter, it never came off as overwrought or ingenuine to me. Also it’s gorgeously shot, the romantic storyline was so incredibly tender and the actors really impressed me. Please give it a try!!!!

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I would personally recommend giving it a try since it is a well-done series with a good ensemble of characters and many great (but deep) themes. It's also based off of a true event, so it's not exactly melo just because it's a drama. In fact, it's a bit educational in a way since it gives a good insight into how Korea as a country has traditionally handled these kinds of tragedies and the various different lasting effects they've had on the people.

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Absolutely agree with @yujacha and @hobakky - I usually steer FAR clear of melos, but JBL is nothing like most. Definitely give it a watch!

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The drama is totally worth watching. I personally don't like melodrama because i don't like sad stories, but jbl is really one of a kind drama that I never regret watching & i believe you will not too.

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Highly recommended, it is such a beautiful drama, the depth of story is phenomenal.

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It's a good drama. A great example of a balanced melodrama.
There are relatively few makjangesque or otherwise unbelievable aspects to the story.
The aspects that ARE like that, are only there so they can establish the premise or provide a shift in the story. And are not so crazy that they'll break your immersion
In my opinion, it is a melodrama that is accessible to Kdrama fans who usually steer clear of the "typical" melodrama.

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I'm gonna watch You Who Forgot Poetry again. I need it today.

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Just Between Lovers was so beautiful and such an intimate viewing experience. Thank you for this lovely writeup.

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Thank you @laica for capturing why this was a special year for dramas after all!

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I fell in love with Just Between Lovers, Live, and You Who Forgot Poetry for the same reasons. Lovely review.

It was nice to see the honorable mention for Familiar Wife. It was a drama that didn’t get a lot of love but had a lot to love about it.

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Omg your poetry was lovely. Especially that last one, hee. 😍😍😍

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Awww, thank you!

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You Who Forgot Poetry was just great, you wanna know why, the right pairing happened. But what did bother me, Min ho was made to be noble by not persuing Bo young anymore, which was bullshit because he was garbage to the very end.

Then we have Jae Wook, who is letting her know how her feels and giving her the space to accept him as a partner. He listened and honored her wish and also knew enough about her to not overstep ( I am so glad he did not get involved in getting her a permanent position) but also helped.

The poetry was pretty great as well.

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Your words are so beautiful :’)

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Thank you mary <3

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Best drama of the year, I agree: Just Between Lovers.

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I originally didn't pick up You Who Forgot Poetry because the premise didn't appeal to me. I only started it because of the fan wall (and because Saya told me to). I really enjoyed it from beginning to end. It was just lovely in an understated way.

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It's quite a feat: Just Between Lovers has earned several beanie awards and much praise even though it did not get recapped on DB.
The discussions and fangirling took place instead on the beanie wall and in this epic thread: http://www.dramabeans.com/2017/11/bound-by-tragedy-healing-through-love-in-jtbcs-just-between-lovers/
Warning: spoilers, but clever beanies started signposting their comments around ep. 7.

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JBL, best drama of the year!

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Wow! So beautifully written!

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This is great, fun and thoughtful.

I just got Netflix and Live is one of the few dramas they have. Been debating trying it or not as could not remember how it was recieved. Be interesting to see RM's Giraffe as a serious lead actor.

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Watch it. Totally worth it.

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It's one of the best this year!

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Beautiful. Now, let me put all these on my to watch list.

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Loved this! And you loved all the ones I did!

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I had never heard of Just Between Lovers until I read about it on here. I would be reading about other dramas and it would just pop up. I'm so thankful that I found it. It's so perfect. I even got my mom to watch it. She finished it more quickly than I did. Thank you beanies!

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@laica WOW Your poetry and stringing everything together was so fun to read. I liked but not loved APAD and it was really Lee Yubi who was such a bright ball of sunshine with her determination and dreams along with the side character development and idiot trio that kept me going. The whole unnecessary angst arc of Minho’s at the end seemed unnecessary and shifted but the poetry included was stellar!

I’m also so glad someone included Familiar Wife especially since it didn’t garner much hype after the initial episodes. The best part of the drama was it’s assured storyline. When so many fall apart, plot wise, this drama knew exactly where it was heading and whilst it was not perfect, it had a great self confident female lead and nice twists.

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A beautiful writeup ! Since I agree 100% with you with Just Between Lovers, I would check your other recommendations not on my to-watch list when I have the time.

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What a beautiful writing, @laica! In addition to Jun-ho & Woo Jin-ah pairing in JBL, I love relations between Junho and Na Moon-hee... Ah, but that really broke my heart too.. Peoples' fate are too tragic in JBL... :(

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With how much all these reviewers have something negative to say about Secretary Kim to make their point about other dramas, you would think, that people actully disliked it, but if neighborhood poll any indicator, I guess a lot people of actully enjoyed it.
As for me, this year none of "dark horses" or sleeper hits were able to impress me more, than regular popular dramas. All of them were so-so.

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Cheers! Those poems are 😍

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*catapults a heart lamp over to @laica*

*taps mine*

This thing on?

*holds it softly in the hopes that the light will illuminate her on how much I love and appreciate her piece*

What a fantastic write-up!

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*catches lamp*
*sees the light, taps back*
💛💛

Thank you for the very lovely compliment!

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i'm new here and i loved this review that it made me sign up. agree on all the dramas she mentioned including Top Star Yoo Baek. I just finished watching Matrimonial Chaos and I loved that, too. I loved watching Cha Tae Hyun stumble through his life... like, ah, I'm not the only one. All the relationships in MC are just plain adorable and heartwarming.. They were all loners and quiet people but somehow found each other and formed a lovely little family with grandma and sister.

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Wow, thank you! And we seem to have similar tastes, so I'll definitely have to check out Matrimonial Chaos now.

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tell me what you think when you're done with it.. or halfway through... haha

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Shoutout to @laica!
Finally someone felt the same way as me about Ha Ji Min in Familiar Wife. I have watched HJM in few dramas and films before and never understood her appeal because she seemed... ordinary in both acting and appearance.

But I changed my opinion while watching Familiar Wife. As you put it perfectly she was so lively and charismatic like I never saw her. I truly fell in love with her character there and the more I watched her the more beautiful she looked to me. She had so much warmth onscreen that I rarely feel from female leads. Also I discovered Jang Seung Jo through FW who was such a scene stealer!

My two favourite songs from FW OST is No Longer Mine and Love Me Again ❤️

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Totally agree on Han Ji-min. And Jang Seung-jo was one of my favorite discoveries this year - "nice guy" second leads usually annoy me, but he was so good, and so funny.

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Two of my most fav for the year:
Just between lovers: Which finally taught me how to understand a memorial. The life lesson I will never forget.
Live: I loved how it made police officers humans.

Honourable mentions:
You who love poetry: I have to say, it made me a fan of poetry.
(Also there is a lot more poetry in Red moon and Blue sun)

Thirty but seventeen: It was so nice and lovely.

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Just between lovers- is also my favorite show of the year. I just started the series again because I miss watching junho.

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INAR - oh the two leads are just too perfect, visually and in chemistry. After INAR, I can't warm up to their follow up dramas, Fox Bride Star and Boksu Revenge, they just bring back memories of INAR.
Seventeen but Thirty - I love this drama, it is so charming, also brings the question of should we live our life within our physical age or emotional age. I became a fan of all three leads especially YSJ.

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Awww, JBL remains my favorite of the year! It really got me through a rough patch during those late winter months. Oddly, I rewatch eps when I need cheering. Maybe because it really is an uplifting drama despite all the sadness. And maybe because the look of it is beautiful with all the greys and rundown bits of Busan. The performances were amazing and heartfelt. On my list of all time faves.

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Such a beautiful write-up for the year end Laica. So heart touching ☺️

And out of your list, I've only watched Poetry & 13but17 till the end & I totally agree with what you've said. ^^

Thanks for this pretty article

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What a beautiful review with some poetry nonetheless! I loved how you said it was not about the grand gestures but the simple small things, I also feel that way. I haven't watched Live, but I think I should definitely check it out

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Beautiful write-up. Your review of Just Between Lovers has given me another reason to watch the show. I only watched Live from your list, and echo everything you said about it. Bae Seong-woo was amazing, and I loved the growth portrayed in Oh Yang-chon.

Side note, congrats on finishing the grad school application process. Applying can be terribly stressful (and expensive). I wish you all the best for your future endeavors as well!

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Thank you so much! I was able to get in, thankfully, and I'm just finishing up my first semester of grad school (one more paper left, gah). It's been intense, but a lot of fun.

All the best to you too! (Also I totally loved the scene from Live that you have as your header pic.)

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I agree the 'second string' shows this year often turned out better than the 'prestige' shows (after My Ajusshi wrapped up). I'm a harsher critic than you of 'Secretary Kim' but a milder critic of 'Pretty Noona'. I'm all for unconventional exasperating endings after having watched far too many series that I could guess the ending half way into the first episode.

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I felt the same with Just Between Lovers, i really love the drama, so sad, dark but in the beautiful way. I didnt read a lot of this drama, maybe is not the most popular of this year, but for me was very special because when i saw the drama, i was throughing kinda a complicated times in my life and, if i can say it, i share my sadness with this drama. Canalize, get over, i dont know :p.
Also i love 30 but 17, i love how Chan take all, i mean, not always turn white to black. I really love the perspective of the all characters, maybe "the etical mind" of the writter. Enjoyed the fantastic situation but in a such a realistic way that shake my heart.

I didnt se the others, but see two of my favorites of the years ...im trully know that ill see it soon.

:)

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My honorable mentions go to Welcome to Waikiki, Life on Mars and Mr. Sunshine. Worst of all time (not just 2018) goes to Something in the Rain.

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you, who didn't expect poetry
but found yourself
with a lapful of words
healing, laughing, writing
giving

me, losing sleep (always me)
but found myself
with friends I love
writing, laughing, healing
talking

all our dots and commas
(dot dot dot...)
our bad html and em-dashes
on dramabeans—
bonus.

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Ahhhhhhhhh ❤︎❤︎❤︎❤︎❤︎

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And we got one important expression of love this year, nose nose!

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