We’re finally here, at the end of another Year in Review series! We warned you it’d be long this time, but hopefully you all made it through with us. We promise this is the last one! (At least till next year. Which is, eek, almost this year.)
As ever, the process of selecting our picks of the year was fraught with indecision, angst over leaving things out, bitter tears and angry rants amongst our staff as we argued for our choices. Just kidding! The arguments were civil, though I won’t vouch for everyone being 100% in line with the final list—in fact, I can pretty much guarantee that nobody got everything they would have chosen on their own. But we did manage to find a consensus, and present to you our 2015 Editors’ Picks.
Thanks again to our dedicated, loyal staff of writer minions—HeadsNo2, gummimochi, LollyPip, dramallama, odilettante, Saya, and awcoconuts—we’re grateful for your constant efforts in helping spread the drama love, and to have your contributions to our year-end wrap-up. Here’s to another year of drama-filled goodness!
Looking back, 2015 has been a really generous year for me in dramaland. Thanks to the overlords’ wicked sense of humor (or maybe just a belated sense of self-preservation…), the five-drama limit posed an interesting predicament. I found I didn’t want to expend my words or energy on the middling-to-mediocre shows, or indeed, the half-good-half-bad (both of which I watched too many). And without naming and shaming, I certainly didn’t want to waste any more time on the violently insipid. Instead, it seemed more fitting to pay back generosity with generosity.
Thankfully, my five picked themselves (well, four did — the fifth was decided in a council of war with my sisters). But I still want to give a shout-out to the other favorites that didn’t make it in: of course Kill Me, Heal Me (let my recaps prove how much I loved it!) and the adorable (yet eventually problematic) Oh My Ghostess, but also the criminally underrated Missing Noir M and Last. And finally: my little underdog that nobody watched, legal thriller Pride and Prejudice, which sadly wasn’t quite 2015 enough to count.
It’s been a case of working backwards to uncover my five’s unifying theme, but I found it! Or made it up. It doesn’t matter. In defiance of long-held trends, we’ve been seeing the slow-but-sure rise of fundamentally nice heroes, and my picks are by no means the only ones. It proves what we all knew: that you can be a complicated, conflicted man without being an ass. And where we’ve had great heroes, we’ve also had some really fantastic heroines. Much as my heart beats for bromance (give me bromance or give me death!), I am positively weak in the knees for strange, flawed women with hearts of fire. And paired up with a sweetheart of a man? Yes, please and thank you. In other words: squee. Now all I want for next year is for some of those ten-a-penny dramaland geeeeniuses to be WOMEN.
In my dark and murky past before K-dramas, I used to be a bookworm. I realized I consume dramas much the same way I do books, so there’s often not a clear line between them in my mind — my hunger is for absorbing stories, peculiar people, and complicated relationships. When I noticed that some of my picks paired themselves naturally with certain books, it became a fun challenge to matchmake all of them with their literary soulmates. You’ll find the results at the end of each review as a little reading suggestion — for when you’re between dramas, of course!
This isn’t short, so grab a banana milk and get comfortable…
Like everyone else, it was a struggle narrowing down my selection to just five dramas. I thought it would be easy, since 2015 left me mostly disappointed when it came to dramas, so there were only a handful of dramas I really cared about to begin with. But I also had to go through the existential crisis of deciding which drama to keep and which one would be cut.
I agonized over letting go of Ex-Girlfriend Club, since it felt like I was betraying my self-declared label of Byun Yo-han’s Number One Fangirl (plus, it had the notable distinction of being the only rom-com I saw through to completion this year). I also had to say a painful “so long” to Seonam Girls’ High School Investigation Unit, which nearly made the list as one of my favorite dramas of year — not only because it pleased my inner Nancy Drew, but because it also dealt with some subjects that most mainstream dramas refuse to touch.
Instead, I decided that I wanted to address a couple of dramas that I began here but never fully recapped. I may have started out those shows with bright-eyed anticipation, but by the end of the show, my thoughts were decidedly different and I felt they deserved to have some “final” comments. The other three are the dramas that captured my heart, mind, soul, and full attention (no easy feat!), and are the ones that vie for “favorite” of 2015.
I went with a culinary theme because two of the dramas are predominately based around food, and also food is an important thread and/or occasional plot-point in the rest. Or maybe I was just hungry. Lesson learned: do not attempt to review dramas without snacks on hand.
Another year, another Christmas Eve delivery completed!
Not gonna lie, recent years haven’t been the rosiest for Old Saint Nick, but this year, I decided to do something about it. If by something I mean nothing, in that the doctor ordered me to take some time off the elf toy assembly line and get some good old-fashioned vacation time. The elf uprising had been settled and the labor union demanded health and benefits, which I’m sure was great for them and all, but hardly what I needed: more elves, doing less work, clocking out on the dot and dispersing info pamphlets about reindeer shift limits and sleigh safety standards. They left North Pole Factory Lines 1 through 50 short-staffed (of short staff), so I tried to fill the gap myself. Three breakdowns later, I was forced to admit I couldn’t do it all and nearly threw in the towel.
But then I discovered two life-changing things: Zen, and Amazon prime. One let me sit back while someone else did the delivering, and the other helped me not care about it. So I’m spending the holidays on a warm and cozy island, watching dramas and emptying my mind. My therapist recommended I write down my feelings, in their barest form, in the moment, every time I felt them. That seemed like a lot of work, so when my Zen-master life coach suggested I try haiku, I was all about the 17-syllable limit. I’m being enlightening, not lazy! Go forth and be enlightened.
Wowie, it’s the end of 2015, and another eventful year of dramas has come to an end. I always enjoy awards and reviews season, since it puts the whole year in perspective and gives me a couple more dramas to put on my list. I’m making a list and not checking it twice, since I’ll watch all the dramas whether they’re naughty or nice.
As you’ve probably already read in the previous reviews, we’d been given the daunting task of selecting a mere five dramas from this year to review. Thankfully, my limited drama-watching plate naturally narrowed down my choices, but it was still an excruciating process. I had many words for many shows but decided on these five because of their addiction potential.
I frequently wonder, “If dramas were drugs… what would they be?” But really, there should be no “if,” in that question because we know that dramas are drugs — addicting and potent drugs that are in constant supply. I’ve gotten some education on how drugs work, so obviously, I would be the perfect person to provide you with the details behind the active ingredients that pulled me into the drama drug. And if you’re a responsible drama addict, you should know what goes into the drama before you watch it. Sometimes, it’s best to go in blind, but I’ve provided five components of five dramas to warn the responsible addict about the dangers and charms of my drug of choice.
It was no easy task, trying to choose only five dramas out of an entire year of wonderful stories to write about in my year-end review. In the end, I decided to go with five shows that gave the viewers something a little different than we originally expected — dramas that seemed to be one thing before they started, yet turned out to be something entirely different. And I mean that in a good way, that each of these dramas subverted our expectations in some way that made us sit up and take notice.
It was a good year for dramas that gave us something a little different — there were so many shows that featured characters facing previously-taboo-for-television situations, or that behaved in ways we don’t expect in a drama. We saw dramas that discussed mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsession, murder, and many topics that usually don’t make it to our television screens… and while they weren’t often done well, occasionally we were offered a drama that really made us think about how we treat people, learn something new about the world, or feel strongly for characters that would previously have been straight-up villains.
As a pastry chef in my “real life” and someone who loves food and feeding people almost as much as I love dramas, I thought about what kind of desserts these dramas would be. They also happen to double as suggestions for something delicious to enjoy while watching each show — a sweet treat that matches the tone and feel of the drama… sort of like pairing a wine with your meal, but with dessert! And before you ask — yes, all of the treats pictured in this review were made by yours truly. Enjoy!
My math must be off this year because somehow, choosing five dramas turned out to be an immeasurably more difficult task than previous years. If we’re going by numbers alone, there should’ve been less stress involved, but then it hit me: a truncated list meant I had to be selective with my choices. This would require decision-making, and over the years, I’ve learned that life’s decisions are best left up to robot overlords.
So in the weeks leading up to this review, the first four dramas came to me pretty easily. But the problem came with the fifth title — which title gets chosen? What gets left behind? Does leaving one series out mean that I love one drama over another? What is life, really? (As you can tell, this debate with myself quickly devolved into existential mutterings.)
It then occurred to me that one show would inevitably feel like the fifth wheel no matter which one it was. So allow me to take the fifth when it comes to naming said show so it can feel included with the others.
P.S. I still love you, dramaland.
I’m pretty sure I went through all five stages of grief when faced with the incredibly daunting task of summing up the year in just five dramas, because that seemed like way too much responsibility to take on. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been so frightening when I’d made top five lists in past reviews, but the idea of getting only five was enough to bring on a cascade of warring, terrifying emotions.
First came the more or less innocuous denial phase of, “This’ll actually be easier! What were we thinking, doing twenty a year before?” Then came anger, “You know who else liked the number five? Hitler.*” Which blossomed into bargaining, “Can I do five, and then another ten?” Catapulting me into the soul-sucking depression of, “My choices will inevitably be terrible, and life has no meaning.”
But then came the warm glow of acceptance that more or less took the form of, “Well, rules are rules.” Limits can be freeing! Once I embraced the fact that I could just cherry pick five dramas that made me feel something one way or the other, everything else fell into place. Except for the actual writing, anyway. Cue another trip through all five stages of drama grief, aaaand, go!
(*This statement based on truthiness, not actual fact.)
So it turns out that the only thing worse than being frazzled to capacity to write twenty reviews at year’s end is forcing a drama addict to choose ONLY FIVE shows to talk about. I’m pretty sure we knew this going in, and I even have vague recollections of saying things like, “Yes! The angst of choosing just five will be the whole point!” I blame the holiday cocktails. I don’t know what we were thinking.
Choosing five shows to represent my drama-watching year was just a new kind of pain. There were clear favorites, of course, but then there were so many that were in that enjoyable-but-not-beanworthy category. And we didn’t want to assign dramas just to avoid redundancy (because writing about what speaks to you is kind of the point), but then I found myself choosing not to write about Healer, for instance, because I knew it would get plenty of love. But that’s no indication of how I felt about the show, because I really did love Healer while it was on, and it remains one of the more memorable dramas of the year for me. I just didn’t think you guys needed to read eight reviews on it. And here I thought The Bean Count was hard.
As we’ve mentioned, we here at Dramabeans Central have been changing up our year-end review series, trying out new features and reworking others. It’s been an ongoing process looking for ways to make things fresher and better, and it felt like we were due for an update. Change is scary, but change is good!
Aside from feeling a creative itch to try new things, it occurred to us that with the addition of minion-recappers, eight full-length reviews covering every drama watched by each recapper this year could quickly get repetitive. And very, very long. (I know I wouldn’t want to read that many reviews of the same thing, not even if it were my favorite drama.) We tossed around the idea of streamlining the selections and turning everything into a Top 10 list—but that felt like it would get redundant, especially with our Editors’ Picks coming up. Furthermore, we didn’t want to set ourselves up to leave a whole bunch of dramas out of the discussion—shows that we enjoyed and want to talk about, but which may quite fulfill the criteria for “Best” or “Top” anything.
So what we decided to do was simplify things and set everybody’s review limit to five dramas—yep, a mere, measly five—but give the writer the freedom to pick any five shows, with no best/most/favorite requirement to guide the selection process. With eight writers involved, we’ll have 40 reviews in all, which feels like a pretty robust total, cutting down on redundancies. And rather than directing everyone to choose their list according to the same criteria, we decided to leave that up to each writer—thus, the act of choosing what to write about ought to be almost as meaningful as what eventually gets written. (Almost.)