2016 Year in Review, Part 7: Editors’ Picks
by DB Staff
Another year has come and gone, and while I am more than happy to put 2016 behind us and look forward to greener pastures in 2017 (they’ll be greener, won’t they?), we can’t say goodbye to the year without looking back at the best of it (and the worst, in some cases) and giving the shows our final year-end salute. Sometimes voting on Editors’ Picks is an emotionally arduous task, full of tiebreaks and heartbreaks, but this year we had the pleasant surprise of consensus for many of our categories. Not to say that the staff was unanimous, but we at least avoided wailing and gnashing of teeth! We hope you’ve enjoyed our year in review series, and will join us in sending off the year. (Good riddance, 2016!) —javabeans
2016 Editors’ Picks
girlfriday: Signal was an overwhelming favorite of the year among our staff, and I think that’s because it wasn’t just a dry, cerebral drama—it was addictively paced, emotionally gripping, and genuinely thrilling. In short, it was damn entertaining. We’ve seen many dramas dabble in time travel, but Signal manipulated time in a truly impressive way, telling two parallel stories in different timelines connected through unsolved crimes. What began as a mystery thriller told in an intricate web of past and present clues eventually became a powerful human drama, about three people who were connected by more than just the desire to seek justice. I never would’ve expected one of the year’s most powerful connections to be between two people who could never meet, but the magic of Signal was that it made those few minutes of human connection over a walkie-talkie as ardent and meaningful as any face-to-face. It’s a show that made us believe that if you really wanted to change the past and right wrongs badly enough, that desire could convince the universe to bend time and space and give you a shot.
Dear My Friends
HeadsNo2: With Misaeng being the runaway directing hit of its time, everyone was looking toward director Kim Won-suk’s next project, and he delivered in a big way with Signal. By simply changing the aspect ratio of the scenes from the past, he was able to differentiate the two time periods by giving one a distinctive look, and in doing so, he was able to seamlessly navigate both past and present—even when they were occurring simultaneously. And the best part of it all is how assured the directing hand was while being practically invisible, since every shot was in service to the story, and every editing choice was made to help the audience experience the immediacy of every scene. The directing put us right in the middle of every moment of pathos, every heart-pounding moment of suspense, and every small triumph made, even if those moments carried consequences that were beyond what our two dedicated detectives could control. But for every thrilling moment there was an emotional center, and the fine directorial balance of all these elements is what made Signal such an unforgettable, resonant, and game-changing ride.
This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair
lovepark: Writer Kim Eun-hee has steadily made a name for herself as the queen of thrillers, and Signal justifies her title. She masterfully crafted a story flowing between two timelines while weaving the lives of the characters in each period as one coherent narrative that never felt haphazardly stitched together. She did not merely tell a tale about a person from the future wanting to fix the past, but depicted the struggle of two officers as they faced the dire consequences of meddling with time while still seeking justice in spite of everything. Without the solid writing, this drama could have easily fumbled and derailed due to the plethora of twists and turns, leaving the story in shambles and the viewers utterly confused. However, the plot constantly remained tight, which was crucial when time itself became a fluid variable in the storytelling. Thus, the writing always felt assured and never lost sight of its message—and the more complex the plot became, the more in control the writer appeared to be.
Dear My Friends
This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair
festerfaster: Jealousy Incarnate wasn’t just a funny drama. It was a heart-wrenchingly personal story of two people battling through their weaknesses that kept you laughing through its darkest moments. It annihilated its hero’s vanity, while celebrating the heroine’s determination to face every embarrassment and humiliation head-on. It plumbed the ridiculousness of human foibles to strip its characters of their pretensions, and then hit us with confrontations so raw that it left us bleeding. And through it all, it kept the humor of the situation glaringly alive, so that you chuckled even as your heart ached for Hwa-shin and Na-ri.
He was childish and proud. She bore every indignity with grace and patience. This woman who had never let embarrassment keep her from doing her job was the only one who could weather Hwa-shin’s vitriol and get through to the man behind the wounding words. Some of the hardest laughs the show earned were during intensely poignant moments, when boiling emotions spilled over in hilarious but touching monologues. And oh, how glorious was the comeuppance, and how satisfying the revenge was when prideful Hwa-shin suddenly found that Na-ri had become the center of his petty world.
Shopping King Louis
BEST ACTION/THRILLER DRAMA
murasakimi: There were a number of dramas this year packed with heart-stopping twists and turns, but no other show constantly delivered thrills at the same level as Signal. Each case deftly built on each other, raising the stakes and further intertwining our well-intentioned, yet sometimes powerless, time-benders. In a story filled with complex and deeply troubled villains, none of the many action scenes felt gratuitous in any way. Instead, each moment of horror and tragedy propelled the story forward into more perilous territories. The sporadic and unreliable nature of the transmissions between eras served as an analogy for the almighty Time itself—sometimes saving lives only to take new ones, and at times unfailingly obstinate in overturning (or preventing) the deaths that mattered to our heroes most of all. The real-time consequences for every word that was, and especially what wasn’t, uttered between our main trio resulted in a truly unforgettable and breathless ride.
Dear My Friends
dramallama: Perhaps a sweeter, lighter-hearted Dear My Friends could have been an equally enjoyable ride, but it would have been a travesty to lose the tragic and beautifully moving stories of our old friends. The carefree, fearless facades of the endearing aunties and uncles were often taken at face value, but never fully realized because age and time would break them down, often leaving them broken and vulnerable. Through Wan’s eyes, we witnessed how the comically irreverent jokes about death and loss were frequently overshadowed by bitter nostalgia, illness, and a yearning for life. They cared and they feared, and so did we. While the melodramatic components of the show evoked intense emotion and many tears, the show remained rooted in the fundamental human connection of family and friendship. I was left with my nose stinging, my eyes watering, and a poignant message that the rare good days lived fully and freely outshine the countless bad days still to come.
On the Way to the Airport
BEST HISTORICAL DRAMA
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
chocolatte: Moonlight Drawn By Clouds wasn’t your traditional sageuk by any means, but that was arguably in its favor—the show’s biggest strength might have been that it knew exactly what it wanted to be, and that it executed its vision on every level. From beginning to end, the show artfully balanced a breezy, youthful vibe with deeper moments of heartfelt emotion; add to that assured writing and directing with brisk pacing, spot-on music, and gorgeous costumes, and you’ve got a show that’s immensely watchable on all fronts.
The adorable romance between Crown Prince Yeong (in an indelible performance by Park Bo-gum) and his cross-dressing eunuch Ra-on certainly drove the show’s momentum. But what made Moonlight particularly special was the way it was able to elevate the relationships of all of its characters, major and minor, and its ability to tell their stories with the same lightness, humor and heart that characterized our central couple. While the show’s plotline dragged a bit in the latter half due to requisite palace politics, Moonlight never lost confidence in its storytelling, making it easy to become wholly immersed and on board with wherever the story chose to take us, right until the very end.
Mirror of the Witch
Jo Jin-woong, Signal
Saya: The stoic detective is a perennial staple in dramaland, but rarely has it given us a character quite as heart-wrenching, heroic, and beloved as Lee Jae-han, in a powerful and career-defining performance by Jo Jin-woong. He’s the kind of character I love most, full of desperation and doubt, yet strait-laced and unshakable in his convictions. Jo Jin-woong brought such a raw vulnerability to the role, with an extraordinary ability to pull you right into his moment—all his moments—to feel what he felt. In a case where the character was written extremely well, he could have coasted through without digging deep. But dig deep he did, and it was always the tide of his emotions that set the tone for Signal as a whole. Whether as a bumbling sweetheart, a gruff sunbae, a fiercely competent officer of the law, or a lonely boy’s best friend, our drama cup always, always ran over when Jo Jin-woong was on screen.
Jo Jung-seok, Jealousy Incarnate
Park Bo-gum, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
Seo Hyun-jin, Oh Hae-young Again
LollyPip: Not only did Seo Hyun-jin throw herself wholeheartedly into the role of “Just” Oh Hae-young, she did so in such a spectacular way that it blew away any preconceived notions we had of her as an actress. Her Hae-young was loud, insecure, demanding, and emotionally aggressive—everything we’ve been conditioned to believe a heroine shouldn’t be. And yet Seo Hyun-jin made Hae-young so infinitely relatable, so heartrendingly lovable, that we couldn’t help but cheer her on, even when she did things that shocked and surprised us. That’s the mark of an incredible actress, one who can take a character that in other hands would be unappealing and even off-putting and make us love her for those very flaws. She even made us love her morose romantic interest, Do-kyung, who could easily have been a character that brought down the show with his gloomy outlook on life. This role marked a turning point in Seo Hyun-jin’s career, and I look forward to seeing more of her unique style of characterization in the years to come.
Kim Hye-soo, Signal
Go Hyun-jung, Dear My Friends
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Lee Kwang-soo, Dear My Friends
odilettante: If you asked me what actor would make me cry the most this year, I never would have guessed that Lee Kwang-soo would have made the top of the list. The “Asian Prince” may have become a household name thanks to his goofy Running Man schtick, and the popular variety show also seems to have solidified him being perpetually typecast as the comedic sidekick. So it was a pleasant surprise to see him take on a new persona in Dear My Friends, where he masterfully showed a more tender side as he portrayed a son caught between his desire to care for his aging mother while also providing for his wife and child. I still have the urge to weep just thinking about that beautifully heartbreaking scene in the movie theater, when Min-ho realized that the responsibilities of mother and child have now reversed. While I love Lee Kwang-soo the comedian, I have a growing affection for Lee Kwang-soo the dramatic actor, and hope that his small-but-memorable role in Dear My Friends will convince casting directors that there’s more to this lanky actor than his ability to make us laugh.
Kang Haneul, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Kim Hye-ja, Dear My Friends
awcoconuts: It’s hard to single out one supporting member from the remarkable cast of Dear My Friends, but Kim Hye-ja deserves special recognition for her vulnerable and raw performance as Hee-ja, and her deft portrayal of a woman slipping deeper into the throes of dementia. Kim’s no stranger to acting awards, having won numerous Daesangs for her work in television and several Best Actress accolades for her films. We knew she was going to be good, but she was breathtakingly so in Dear My Friends, which seemed the perfect vehicle to display the esteemed actress’s range. She was so many things in the drama: a mother, a child, a widow, a grandmother, and a friend, and the camera loved to zoom in on the myriad of emotions that would flit across her beautiful, expressive face. She was asked to be at once stubbornly independent but needy, maternal but childlike, confused but with moments of deep clarity, sorrowful yet loving—and boy, did she step up to the task.
Park Eun-bin, Age of Youth
Song Yoon-ah, The K2
Age of Youth
mary: Ask a group of people who their favorite character from Age of Youth was, and you’ll get different answers (if not some bargaining to let them choose two—no, three!—all at once.) It’s rare to have a show where each girl gets her own spotlight without seeming too episodic, but Age of Youth managed it beautifully, thanks to well fleshed-out characters that felt like they’d been picked from your own circle of friends and acquaintances, then dumped into a boarding house to fight over jam or beat up each other’s boyfriends as the situation required.
On paper, it’s a wonder that these girls got along at all, but that was exactly the show’s appeal. We liked and knew these girls individually, but we got even more excited when they were together, because we knew they were going to make every single thing an adventure. (And an exercise in patience and diplomacy.) Watching this show felt like Harry Potter seeing the Weasley house for the first time: mismatched parts thrown haphazardly together, perhaps appearing on the verge of falling apart, yet somehow all working together with a rambunctious charm. You can’t help but guess that it was glued together by magic.
Dear My Friends
Police Unit 38
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, Park Bo-gum & Kim Yoo-jung
girlfriday: This is always a competitive category when dramaland’s bread and butter is the swoonworthy romance—there are no shortages of grand gestures and self-sacrificing noble loves around here. But Moonlight Drawn By Clouds wins Best Romance this year, not for having the hottest kisses, but because it was the most romantic in the sweeping, idealistic, fairytales-come-true sense of the word. In this love story, it didn’t matter if you were man or woman, prince or pauper (or eunuch)—love had no status, it had no gender, and it didn’t give a rat’s patootie about the patriarchy. Take that, Confucius.
While the romance in Moonlight did sacrifice lives and kingdoms in the classic way, it was really the charming everyday hijinks of a prince falling in love with his crossdressing eunuch that won us over, one cheeky wink at a time. Because when the love itself defies the social order, you don’t actually need to put a kingdom on the line to feel the drama—it’s already there in every stolen gaze, and every utterance of the words “my person.”
Descended From the Sun
1% of Anything
Descended From the Sun
tineybeanie: The witty banter and adorable romance between the Song-Song couple was delightful to watch, but the funniest scenes from Descended From the Sun—hands down—were the ones that captured the deep bromance between Song Joong-ki and Jin Gu. Their playful antics and mischievous dynamic reminded me of the relationship between me and my bestie: always full of laughter and inside jokes.
Big Boss and Wolf deserve Best Bromance of the Year for being such a loyal pair through thick (like being imprisoned in terrorist cells) and thin (going to an amusement park dateless but together), and everything in-between. Despite their differences in background, it felt like Jin Gu and Song Joong-ki were two peas in a pod who were always on the same wavelength. C’mon, you know it’s a true bromance when a friendship gets hostile girlfriends to go from arch-rivals to innocuous frenemies.
Police Unit 38
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
Age of Youth
SailorJumun: Living in a house with four very different girls is certainly no piece of cake, but when everything comes tumbling down around you, it’s always nice to have a group of girlfriends waiting for you at home. At first glance, the young girls residing in Belle Epoque house were nothing more than roommates tolerating each other. However, it only took one can of beer or one mention of a cute boy to perk everyone’s ears up and round them all up for some good ol’ bonding. Though all the girls differed in look and personality, they were able to come together seamlessly, as if they were already sisters at heart. And that’s what girlfriends are for: to be the annoying yet lovable sister you never knew you wanted. These girls did it all—they bickered, they fought, they stole each other’s food—but if anyone needed an emergency makeover or first date advice, there was always someone there for them.
Dear My Friends
Kang Chul, W—Two Worlds
CandidClown: Who better to take home Best Character than an actual character? And not just that, but a manhwa hero with free will so strong that he defied his fate and literally brought the entire world to a halt in his search for the truth. Pretty badass.
From his first introduction, Kang Chul was just so fascinatingly faceted. He was the manhwa hero, the swoony romantic lead, the vengeful son of a murdered family, the disillusioned mortal confronting his own creator, and finally, a creator himself, manipulating both worlds to fashion his own ending. And at the center of all that was a young man desperately trying to prove that he had a say in his own fate, that his choices meant something. He brought to life the question we all face when considering the concept of fate: What do you do when it doesn’t matter what you do?
As a hero who was not only great to watch and exhilarating to root for, Kang Chul reminded us of the free will we take for granted each and every day. Who knows, maybe the Drama Gods DO exist, and this is all leading to the next episode. Anyone see a chyron anywhere…?
Crown Prince Yeong, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
Lee Hwa-shin, Jealousy Incarnate
BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE (Actor)
Kwak Dong-yeon, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
awcoconuts: As a former child actor, he may have more years under his belt than some of his contemporaries, but Kwak Dong-yeon in his turn as the crown prince’s bodyguard in Moonlight Drawn by Clouds—well, he had me at his gat. It wasn’t just that he looked the part (damn did he wear those long locks well), but he swashbuckled his way into my heart as the stoic and steadfast defender of the future king. Sure, it was a cool role (He flew! And was a badass fighter! And could sew!), but bag o’ tricks aside, I was enamored with Kwak Dong-yeon’s portrayal of the humorless Byung-yeon, and I melted when a smile or a joke would slip through his gruff exterior. I appreciated his character arc, and I loved that, though his loyalties were tested, he managed to stay true to himself in the end. Kwak also brought a dignity to Byung-yeon that made me forget his youth (and his performance as a goofy boy-bander in Modern Farmer). Praise Gat for giving him this role!
Jinyoung, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
Gong Myung, Drinking Solo
BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE (Actress)
Kim Go-eun, Cheese in the Trap
HappilyEverAfter: With the fervently protective following that Cheese in the Trap amassed from its webtoon origins, anyone cast for the role of Hong Seol would’ve faced the pressure of some pretty high expectations. It’s a good thing, then, that Kim Go-eun stepped up to the challenge and managed to make Seol such an endearing introvert. Our heroine’s perpetually frazzled state (especially around Jung) was hilarious and adorable, and Kim Go-eun managed to strike a balance between Seol’s cute awkwardness and her tendency to anxiously brood, allowing viewers to empathize with every frustrating moment while still loving her nevertheless. The fact that Seol’s transformation (from the initially passive doormat who held everything in to someone who stood up for herself when her classmates tried to take advantage of her again) was so excitingly relatable was in large part due to Kim’s ability to make the viewer feel Seol’s growing exasperation. While the drama itself veered off-course towards the latter half, Kim’s portrayal of Seol really brought her into the limelight of dramaland, and it looks like she’ll be keeping it up with her follow-up role in Goblin.
Heo Jung-eun, Oh My Geum-bi
Minah, Beautiful Gong Shim
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
murasakimi: You could fill a room with Moon Lovers viewers worldwide, and each person will tell you a different reason for why the show never really lived up to its potential. Some might place all the fault on IU, others might blame the convoluted storytelling, or directing, or music. Perhaps Moon Lovers’s greatest source of disappointment was the extraordinary extent to which it failed to be the sum of its many (both good and bad) parts, and its stubborn refusal to offer its viewers any sort of payoff at the end. There could be eighteen special follow-up episodes that epically conclude So and Soo’s story, but they would never be able to explain why the show could not redeem its love story gone wrong in the twenty episodes it had. Maybe we all just need to wait for the re-re-recut special director’s anniversary version to finally watch this drama be what it could have been.
Cheese in the Trap
No Face, W—Two Worlds
Saya: W—Two Worlds did a lot of things in a way they’d never been done in dramaland before. But perhaps its most startling offering was the actually faceless villain, who took us deep into a world of complex existential questions: What happens when a character becomes sentient to their fictional nature, but exists only as a plot device for the hero’s development? What if the villain takes control of the narrative? Can the villain stop being a villain? What happens after he fulfills his purpose? Part of what made No Face so radical was how different in concept he was, and how he constantly kept evolving—I mean, he literally evolved, and I surely was not the only one scared crapless when it happened.
Unlike the hero’s struggle for self-determination against the presets of his character, No Face was driven by the singular need to fulfill them. His meta-awareness and capabilities pushed the boundaries of villainy as we know it in a really fascinating way and ultimately left us wondering: Is the villain a villain at all, or just a tragic victim of bad writing?
Hong-joo, Mirror of the Witch
BIGGEST WASTE OF TALENT
Ji Sung, Entertainer
SailorJumun: Of all the dramas we were given this year, this is the one that made me pause and wonder, “Why are you here?” Entertainer wasn’t the worst thing to happen to 2016—in fact, it was a relatively okay drama. But Ji Sung is far more than just an “okay” actor, which made his presence in the drama feel so misplaced that it was actually jarring. He blew all our socks off with his stellar performance in last year’s Kill Me, Heal Me, so his choice to follow that up with this role as a cocky talent agent felt like a huge step backward. Though the promotions insisted with all their might that Ji Sung was the big main character, his storyline as the has-been agent slowly gaining a heart wasn’t as compelling as the cute, heartfelt relationships happening on the sidelines. Because Ji Sung is Ji Sung, he did what he could with what little he was given, but at the end of each episode, there was still too little to care about.
Lee Jun-ki, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
BEST ADAPTATION OR REMAKE
The Good Wife
odilettante: Adaptions are nothing new when it comes to dramaland—manga, novels, and trendy webtoons are all popular sources, as well as original dramas from other Asian countries—but this year marked the first time an American television show has made the leap to Korean dramas. While it can be difficult to fathom how seven seasons of the hit American show The Good Wife could possibly be condensed into a sixteen-episode drama format, somehow it was done, and done well. Despite not having the same amount of time to focus on character growth, especially for the more secondary characters, the main thread which made the original series so successful was also present in the adaption. It was a stylish take on a legal procedural drama, possessed incredible acting talent that made the sometimes unlikable characters so relatable (and sexy!), and also had a certain fearlessness when it came to societal taboos. To be fair, the Korean version predominately took plots and episodic arcs from the first three American seasons, but that just means there’s still plenty left to adapt. (Hint hint to any potential tvN executives who might be reading this.)
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
1% of Anything
This Week, My Wife Will Have an Affair
WORST MOTHER OF THE YEAR
Park Ji-young, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
HeadsNo2: There’s no denying that there were a lot of bad mothers in dramaland this/every year, and if Queen Sinmyeongsunseong took the cake, it’s only because she’d shove it into her son’s face at the first opportunity (if the cake were filled with nails). Here is her list of terrible, horrible, no good accomplishments: Irrevocably scarring her son at a tender age? Check. Using him for target practice? Check. Exiling him in the hopes that he’d die and never come back? Check. Repeatedly putting him in life-threatening situations? Check. Constantly plotting for his demise? Check. Never sparing an ounce of love or kindness for him? Check. Never even baseline tolerating his presence? Double check. Using manipulation tactics to mercilessly warp the inexplicable love he had for her against him? Check. Even when she had no reason to? Check. Even though she only wanted a son on the throne and got one, but he wasn’t her “favorite” son? Double check. Hating him so extremely for reasons we will never know? Triple quadruple check. Seriously, this lady was the worst.
Eric’s Mom, Oh Hae-young Again
The Good Wife
chickachunga: When your love triangle is composed of Jeon Do-yeon, Yoo Ji-tae, and Yoon Kye-sang, it’s no wonder The Good Wife gave us the year’s most sizzling love triangle and hurt our heads as we tried to decide between suitors. But while Yoo was undeniably hot as the bad boy we couldn’t help be attracted to, his smolder was no match for the sincerity of the Other Man: It was impossible not to root for Jeon’s relationship with Yoon, who harbored a longtime puppy-dog crush since his school days and was sweetly terrible at hiding how much he cared for her at work. It was clear from the start that he believed in her potential as an attorney, and he became the pillar of strength she needed when her husband’s scandal threatened to erode her confidence, which made theirs an affair we could get behind, despite the whole adultery part of it. Their too-hot-for-words elevator kiss scene is one for the books, and even though affairs are “bad,” theirs was so, so unequivocally good.
On the Way to the Airport
MOST EGREGIOUS MISCASTING
IU, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
javabeans: What strikes me about IU in Moon Lovers is that I became suddenly aware of gaping weaknesses in her acting performance, although I’ve been watching her act for years and had thought her one of the more talented idol-turned-actresses in the industry. I didn’t feel she’d suddenly lost skills or forgotten how to act; rather, I belatedly realized how particularly well-cast she’d been in the past. After all, the art of casting is all about playing matchmaker between a project and its actors, finding the best fit of strengths, not just getting high-scorers on the acting aptitude test. Dream High and The Producers made great use of IU’s talents, allowing her to shine while covering any flaws she may have had so that we weren’t aware of them. Moon Lovers did something remarkable in casting badly in almost every role, but particularly misfired with its narrative and emotional center, the heroine. Not only was she shown to disadvantage by this director’s style (extreme close-ups aren’t moving when they lack expressive range) and this writer’s characterization (poorly developed and weakly expressed), she wasn’t given a chance to do any of the things she’s actually good at—immersing herself emotionally into a performance and stirring empathy, for instance. (It’s hard to empathize with a herky-jerky plot!) It’s like an example of anti-casting, where the heroine and drama match-up only showed each other at their worst, marring our memories of when they were both so much better.
Suzy, Uncontrollably Fond
BEST FIRST HALF OF DRAMA
gummimochi: If there ever was a drama that would turn the supernatural genre on its head this year, it was W—Two Worlds, which immediately captivated viewers with its mind-bending inter-dimensional premise that blurred the lines between fiction and reality. As the drama unfolded, a suspenseful, taut narrative drove each episode forward, making us question who was in control of this story: Was it the manhwa creator, his creation come to life, or something else entirely? Each crossover taught us something new about the rules of these worlds that made our heads spin with excitement.
…in the first half. But as we headed into the latter half anticipating answers, more arbitrary variables were tossed in through the narrative portal one by one, seemingly at whim, and those same rules we had once thought mind-blowing became fluid and senseless. What started off crisp and strong became confusing, making it a befuddled and perplexing watch to the finish. And yet, the excitement and inventiveness of the first half makes it hard to dismiss this show on account of its flaws, however major, which is why it deserves an award, even if it’s only for half the drama.
Cheese in the Trap
SLEEPER HIT OF THE YEAR
Age of Youth
Laica: I was excited when this show was announced, eager to see a story about female friendship by acclaimed writer Park Yeon-sun (Alone in Love, White Christmas), but promotions were sparse, and it seemed doomed to fly under the radar. It had a slice-of-life, indie vibe and some characters who were difficult to understand, but week by week, this show took those opaque characters and subtly peeled layer after layer of armor and posturing away from them, until we knew these five women like our own close girlfriends—secrets, warts, and all. Fittingly, it was a study in the kind of awkward first impressions that perfectly personify the start of college. This was the little drama that could, quietly gathering love and ratings as it built to a powerful crescendo. By growing its fanbase and acclaim purely through its own merit, it proved itself week by week and emerged as this year’s surprise hit.
Shopping King Louis
Oh Hae-young Again
javabeans: I could go on and on about why Seo Kang-joon’s Young-bin character was a shitty person, but really, what made Entourage such a dud was that he was, above all, a shitty character. I’ve seen any number of terrible people make for interesting characters in dramaland, but being a terrible character is an entirely smellier kettle of fish.
As the movie star around which the rest of the cast orbited, Young-bin was Entourage’s center in one sense, but not in the most important one: emotionally (or psychologically, or even just plain logically). One could argue that he was only one-half of the center of the show (with his friend-manager Ho-jin being the character we actually identified with), but there’s no way around the fact that we could never connect with his character, who was cavalier and reckless and oddly blasé about the career he didn’t seem to care about, which everybody else in his life ran around working their rears off to save. He displayed exasperating flashes of stubbornness, a hot temper, and a perplexing nonchalance that seemed to follow no reasonable logic, which essentially reduced him to a plot mechanism—one whose capriciousness moved story for everyone else, but wasn’t rooted in internal character logic. He was the grab bag of conflicts that the producers dipped into whenever they needed a new twist, which was a lazy writing tactic and a waste of a role. If the show didn’t care enough to make him a real character, how were we expected to care about him either? *crickets*
Shim Bo-nui, Lucky Romance
- 2016 Year in Review, Part 6: Hoobae minions’ first rodeo
- 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
Tags: 1 show to rule them all, Age of Youth, Dear My Friends, Descended From the Sun, Entourage, featured, IU, Jealousy Incarnate, Ji Sung, Jo Jin-woong, Kim Go-eun, Kim Hye-ja, Kwak Dong-yeon, Lee Kwang-soo, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, Seo Hyun-jin, Signal, The Good Wife, W–Two Worlds, year in review, year in review 2016