Best practices: the methods and madness of watching K-dramas
Watching K-dramas is a delicate science. It requires finely-tuned skills around time management, content assessment, and a level of logistics management that could run a worldwide factory if we ever put our skills to work in manufacturing. In other words, the veteran drama watcher knows that there’s quite a bit of juggling and finesse that goes on to keep the drama influx flowing optimally.
How we watch dramas is often as important as what we’re actually watching. We’ve talked about how both live-watching and marathoning a drama have a lot to do with how we experience the story. We’ve talked about things like pace, time to process, and how speed-watching can keep us engaged (or cover up plot holes). But what about our individual, unique methods for curating our own drama experience?
If you’re anything like me, you have a finely tuned drama radar. You’re not only paying attention to the airing schedule and upcoming dramas of interest, but are keeping your finger on the pulse of dramaland. You’re in the know about how certain dramas are performing, what’s making headlines or pulling in high ratings, and which dramas are garnering a cult following. However, these factors may or may not influence what you actually end up watching.
The above information is crucial for how we ultimately determine our own drama schedule, because we need it to determine our balance. Balance is an essential dramaland best practice. I know from painful past experiences that I need a carefully balanced routine of both live and completed shows. Even if I stall and try to stretch live-airing episodes out over the course of the week, I will inevitably be caught up and miserable, hanging on for the next episodes in a way that feels like hanging from the monkey bars in tears.
The solution (if you can call it that) is to have two streams of shows. This could mean live-watching dramas that air on a different weekly schedule, or my method: currently airing dramas and already aired dramas to marathon through when things get desperate.
The balance of live and completed dramas is crucial to maintaining sanity in dramaland, but that can’t discount the weight of the mood I’m in. I might be marathoning through a fluffy rom-com, and live-watching a melodrama but sometimes my mood calls for one of these specifically. And it’s not always in the favor of which drama has the most episodes available. Against all better judgment, I’ll catch up on the live-airing show — then be left in agony. There might be two others shows I have on my plate that are fully-aired and ready for bingeing, but if I’m not in the mood for them, it doesn’t work.
Moods commonly influence which genres you may want to watch, and it might be the toughest nut to crack in the science of K-drama watching. I can’t always predict what sort of story I’ll be in the mood for. I know dramaland can provide dramas in every genre on a silver platter, but the onus is on me to make sure I have a well-vetted list of shows that can cover any mood.
This brings us to another dramaland best practice: having a To Be Watched list. The rate at which dramaland churns out material is staggering so for the K-drama juggler, a list is often the best way to keep track. It’s like a to-do list, only better, because it’s full of stories to watch, not tasks to complete.
Mine is something of a hodgepodge between a list of upcoming dramas I don’t want to forget about and a list of dramas that get so much love and attention that I know I have to get on board. This last category can contain dramas that weren’t high on my list, but their reception in dramaland made me change my mind (at the top of this list right now are I’m Not a Robot and Chief Kim).
The list can also contain classic dramas that I feel are important as “foundational texts” (topping my list right now are Goong and What Happened in Bali). Let’s not forget the list of whoopsie dramas — the ones you meant to watch but just ran out of time on before the next crop of shows came around.
A final best practice of dramaland is course correction. Remember that drama radar we talked about that was always surveying the drama landscape? It can also act as a helpful way to correct the course of your dramaland journey. Because we’ve all been there — a drama that sounded like a gorgeous masterpiece (or even a gorgeous mess) on paper is proving to be neither of those as you’re watching. Do you force yourself through the drama, or pull the plug?
This may sound incendiary, but learning how to drop a show is a crucial, though difficult, dramaland survival tool. Don’t be stubborn and force yourself to watch a story you’re not enjoying. Life is short, and time is precious. The drama will forgive you for abandoning it, and goodness knows there are twenty more to take its place. And there’s always the option to return to it — after all, sometimes it’s just a case of timing. A drama that isn’t resonating with you now could very well do the opposite down the road (I’m hoping that’s the case for me with The Lonely Shining Goblin).
Course correction can steer you away from dramas you aren’t enjoying, but it can also steer you toward ones that you didn’t expect to watch. Sleeper hits, dark horses, call them what you will — there’s often that one drama that comes out of nowhere and winds up knocking your socks off. It’s okay if you weren’t planning on watching it (me with Answer Me 1988). This is often how we find our hidden gems.
Finally, this course-correcting drama radar can also help with pacing your own watching. It can act as a sort of sensor when you’re live-watching. For instance, I’ve had it go on red alert when I was watching a drama that I loved so much, I knew I had to stop watching it live. In the interest of my sanity, it turned out to be better to wait for a stockpile of episodes so I could watch it through in a single pass.
Conversely, I’ve had the radar go off when a drama I wasn’t planning on watching suddenly pulls me in like a tractor beam (most recently for me, That Psychometric Guy). If you’re lucky, you’re in the enviable position of slowly catching up to the currently airing episodes at the pace that you choose — and if you’re even luckier, you will catch up just when the last episodes are airing. This means you get the best of both worlds: the hot-off-the-presses story with none of the agony of waiting.
There’s no end to the variety of methods and hacks that comprise dramaland’s best practices, but these are some of mine. Whether it’s based on our tastes, on the buzz around a drama, on the strength with which the story pulls us in, or even just the mood we’re in — drama watching has definitely proven itself to be part dance, part science, and part circus act.