It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in dramaland. Pretty soon, with even just a few dramas under your belt, you’ll begin to think about drama crimes. Not the hit and runs, the hackings, the frauds, or the breaking and enterings. Not even the murders. Those are all well and good (so to speak), but the kind of crimes we’re talking about here are the crimes the drama itself commits.
How do dramas commit crimes, you may wonder? It’s actually quite simple. Whether it’s an editing flub, an unfortunate bit of casting, a script that nosedives, or a premise that never quite takes off, drama crimes are everywhere. They take many shapes, and many forms. Let’s examine a few, from mayhem endings, to pet peeves, to the most heinous crime of all.
Before we dig into some examples of drama crimes and look at their pernicious and pervasive nature — first, a word on dramaland as a whole. Everyone’s inner critic likes to rise up when they’re watching a show they know can be better. Disappointment over a drama often speaks louder than our praise. Indeed, wasted time and talent are two unfortunate things.
But when did criticism become louder than enjoyment? If we’re not enjoying dramaland, why are we here? I can be just as quick as anyone to eyeroll and groan over a lagging plot or terrible time jump, but at the end of the day, I watch dramas because I enjoy them — sometimes regardless of their quality level.
Everyone has her own level of Drama Forgiveness Factor, and I have to say, mine is pretty high. I can forgive a lot. My suspension of disbelief is readily at hand. Sometimes I argue that the greater the suspension of disbelief required of me, the more I actually whole-heartedly unplug and enjoy the drama (Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim 2 is a great recent example). Sometimes I will even argue why a drama’s poor decisions could actually make sense, if you look at it through a certain lens. And if that fails, I will defend the drama based on what it was trying to do, regardless of how successful (or unsuccessful) it was. In other words, I like dramas.
But do dramas care about my kindness and understanding? I don’t think they do. They rage on with a blind eye towards my forgiveness, continuing to commit crimes large and small. They don’t know “would,” “should,” or “could.” They simply are.
While everyone has a list of drama crimes that drive them the most bonkers, I’m sure there’s some common ground for commiseration in some of the crimes I’ll detail below. This list is by no means exclusive, and merely represents a few occasions where I’ve felt either slapped or laughed at by a drama when I was counting on it most.
One of the biggest drama crimes, for me, is when a drama defeats itself with its ending. With hours and hours of plot and character development (hopefully), and ample time for rhetoric and rules within the story to be developed, why do some dramas tank when it comes to their ending?
Two prime examples come to mind: Gu Family Book which I sorta liked, and W–Two Worlds, which I adored. Both had horrifying epilogue-like endings that destroyed whatever the drama had built. And all it took was five minutes. In the case of Gu, there was the cheap and unconvincing reincarnation(ish) reunion which squashed all the history and emotion that the drama had been building for 16 episodes.
In W, the death of the comic book hero, which was gut-wrenching, awful, and amazing, was similarly destroyed in an epilogue where he magically appears in the real world. Both of these drama-ending crimes tore up what the drama previously built — and didn’t even try to make sense of it. If I disavow the last five to ten minutes of both dramas, I can forgive them.
Speaking of destroying a story’s rhetoric, what about a drama that just keeps making bad decisions over and over again? Or, when a drama makes a poor decision, and then pig-headedly sticks with it, unwilling to change course? For me, a great example of this drama crime was The K2. It was bad, yes, but its baseline badness was underscored with a forced, canned, and uninteresting romance between the hero (Ji Chang-wook) and the waif-like heroine (Yoona).
I know I’m not the only one that watched this drama and felt there was not only truckloads more chemistry between Ji Chang-wook and Song Yoon-ah (instead of Yoona), but fantasized over the more layered, complex, and provocative drama it could have become if only it had made better decisions. However, this is a common drama crime — the safer and more familiar story is usually chosen. And in the case of The K2, this was pure drama crime.
Another drama crime that bothered me for a long time is the requisite time jump before the drama can conclude. In what has been a well-parsed and continuous storyline, all of a sudden when we reach the end of the tale, the drama can’t find its desired ending without a huge time jump.
In my early dramas years I felt utterly cheated by this. It’s a cheap trick, right? They can’t reach their resolution unless they jump ahead, and we’re seeing none of the satisfying growth or progression that gets our characters from the present to the future.
The time jump endings in a drama like Flower Boy Next Door and Oh My Venus made me feel disappointed at first. Why ruin the pacing of the drama and make the audience wait a random one, two, or even three years before everything is okay again? This bothered me for a long time every time I came across it — until I decided to forgive this drama crime.
Rather than looking at the time jump as a cheap trick to band-aid an ending and force a resolution, I began to look at it the other way: healing requires time. Maybe what these dramas were really trying to tell me was that you can’t always have a resolution right smack when you want it. Sometimes, you have to suffer, stumble, and wait it out. Sometimes, it’s not until years later that your scars have healed over enough for you to find the true equanimity we expect out of a drama’s “happy ending.”
Now, I refer to the time jump element as a “tesseract,” since we’re not only jumping forward, but gathering up everything that needs to happen for the story to be complete, and then delivering it when the time is ripe. Crime forgiven.
Another smaller pet peeve drama crime is the conveniently cut kiss scene. How many kiss scenes have you seen that actually stay with our characters, and the scene, after the kiss is over? There are precious few that do this. Instead, most opt for the convenient end-of-episode cut, where the romantic moment of the kiss can be suspended and prolonged without any real-life moments getting in the way.
The abysmal Forest was unique in its early kiss scene in that while the kiss did end the episode, the scene continued uncut in the following episode. Strangeness aside, it was actually refreshing to see our characters interacting after the kiss instead of jumping forward to several scenes/days later. However, we’re used to these jumps, because drama kisses are about a carefully crafted (or perhaps manufactured) moment, and the moment only. This is normally okay, and half of the enjoyment — until a drama like The Secret Life of My Secretary comes along.
In The Secret Life of My Secretary, we’re set up for episodes to expect the “true love kiss” that will alert our face-blind hero (Kim Young-gwang) of the true identity of his lady (Jin Ki-joo). I was so ready for the storybook correctness of this fairy tale-esque reveal — and then it didn’t even happen. The kiss scene cuts. The episode ends. We pick up scenes later, with none of the storybook elements having happened at all. Cop-out, tease, or drama crime? The jury is out.
Whether they range from the tiny annoyances, to the strangle-worthy tropes, to the drama endings that kill everything — drama crimes abound. I’ve shared a few of mine, but I’ve saved the most heinous one for last. And what crime is that? Being boring.
Ever since the dawn of storytelling, we’ve sought drama (in the classical sense) for enjoyment, for catharsis, and to help us understand the world around us. Though some might not believe it, we can still find all of those things in entertainment today, and especially in the wonderful little microcosm of K-dramas.
That’s why when a drama crime like boredom hits, it hits hard. Be ridiculous, make bad jokes, try something daring and have it fall flat, insert time jumps and hairdo changes and every chaebol trope we’ve ever encountered — but please, don’t be boring.
Of course, “boring” is a bit of an unfair word, being so subjective. What’s boring to me right now (Forest) and what excites me to my toes (I’ll Find You on a Beautiful Day) rings true for me, but could be the exact opposite for another viewer.
In the same way, I suppose drama crimes themselves are also a bit subjective — you might not find my drama crimes to be criminal at all, and instead you baulk at the sight of a many-job-holding-Candy and fast-forward through every piggyback scene you encounter.
Is there a threshold for how many drama crimes we can tolerate before we’re unable to forgive a drama, or lose hope in it entirely? And does losing hope in a drama mean abandonment, or stubbornly sticking it out? I think everyone has a different reaction to drama crimes, and a different threshold for what they’re willing to accept, the disbelief they’re willing to suspend, and the enjoyment that they can still extract from a drama — even when it’s lackluster. Because that’s what it’s about, right? Experiencing a story, getting engrossed in a fictional world, and taking that proverbial tumble down the rabbit hole of dramaland.