[2020 Year in Review] Mini reviews from my 2020 drama list
Every drama year seems full of its own surprises — you have the sleeper successes, the megawatt hits, the fan favorites, the flops, and the hidden gems. In that respect, 2020 in dramas is pretty similar to other years: there were dramas that surprised, disappointed, captivated, and every emotion in between. But the 2020 side jab seems to be this: it was never the drama I anticipated. Dramas I fully expected to obsesses over put me to sleep, dramas the fandom adored I couldn’t seem connect with, and many dramas that weren’t even on my radar became my favorites of the year.
2020, full of mischief you are.
So, I thought I’d take a different approach to my year-end drama piece this year. Rather than dig for a unifying “feel” from the dramas I watched, or try to summarize the ups and downs, I decided to instead accept the wide range of dramas we had this year, and roll with it.
The following are my (completed) 2020 drama watches, a mini review, and a rating.
But first, a disclaimer: I write from a strong, pro-drama bias. In other words, I looove dramas and generally find it easy to forgive them of plot holes, laggy storytelling, overused tropes, and more. YMMV, so take my reviews and ratings with a grain of delicious drama salt.
9.9 Billion Won Woman
A woman (Jo Yeo-jung) desperate to escape an abusive marriage, steals some dirty money and gets caught in the criminal underbelly. Full of twists, turns, damn good acting from the main cast (Kim Kang-woo, Oh Nara, Jung Woong-in), and one of the most subtle and chemistry-filled romances this year. Might not have pulled off its ending with the sharpness it wanted, but the performances make up for it.
Ji Chang-wook and Kim Yoo-jung were cute at times, and so was the convenience store setting, but this drama was mostly empty space, and was never as entertaining as it thought it was.
Melancholy, healing romance. Ha Ji-won plays a chef at a hospice where she clashes with one of the doctors (Yoon Kye-sang). Full of implausible surgeries and traumas, but evened out by the mature acting of the leads, the beautiful theme, and the slow burn romance. Great side characters, scenery, and cooking scenes.
A Couple’s World
This drama was a smash hit for a reason. It’s a dramatic roller coaster that’s hard to tear your eyes away from. Riveting performances from Kim Hee-ae, Park Hae-joon and more, with nausea-inducing dips and turns, and a whole lot of second-hand adrenaline.
Crash Landing on You
A CEO/socialite (Sohn Ye-jin) crash lands in North Korea (literally) and gets emotionally connected to the soldiers that help keep her safe. Funny, romantic, and sweeping, this drama also contains one of the best drama heroes of 2020: Hyun Bin as the loyal, protective, and heroic North Korean captain that falls in love with Sohn Ye-jin’s character.
Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol
Go Ara plays a bright and sweet heroine who loses everything and has to start over in a small town. Her relationships with the townspeople, and gruff-yet-marshmallow hero (Lee Jae-wook) are the highlights here. This drama has a joy about it that makes the fluff feel substantial, until the final quarter of the drama goes to hell in a hand basket.
Grade: A- if you ignore the last few episodes; C if you include them.
Do You Like Brahms
Beautiful but often maudlin drama about a pianist (Kim Min-jae) and a violin student (Park Eun-bin) who fall in love and have to face the complexities of outside expectations, and inner scars. This drama might have lingered in its lows longer than it needed to, but it has more than enough strong, simple, swoony moments to make you lose your breath (in a good way).
A cold businessman (Park Hae-jin) and a hysterical doctor (Jo Boa) are forced to share a house when they leave Seoul for a small forest village. Said forest is full of secrets, supposedly, but the plot is boring, the acting is terrible, and the entire story is uneven. Supremely unrewarding. Would take this one back if I could.
A group of friends in their 40s have to face secrets from their college days when the lead couple (Song Yoon-ah and Yoo Joon-sang) deal with a dark, racy scandal. The strength of this drama is in the storytelling, which uses careful replays and reveals to build tension and keep you guessing. Ends on a positive note, but remains quite a dark story. Great watch with top-notch execution.
A legal comedy that features one of the best couples/casting of the year. Joo Ji-hoon plays a top attorney who is hoodwinked by lowbrow attorney Kim Hye-soo, who he happens to have fallen madly in love with. The story follows their cases and a somewhat overarching conspiracy, but really, everyone stays for the relationship between the two. Would have preferred more relationship and less courtroom, but not complaining. Full of color and chemistry.
Lies of Lies
Revenge melo with a dash of makjang, this story of a wrongfully accused battered wife (Lee Yuri) is quite the fun ride that’s full of lies, subterfuge, love, and birth secrets. Strengthened by the mother/daughter component of the story, but weakened by plot machinations created just to fuel reveals. Regardless, a fun example of the genre, and though it could have been juicier, I found myself genuinely committed to finding out the truth behind the lies.
My Holo Love
A lonely woman (Go Sung-hee) finds companionship with an AI hologram that takes the form of its creator (Yoon Hyun-min). Mostly pointless, but I actually liked the characters a lot.
My Unfamiliar Family
Wonderful, watchable, and hard-hitting family drama that definitely belonged in its primetime slot. Gracefully told. This drama is one of the rare instances where all of the story lines were equally compelling and interesting. Despite having a lot of high-drama moments and reveals, this drama always felt grounded thanks to the solid writing and fantastic ensemble cast.
A Piece of Your Mind
It might have tanked in terms of ratings, but this drama was a gem. It starts off slow, complex, and a bit strange, but turns into a beautiful story about healing from past hurts. Beautiful, touching performances from Jung Hae-in and Chae Soo-bin, this drama was able to capture a really precious and unique tone. The shortened episode count doesn’t show as much as it could, and the story ends strong.
Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim 2
Savant doctor Han Suk-gyu continues to be his awesome self in Season 2, but has a new cast of fledgling doctors to mentor into greatness (Lee Sung-kyung and Ahn Hyo-seob are at the top of the list). Typical and predictable, but knows how to pull the heartstrings, and it feels good to root for underdogs with integrity and grit.
Sci-fi action drama about a hero (Choi Jin-hyuk) who is saved from death by a crime-fighting organization. A gigantic waste of acting talent, budget, and a plot that sounded good in concept, but when it reached film, was flatter than the paper it came from.
The School Nurse Files
Quirky, offbeat, and completely unconventional, Jung Yumi stars as a school nurse with insight into a supernatural world. It’s weird, colorful, creepy, and kind of amazing. Don’t watch if you are looking for a more standard drama — this one doesn’t pay attention to the rules at all, and you either love it or hate it. Best music/sound editing of the year, hands down.
Fun and heartfelt tale of underdogs and dreamers (Suzy, Nam Joo-hyuk) in the start-up business space. Leads with a compelling backstory and great characters. Full of warmth, humor, and hard-working twenty-somethings that are easy to root for. Bonus points for the awesome second male lead role that basically skyrocketed Kim Sun-ho’s career.
United Effort to Accomplish One Thing
Fun, stylish, and well-directed whodunnit that’s an entertaining watch. Just enough twists and intrigue to keep you watching as the murder plot unfolds, then lands on a moral at the conclusion, for a nice drama sandwich. Oh Nara rocks here.
When I Was the Most Beautiful
A broken woman (Im Soo-hyang) marries into a wealthy family, but her life continues to be filled with tragedy when she’s caught between two brothers (Ha Seok-jin and Ji Soo). Sounds bawdy on paper, but is actually restrained, lovely, and unafraid to be what it is: a melodrama with themes of longing and renunciation. Beautifully shot with a cast that is 100% committed. For melo-holics only.
When My Love Blooms
Concurrent storylines play out as we watch our hero (Jinyoung/Yoo Ji-tae) and heroine (Jeon So-ni/Lee Bo-young) meet in their college years, and then later in middle life. Slow and agonizing in parts, but great casting. The strength of this drama is actually the younger cast and past storyline, which breathes life into the whole concept.