If there’s one thing that everyone seems to be able to agree on, it’s that time is flying. Like, seriously. Where has 2014 gone?
I can hardly believe that 2015 is almost here, promising/threatening gifts of dramas chock-full of vampires, multiple personalities, and other
psychological disorders goodies.
Before 2014 makes her exit, though, I wanted to come out and give credit where it’s due. Coz as much as so many of my friends in dramaland have been talking about a meh drama year, I feel like I had a pretty good drama year, actually.
I know. How did that happen, right?
Eric Nam – 지우고 살아
WAS 2014 SUCH A BAD DRAMA YEAR?
I guess the answer to this question is: it depends.
I feel like dramaland spent the year deep in experimentation, for the most part. We got reunions, adaptations, crime thrillers, aliens, ghosts, and even a mermaid. The cable channels were particularly daring in trying and testing new waters, and were the source of some of the more.. interesting endeavors this year in dramaland.
As with most experiments, there are bound to be some failures among the successes. Failure is always disappointing, to be sure. At the same time, I was pretty happy to see that among the non-successes, we had a good number of successes too (well, successes in my books, anyway), and that was enough to keep me a happy camper through pretty much the entire drama year.
There are 2 main things that I’ve learned this year, though. And that is, to get the most out of one’s drama year, it really helps to keep an open mind, and on top of that, it helps if you keep a flexible lens too.
1. An Open Mind
So what exactly do I mean about keeping an open mind?
I think this really comes down to the type of drama you’re willing to give a chance to.
When I started my kdrama obse-, er, I mean, journey, I was ALL about the rom-coms and their associated romantic feels. I wouldn’t touch a sageuk, a melo or a crime thriller with a ten-foot pole for the simple reason that those shows didn’t fit into my idea of what I considered “my kind of entertainment.”
Over time, though, I’ve learned that sometimes, just allowing myself to try something new with an open mind can yield some pretty awesome results.
This year, by keeping an open mind, I got to enjoy a good number of dramas that Past Me wouldn’t have touched (more on that later).
The reason I mention this at all, is because I’ve noticed that out of my friends who’ve talked about having meh drama years, there are a number who have firmly kept various dramas at arm’s length for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, that also means that they didn’t watch some of the shows that I ended up really liking this year.
While I certainly believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, values and personal drama-watching principles, I also believe that in most cases, there is room for at least some flexibility. And that if that flexibility were applied, that one might actually stumble on some drama gems.
2. A Flexible Lens
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’d probably have come across my recent habit in reviews, of referencing a particular lens that would help one’s enjoyment of a drama.
To be honest, I enjoy deconstruction and analysis as much as the next drama nerd, and have written the monster reviews to prove it. At the same time, I’ve also learned that there really aren’t that many dramas that can withstand detailed scrutiny without crumbling to pieces.
And what a pity that would be, for an otherwise enjoyable drama to fall to the wayside just because I insisted on putting on my critical, analytical lens, right? That would just make me a grumpy viewer, when I’m really here in dramaland for the happy.
Which is why, one of the first things I now do when dipping my toes into a drama, is to decide the kind of lens that would help me enjoy that drama the most.
Sometimes, I find that I need to put on a nonsensical lens (“Yes, nothing makes sense in this world, and that’s ok!”). Sometimes, it’s an OTT lens (“Campiness CAN be funny!”). And sometimes, it’s the trusty ol’ fangirl lens (“Nothing else matters, coz Oppa is awesome!” *cough*Heirs*cough*).
I’ve found that this approach has helped me to enjoy – and sometimes even embrace – certain dramas that other viewers might have dropped in disappointment.
Of course, this doesn’t allow me to magically enjoy everything that dramaland has to offer. I still have my meh moments, for sure. But I do find that with this flexible lens approach, I’m enjoying more dramas than I used to, and I think that’s not a bad thing at all.
MY DRAMA YEAR IN 3 TIERS
I thought long and hard about the best way to divvy up the dramas that I watched this year, and in the context of what I’ve shared so far in this post, I figured that this 3-tier system would make the most sense.
TIER A: You Grabbed Me
Basically a “Tier A” drama is a show that grabbed me; my attention, my heart, and sometimes, even a little bit of my soul.
These dramas may not be perfect (there probably isn’t such a thing as a perfect drama, is there?), but they’ve accomplished the most important thing of all. They sucked me in to their narrative worlds, and left me wanting more after each episode.
TIER B: Some Adjustments Needed, But I Liked You
A “Tier B” drama is a show that I might’ve had to make major lens adjustments for, but which I managed to enjoy quite well, for all its flaws.
How much I like a Tier B drama varies; it can range from “Ooh, I liked it a lot!” to “Quite alright, though not terribly exciting.” The key to this tier is, the dramas didn’t quite grab me enough to get into Tier A, and at the same time, they didn’t force me into the Land of Meh either (otherwise known as “Tier C”).
TIER C: Meh
Pretty self-explanatory, really. Tier C dramas basically disappointed me, or didn’t work for me whichever way I adjusted my viewing lens.
On a related tangent:
What do you guys think of this rating system? Would you like to see this applied to all the shows I’ve written about on this site? Let me know in the comments please! 🙂
THE DRAMA SPREAD
One of my 2014 drama resolutions was to watch more dramas – and write more reviews! – after I realized at the end of 2013 that I’d watched only a tiny handful of dramas last year.
I’m pleased to report that I managed to do both, with a little more success on the watching front than the writing one (I plan to get cracking on those backlogged reviews after the festive season! Sorry if I’ve kept anyone waiting for a particular review!).
So without further ado, and as concisely as I can, I give you my year in dramas, the 2014 edition! 🙂
TIER A DRAMAS
You From Another Star
What a fantastic way to start off my drama year. I loved this show, flaws and all, coz it grabbed me by the heart. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me care. Kim Soo Hyun and Jeon Ji Hyun were amazing individually and together, and made me want to believe in aliens, superpowers and happy ever afters. The Event Drama of the Year.
Secret Love Affair
So. Good. Showing excellence in every area, from writing, to directing, to casting, acting and music, Secret Love Affair is my top pick for Drama of the Year. It started out as a slow burn for me, but just a few episodes in, I got completely sucked into this drama and its very immersive world. Stand-out performances by Yoo Ah In and Kim Hee Ae, crackling chemistry, and a thought-provoking, insightful treatment of, well, everything, come together to make this drama a true masterpiece.
Witch’s Romance turned out to be such a cute and cracky watch. Great performances by Uhm Jung Hwa and Park Seo Joon, and a good spot of earnest, heartfelt noona-romancin’ made this one of my favorite shows of 2014. An angsty slump in the later stretch docked this show’s final grade by just a little, but I have to credit Show for introducing me to the very delightful, melty charms of Park Seo Joon. Swoon. This show is definitely Gift-Bearer of the Year. Heh.
One Warm Word
One Warm Word was definitely heavy-going at times, but really, it’s such a good show. It’s one of the rare dramas that examines the effect of infidelity on couples, and how our characters work through it all towards resolution and better tomorrows, and it carries out that examination with an unrelenting yet compassionate lens. Excellent writing and performances from the entire cast made this a very worthy, engaging, thought-provoking watch. Definitely the Underrated Melodrama of the Year.
Marriage Not Dating
Wacky fun with a lot of heart. Marriage Not Dating’s strength is really in its execution and its primary cast’s committed performances. Han Groo and Yeon Woo Jin both turn in heartfelt performances while being fully committed to The Funny, and the result is cracktastic, laugh-out-loud hilarity with an inner core of true emotion. Props to Show for maintaining its breezy pace consistently from start to finish, and ultimately giving us an ending that felt true to our characters while delivering the all-important feelz.
Fated To Love You
Fantastically cracky in its first half, Fated To Love You could’ve been So Freaking Good, if not for its overly angsty later stretch. Still, for its brisk ‘n breezy first half, its lovely heartfelt core, and for giving us the (very, very!) awesome Jang Hyuk and Jang Na Ra individually as well as together, I felt that Show deserved a spot in this tier.
TIER B DRAMAS
It’s Okay It’s Love
Quirky, strange and never terribly strong on the logic, It’s Okay still managed to be an enjoyable and engaging watch. Jo In Sung and Gong Hyo Jin shared a wonderful, organic-feeling sort of chemistry, and Jo In Sung delivered a particularly impressive performance, out of a (mostly) pretty great cast. Special shout-outs to Sung Dong Il and Lee Kwang Soo for being the best crazy housemates a girl could possibly ask for. Liked this one, a lot.
Discovery of Love
A show that grew on me in spite of myself, Discovery of Love is a story of flawed individuals trying to find love, and trying to make that love work. Show delivers good doses of cute and swoony, but it’s really the contemplative, heartfelt bits that left the deepest impression on me. Show’s final grade also gets a bit of a boost, for opening my eyes to the manly-man swoony allure of Eric. Gotta give credit where it’s due, right?
Review: It’s coming! I promise!
Cunning Single Lady
Flawed, but in possession of so much heart, that I came away liking this show way more than I expected to. Lee Min Jung is likable, and Joo Sang Wook manages to be completely adorkable even when he’s being dashing. Combined, they bring enough adorable to the table that I was willing to overlook some major logic fails, the annoying second leads, and the equally annoying family members.
Even though (or maybe because?) I only watched the highlight reel version of this, skipping over any plot drag or histrionics, I ended up really, really liking this show. I went into this for Hong Jong Hyun, and came away genuinely touched by the story of a dying woman trying to do her best for her child. Song Yoon Ah turns in an amazingly heartfelt, gut-wrenching performance, while Hong Jong Hyun brings more spark and energy to his role than I’ve seen from him in any of his previous roles.
Review: Should I do a Flash Review? Or does this count?
Low-key yet heartwarming, Miss Korea is such an underrated little gem. The characters feel real, their relationships feel real, and their tribulations and dreams also feel real. A lovely, warm story of a group of underdogs coming together to find strength in solidarity, to make a way in the face of adversity, when they fail to find one. Also, Lee Yeon Hee is amazing in this.
Ah, I wanted to love this drama, so much. Glossy and well-directed, this show was pretty to look at, but fell short of actually being awesome. Logic fails happened more than I found acceptable for a show of this calibre, and the tension between wanting Lee Jun Ki to be our hero, and well, allowing his character to actually be a badass and kill people, could’ve been better managed. On the upside, Yoo Oh Sung is quite brilliant, and displays effortless depth and impressive range as our resident antagonist.
Flash Review: here.
So delightful, cute, and delicious that I didn’t want to say good-bye. It took a while to grow on me, but this show and its characters eventually sucked me in to the point of, well, love. Never mind some of the meh secondary characters, the sometimes patchy writing, or the blatant PPL. I really grew to like and enjoy the characters, in spite of this show’s flaws. This show’s best assets: Yoon Doo Joon is devilishly charming, Lee Soo Kyung displays the best “delicious eating” that I’ve ever seen, and Barassi is quite possibly the smartest, flounciest pup in all of dramaland.
Bride of the Century
Despite brimming with drama cliches and severely lacking in the logic department, this drama’s brand of cute with a touch of crack just works. It’s fluffy, it’s cute, and Lee Hong Ki is super adorable all manned-up and dashing in a suit. It gets a little draggy in the later episodes, but this show still qualifies as some of the best mindless fluff I have ever seen.
The Three Musketeers
Breezy, pretty to look at but sometimes lacking in the logic department, Three Musketeers was, overall, a decently enjoyable ride. The writing and pacing leans a little uneven, but it was the characters that really drew me in. I had a few issues with Lee Jin Wook’s Crown Prince, but I did genuinely enjoy the bromantic rapport among the musketeers. Seo Hyun Jin is wonderful as our Crown Princess, and this is also the best acting I’ve seen from Jung Yong Hwa to date. Not bad, when you lay it all out like that.
Illogical but earnest and cute, Love Cells is a harmless little web drama for when you’re in the mood for a spot of fluff. It over-promises and totally under-delivers on the promise of Woob screentime, but Jang Hyuk gets a pretty decent and rather adorable cameo.
Flash Review: here.
Prime Minister and I
Although the story is nothing ground-breaking, Show was in possession of likable leads who shared a nice amount of chemistry, and therefore it could’ve – should’ve – been better. Continuity and believability were 2 problems that this show had, but it was really the eventual copping out on OTP togetherness that derailed this show for me. Still, for giving us some nice crackling OTP moments in the earlier stretches, and for showing me how dashing Lee Bum Soo is, I’m allowing Show to escape a Tier C grading. By the skin of its teeth. 😛
I Need Romance 3
Sung Joon is sweet and quite dreamy, while Kim So Yeon’s character sometimes made me want to tear my hair out. Wait. Let me rephrase that. Sometimes her character made me want to tear her hair out. From its set-up, to its primary characters and including its secondary characters, I had very mixed feelings about this show. But in the end, the balance tipped just enough so that I liked it more than I disliked it. Which is why Show escapes a Tier C rating. Also by the skin of its teeth.
TIER C DRAMAS
High School King
I loved the concept of this show. I just didn’t love the execution too much. I found it mostly too hammy and OTT for my taste. Despite some very sweet OTP moments, I had difficulty truly buying into the OTP. I did really love the familial arcs, but those just weren’t enough to make this show work for me. Seo In Guk does a great job portraying 2 very different characters though. Props for that.
Her Lovely Heels
Extremely tropey writing, earnest but stiff acting, and with serious PPL overload, Her Lovely Heels was one of the more underwhelming drama offerings I checked out this year. While it’s pretty to look at and Hong Jong Hyun capably brings the Handsome, this little mini-drama honestly fell squarely into the meh category for me. On the upside, it’s short, so it wasn’t too big of a waste of time.
My Secret Hotel
Show attempted to serve up breezy-cute mixed with romance and a side of murder, but felt jerky in execution and uneven in pace. Our heroine Yoo In Na is charming and cute, but eventually, I couldn’t buy into her character’s reasoning nor actions, and neither did I feel able to root for either of the leading men. I checked out after episode 11.
Dropped post: here.
IU is super cute in this, but Jang Geun Suk as a man so gorgeous that he has women fawning over him did not land on the right side of believable (or tasteful) for me. Despite my best effort to watch this through a campy, nonsensical sort of lens, I found it harder and harder to wade through all the tropes and birth secrets. I checked out of this one after just 1.5 episodes.
I know this show has a lot of fans, but this one just didn’t work for me. The OTP relationship wasn’t portrayed as real or sincere even from the flashbacks to the couple’s earlier days, and we pretty much jump right into angry fighting, stuff-throwing and bug-eyed yelling. There was just too much vehement, OTT fighting between the OTP for my taste, and I didn’t enjoy the hostility the way the writers seemed to. I couldn’t bring myself to stick around to find out how things unfolded for the OTP, and checked out after 2 episodes.
I’ve heard mixed reactions to this one, and checked it out more out of curiosity than anything. On the one hand, I’ve found some of it rather entertaining. The idea of a pervy mermaid is really quite novel in dramaland, after all. The little spoofs in episode 1 are cute, and I was particularly amused by the piano spoof of Secret Love Affair.
On the other hand, by episode 2, I’m not finding our pervy mermaid character all that likable, with her tendency for clueless self-centeredness. I’m also not yet invested in any of the characters.
On a shallow note, I also find it hard to believe Song Jae Rim’s Shi Kyung character is cool and suave, thanks (unfortunately?) to his current We Got Married stint with Kim So Eun. When Shi Kyung acts cool, all I can think of is Song Jae Rim’s cheesy dorky efforts to impress Kim So Eun. Oopsie.
Whaddya think, should I press on, or should I drop this one?
Edit: I finished it, and here’s the Flash Review to prove it!
JURY’S STILL OUT
There are still a couple of recent 2014 shows on my plate that I haven’t finished watching yet. Still, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to let y’all know how I’m liking them so far.
I’m currently 8 episodes in, and liking this a lot. It’s understated in its plotting, but that’s what allows the character moments to really shine. Im Shi Wan is quite the revelation in this; he’s so subtle and yet so very effective at communicating to us what his character is feeling. And Lee Sung Min is just plain wonderful.
Update: Review is here!
7 episodes in, I’m liking this a lot too. It’s as polished, gritty and badass as Heartless City, but so much less convoluted and therefore accessible to the average viewer. The bad boys / crazy dogs are totally growing on me, and I’m already hoping for a second season. Another thing I’m hoping for is a Heartless City crossover, with Jung Kyung Ho making an appearance as Baksa. Now that would be awesome!
Update: Review is here!
7 episodes in, I’m having somewhat mixed feelings about this show. I don’t know what it is, I’m not as invested in it as I feel I should be. As I progress through the episodes, I seem to care less and less about the game and its workings, which is probably not a good thing. I need the writers to spend a little more time reminding me why I should care about this lying game. On the upside, Lee Sang Yoon is rather cool in this.
Update: Flash Review is here!
Plus Nine Boys
8 episodes in, I’m really liking this quite well, actually. It’s got a low-key, slice-of-life quality about it that makes it feel almost family drama-esque. I’m enjoying the characters quite nicely, and find each of their struggles and foibles genuinely relatable. This one is currently the mild comfort food that I reach for when I’m tired and just want something to unwind to.
Update: Flash Review is here!
I’m just 6 episodes in, and I’m really liking it so far. It’s got a warm cracky quality to it, which really reminds me of its cousin, I Hear Your Voice. Not everything makes perfect sense, but I’m not holding it against Show (yet?), since this is dramaland and things often don’t make perfect sense anyway. Lee Jong Suk is great, as I’d expected. What I hadn’t expected, is how much I’m enjoying Park Shin Hye in this. Outspoken, blunt and spunky, with a soft inner core, is a look that she wears well. Fingers crossed that this stays cracky through to the end!
Wow. That was quite a lot of dramas, wasn’t it?? I totally outdid myself, I think!
In last year’s year-in-review post, I only managed to cover 10 dramas that were from 2013. And today, I’ve talked about a whopping 30 dramas in this post. Yay, me? (Although, my Real Life friends would probably say I have a serious problem..! 😛 )
Now, back to the original question: was this really a meh drama year?
Considering how most of the dramas I watched fell into Tier B and above, with 6 whole dramas feeling like solid Tier A dramas, I’d say I had a pretty good drama year, all in all!
Given all the experimentation that dramaland’s been doing, I’d say the success rate is actually pretty decent. Yes, I’m a little wary of that multiple-personality trend that is about to descend on our screens, but hey, dramaland’s managed to pull off some pretty weird stuff this year, so I’m still cautiously hopeful.
Just remember to bring the feelz, dramaland, ok? Coz when it comes down to it, that’s the real reason we’re all here.