The Top, Middling, and Bottom: Dramas Review 2011
I don't profess to have watched many dramas, especially this year, as my patience and interest levels often led to abandoning ship early or never starting those with poor reviews. Despite that, I wanted to do a final recap for the year, synthesizing the separate experiences into a cohesive view.
There were plenty of both disappointments and high points to the dramas this year, some of which I've reviewed in separate posts, but many others which I haven't mentioned. I want to present here everything I enjoyed, started, stopped or hated. This may include shows that began in 2010 but finished airing in 2011 and ones still on-air. I'll also include an incomplete section at the end for the ones I'm either still working on or that I gave up on.
Order will be from the top to the least compelling / incomplete.
Queen of Reversals (also reviewed here)
I personally thought PSH was better here than in TPM. Maybe because I'm a huge fan of the noona dynamic, but the romance between his Yong Shik and Hwang Tae Hee really got to me, in a true, deep level that few drama couples are able to achieve. I mean, how many shows can claim to have changed the main pair midway through because of how lovable the original second-lead male is (don't mention Perfect Neighbor, which was trashy and weak by comparison). His Yong Shik was such an understated yet realistic and sweet manboy who stole the show and viewers' hearts. I adored how he so courageously and selflessly romanced Hwang Tae Hee, and the development of their affection felt exquisitely genuine and believable.
Kim Nam Joo has also converted me to a fan. She's a beautiful woman (I would've never guessed her age) and did justice to the complexity, sarcastic humor, and inner fortitude of her character. The ending left me feeling fuzzies, which is rare since most drama conclusions are rushed and make me feel either abruptly cut-off or depressed (or both).
Of course, certain parts definitely could have been cut down. The drama didn't need 31 episodes worth of time, and the first half felt stretched thin with office politics and a plethora of side characters. And while the second half ramped up the romance, it also brought in a load of family and company issues to raise the angst and subsequently my blood pressure. Despite that, I loved every minute and eagerly awaited each successive episode up through the wonderful, complete ending. And strangely, even though I'm usually annoyed by secondary characters, the ones in QOR also hold a warm place in my heart. Yong Shik's assistant, the dysfunctional team members, each were so endearing in their own way that I couldn't help but become fond of them.
Even months after watching I still feel giddily happy when I think of this drama, which is a sure sign to its true quality.
The Princess' Man
I think I've made it clear how much I loved this drama in my other posts, on the first half here and second half here. Perfect soundtrack, lovely cinematography, and rich, vivid plot and characters. Not only is this well produced, it's addictingly delightful to watch, which I find is often a rare combination (i.e. Tree with Deep Roots, which I get intellectually but never connected with personally).
I came in biased, as PSH is my enduring kdrama love, but the story and acting eventually more than won me over. Unfortunately, the beginning is needlessly slow, with lots of cute but little substance or hook. I wasn't invested until episodes 8-9, and if it weren't for PSH I'm fairly certain I would've dropped it. Thank goodness I didn't, as this is ultimately one of the best dramas I've seen all year (and in many years).
Sadly, nothing is quite perfect, although I'm more than willing to overlook the few imperfections in favor of the greater picture. One of the few qualms I did have was with how quickly Seung Yoo went from happy boy to death avenger (and which is partly why I think PSH's QOR character is superior). It made the story more interesting in spades after he transformed, but the change itself was a bit rushed and made me raise an eyebrow. It also seems he never returned to his happy original self, not even at the end. I love the melancholic vibe he held, but personally doubt that people can change quite so completely regardless of what traumatizing event. Still, PSH manned through it and I love him more than ever, and am thrilled that he's finally come into the mainstream.
And while I'll concede that PSH isn't the best actor, he always brings heart and charisma to his characters, as well as always having terrific chemistry with his female leads. In TPM, his emotional portrayals are gut-wrenchingly realistic and really made me feel like no other. I will happily watch him in anything else he does in the future, which I hope comes up soon.
Awards season, I'm waiting for some well-deserved recognition to him at last!
Me Too, Flower
So long as this doesn't end in a hot mess, I'll gladly say that this is one of the most heartfelt, genuine dramas of the year. It feels like watching real, beautifully fleshed-out people move forward with their lives and rebuild themselves. Adding on to that, the chemistry is sizzling, probably some of the best I've ever seen in a lead couple.
I'm not ecstatic about the angst post-episode 8, but I treat it as a necessary evil. The good parts far outweigh the bad, and while this writer sucks at creating meaningful story arcs, the character development and interactions far make up for that. Definitely one of the most under-appreciated gems of this year. Please please go back to cute and curtail the angsty misfortune!
I debated a bit on whether to keep this in top or middling, but feel it's directing and powerful storytelling definitely push it to the top. However, this is also one of those shows where watching it felt so fun and brilliant, but in the aftermath it slowly diminishes in luster and grandeur. In fact, it almost irritates me to hear people rave about how good CH is. I do admit it's one of the better ones for this year (hence the relative top categorization), but it's also fairly overrated and not something I look back on and marvel over, as I do with TPM.
While altogether a nicely filmed drama from one of my favorite PDs (Prosecutor Princess!), certain parts just overrode the general perfection. Those are:
- The snappy ending. I like a solid conclusion to my stories, and honestly it's an unforgivable directorial error to have had 20 episodes of super detail only to be left with mere minutes to tie everything together. We could have cut out that last conspirator's plotline in half and made time for a great ending instead of ramming everything together in the last 5 mins.
- Boring, cheesy, slow beginning. One of my biggest pet peeves in any movie/show is when they have people who are obviously not the right age play their younger selves. I cringed at it in Hugo (the old magician and his wife playing 20 years younger - I thought they had a big enough budget for some CG or younger actors?) but generally accept it as unavoidable in Asian dramas. That doesn't mean I have to like it, and usually I ffwd through such scenes. Which is what I did here, and why it took me a while to work out the whole past history backdrop.I mean, they just didn't even make an effort. The mom at 20 looks the same as she does at 40, down to the very hairstyle, as does Jin Pyo. Lazy is what I call it, and I almost stopped watching right there. And the whole Thailand portion? Lots of meaningless running and filler set-up. Thank goodness the story went up from episode 2 on.
- The father-son conspiracy with the president. It felt very reminiscent of the final twist in 49 Days, albeit handled better. I just didn't care for it. Yet another way of filling up time, only here it was just tacky and unnecessary, since we had way more interesting plot points already built.
- Nana. Yeah, she's kickass, but something about her felt particularly fake, like watching an undoubtedly fictional persona onscreen and trying to pretend it's real but never quite succeeding. Maybe because Park Min Young's so gorgeous, but Nana never felt like a true person to me. Rather, she's like the Barbie-doll woman most men dream about, with not only looks but also athleticism and success. She's so perfect and goody-goody that it turned me off. Real people have imperfections besides being poor, and I would've liked to see her fleshed out more in that respect.Not to mention she was super naggy in the beginning. That bad start just kind of diminished things even after it got cute, because she spent so long misunderstanding and judging Yoon Sung (without much reason aside from thinking he's a player), that it felt fake once she became nicey nice to him. Why, because he kicks ass too so you two can be the perfect asskick couple? The acting also fell flat, with PMY obviously reciting many of her lines (particularly in the naggy start, but also later on in the goody phase)
- Annoying side characters. The president's daughter, Nana's co-agent, all of Yoon Sung's colleagues. I thought the Blue House only hired top notch, what's with all the ignorant clowns?
Despite these issues, I loved the overall epic feel and sweep to this drama. The music - brilliant use of instrumentals, and while the vocal tracks were blaring at times, they were all nice on their own. The adopted father-son, prosecutor-vigilante dynamics were my favorite and were filled with complexity and raw realness.
Lee Min Ho - I want to love him, but something's just never clicked with his roles. Maybe because I've been annoyed by all of his leading ladies so far, so I hold hope for his future projects. He was perfect as Yoon Sung anyways, so that's what counts.
I loved the premise of this and the solid performances. Unfortunately, this didn't impart any of the fuzzies that I hold dear in dramas, but it was good for a super-dramatic and mature watch. Lee Da Hae has gained me as a fan. I only wish she'd more conclusively been able to get together with Micky's character, but I realized from the beginning that successful romance was probably a pipe dream here.
Kim Seung Woo and Kang Hye Jun were annoying, and I personally agree with the move to minimize the importance of their characters later on. Because face it, they were second leads, not psuedo first leads as they somehow had the impression of being. I came in realizing the latter, so it surprises me that others were somehow unaware. Seung Woo was a strong actor but a relatively colorless and predictable personality. Hye Jun was falsely cheery and goody two-shoes throughout. I feel bad for the characters, but I'm thankful the drama didn't dwell on them.
In Time with You (Finale reviewed here)
Despite my qualms, I do concede to the general quality of this drama, which is why this goes into middle rather bottom. I can understand why people love it, and at one point loved it myself. I'll probably not follow any of Ariel's future projects, because after 5 attempts I have unanimously hated every character she's played (with perhaps the exception of Love or Bread, but that was a snore drama). The crux of the problem lies with her shrill voice (great for singing, not so great for her line delivery) which either comes out slurred or unnecessarily high-pitched, and the numerous, hair-grabbingly annoying crying scenes, which for some reason irk me far more than any other actress'.
She does this face-crumpling, voice-screaming combination that just hugely pisses me off. For Ariel, acting often equates to making a lot of loud teary scenes. I respect her ability to call upon tears whenever it pleases her, but don't take any pleasure in watching. Combine this with the general selfishness of You Qing's character, and it's enough to throw a perfectly good drama down multiple notches.
Writing was obviously a key issue here, so I don't entirely blame Ariel for You Qing's suckitude. I concede to the general premise, since I personally believe that opposite personalities work out well in relationships, especially when one person is super hot-tempered. In that sense, Da Ren and YQ are perfect for one another, because even if she's a bitch, he's willing to forgive and overlook that.
However, unlike reality, their characters here are set at extremes. I don't think a real-life Da Ren would love a YQ to that extent. He would tolerate her and be a great confidant, but he'd also probably choose to love and date someone closer to his own personality rather than deal with her histrionics all day. YQ in reality would've ended up alone, or been set up for a low-steam arranged marriage with a patient, DR-type man, because ultimately that's the only kind that would work for her.
The love-her-no-matter-what concept nonetheless remains an effective draw for viewers, which may be why writers turn to it so often (aka Katniss-Peeta). Is it realistic? I have yet to see a bitch end up snaring a guy who falls for her bitchiness, so probably not. For friendships though, probably, since angry people are among the most amusing.
Directing was also middling and trying way too hard to be unique. Lots of visual devices had no purpose (such as all the reflections) aside from making the drama pretty on the outside. I still despise Sunny's character, and will absolutely not be watching any of that guy's future projects. I don't get his appeal at all, but power to him if others are willing to watch.
Lie to Me
I didn't actually finish this, but will include it since I almost finished it, and stopped somewhere near episode 14, when the writer shift threw me off. I actually liked how things were going with the original writer. Yes, a bit of empty fluff, but the cute was cute and the hot very hot. We don't always need meaty in dramas. Then the new writer came along and it crossed from cute to fake and overdone. We get unnecessary proclamations of love, our lead man undergoes a personality change (I preferred him snarky and hard to get), and there's an abundance of filler material.
This fits more into Middling than Bottom because I honestly enjoyed (and obsessed a little over) everything prior to episode 10, and maybe will go back to see the great OTP interactions in the final two episodes. I'm sad we haven't heard much of our lead actors since this, but will treasure the great chemistry and kissage they had here. The early music was also fun and strangely addicting. I hated the overdone soundtrack change later, when they went the conventional route of depression ballads and got rid of the fast-paced, trendy pop song from earlier. This mirrored the sudden absence of light-hearted cute and instead sappy typicalness, which contributed to me stopping.
Sunny Happiness (reviewed here)
Mike has been in better projects, but this wasn't too bad as far as things went. Some parts were draggy, but the story was sweet and his chemistry with Janine fun to watch. I didn't like the large numbers of cliche plot devices and angsty second leads used, but overall it engaged me and I fell for our main couple.
Not that great, but better than most of Taiwan's other offerings this year. A bit of harmless, cliche fun that I think in the early days of my drama viewing I would've loved, but now as a mature viewer have trouble getting fully into. Maybe I've become too cynical to believe in tropy dramas with so many very implausible happenings. Perhaps will work for those with nothing else to watch.
Boku to Star
I might be being generous, as the plot is terribly predictable and the characters shallow, but it's a fun piece that hasn't managed to piss me off yet. And it's also the only Jdrama I bothered watching this year, so that's some kudos.
Dream High (reviewed here)
I'll go ahead and count this as complete, although I skipped 15-16 (I did read recaps though). This was one of those I had to drag myself through because people kept raving about it, but that I never once found myself enjoying. Acting was awful, plot bland (and horribly predictable), and music catchy but not terrific. I'm shocked that it was so popular, because there's nothing ultimately super appealing or even original about it. And the recorded-over singing was just a cop-out. I thought the point of hiring idols was so they could actually sing? Instead, we get very obvious voiceovers on all of the performance scenes, since it seems no one was actually strong enough to sing directly (and they sounded hilariously different in the live show).
I also liked both Eunjung and Taecyeon way better previous to this work. Taec was so adorable in Cinderella's Sister (and one of the few redeeming characters), but his character here is terribly constipated and arrogant, with his acting quality matching. Eunjung was also refreshing and funny in Coffee House (I shipped her and Ji Hwan), but is pretty much a psycho bitch for most of this show. I didn't care for the manager issues, not because I don't think such issues need to be addressed, but because of how it was presented, as yet another plot device for redeeming a character we basically all hate.
Cheesy musical success story of high schoolers. So overdone that it's almost painful.
This was a great disappointment from the writer that penned my favorite kdrama of all time, Prosecutor Princess. Something went wrong, either in the flat acting or the exuberantly teary directing or the sheer lack of consistency in story pacing. It took a great deal of willpower to finish this, and once I did I regretted wasting the hours.
Normally I adore sad endings, but only if they're done well and not haphazardly tacked on like this one seemed to be. It bothers me when a drama goes schizophrenic and loses narrative flow and purpose for the sole purpose of dishing out controversy. I can see what wise message the writer was trying to put across, but instead, the final death felt like a cheap method of extending a 16-episode drama to fill 20-episodes.
The acting was also extraordinarily subpar on every level. It was histrionic and one-dimensional for the vast majority, even for the famed Scheduler that so many people fell for. He's cute and he was quirky and awesome for about 3 episodes, but the rockband-cool-eccentric-hottie act got old fast from there. And while I was initially excited at the idea of him and Yi Kyung being past lovers, their "last date" played out cheesy and over-dramatic (and talk about unrealistic).
Lee Yo Won did a fair job at the beginning, but became less convincing as the story wore on. She took the two-extremes version to present the disparity between her possessed and un-possessed personalities. One was a laughably happy ditz and the other a face-frozen zombie. We get that the two people are different, but the broad strokes used here to distinguish the characters made everything less realistic and the acting hammy.
Generally, lessons on death are a nice sentiment, but I didn't enjoy the sense of being force-fed it here. Yes, we get everyone dies eventually, and unless you live in a bubble, we realize that we need to part with the dead. A little more subtlety could have gone a long way, but the drama chose to substitute that for a giant hammer of repetitive plot and lots of tears. Tears tears tears - if ever a drama made me sick of them, this was it. Everyone cries, and for the same reasons repeatedly. Plot movement stalled all the way until the final 3 episodes and then went into crazy mode.
I dislike this drama, and while it wasn't the worst, it was among the most annoying. I'm not watching Flower Boy Ramyun Shop mainly because I still can't wash out the awful acting stench that Jung Il Wong put on here. I'm sorry, but my shallowness doesn't extend so far as to make amends for bad overacting and shallow characterization.
Material Queen (reviewed here, here and here)
Oh MQ. How excited and happy I was when you first aired. This just reinforces the importance of not becoming too hopeful at the onset, because disappointment can be painful and deep. I think my previous rants have probably covered my issues with this drama, so I'll leave it at that.
Just in general, since I never felt the motivation to finish these, you can assume they fit into the Bottom category unless I make note otherwise.
Padam Padam (Initial thoughts here)
I love what I've watched so far up through episode 4. It's very different, and romance feels both essential yet hugely overshadowed by the magnitude of this story. Which I think is good, since not everything should revolve around love. I'm hesitant to put it up in Top yet, because I'm positive the frustrations from narrow-minded side characters will make me stomp all over this drama later, but I can't fault the pitch-perfect lead actors, the lyrical story, or the easy, digestible pace of each episode. For now, a tentative Top rating, and I hope it stays there.
Hong Sisters and I haven't gotten along well since You're Beautiful. They're completely hit or miss (with misses tripling hits right now) for me, as I also loved My Girl but couldn't stand to finish any of their other shows. Gumiho was a snorefest of mediocre chemistry and humor, and similarly, this was just empty, forced-laugh-inducing fluff. I admit I'm a sucker for a good romance, so if I don't see the spark I see little reason to waste hours on the show. Gong Hyo Jin and Cha Seung Won just didn't convince me of their chemistry. They were tolerable on their own (with Cha being OTT all the time and Gong an underwhelming, annoying, self-pathetic girl in woman's clothing), but quickly boring and misfitted together. I'm also not a major fan of either actor, so there was little reason to stick it out too long.
Had they not had to go through that last minute cast change, I have a feeling I would've liked this far more. Cha Seung Won just doesn't appeal to me (I tried City Hall, but it was another fail), and his immature 40-year-old star character was unconvincing, from both a writing and acting standpoint. I can see how hard he was trying to make Doku Jin hilarious and appealing, but something didn't quite work out and he came off more dense and irritating.
I made it through 10 of these episodes, stopping once I became conscious of just how bored I was getting. I really, really wanted to like it as I loved YB, but it was a no go. Hong needs to step it up in quality, because empty-minded nonsense only works for so long.
Currently on hold at episode 10. This is one that I ultimately want to return to and finish, mainly out of love for Daniel Choi. The designer dramatics made me lose interest, but hopefully I can overcome that.
I'd put BFB into the middling category, as I really did enjoy what I saw. The chemistry between our leads wasn't the strongest, but it was cute, especially since I generally enjoy age gap noona stories. It got a bit slow for me, but it never turned me off.
Not sure why I didn't finish this, since I enjoyed the first 6 episodes. I think because I knew it would get draggy later on, and wasn't swept away by the romance. Two beautiful people together? Fun to watch, but here lacked a certain sparkle and heart. The politics seemed silly and unnecessarily dramatic even at this early point, and the second leads very uncharming and unattractive next to the leads. I didn't care to put myself through another angst fest, so happily opted out.
Drunken to Love You
Ended after 5 episodes, following the weaksauce lame excuse for a bed scene. It looked hot in the previews, so it was a sore disappointment to see that the most exciting part was the plot-pivotal button rip. It's not that I want graphic displays or anything, but please don't hype up a particular "bed scene" without having something to back it up. Sunny Happiness' was about 200000000x more intense and lengthy, yet they didn't go around the preview rounds harping about it to the extent DTLY did.
Rainie was excessively screechy here, and was a sadmop lovelorn girl for far too long onscreen. Every scene I remember was her screaming in tears. Silent tears people!! Vocal chords do nothing except annoy those around you. And I wanted to slap her at times to get over things - sure your guy dumped you, but it's because he's a jerkface, so what're you doing pinning it all on yourself like a naive pre-teen? Also, take a look at that awesome guy you've conveniently run into!
Joseph was cute, but I never felt that coveted male lead spark from watching him onscreen (unlike say Ethan Ruan, YSY or PSH). He was just the nice guy who conveniently happened to be there to witness her heartbreak.
I Need Romance
Got through to episode 13. I didn't finish this largely because I hated the lead girl and knew it would only get worse towards the end. Yes, I did spoil the ending for myself, but I believe this was a very smart decision, as my blood pressure would've likely exploded.
The premise and presentation are so quirky and lovely. The plot moves fast and is imbued with nice, sexy developments. However, the lead girl was like a sticky, self-absorbed bug that takes over and infests everything with her irritating presence. She starts off selfish but bearable, with a high maintenance but tolerable persona. From there she quickly descends into a whiny idiot who makes frankly unfunny and disgusting quips (pinning the fart on her young follower? Gross), to the point where I literally spent episodes mentally screaming at her to grow-up and stop being so immature.
Her comprehension of relationships truly is like an elementary-school kid's. She clings to her first love because he's all she's known, but then when the opportunity comes, she freely jumps to the second lead, knowing all the while that it's just an experiment in "romance." I never got the sense that she treated her second relationship with true respect or personal investment. Instead, she understood how much more the guy loved her than she loved him and used that fact to twirl him around her thumb.
The cheater lead and her are meant for each other in that sense. I'm glad such pathetic, self-centered individuals found one another because they would only make life for others hell. Shame though because I did enjoy the scenes with second lead man and her friends, who were interesting and fun without crossing into dumbass (except briefly in that river suicide scene - who are you at age 30 to not even understand the fundamentals of AIDS?)
Carrie was never so annoying or lacking in self-awareness. In Young, I would happily stab you, and indeed am thrilled that you're not returning to season 2.
You've Fallen for Me
I can't remember exactly where I stopped, maybe 5? It was just so boring that it became rather pointless to continue watching. Park Shin Hye and Jung Yong-Hwa were somewhat cute, but all the screentime wasted on shrill and irritating second leads (that skinny boy and that bitchy singer girl) quickly made me lose interest. And nothing was happening.
Stopped at episode 10. I loved Jung Gyu Woon after Dr. Champ, but this show got too random and campy. I don't care about the lottery ticket, and it frustrated me to no end to see people just toss it around. Cash it already! Plus the other maids were annoying and I didn't ever feel invested in their sob stories. The whole Sung Yuri masquerading as a rich version of herself was also a laugh. Wow, so I'm to assume the guy is blind and shallow?
This is, however, the first drama that I've liked Sung Yuri in. Her low-key, sensible and determined heroine was partly what pulled me through the first 10.
On episode 5. I've only recently started watching this, and am in two states of mind over it. One is in love with the dramatics, the morbidly fascinating dissected bodies, intrigue, and general tone of the story. The other sniffs in disbelief, because really, is Korea so very corrupted that people would lie over an autopsy of a celeb boy for political reasons? Some parts are also so overdone and idealistic, which is basically Park Shin Yang's entire character.
Go Da Kyung annoyed me when she first entered the show in her naive, loud-mouthed, irritating girl fashion, but actually grew on me in episodes 2-3, when she displayed resilience and intelligence.
I like it enough to put it in middling, and will do my best to finish it. If it's worth the time, I may even do a series review on a separate post.
Jade Palace Lock Heart (reviewed here)
I actually forgot I even watched this, and perhaps for good reason as it was essentially a plagiarized time-travel BBJX with Hana Yori Dango romance rammed together. I confess that I have a huge weakness for HYD plots, even though I know exactly what'll happen. It's probably my favorite comic of all time, and by default I'll love any Domyouji.
However, considering I did nearly forget this and have very little interest in Feng Shao, I can safely stow this into the Bottom category. I can't believe I even got as far as I did, ending somewhere in episode 20-ish and watching the last episode as a stand alone. I don't recall ever really enjoying it either, it was just a way to pass time. Ah C-dramas.
I wrote a review of my impressions earlier, and haven't swayed from there. Something between me and OG didn't work out, and I won't try to force it.
It saddens me to see what a relatively empty drama year this has been. A full year and only a handful of top dramas? I'm finally at the stage where I simply stop watching rather than force myself through shows I don't connect with, which is why the Incomplete list wound up so long. I suppose it's better to have more there than in the bottom section.
Nevertheless, the few treasures that did surface are fantastic and will remain favorites for years to come. While I wish things had worked out better, I'm happy with what I did see and hope to continue finding these treasured few dramas every year in the years to come.