Dramas of 2010

Let’s wrap this up, procrastinator style!

2010 was a really good drama year for me. I tend to do this thing where when I get really bored with Kpop, I deviate to dramas. Last year was a relatively decent year for music, so my drama list was a little shorter. This year, in contrast, was a really bad year for music, so I found it easier to concentrate my energy on watching dramas.

I watched a lot of dramas this year. I’m usually not a person who keeps up with every single new drama, but this year I did manage to watch a new drama every time an old one wrapped up, so I’ve developed a pretty good sense of how the year in dramas flowed together.

LOVED

SECRET GARDEN is really a gem. I usually stay away from weekend dramas, because I feel like there is a marked difference in the intended audience and tone of a drama once it’s established to be a weekend drama, but that really didn’t affect this drama for me.

To be honest, there’s nothing about this drama story-wise that really sets it apart from all of its peers in the same rom-com category. Rich boy, poor girl, love/hate, blah blah blah. But the addition of Hyun Bin and Ha Ji-won take this drama to a whole other level. Had Jang Hyuk been cast in this, as per the original casting rumors, then this whole thing could’ve gone horribly boring. Hyun Bin brings a lot of depth into his character and it shows how much friggin’ range he has. Of course, I can’t just give props to Hyun Bin, because his character is a good character to begin with.

This drama is more than half-over, and while I know from experience that dramas can take a wrong nosedive just at the episode 12/13/14 mark, it won’t change how much I like this drama as a whole if SG does take that nosedive, because the first half was just so damned charming.

CINDERELLA’S SISTER. I feel like I’ve talked about this drama ad nauseum already, so I’ll keep it short and sweet: I loved this drama because it was a story about a strong girl. Whatever flaws the drama might have had — and there were quite a few flaws — doesn’t change the fact that this was a drama about the life of a girl who dealt with living a hard life. I love that what I got from this drama wasn’t a romantic storyline; it’s that there are all these little chunks in Eun-jo’s life that made it valuable to watch and valuable to consume.

I realize that I am a little more forgiving of this drama than I may be of other less flawed dramas, but I crave so much for there to be a Kdrama story with a hard heroine that I’m willing to overlook all the other flaws because there are just so few in existence. I guess I personally have high standards on what makes a personal admirable to me, but Eun-jo fit the bill, and that’s why this drama resonated with me. I don’t think anybody else could’ve played this character as well as Moon Geun-young did, so for that I am also thankful.

I think that there are parts to a TV/movie viewing experience, and that sometimes it’s not always just about how “good” a drama is from an unbiased critic’s point of view. Sometimes it’s okay to factor in what it stirred inside you as a viewer. This drama stirred a lot inside me, outside of how well-made, well-acted, well-directed this was as a TV production.

OB/GYN. I still haven’t gotten around to writing a post on this drama and many of you have asked me for my thoughts on the drama.

Basically, I loved this drama. I was kind of wary of this because this is a medical drama and I haven’t liked many career-based dramas. They have a tendency to try too hard to be like their American counterparts, and their efforts are really futile because nothing can be like an American serial, just like nothing can be like a Korean drama.

But what I appreciated about this drama was that it didn’t try too much to be like an American medical drama. It dealt with issues that are very specific to Korean culture, and it was just sooooo(ooooooooooo) refreshing to watch a drama based on issues that are always so taboo to speak about in Korean culture, like abortion, sex before marriage, and STDs.

I was afraid that there would be very heavy religious undertones to all the problems, but there weren’t! Korea seems to be predominantly Christian and though the country doesn’t have an official religion, Christian values seem to be wound very very very very tightly with Korean culture, something that always turned me off because I am not Christian, and all these very Christian values affect my ability to consume their culture when it’s so nestled into the vessels of their pop.

With that being said, this drama was very open about how there is a large population of Korea that abides by Christian values, but that does not mean that their way of thinking must be the way of thinking for everybody in Korea. It left the characters free to choose their destinies, so to speak. People aren’t necessarily bad Christians if they don’t abide by Christian values, nor are non-Christians destined to hell if they don’t do certain things. This aspect is really important to me as a viewer because I personally can’t stand it when Christians are pushy with their religion, and if that were the case in a drama, it would’ve been really easy for me to drop this drama because I feel no obligation to have to sit through preaching.

The stories were believable, the problems were realistic, and the solutions were really nice and non-judgmental and welcoming of people from all walks of life. I think that the strongest asset to this drama is the construction of the stories that told in every episode. The cast is decent, but they were not great. They were held more tightly together because of the medical circumstances they were put in due to their profession. That works for a drama like this, because a career-driven drama is more about the career, and can be allowed to be less about the characters in the careers. The people working at the hospital in this story are important, true, but what we’re watching for is what kind of people they are professionally, and it really helps that the professional aspect of this drama was superbly wide-reaching and indiscriminate.

While I originally watched this for Song Joong-ki, I can definitely say that this is one of my favorite dramas of all time, and is definitely part of my top 3 for the year.

LIKED MORE THAN I THOUGHT I WOULD

These are the dramas that I thought I would casually skim when I had time, but never thought I would like them as much as I ended up liking.

SMILE, YOU was…long. It was long and very weekend-drama-y, with the siblings and the parents and the fighting and the elders and the siblings and the family and the fighting and the fighting. But! It turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected because Jung Kyung-ho and Lee Min-jung had so much damn chemistry. They’re such likable actors that it’s difficult to not be pulled in by their easy-going charms. The story wasn’t remotely the best, but everybody in the cast grew on you really quickly and while this isn’t a drama you would necessarily marathon because you were just so fascinated with the story, the story was mellow and easy to follow.

DOCTOR CHAMP. So many…near naked bodies. I had wanted to watch this because of Uhm Tae-woong and Kim So-yeon. The story is not the sharpest, but the leads were lovely in their roles. Jung Kyu-woon is really adorable as a somewhat meat-headed judo athlete, and I like Kim’s integrity as a doctor. Her integrity is pretty much the centerfold of the drama, and it’s nice to see dramas that are rooted in a heroine’s story. Uhm Tae-woong’s character is surprisingly not as good as I thought he was going to be, and I felt a little too much like Uhm was trying to impersonate Hugh Laurie’s House.

STARS FALLING FROM THE SKY was definitely a drama I did not anticipate liking. I watched this because I really like Shin Dong-wook and I have a soft-spot for Kim Ji-hoon, but it turns out that the story was easy enough to follow and there was something compelling about the plotline and the writing. The drama kinda went haywire in the last 2 episodes or so, but it was pleasant to watch even though it was fairly predictable. And the kids! How can you forget about the kiddos?

DISAPPOINTED

BAD GUY was a drama I was keeping an eye out on, because it had the potent formula of starring both Kim Nam-gil and Kim Jae-wook, two actors I wanted to watch more of. Well, it turns out that the story was definitely ridiculous and borderline shitty.

Fortunately, I got away with a massive love of Kim Jae-wook. Not all is lost, I guess, but it did really disappoint me because I know Kim Nam-gil is not a bad actor. He got crappy material and it really lessened his character’s credibility as both a protagonist and an antagonist in the story. I know I was supposed to be rooting for him, but the reason why I should’ve done so was not quite there, and then on the other hand, he isn’t a complete villain. There wasn’t finesse in the writing at all, and I wasn’t sure of anything.

Kim Jae-wook, however, really worked with what he got. His character had less to lose as the anti-hero, so I guess the writer could take more liberties in painting the character, but Kim Jae-wook worked the shit out of his Hong Tae-sung. He was mean and angry, but also completely lovable and hilarious. He was believable as both, which was the miraculous part. He totally made this drama, bar none.

PERSONAL TASTE. Aaaahh, putting this drama on this list freaking kills me. Everything about this was supposed to be pretty perfect as far as Kdramas go. The cast is solid and the story had a hook. And at the end of the day, there’s not much about the acting I can complain about, but sometimes good acting is not enough, and this drama is a good example of that. I wanted more from the story and more from the characters, but towards the middle, the story kind of fell by the wayside and dropped into a puddle of poop. Certain things were really stereotypical and just felt horribly…counter-progressive? Like, who still tells women that they aren’t attractive women if they eat a lot during a date? That they must pretend to be full?

Maybe you think that I’m being picky, that I’m making mountains out of molehills, but I think that TV has an important role in teaching its audience members the values of the society from which it was borne. And shit like this is stupid to teach to girls who are already striving towards unrealistic beauty ideals. This is a pretty personal bone to pick, but I’m allowed to dislike a drama for personal reasons, and Personal Taste did not have the makings of a thoughtful story to me.

MY GIRLFRIEND IS GUMIHO. I’d say that out of all the dramas on this particular sub-category, I was the least disappointed with this one, but still, compared to how much more I expected from this drama, I was still disappointed.

First, when will the Hong sisters ever write persuasive second leads? Second, when will they ever write a well-rounded female lead? They are really, truly shitty with all their characters who not their main male lead. Their male leads get better and better with every drama, but their female leads get stupider and stupider, and the second leads get more and more irrelevant. It drives me crazy and ruined this drama to a certain extent because everybody but Lee Seung-gi’s character was slightly illogical, just a little too clingy, and did really ridiculous things just as plot contrivances.

SUNGKYUNKWAN SCANDAL. I never anticipated this to be very good because right from the get-go, I didn’t approve of the actors cast as the main leads. I had painfully watched Park Min-young badly act her way through the entirety of Ja Myung Go, and knew that she’s not one of those actresses that are ever going to be “good,” and I also knew Park Yoochun was going to be bad. I’m not really up to arguing with Yoochun stans about his acting skill because I just cannot see anything good about his performance as Lee Seon-joon, and you’re free to disagree, just know that I won’t be up for the argument.

So then what I was disappointed with was how generally lacking this drama was with every aspect. The story was really uninteresting, and the two good actors on the cast got really…nothing out of their characters. There were tons of memorable moments, but put together, this was not a drama I would’ve picked up on my own had I not been watching for Song Joong-ki and Yoo Ah-in.

MARY STAYED OUT ALL NIGHT. This also kills me. I had ended last year on a Jang Geun-seok note, transitioned into a Moon Geun-young high, and then swept into a pool of Kim Jae-wook. And then, to hear that all three were doing a drama together sounded like the drama gods decided to amuse me.

AMUSE ME THEY DID, because this is hands-down the most disappointing drama of the year. This is a good example of how even a superb cast won’t be able to jump over the pitfalls of a terrible drama if the writer had no idea what he/she is doing. I haven’t watched the whole drama, nor have I even watched half, but I shouldn’t have to watch so much in order to have to like it. A lot of people question me in my posts when I don’t like a show or a drama, almost accusing me of doing something guilty by not having watched enough of a certain show to get to its good side. It’s absolutely not necessary for a viewer to have to devote so much time to watch a show in order to find out if it “gets” good. It should be good right from the get-go, and I don’t know how “good” Mary gets in the latter three quarters, or if it ever gets good, but I jumped ship early on.

The cast was tight, the story was not, the characters were even worse, and all of this was a complete waste of all three actors’ supreme talents, because they are easily some of the best actors of their younger generation. I don’t mind light, indie-ish dramas that have wacky characters and scenarios, but things have to MAKE SENSE, and make sense they did not.

JAPANESE DRAMAS

Watched a handful of Japanese dramas, all in part due to Kimura Takuya. Started off with MOON LOVERS, because the premise was interesting and the hype was big, and then proceeded to watch a good portion of everything Kimutaku has done, which is to say that this stretch of Jdrama watching was not unpleasant at all.

I don’t watch a lot of Jdramas and am very selective about what I watch, so I usually like most of what I do end up seeing. There was a really big variety in what I ended up choosing: PRIDE, BEAUTIFUL LIFE, LOVE GENERATION and LONG VACATION.

It was really interesting watching Kimutaku progress through his career (and how he looked!) but this dude was really meant to act. Have you seen his eye emoting?! It’s off the hizzy. I guess he’s just one of those idols that needed that idol leap pad to leap wondrously into another career.

The dramas themselves were all a little dated, so there might somewhat of a disconnect with watching some of the stories play out, but overall, all of the dramas were really pleasant watches. Kimutaku is kinda great at sparking some kind of chemistry with all his female leads.

AMERICAN TV

Finally, I come back to America! Just playing.

I didn’t watch too much American TV this year as compared to way back when, but what can I say? I watched a lot of TV this year and found time for everything :D

I only watched two — TRUE BLOOD and NIKITA — but the thing with American TV is that once you get started mid-way with an older show, you gotta catch up, and three seasons of TB is, what, 45-ish episodes? Nikita just started so I can watch that weekly, but American TV can be pretty exhausting to marathon.

It was nice to watch American TV again, if not for the sake of seeing how TV culture is so very different than its Asian counterpart. There are things I was reminded of that I had forgotten about: the seasonal story arch, the episode-by-episode story arch, the suspense built into every episode, the making out and the sex (vivid. sex.), the way romances are played out, how different Western romance is from Eastern romance, gender/race dynamics, etc etc.

That being said, there’s no one format I like over the other. I do think the American format of a show getting a stellar first season, and then becoming really not that stellar in its subsequent seasons is a problem, because writers and producers are so full of great ideas and then they lose that steam, and then try to drag out stories unnecessarily. This is a case where I think the Asian drama format of having a set number of episodes is a really great idea. But then on the other hand, there are problems even within that, where Asian drama writers don’t know how to properly tell a story within a set number of episodes. So I know there are difficulties with both, but I personally think it’s easier to follow a story that has a set end-date.

But with watching American TV again, I’m reminded of how I prefer my onscreen couples to not be so conservative. This is a personal preference, and I’m not really taking the position that liberal is inherently better than conservative, but I think there is a certain level of batting-around-the-bush that I don’t like in Asian dramas. I know it has to do with the culture and it’s annoying when Westerners condemn Easterners for these ambiguous “you’re not liberal enough” ideals, but I just feel some aspects of onscreen romances are better off being more straightforward.

I did notice that power dynamics are still there in all romances, East and West. You still have the two men fighting over a woman, and one man being really possessive and laying “claim” over a woman (BEEL, please stfu). That was quite annoying. Power play is probably one of the inherent things built into human society’s men/women relationships, and it’s just sooooo hard to avoid that onscreen. It drives me bonkers.

I don’t want to go into much of what I thought about True Blood and Nikita specifically, because I’ll be revisiting the two in the future, but it is good to be in on jokes again ;)

– – – – – –

Overall, ’tis was a fruitful TV year. I like concentrating my efforts on TV because I think you can learn so much about a culture from its TV. I tend to over-analyze TV and take things much further than the average viewer, but I think TV says a lot about a culture’s ideals, desires, and criticisms, and it’s silly to think TV is not loaded with a bunch of meanings. It’s too simplistic to say that TV is TV and it’s not real.

Here’s to an even better 2011! And thanks to all the readers who have been so nice in reading my TV posts and rambles and taking time out to have conversations with me. Much appreciated :)

  • http://astromantic.org f

    but this dude was really meant to act.
    So true, especially since his singing is ATROCIOUS. :’| LOL

  • Cami

    Hmm…I mostly agree with you. The cast of Cinderella’s Sister was amazing (Moon Geun Young blew me away), but all the other important aspects of the drama turned out to be so disappointing.
    I love Secret Garden but…Ha Ji Won’s acting always seems to lack depth. It get’s really hard for me to watch the emotional scenes because she’s just not very good at them imo.
    And while I usually have ZERO tolerance for stupid female leads, I actually liked Gumiho. She had the guts to be open about wanting love/skinship as opposed to typical leads who stand on principle and resist until, like, 10 episodes later.

  • http://zero82591.livejournal.com/ Charlotte

    Mary Stayed Out All Night’s failure was atrocious. I was so. so. excited.

    But Hyunbin keeps me happy :) It’s always pleasantly surprising how the dramas you didn’t think had the slightest chance of drawing you in turn out to be the IT things a few weeks later.

  • WinniThe-

    Heyo, I stumbled on this blog while looking for Secret Garden commentators, and I have to say I agree so much with your reviews :) Although a lot of people seemed to tire of the slow pace of Cinderella’s Sister, I loved Eun-jo’s character and I couldn’t bear not knowing what happened to her next.

    The next drama obsession of mine was Secret Garden :D … but I was wondering what you thought of Joo Won’s behavior in episode 13 (I won’t include any spoilers if you haven’t watched it yet). Some of your posts do deal with the media’s unequal treatment of women (versus men), so I was curious as to what you thought (I know javabeans and girlfriday over at dramabeans.com did have a problem with it).

    Anyway, I found this post really helpful (now I might try Ob/Gyn), so thank you!!!

  • theleenbean

    yay, drama post! i’ve actually only watched one drama from this list – stars falling from the sky – which i liked well enough. the kids were cute, the leads were gorgeous, and i liked that the main girl had some common sense and self respect and a goal in the drama other than getting with the guy (all after the first ep, that is, lol).

    i don’t have as much leisure time as i used to, so i tend to be more selective of the dramas i watch, but i keep a running list of the ones i eventually want to get to (which inevitably gets longer and longer). it sucks that some of the ones that seemed most promising turned out to be so disappointing – personal taste and mary stayed up all night were two i was really excited for, but i’m not sure i can get on board with another dumb-and-incompetent-yet-good female character (no matter how much i love sohn ye jin), and i just feel asldfj;alskdjf whenever i think about mary stayed up all night. i mean, how could you have eff’d-up either one? gah.

  • http://justinecondor.com/blog Justine

    Loved: Personal Taste, Secret Garden
    Meh: My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (the second lead stories were absolutely horrific) and Siwon’s Oh My Lady. But then again I didn’t expect it to be good either.