The Year That Was – 2014 Volume Uno: Best of K-Dramas

Wow, hard to believe but this marks just over 1 year of hardcore drama watching.  First exposed to Secret Garden via Netflix a couple years ago, it took some time (and free time) in order to finally jump in to the magic of Kdramaland.  I come to this “official kdrama watcher tag” by my first experience live-streaming, aka watching shows that haven’t been recommended in some critical consensus because they are still airing, which can also mean #loomingdissapointment.  But I’m in no position to complain, as my first “live” drama just happened to be the small, modest You Who Came From the Stars.  I like the symmetry that my first drama and first live drama just happen to be the most popular trendy dramas of the past 5 years.

yoo in ah

Key to crazy drama hits – Yoo In Ah?

Both set viewer records domestically and abroad, while proving their worth far after the final episode through parodies, tours, references, and commentary from news outlets.  At this point you may be thinking, “wait, I thought this post was going to discuss the year’s best dramas, not some girls experience watching massive hits.” Well if y’all would just calm down, my stream of conscious thoughts will eventually catch up so take Xanax and chill/scroll down.

AAA secret garden from the stars

My misappropriated point is this.  With both shows I was giddy for watching/experiencing something new.  The former being a K-Drama or long-form rom-com and the ladder being the feeling of watching a drama with an international online community, all while only barley grasping how huge the show actually was.  Thusly, my biased for these shows were/are obviously impacted.  Both shows have many problems that keep if from being a “perfect drama”, and yet I shall look upon these dramas with fondness and happy nostalgia pains for all that it lead to, namely this blog and the online drama community.

With all that sappiness outta the way let’s move onto the the good, bad, and ugly of 2014 in dramaland.  This year I watched 18 dramas.  I count watched dramas as anything where I watched the majority of episodes in 2014, either by calendar dates (Pinocchio), or it was so bad I dropped (Greatest Marriage).  Two currently airing dramas I’m loving, (Healer and Valid Love) won’t have enough episodes aired in 2014 to allow inclusion, but considering my happy dance when each episode is uploaded, expect their inclusion for 2015’s list.

Honestly I’m not sure If I could ever see myself completing more then 20 dramas (live) annually because there is whole lotta crap to wade through in order to get the gems.  Though when you do find those few precious few shows that surpass expectations, it can make any so-so year feel suddenly one to remember.

Because I feel the sudden need to acknowledge all these shows I put around a days worth of time and subtitle reading skills to, I’ve decided to follow the People Republic of Boulder suit and give everyone a trophy/award.  Like is my want, not all awards are created equal.  In addition, the shows are grouped together and in two main cate–, eh well you’ll figure it out. Onwards!

La Creme Fresh, Freaking Yes! (Worth Indulging in, So Get on it)

1-2. Secret Love Affair and Misaeng (An Incomplete Life) – Trifecta Perfecta (Acting, Writing, Direction) Oh What Beautiful Pain.

Secret Love Affair: Award: Drama to best represent the Rockstar lifestyle – Sex, Drugs Crack (of the drama variety),  and Rachmoninov.

This show. This freaking show!!! I’m a little disheartened that what seemed such a water cooler drama in it’s day, isn’t getting a ton of recognition come end-of-the-year.  Whatever.  It still never wavered as my favorite show this year with an piano drenched bullet.  I remember being initially hesitant with such a chemistry reliant premise, not to mention the icky factor that teacher might woo a student.   For those who carry similar fears, just give-in, because it’s a show about people who are neither ring-twirlingly evil or saintly innocents.  Also includes the closest thing will get to a female anti-hero lead in dramaland.  Plus a little piano porn never hurt anyone.

20140409_seoulbeats_secret-love-affair

Misaeng – Award(s) Best use of my nightmares played out onscreen/worst office setting and Best name/best Korean joke I actually got  (Geu Rae).

misaeng-2014_41611413950841

What can I say, pain never hurt so good.  This is a case where it often felt too real (especially the first 4 episodes) because we’ve all been Geu Rae, the newbie.  Whether in an office setting, work site, or classroom.  Misaeng captured this feeling of hopelessness and longing to fit in all too well.  But the greatest aspect about Misaeng soon became everything else.  How a subtly crafted world included such a deep bench of characters I care and think about still astounds me,  How many other shows can you name where the 14th banana can suddenly have one scene which captures his world view, and you will forever more be interested in his journey from then onward.  This drama may be called Misaeng but  it makes most shows feel incomplete by comparison.

Looking back at both these shows, I certain I never felt more emotions, pain, and ‘feelz’ then with this 1-2 punch of drama elites.  There didn’t need to be birth secrets, looming death threats, or 7th inning makjang antics to keep me invested.  Perhaps the best shows are the ones that feel most human, a trend I hope continues in 2015.

3-5. If I Don’t See Ya –  Good afternoon, Good Evening and Goodnight!  (Binge-able Classics) You Who Came From the Stars, Marriage Not Dating, Plus Nine Boys

You Who Came From the Stars – Though the fault in our stars is real, I just can’t quit you award.

As explained earlier, this show was far from perfect.  Namely the lack of me giving a rip about anyone besides Do Min Joon and Cheon Song-Yi.  I recently watched the first two episodes with a friend and had a severe internal struggle to not just skip forward to all the coupley and/or comic moments.  But what can I say, this show has me by the heel  and will always look upon the gleeful moments of how online/fandom culture can add to the watching experience.  Other benefits – Showed me that Jun Ji Jyun is and will forever be amazing, and Kim Soo Hyun is hot.  To top off the live watching experience, it included my favorite topical joke that could only be told in a live-shoot format: Cheon Song-Yi commenting on the Kim Yuna silver medal contervesy.  See guys? the live-shoot was worth it #sarcasm. OOoo and perhaps the only thing that gets overlooked in this drama, let’s talk about friends! I adored the respective leads friends, namely Comic book store owner, and Lawyer Min. Friendship y’all (especially female friendship) can this please be a 2015 trend?

YWCFTS - Song-Yi

#Not Sorry

Marriage Not Dating –  Summertime and the livings easy award – The definitive show to describe this season forever more.

Seriously, outside of holidays and gloomy weather days (hello White Christmas) there are few “seasonal” shows that I couldn’t watch at anytime.  What was it that makes Marriage Not Dating, turn Summer into a mood, one that can only be consumed while wearing tank tops,drinking lemonade, and sweating in your sans AC apartment?  I can’t help but think fondly of this show, thorough all it’s stringing along of the plot, annoying/plot-devicey side characters, and my inexplicable hatred of the second leads (yes that includes shirtless JinWoon)

jin woon marriage not dating

The cuteness, crafty editing, and energetic performances from our OTP really took over any remaining ill-will I had for the show (or that one goddawful song)*

*Okay now that its been several months since this song started to give me Pavlovian feeling of ill, I now find it quite it harmless enough.  However those first 20 seconds are tainted by the English spoken word, as this would always come on when the second lead guy (Yeo Reum) was smarming his way into everything.  Your abs and smile used for EVERY reaction were only the distraction to hide your complete doucheyness!  —Shipping rant over. Happy thoughts!

marriage not dating main coupleMarriage not dating otp

Plus Nine Boys – Most Undderated/Soundtrack for a hipsters Seoul/Best Poster/The Shut Up Flower Boy Band award for best, poignant endings)

Wow, Plus 9 had a great haul from me no? Granted, It helped that I watched this show upon it’s completion, meaning recaps and FF button were my comrads in arms, but it’s the outcome that’s leaving me feeling wholly satisfied so tis a win-win yes?  Benefits: Put a gun to my head and I would probably say it features my favorite OTP of the year, ya know the relationship that you would actually want to have as opposed to one crafted purely for melodramatic purposes.

+29 plus 9 boys

All this plus more indie music then you can shake a stick at. I’m talking like 250+ songs I now have in at a clicks reach thanks to the magic gift of torrents  the internet.  Also, dramaland probably may have a worse track record with endings then even US network television.  So whenever I find a drama that ends not only appropriately, but in a realistic way that sends off our characters while leaving you satisfied and contemplative, I must give props!  The ending was better then most of the previous episodes, making this drama go from average to a must-see.

6-7Faded Love to You- High School King of Savvy and Pinocchio

So that was supposed to sound less gross then it came across… Now both of these show are instances where they really did everything right on paper, but my short or long term fondness has waned.

High School King of Savvy – Office Setting I would most like to work in.

An instance where I absolutely adored the show during it’s run… but haven’t really thought about the show since.  (Of course that doesn’t mean I haven’t had a little Seo In Guk  on the brain because good god he is my spirit animal and own personal Adonis.)

adonis greek god of love seo in guk22

In all likelihood my over enthusiasm for HSKoS could very well stem from this drama finally ending my drama drought. With months going by since I found myself enraptured by the current drama offerings.  Regardless, this shouldn’t take away from very good show which cemented my super SIG fueled love.

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Pinocchio (Note: As of this posting I am up to episode 12) – Deja Vu Drama award/Plastic-y perfection (no I’m not talking about LJS face)

Can a show be everything you ever wanted, (it’s like the writers are systematically checking off my drama wish list to the North Pole drama gods) but when you end up with the final product you can’t help but feel a bit “meh”.  I wish there was a colloquialism to help me describe the phenomenon but I digress…

keep calmBe+careful+what+you+wish+for_ comic

I’ll refrain from proper judgement until the runner crosses the finish line, but I do wonder how different my feelings towards the show would be if I hadn’t seen writer, Park Hye-Ryun’s last drama I Can Hear Voice.  Putting it lightly, the similarities don’t end with a small-eyed, eye moled studded lad angst-ing all over the place.  This may seem like I’m down on the show but overall I have no complaints so far, and maybe that’s the point.lee jon sukpinocchio-lee-jong-suk-explodes-in-acting-quality

Benefits: I never really had a dog in this everlasting fight of PSY acting abilities, but I’m certainly glad she proved those haters wrong by totally owning her role.  Also, the writers are much more competent at telling character driven stories in a journalistic setting as opposed to a legal one.  Currently I may love every single character in this show,  so can everyone just get along if I bestow puppies upon them?

oprah puppies

8-9 Missed it by that much – Surplus Princess and Fated to Love You

Surplus Princess – Best comedic ensemble (The Salaryman Award of Excellence in WTF-ery)

Probably the most entertaining 1st episode I’ve seen all year, which featured just the right amount of hi/low humor.  If only it had kept that consistency throughout… Though I actually thought the emotional scenes were well done, and had things to say in dealing with unemployment for a generation of Koreans.  Yet, this drama suffered from a common K-drama ailment.  Denoumentistis also known as “dos last fuwh episodes were lame mon” (Yes that was my attempt to type in Patwah.  No I am not seeking professional help).  Still well worth the watch, if only because you can keep up with both the trendy dramas of the moment (via Princess’s many amusing references) and know the origin for the one and only apple butt.

apple butt song jae rim

Fated to Love You – Drama where you’re most likely to bond with your Fast Forward button/Recipient of the less is more award.

The tale of two halfs.  One is great, one is sad.  What say you, you lass or lad? “Lee Gun is Gold, but amnesia…so freakin’ bad”  – Emily Dickinson in training.

I fairly sure I skipped at least two episodes and I couldn’t be happier with my choice.  Another instance of a drama that could have achieved “greatness” but instead got in its own way. Perhaps this is a post for another day, but I truly believe 90% of dramas would be better/more efficient if they had 2-8 less episodes.  Nowadays  dramas seem to be doing a better job of moving the plot along ahead of audience expectations… but when the eventual fallout occurs it becomes that more painful and annoying to see it through.  Still though, the leads were cute, the surrounding family members a refreshing welcome, and included enough orange suits than you can shake a palm tree at.

choi hyuk fated to love you fated to love you jang hyuk orange

10 You Will Like…. Or Else (Cue ominous laughter and EVILL scores of Doom) – Liar Game

Liar Game – Recaps Required.  Best opening credits of the year!

For many, this was the best drama of 2014. Full stop.  Yet try as I might it just didn’t impact me in the same gut punchy way as some (to bring poignant probability into this review, the odds were not in my favor).

Sure it included two of my favorite characters this year in Shin Sung Rok‘s Do-Young and Lee El‘s viperous Jaime.

Liar-Game-10.10 shin sung rokjaime liar game

Certain story beats or missions could be super compelling, plus is the drama that may have best taken advantage of the 2x week airing schedule (with each mission or round taking place over the course of two episodes).  But I can’t shake the fact that I was never engaged as most seemed to be.  Some options as to why…A flaccid female lead, even if So-Eun elevated her to at least seem like an actual person, I am just past the point of dealing with these totally pure, innocent characters.  Another point of annoyance is when I realized that this show depends on it’s characters fitting into one of two molds:  either being the smartest person in the room, or dumb as dirt when it comes to owning some coins in the common sense bank of ingenuity.

Even if this cup of tea left me a lil bitter, I am so glad for it’s existence.  We need to diversify the kinds and genres K-drama can offer, and this show was a perfect, thought provoking example as to why.  Plus who doesn’t love a little math with their dramas? Jack Black would certainly approve.

NEXT UP – The less than stellar dramas I muddled through this year.  Get ready for spills, chills, and what my neighbors thought! Coming soon!

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