On Air. What. A. Mess. If there were ever a show which would make you rethink your love of a writer—this is it. This is the sort of show which makes you look back on shows you used to think were pretty awesome and you go—oh those things I forgave before? I’m no longer in a mood to be so forgiving. But then again, within the mess you see the sparks of the other elements you love from their dramas—the seeds of what is to be (or should have been).
While I watched this drama (with Operation Kdrama Chat), it made me wonder just where it came in the filmography of Kim Eun Suk? Working backwards we’ve got, obviously, Heirs, then A Gentleman’s Dignity (which I loved like babies love fluffy bunnies), Secret Garden (which I really liked but had some issues with) but then what? Did On Air come before or after City Hall? Which, again, I ended up liking but had big issues with, bigger ones than Secret Garden. Why do I even care, you ask? Well, I’m trying to figure out if her skills keep moving forward. We all know she started with the Lovers series. Of these I’ve completed one (Lovers), which I didn’t love and have not been able to get past episode 4 of another (Lovers In Prague). So if On Air came before City Hall, then she keeps working upwards. While not perfect, she keeps getting better with every attempt. But if On Air came after City Hall? I may have to write her off.
There I ramble. But I’ll get now get back to the review.
What was so wrong with On Air? Well the flaws didn’t just lie with the writing—the acting was pretty sub-par. If it weren’t for the watching it in the group I might have dropped it after the first episode. (And then after the second. Or the third. Or the… you get the point.) Dear lord. That first episode. Between the Writer (the character writer, as if I never bothered to learn anyones names through the chat, I’ll be damned if I start now, so henceforth the characters will be known as Writer, Actress, Director, Manager and Ex-manager—who LaurieADGirl affectionately coined Ass-hat Manage) and her bug-eyed, nails on a chalkboard overacting, and the Director screaming out every last word in any of his sentences I had stirrings of ‘what did I get myself into?’
Isn’t it funny that the two characters I hated the most in that first episode ended up being the reason I stuck with the show? Their slow-boiling romance is something you don’t see often in Kdrama. It was one of those romances where you were excited for a handhold, a secret smile, until finally, fiiiinallly the kiss? What a payoff! Of course then the writer had to throw in one of these last minute breakups to mess up the one thing she had going for the show. Ugh.
Luckily our Director (the best character in this drama) was smarter than the Writer (both the character and actual writer) gave him credit for and stuck with her. Even more luck? The actress who played Writer reeled it in after about six episodes and dropped (for the most part) the overacting.
For a good part of this drama, I didn’t know how the couples were going to shake out. And I HATE that. It’s a personal pet peeve. One episode, it would lean Writer/Director, Actress/Manager and the next it would be flipped. And as I grew to like the possible pairing of the Writer/Director more, and disliked Actress, it irritated me to think Actress would win out on everything. She’s got all the money, accolades, bitchy attitude—AND she gets the cute, awesome guy?
I call shenanigans.
So I was happy when it was finally clear that Writer and Director were on their way to romanceland. That was as it should be. Of course I would have been happier if Actress had liked Director too—then we could have had a love triangle—and Writer could have beaten her at something. Wouldn’t that have been a better story? Certainly better than what we were left with.
One of my huge pet peeves of this drama was the fact that Manager/Actress ended up together in the end. What the fudge? This pair had absolutely no chemistry with each other. None. Not to mention, Manager was in love with Writer for most of the drama. But then we’re miraculously supposed to believe he’s not only in love with her, but he’s been in love with her for years? Did the actual writer forget she’d written that into the earlier episodes? That’s all I can think. Was this romance even necessary? I certainly don’t think so. We’ve got the romance between Director/Writer, shouldn’t that fulfill our romance kdrama quota? The Actor/Manager journey was just that, the two learning to work together, using each other to become better—the actress a better, more respected actress and the manager needs to become successful again. That is not only a more interesting, but more importantly, more believable plotline.
And why was Actress such a bitch? This is wholly unbelievable as well. We, by being fans of Kdrama, know a bit about the actual Korean entertainment industry—enough to know this type of behaviour would never fly! Act how you want behind closed doors—but once you’re out with others, you toe that polite, happy to be here line, or you’re out. No way would she get away with turning down the award in that first episode, she couldn’t be rude to everyone she passes, and even more—there is no way in hell she’d be able to pull the stunt she did during the first reading. They have press at those things! I remember just last year there was a backlash against one of the girls in Gu Family Book because she didn’t smile at the first read. Actress’s hostility/uncooperative behaviour would have been a big deal.
We know she was treated badly by the first manager, who knows just how badly, but is that enough of a reason for her to be so completely uncooperative? I certainly don’t think so. And when we add this to her supposedly having been in love with Manager since she was a kid? It doesn’t fit with the rest of the character.
I can understand her lashing out due to her fear of not being a good enough actress. But that one small part of her character wasn’t enough to carry it through. No, not all main characters have to be likable or even relatable but they need to make sense.
And I’m fairly certain I’m right about that.
As much as I complain, for the most part I liked the manager. I like that he has ethics and will not bend them even to get himself ahead. I also like the question the actual writer brings up by asking, can you be ethical and be a good manager? By being ethical are you servicing your clients in the best way possible? Or maybe Manager was just really bad at his job. He had failed once when his business went under, and it was pointed out he couldn’t handle someone as big as Actress. I thought there was hope for him when he convinced all the smaller independent managers to band together to create a more ethical company—but he abandons that as soon as it’s formed. He’s a quitter—that’s what he is.
He can’t handle, and therefore can’t be with, Actress if she’s so popular. So he runs away. Which gives us almost an entire episode of unnecessary sobbing by Actress. (Well, maybe it wouldn’t be unnecessary if I’d believed in the relationship even the smallest bit.) Then a year later, he comes back and she’s there, of course, waiting. His big plan for them to be together? Go the US, where he’s gotten her a possible audition for a part in a movie. Basically, she needs to give up her fame and money to go to the US and depend on him. You know what? Something tells me if he couldn’t make it as a manager in Korea, it’s certainly not going to happen in the US. And what if she gets popular again? He’ll dump her again, for her own good, of course, as they can only be together if she’s bottom rung?
So really, neither of them learned or grew during this drama. Sweet. Glad I invested my time.
So if Manager is a bad manager, does that make Ex-manager a good manager? Well, he turns his people under him into top stars, so I guess so? He’s still a deplorable human being, though. But here’s the thing. Where I see the actual writer did put effort into the other characters, she put in layers (with varying degrees of success) to them, but with the ex-manager, I felt like he was just a stock ‘evil guy’. Through those first episodes, where they were setting up the characters, there was no rhyme or reason to his evil. His attempts to pimp out Actress? His violence towards her her? He did this, all knowing her contract was up within days, and then became incensed when she didn’t re-sign with him? It doesn’t make sense! If anything, he’d take that time to be on his best behavior.
You know the most effective evil characters? They’re the ones who are the most relatable. When we can see their point of view. Here, he was all bad, all the time. It was an easy fallback, and with the effort Eun Suk puts into her other characters, she was better than this.
Yes, towards the end they tried to shoehorn in the backstory with him and the actress who committed suicide. But 1) it was too late at that point and 2) that storyline didn’t make sense either.
You know what that attempt reminded me of? That one random episode of Boys Over Flowers, actually it was just a single scene, when they tried to give the one member of the F4 without a storyline a sad backstory, where he freaks out on the bridge because he didn’t think he was as good as the rest of the F4. It doesn’t fit, is never referenced again, and therefore is kind of cringeworthy. That’s what this is. To bad, so sad, too late.
Perhaps it was her attempt to redeem the character in the end. You know, as Kdramas love to do as we can’t let evil guys stay evil…right? I did like how the character wouldn’t let himself be completely redeemed. In the end, he’s still going to do bad things, he still believes he’s the better manager, he still hates Actress.
Which is why it was such a head-banging moment when Manager asks Ex-Manager to watch over Actress while he’s gone. You know—because Ex-manager is the only one he can trust to do it. BULL-TICKY! If I could grind my teeth, I would have. Manager may not know their complete history, but he knows enough that Ex-manager treated her pretty horrendously. The characters don’t like each other, don’t trust each other—they said as much in the last scene they had together. But now they are best bros?
In the world of people both Manager and Actress knew, there has to be at least one other person who would be better at this? Off the top of my head I can think of at least two. One being Director, the other Writer. Neither of these people were good enough to ask for help watching out for this adult, fully-grown woman? Nope, you had to go with her arch-enemy?
Head? Meet wall.
You ask, why I continued watching this drama? Well, I’m a moderator at Operation Kdrama Chat, it’s kind of bad form if I bail. And two, as I mentioned earlier, I did grow to love Writer, Director, and their growing relationship. In the world of Kdramas it’s not often you get a regular guy hero. And, although this was a ensemble, I liked him so much I most certainly consider him the hero. Or he’s my hero. Usually Kdramas are filled with the big shots, the chaebols. Here we have Director, who is working up the ladder in his chosen profession, supporting his mother, and having to deal with having his wages garnished to pay for his brother’s debts. It embarasses him to be in this position but he doesn’t let it get him down. He’s a strong enough character to deal with Actress and her bitchy temperament and reign in Writer and her bug eyes.
Unlike the Manager/Actress pairing, we can see that the Writer/Director team are completely meant for each other. How do I know this? They bring the best out of each other. Director always has Writer’s back, and pushes her to move past the popular fluff she usually writes to the take the chance to write something more meaningful and deeper—even if it might not do as well as her usual dramas. Through his influence (or maybe the actress just got better), Writer calmed down and became a warmer, more open character. What does Writer bring to Director? Well, she has his back just as much, and I think she brings a lightness to his life that he didn’t have before.
Every moment with them, maybe because of the slow boil, was squee-worthy. Whenever he circled her work, how he wanted to be the first to read her work. Then at the end when he said, “I’m not going home tonight. I’m staying here?” RAWR!! He knew what he wanted and that was Writer—and he wasn’t going to be deterred.
I love how everyone underestimates him, thinking he couldn’t handle the fact his mother had worked as her maid, to the point that Writer broke up with him to protect him from the information, to do what his mother wanted, to protect his pride. Yes, his pride was hurt—but you know what? He’s a grown-up. He processed and moved on—wouldn’t it be nice if more kdrama characters did this??
It was irritating how we could see the plotline with the mother coming from about eight miles away. The realization of who she was, the issues she would have with the relationship. She didn’t want her son to be with a divorced mother, and she didn’t want her her son to be with someone successful, and she certainly didn’t want her son to be with someone she’d worked for.
You know. Because your son is such a catch.
Yes, he is a catch, he’s a catch to anyone who watched this drama—but thinking in the land of kdrama mother-in-law’s? Not so much. He comes from a poor family and all of his money goes to his brother’s debts. He’s just not going to get the sort of girl she thinks is best for him.
While I’m happy she finally gave in at the end, the line that she bought the engagement ring Director gave Writer with the money she earned as a housekeeper? Well, that’s a nice idea? But so not true!! She worked because they needed the money, not to save it for a rainy day. In the land of Director’s family, it was already pouring outside.
But in the land of Kim Eun-suk, everything must be wrapped up cleanly in the end. OR ELSE.
I liked the idea that our heroine (if Director is our hero, then as his lady, Writer, instantly becomes heroine) was a divorced mother. We don’t see that too often in Kdrama—probably because it is still pretty taboo. And if you don’t believe me, check out the drama behind the drama 1000 Kisses. I often wondered what the heck happened to her kid, considering she didn’t actually spend any time at home, even sleeping at the office. As Director’s mother pointed out, she’s not really a great mom, not even knowing who his best friend is, but I’m not entirely sure she learned anything at the end of this.
But since this was, technically, a workplace drama, maybe we just didnt’ see everything behind the scenes. Not everything was spelled out for us. And that’s okay.
OF course, this did leave us more time to spend within the land of the drama they were creating. Which wasn’t actually as interesting.
Now that I’ve ranted forever. Will I watch this again? No. Not even for the cute couple. Will I recommend this to others? Um. No. Is it really as bad as I make it sound? Probably not. While there were lots of things in this drama that drove me crazy, there were episodes—parts—that I really enjoyed. (Usually those were Actress-light episodes.) So I didn’t hate it. I’m just disappointed by it. I expected, hoped for, more by what I assumed was my favorite Kdrama writer.
If you’re looking for a drama about making dramas? Check out King of Dramas. Although if you’re willing to use the FF button—watch On Air for the Director/Writer storyline.