The problem and joy of being a new-ish drama fan is that there are hundreds of great dramas to watch. You should see my To Be Watched list. Its a little overwhelming! This year, I tried to balance watching hot new dramas (so I can participate in all the discussion around them), with the older dramas everyone tells me I absolutely have to watch. So, while I watched quite a few dramas, I didn’t get to all the 2016 things I wanted to get to. While you were watching W, I was probably watching something like Healer or Sungkyunkwan Scandal.
I did get to some great 2016 ones though. Dramas that stuck in my mind and didn’t require a lot of scrambling around to remind myself about their plot points. I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers, this includes giving away the ending, so I apologize in advance if some of my “reviews” seem vague. So, without further ado, my top three dramas of 2016!
In general, my preference is for light, fluffy, romantic dramas. I like to escape. But I loved Signal. I couldn’t wait for the next episode. It had a really interesting idea that the writers and cast made me believe. At no point did I ever think, “This walkie talkie thing is stupid.” The writing and editing were clear – I always knew what was going on when I was supposed to. Time travel plots can really dig themselves a hole – I was braced for paradoxes – but I thought they had a good set of rules for their universe. And, even with this power, the radio didn’t solve all their problems – for every action, there was a consequence. And while this was a crime drama, there was an excellent balance of mystery, suspense, horror and humor. Even a touch of romance. Just when the story had me wound so tight I wasn’t sure I could take much more, the writers would give me a break with something sweet or funny.
The music was amazing – the opening song really set the mood. The filming was atmospheric. Each of the characters was well developed, even the villains, with understandable motivations and backstories. I loved the female lead, played by Kim Hye Soo. We get so few believable and multi-dimensional strong women in dramas (Though that seems to be getting better recently!). She looked and acted like a cop, but had her own history and baggage. It was also refreshing to me to be watching a male lead, played by Jo Jin Woong, who wasn’t my usual Flower Boy. He was amazing, and I commented to myself several times (I talk to myself a lot during shows) about what a good actor he was. Also, Lee Je Hoon (and his nose), as the second male lead, filled my need for eye candy while still skillfully delivering his own performance. And, because I wouldn’t be me without mentioning an idol, SF9’s Chani played Park Seon Woo [Lee Je Hoon’s brother]. He’s wonderful.
Another Miss Oh started with a bang for me. I was caught up in the heartbreak from the very first scene, and basically had no emotional distance through the rest of the episodes. It was full of tropes – grouchy male lead, evil mother, loser brother/friend, the ex-girlfriend who wants him back, dead parents – but none of them bothered me. I’m not sure if it was because they were given just the right twist, or if it was the acting, but for the most part each of them added something to the story. I didn’t hate the other Oh Hae Young – her story was not quite what I expected. In fact, the whole show didn’t go exactly where I expected – it did some interesting curves and zig-zags that made the ride pleasurable. There was this strange supernatural element that the plot picked up and dropped occasionally that made the story deep, I guess? The romance was relatively adult – there was actual relationship, some amazing kisses, and sexy times.
I loved the colors they used in the scenes and settings. Its one of the things I remember clearly. I also really enjoyed the sound engineering part of the story – so interesting! All of the actors/characters were charming – even the little side ones. And though I wasn’t a huge Eric fan before this, he suited this role, and his chemistry with all the characters, not just the female lead, really helped make the show. My favorite part may have been the bizarre and awesome sister, played by Ye Ji Won – French speaking, badass, lush that she was.
I didn’t hear a lot of talk about Neighborhood Hero and it surprised me. It was a really fun combination of action/spy/caper. The plot wasn’t new, but the story was told well. I am not afraid to drop a drama – there are too many good ones to waste time on a bad/boring one – and this one kept my interest till the end. The fight sequences were particularly excellent. And the political machinations weren’t too confusing. I freely admit that I usually sort of space out during those parts, so it’s important that the writers keep that crap streamlined.
The best part, and the part that was a little unique, were the characters. You wanted to know who these people were and you cared about their stories. The character development and plot twists may not have been revolutionary, but they managed to surprise me a couple of times. Our hero, played by Park Shi Hoo, was appropriately handsome and spectacularly ab-y. It was my first time seeing Lee Soo Hyuk as a good guy, and I loved him playing an earnest puppy. More puppy Lee Soo Hyuk! And the villain, played by Yoon Tae Young, was compelling. He’ll stick in my head probably longer than anyone else. Overall, I was very satisfied with the whole package.
Go Ho’s Starry Night may be one of my top 3 shorties (and I’ve watched a lot of them). The production values were high, the acting was good, and, taking into consideration this is a web drama, the story was well constructed. I’d have dated/slept with almost all of the guys, but I never once had second lead syndrome. The boss, played by Kim Young Kwan, wasn’t the kind of jerk-turned-hero that I hate. He was more a Mr. Darcy – arrogant and unpleasant initially for reasons of his own, but really a good guy underneath. Our female lead, played by Kwon Yuri, was likable, and I only rolled my eyes slightly at the fact that all the men were interested in her (Kdramas have beaten me down, y’all. So many things no longer bother me). I loved her bestie, and enjoyed the positive female relationship. I will re-watch this at some point.
Here are the two dramas on my 2016 list that make me go Ugh!
Cinderella and the Four Knights started so strong! The first four episodes had me telling everybody they should watch it (I’m sorry, everyone!). Handsome Jung Il Woo, who has chemistry with a post, was only just meh with the very cute female lead, Park So Dam. She would have been much better off with either of the other two brothers – played by Ahn Jae Hyun and Lee Jung Shin – they were way more fun. And then, there was the second female lead. Normally I can ignore them, but she was a distressingly large part of the story. I found her personality and plotline obnoxious, and when I saw she was going to be rewarded for it, I was pretty bent out of shape. Then, with only 4 episodes left, I unfortunately saw some people complaining about a radical change to one of my favorite characters. That was the final nail in the coffin. I walked away without a backward glance.
Moorim School had such a terrific premise! I was ready to forgive it for a lot of sins, but it was a mess. The acting was terrible. The production fakey-fakey. The magic, which they used to sell the story, only appears briefly. The plot was overcomplicated and overdramatic nonsense, and they ruined the bromance. All they needed to do to keep me happy, was have Hongbin and Lee Hyun Woo be adorable together for most of the episodes, and show their abs occasionally… Sadly, this was not the case. I dropped it halfway in, with no regrets.
All that being said, it was actually a very good year for dramas! I was pleased with a large portion of the things I chose to watch, and I really think the quality of dramas is improving exponentially. I am also noticing more strong and complicated female characters, which makes me happy. I’m looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us! Happy New Year and happy watching!