I’m a big fan of order and routine. I sometimes think this is why I like Korean drama so much—once you master the key elements, everything about them is as straightforward as the basic geometry proofs I learned in high school. From their inevitable plot twists to the hierarchical social order tying their characters together, Kdramas give me just the right mix of predictability and imagination.
My love of consistency definitely impacts how I watch dramas. During the first year of my obsession, I patiently waited for shows to finish airing before I started them. This allowed for marathoning at my own pace, and meant I never once suffered through a cliffhanger; the resolution was only as far away as the “Play” button. The next year of my obsession, I started watching one currently airing drama at a time. Much to my surprise, keeping up with a new series was a totally totally different viewing experience. I came to the show without baggage, forming my own opinions as the story revealed itself. This usually isn’t the case when I watch an older show. Even though I try to avoid spoilers, I’m still an avid reader of the dramaweb. This means I’m always aware of other people’s opinions: Koala hated most of Mi Rae’s Choice, and practically everyone I follow on tumblr is in love with Answer Me, 1994. I haven’t seen a minute of either of these shows, but I’ll never be able to escape this knowledge—when I finally start watching them, I’ll be prejudiced against one and in favor of the other.
Keeping up with a new show from episode one, you come to understand it on your own terms. The existence of an unwritten future can make even a mediocre drama feel immediate and compelling. You’re not a passive watcher checking off episode after episode on your Mydramalist profile; you’re an active participant who’s invited to devote brain cells to conjecture and theorizing. And best of all is live-watching a show that has been adopted as a Tumblr favorite—everywhere you look are short, pithy commentaries and glorious gifsets of all your favorite moments.
So far I’ve live-watched seven dramas: Big, To the Beautiful You, Nice Guy, I Miss You, Flower Boy Next Door, Master’s Sun, and Heirs. They’ve been a pretty mixed bag—some were great, some were good, and some were downright bad. (I’m looking at you, Big.) But they all benefitted from a kind of engagement it’s hard to experience with an older drama.
For year three of my obsession with Korean drama, I’m thinking of being a crazy rebel and watching two currently airing dramas. I’m not sure how this will change my experience of the shows—will it mean that I like them both more? Or will watching two ongoing dramas divide my limited time and attention, making it impossible to appreciate each one as much as it deserves?
And here’s another question: Which two dramas should I watch?
The Prime Minister
This one is a must-watch for a simple reason: The only things I love more than Yoon Si Yoon are other people who love Yoon Si Yoon. I don’t want to miss any juicy commentary or fangirl squeeing...even if the show itself isn’t something I find appealing.
The members of the cast who aren’t Yoon Si Yoon aren’t particularly interesting, and I actually find the subject matter mildly repellant: It’s about a widowed prime minister of Korea (politics—barf) who takes care of his three children (kids—barf) while running the country. The show’s hook is that he ends up in a contract marriage with a much younger tabloid photographer. Hijinks ensue.
What I can’t wrap my mind around is how Yoon Si Yoon ended up as the second lead in this show. He’s been successfully playing leads for years. Was he demoted to second banana because of Flower Boy Next Door’s so-so ratings? Did he not want the commitment of a lead role? Was this the only show that would fit into his schedule? Or maybe he’s trying to make us suffer by forcing us to watch his character not end up with the girl he loves?
On the bright side, I have liked a few series by the writing team behind The Prime Minister—they’re responsible for both Winter Sonata and The Snow Queen. (Unfortunately, they also wrote the sleep-inducing Summer Scent and the universally panned Take Care of the Young Lady.) Unfortunately, this show seems more like a zany rom-com than the old-fashioned melodrama the team has handled so well in the past.
You from Another Star
Premieres December 18
This drama has it all: gorgeous actors, an intriguing setup, and some dreamy teaser trailers that feature an angsty shower scene and use the word “fate” a lot.
You from Another Star’s premise sounds like the love child of Queen In Hyun’s Man and Rooftop Prince, with a little bit of Twilight thrown in for good measure: after spending 400 years on planet Earth, a space alien falls in love with a famous actress. I could go for that, especially when said space alien is played by Kim Soo Hyun, who has only gotten hotter since he won my heart as Dream High’s bumpkin Sam Dong. Also promising is that this show’s screenwriter is the woman behind Queen of Reversals, a fun 2011 drama that was more than capably written. Most of her previous series have been longer family shows, though, so it’s unclear how she’ll handle a twenty-episode rom-com.
I suspect You from Another Star will be another entry in the recent series of pseudo–noona romances. Once upon a time, dramas like What’s Up Fox and I Do, I Do featured older women who never really gave up the position of power in their relationships. Nowadays, though, romantic age differences are largely unremarked upon, and younger men like Park Soo Ha of I Can Hear Your Voice end up in the driver’s seat in spite of their older love interests. At twenty-five, Kim Soo Hyun may be seven years younger than the actress who plays this show’s female lead, but this sure can’t be a traditional noona love story—in spite of his boyish good looks, his character is hundreds of years older than she is.
Premieres December 11
This show has a great pedigree—it’s from the creative team behind the 2010 drama Pasta, which was an extra-large helping of food porn served up with a side of easygoing charm. It also stars Pasta’s male lead—Lee Sun Gyun, better known around these parts as the velvety-voiced second male lead from Coffee Prince.
Its premise sounds like a good time: a group of fairy god-ahjussi mentor a local woman in hopes of making her win the title of Miss Korea, thereby rejuvenating their floundering cosmetics business. (It sounds a little like a safe version of Kinky Boots, doesn’t it?) The girl’s identity is an interesting twist: you’d expect her to be some Candy type, but she’s actually a former classmate of Lee Sun Gyun’s character. Once the most popular and beautiful girl in their school, things have fallen apart for her since graduation and she’s single and stuck in a menial job. Also a bonus is the fact that Miss Korea is set in 1997, my favorite of years, no doubt in hopes of capitalizing on the nostalgic success of Answer Me, 1997.
I worry that this show, like Pasta, will follow a meandering plot trajectory. Pasta’s episodic take on the workaday world made for fun marathoning, but I can imagine that it would be a less involving live watch.
In a Good Way
I’ve never live-watched a Taiwanese drama, but I might just have to start with this show. The magic words here are “from the production team behind In Time with You.” That show’s slice-of-life insights and unusually realistic characters made it one of my favorite dramas of all time, and I sure would love to see another series like it.
The plot synopsis is vague but intriguing: in 2005, a girl looks back on the formative year of 1995, when she followed her childhood friend/first love to college. Only four episodes have aired, but it’s already receiving positive buzz on the dramaweb.
***So what say you? Which drama should I watch in addition to The Prime Minister? Voting is open for the rest of the week in the poll to the left.