Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What next?

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
Currently airing
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.

Miss Korea
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
Currently airing
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.


  1. I can't decide and I am going to watch all of them but I hear In A Good Way is great so I would go with that or Miss Korea because you can never have too much of Lee Sun Gyun's voice

  2. As a drama newbie I'm still processing the different experiences of marathoning vs live-watching. It's fascinating. I'm still blown away by how it's possible for me to love Mirae in parts, and yet be very disappointed with the whole in a way that doesn't diminish my love for that drama's parts. I think that may have something to do with me live-watching it. If I had marathoned it, would I feel the same way?

    Oooh and speaking of tumblr, I just got myself one...and I think it will be the death of me. I laughed for two hours straight at all the Heirs-related gifs. Oy.

    And finally, my vote goes to In A Good Way. It just sounds absolutely perfect.

    1. Your first-time Tumblr experience is pretty much mine!

      I'm there too now and oi, definitely showing signs of death.

  3. I know that T-drama The Pursuit of Happiness is not included here but it's a pretty good drama (we have the same production team behind ITWY) and actually it's a lot better than ITWY. Loved ITWY, but TPOH feels like an upgraded version of ITWY! And also I've been loving In A Good Way so so much and it does take awhile for the drama to grow on you but boy oh boy, when it does, it really is drama crack at its finest. Don't let the era fool you, it's actually pretty good. I've been so in love with said drama until the extent that I'm actually live-streaming (and plan to continue doing so) the episodes simply because I was dying to know what's next for the characters. I'd say go for The Pursuit of Happiness and In A Good Way. ^.^

  4. I understand your decision about The Prime Minister. I don't see much reason to commit to it other than wonderful YSY. I am gonna skip it though, for more tempting options. My vote for you depends on (how I choose, myself) whether you want to be all-consumed or take it easy. I have two votes. One is In a Good Way. I don't know the cast but, from everything else I've read about it, it sounds like a must see. But, it's the kind of story that could cause lots of angst at having to live watch. I'm probably gonna wait for that one till it's completely aired. You may have much more determination than I, though. Or, if you opt for simplicity, my second vote is Miss Korea. It looks just as good from the team, story and awesome cast. I love love LSG but how come there's not more excitement about Lee Ki-Woo? This one just seems like more relaxed fun. When you do choose, please let us know why!

  5. Koala was up and down and then... up and down again on Mirae's Choice, so I would not take her manic reviews too seriously on this one.

    Mirae's Choice did not conform to the typical Korean Drama.
    If it fits in a category I'd say a Mystery-Time Traveler-Melodrama.
    Most of the negative comments were about two things.... it wasn't a YEH rom-com and her permed hair in the first half dozen or so episodes.
    Commenters just could not get get over these two items.

    The character development and acting was outstanding by all, it was by far the most engaging drama of the year for me and one that I will be re-watching just to find out more clues.
    JYH's acting this time was much improved and critically acclaimed... and although his character had similarities to Shinwoo of YAB and Lee Shin of Heartstrings, it was different enough to make this iteration interesting.

    I also suspect that the writer is being ostracized on purpose for focusing on societal issues too much.
    It was women's issues at a media network for Mirae's Choice as it was weapon dealers and American geopolitical opposition to a North / South Korean unification possibility in King's 2 Heart.

    1. ??? "manic reviews"? "writer ostracized"...? I hardly know where to begin, but I'll make it short. The reviews were manic only in that there were thinks to like, and things to dislike. The permed hair comments died down after the first few episodes. The acting was good, but the character development was not all it should have been, especially in terms of motivation. If the writer is ever ostracized (which I have not seen) it is because the plot did not make logical sense and had holes you could drive a truck through.

    2. Note that the permed hair issue did not die down until YEH did a fashion show sorting it... around ep 6, 7, or 8... not just a few.

      As for logical holes... it seemed to me the writer was consistently challenging our preconceptions of what should be in a typical drama, which this was definitely not.
      Doing so disturbed many viewers... and generated many strong comments.

      Yes... it would have been nice to see YEH use her excellent and popular kissing skills or her character as Mirae actually make a decision that wasn't rebuffed to complete the OTP.
      But this writer seems to have made it a goal to show that life doesn't always happen as one hopes, where what is decided and achieved is a good enough life. This would be true whether she wound up with PSJ or KS or by herself with her nephew.
      She also outlined the minefield of what a woman in the workplace has to deal with outside of maneuvering through normal office politics while trying to be successful at doing a professional job.

      I was struck by the large amount of netizen twitter comments it generated compared to the supposed ratings... which BTW are based on only 200 TV set households.... TVs only.
      Last November the US Nielsen ratings changed theirs to also include additional activity including streaming live and blog comments.... something Korea has yet to adopt.
      This drama was much much better than the ratings indicated, making me look at the rating system closer. Read the Vault's take on the ratings issue to learn more.

    3. ... sporting, not sorting, and ep 6, not 7 or 8.

      A fair criticism of Mirae's Choice would be that the writer made this drama too sophisticated for most, even if this was a mystery.

      The worst criticism I have is that all of the promotional reviews kept giving false impressions. If this was intentional, doing so was a mistake as I believe that this was the one thing that affected the 200 TVs and the resulting ratings the most.

    4. Hahahaha. Yeah, how dare you to criticize this awesome drama! The only fault it may have is being TOO good for you to understand it. :D :D

      Arawn out.

    5. Because I engaged it as a mystery I did understand and enjoyed it.

      Most other commenters were looking for a rom-com with one OTP and were so disappointed they needed to attack the writer for not giving them what they expected.

  6. Velvety Voice Lee Sun Gyun has probably won me over to Miss Korea. That, and my love of the movie Miss Congeniality. You're right about Pasta, though. It was fun to marathon, but I'm not sure how well it would have held up as a currently airing show.

    I've voiced my own displeasure with Mirae's Choice. I'm a huge fan of feminist overhauls of traditional romcom tropes, but if that was the aim, it was very poorly executed. My biggest complaint was that the writers didn't seem to know what they wanted to do for half of the show, so they just meandered along until they tossed something together at the end.

  7. Miss Korea... I can't resist The Voice. It could lull me off a cliff and I'd happily go.

    I haven't even read the plot descriptions of most of these. Sometimes, the less I know, the less I'll prejudge a drama. Then again, I'm sooooo up on the currently airing drama scene *hah* so maybe it's just laziness on my part.

  8. I think you should go about this in another way.

    Which show can you not wait x many weeks to watch? 2 months for Prime Minister and Miss Korea, 2 and a half months for You Came From the Stars, and a whopping (possibly) 4 months for In a Good Way because of the pesky one episode a week.

    Now you have to consider the attachment and eagerness/insanity that will come with these shows. Being [very] optimistic, let's say they're all good quality shows. Prime Minister and In a Good Way are breezier watches, so that will mean that you are less likely to be clamoring for tidbits throughout the week and you can resume normal humanly duties like work and chores. Miss Korea and Stars are supposed to have more melodrama inherent in the story which can lead to obsession. The only thing with this theory is that the heart wants what it wants. You can't really predict what you'll fangirl about in three weeks.

    Something else to consider is public viewing. Half the fun of live watching a kdrama is obsessing en masse. It makes bad shows funnier and good shows better. You can think about which drama will have the biggest fan following. Personal biases also come into play here (Kim! Soo! Hyun!)

    The last thing I would consider is the days on which the shows air. Stars and Miss Korea both air on Weds-Thurs, but if you were to watch one of them along with either Prime Minister or In a Good Way, you would have a steady 3-4 day stream of new episodes a week, instead of having to wait 6 days every week.

    This has become long winded, but I only mentioned it because I've thought of it all before. You can pick the dramas out of a hat and probably still have a satisfying watching experience.

    Also! I'm so excited for the new I Need Romance, you have no idea. I will follow Sung Joon anywhere after Shut Up Flower Boy Band.

  9. I swear sometimes I wonder if we're sharing a brain. I started watching dramas at the same time, the same month you did. 3 years ago, August. I have also just recently started to watch 2 live airings instead of 1. For my next set I'm going for Prime Minister and Miss Korea. We are watching for different reasons though. I'm watching Prime Minister because I LOVED the lead in History of the Salaryman (it's still the only tongue in cheek drama I've ever seen). I'm watching Miss Korea because I like the actor everyone calls "The Voice" (I call him Diego. I have my reasons.)

    1. I did however read your comments about Prime Minister and I. I think all of the stuff about him being this super handsome dashing guy is supposed to be funny. The actor is known primarily as a comedian, so keep that in mind. In History of the Salaryman one of the jokes was that he was the ordinary schmoe who finds himself in the middle of all of sorts of corporate intrigue and seems to always screw up, but somehow comes out on top every time. There is a great scene where the foul mouthed heiress is telling her father how handsome and sexy she thinks the schmoe is and her father is just staring at her like she's lost her mind. Like I said, it's the only tongue in cheek drama I've ever seen. Maybe this will be the second? I mean, they say people call the character the Lee Byung Hun of...something or other. Have you seen a picture of Lee Byung Hun? There is no way that's not supposed to be funny.

    2. By any chance, do you refer to him as Diego because of the movie Ice Age? I don't know, but that's what comes to mind.

    3. Nope, totally unrelated! He just looks *remarkably* like someone I know named Diego.

  10. I started on Prime Minister and Let's Eat despite my already huge pile of dramas on my currently-watching list. Prime Minister is actually zippy and fun with the right amount of mystery and is peppered with interesting characters. I've never been a fan of Yoona as an actress, so I'm quite pleased with how she's doing so far (as of the first episode). And curious enough, despite the 20-year age gap between Yoona and Lee Beom-soo, they do have chemistry.

    1. I'm really enjoying Prime Minister, and I wish Let's Eat was on more than once a week. These 2 and Reply, 1994 are my favorites right now. Beautiful Man is pretty good as well. I find myself cracking up often.

  11. I've been watching (and enjoying) "Beautiful Man". I've found the show to be quirky and fun- as well as being chocked full of interesting wardrobes! IU's character's clothes are crazy-interesting and a certain male-lead's hair continues to be controversial. heehee… This may be the first drama that I've watched as it was airing during which I've had second male lead syndrome. It's kind of nerve-wrecking not knowing who is going to end up with who- but exciting/intriguing as well!
    "You from Another Star" is the next to-be-aired that I've had my eyes on, but I'm also working on some completed dramas as well. *sigh* So much to watch, so little time… Isn't it wonderful? ^^

    1. I'm enjoying BM too. I was going to chuck it if it was anything like Playful Kiss but all the characters are a hoot. I love how Botong and David are so crazy weird but totally get each other. My first time having second lead syndrome too. ^^
      I'm not really interested in any of the Kdramas mentioned for the very shallow reason that I don't like the lead actresses or their character descriptions. So I'm going with In A Good Way.

  12. You From Another Star and In A Good Way both look interesting to me. I adore Lee Beom-soo after History of a Salaryman, but he's the only hook for Prime Minister and I for me. I don't find him good looking at all, but he's such a good actor it doesn't matter. I'm guessing he's first lead here because Yoon Shi Yoon's too young to believably play a prime minister, even for a kdrama?

    Btw, are you planning on holding another live watch anytime soon? I'd love to watch In Time With You or In A Good Way together (or rewatch White Christmas).

  13. New reader here, loving your posts! I watch mostly Taiwanese dramas but I'm looking for good Korean dramas after falling in love with Queen Inhyun's Man and your opinions will be a fantastic field guide :-)

    I gotta agree with what you say about live-watching. 就是要你爱上我/Just You is in retrospect a middling series of cliches, plus a barefaced tribute to the tried and tested method of beautiful people over-acting. Very bland overall. But live-watching erased my sense of discernment and my brain was all "OMG, BEAUTIFUL people, AMAZING characterisation, SO FRESH AND ORIGINAL!!, WILL THE KISS WILL FINALLY COME IN THE NEXT EP??" :p I think the only time watching post-airing works is for shows like Autumn's Concerto, which comes across as an addictive story rather than a collection of episodes. The cult-like status it has acquired (at least here in Singapore) doesn't hurt either — feels like a walk through nostalgia even if this is my first time watching it :-)

    Btw, if you are looking to watch a muted tone, I highly recommend The Pursuit of Happiness. It's supposed to be like In Time With You, except I hated that because Ariel Lin looks like a parrot.

  14. "The members of the cast who aren’t Yoon Si Yoon aren’t particularly interesting,"---thats a quotable quote lol, might have to tweet you said that hahahaha! That was my exact reaction to the show.

    He is NOW listed in the second lead spot on cast listings, but he was not previously. I found that interesting.

    I select Man From Another Star. I have a feeling that is going to have the most heat and chemistry then we have see all year. Which basically means they could just breathing heavily or licking their lips and it might be hot, based on the lack of heat this year lol.

  15. Oh, and YSY was on Barefoot Friends and it was cancelled. UEE was on it too, and right before it was cancelled, both UEE and YSY were suddenly cast in dramas. My guess is he jumped on having a job as soon as he possible.

  16. I started Prime Minister and I simply because I have no drama to watch at the moment (I KNOW! How is that possible?) and finds it surprisingly zippy and fun. So far. Lee Bum Soo has never been my favourite ahjussi but he looks fine in there and Yoona has never been my favourite idol-actress but she kinda makes me laugh. And after two episodes, I am sort of looking forward for the next episode so I take that as a good sign.

    And I am going to watch Man From Another Star too! Wait. I'm not being very helpful here.

  17. I am watching Heirs and Secret as new shows as they are airing. I am behind on Secret but now that Heirs is wrapping up I'll catch up. It is soooo good. Heirs was all hype as far as I am concerned. I always re-watch a favorite and an older show I haven't seen before. I currently have 7 shows I am juggling. When I'm watching one I want to keep going to the next episode but then I look at the others and want to watch them too. I worry that I will forget the story line but it always comes right back! I'm never out of dramas to watch!

  18. I'm also currently watching Prime Minister and I, and it was unexpectedly quite good. Not great great - but that's basing on the first 2 episodes.

    Anyway, out of all the other 3 dramas you mentioned, I think You From Another Star would be the better, not just because of the hype it's been receiving, but because I think Kim Soo Hyun and Jeon Ji Hyun have sizzling chemistry (I couldn't get enough of them in film, The Thieves).

    You From Another Star seems to hold the most appealing plot (to me at least) from a trusted team working behind the scenes. But... on the other hand, if the drama happens to be so dang good that you might end up insane by the end of each week, it's also not a bad idea to leave the drama until it finishes airing so you can marathon it! I'm planning on marathoning it.

    I can't work with currently-airing dramas. If it's too good, it drives me nuts each week, but then I start to lose patience, and eventually I lose interest in the drama itself which ends up being dropped (even though the drama was legitimately good + enjoyable).

    Anyway... my conclusion is, if I were you, I'd probably pick the second-most-appealing currently-airing drama. So good luck! ^_^

  19. Huh. I LOVE Prime Minister after 2 episodes. Finally again a drama that makes me impatient for it's next episode! I don't mind the age gap in the least and in the show universe it's not even that big, 14 years. But I've always liked older guys more. I feel they are MEN whereas men under 30 tend to be still boys. ;)

    But of course my ahjussi love is not the only or even a main reason for my love for this series. It's well acted (even Yoona), it's funny and wacky and I like both leads very much. It's rare for me to like female lead because they're either sappy bags like in Heirs or candycandies and I don't care of those types. Da Jung is refreshing because she's resourceful and even pushy without being stupid or annoyingly stubborn. I also like Yul's snobbiness which makes their interaction both hilarious and sparky. I cannot WAIT for them to fall for each other. How they both will be horrified at first. :D

    Side characters are not as interesting but there's promise there, too. There's a mystery around In Ho and I have hopes for second lady. She'll either descent into villain category trying to stop OTP from being together or she'll get over her feelings and will be a woman of her own. I really wish it to be the latter, previous would be so cliche (although possible, of course, as it often happens in Korean dramas).

    But, anyway. I'm so excited about this drama! HOORAY!!!

  20. I'll probably start to watch the first two of your suggested dramas though I'm currently watching another two. Empty space between airing of new dramas I'm filling out with something "old". Also, try Empress Ki, show is very promising and cast is amazing...

  21. Heirs was my first live-watch from beginning to end. I know I will watch Miss Korea live and I think I might also watch You From Another Star as well.

  22. In a good way. On my way to browse and download it, since i am an In Time With You lover.
    Thank you for the information :)

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