Q3 Pitstop: The Kdramas of 2016

 

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The gist:

Thirteen years ago, a naturally-smart but troubled high school delinquent found inspiration to turn her life around. Now a skilled neurosurgeon, she struggles to come to terms with her dark past.

The good:

– The hot cast (and cameos). When you put together household names like child actress-turned-Hallyu star Park Shin-hye and dashing leading man Kim Rae-won to lead a drama, there’s no question about star power and acting abilities. Then add trending actors fresh from their breakout roles – Yoon Kyun-sang from Six Flying Dragons, Lee Sung-kyung from Cheese in the Trap, and Kim Min-seok from Descendants of the Sun, plus amazing cameo appearances, and the drama is pretty much solid on the casting front. Each of them gave off a distinct charm, and there was effort to add more substance to their roles on paper. It was nice to see Park Shin-hye play a strong character. And Kim Rae-won was particularly awesome with his effortless acting style that suits his manly image.

– It knows how to attract viewers from the get-go. Buzzworthy cast, check. Leads starting off with a buzzworthy (read: controversial) relationship, check. Hot first cameos Ji Soo and Lee Ki-woo (make sure their stills are released to the press, and be very vague about their actual roles!), check. Reverse harem tease, check. Badassery and fight sequences, check. Romantic scenes, check. And the audience won’t stop talking. You’re reeled in before you know it, finding yourself at the end of episode 7. And no one can blame you.

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The bad:

– The polarizing lead couple. It’s a pair that you’d either love to bits or not at all, because of the circumstances of their relationship. As individuals, they were refreshingly headstrong and straightforward (which is good most of the time). While many swooned at their no-frills approach to romance, many others can’t get over their discomfort with the love story starting from their teacher-high school student days. I for one found that even as adults their chemistry shifts from mentor-student to lovers and back, and at some point I thought Hong Ji-hong had more cute and spontaneous interactions with Jung Yoon-do than his actual leading lady.

But they do redeem themselves towards the end, maturing as individuals and as a stronger couple. There’s communication (which other drama couples lack), mutual respect, and tenderness that’s lovely to see between two people.

– It’s a drama without much drama. With the lack of conflict, the show feels going towards slice of life in terms of writing, but melodrama in terms of direction. Oftentimes I am unable to recall what happened to the main characters after an episode, only to realize that the main plot didn’t have much progress. Doctors lacked a strong central plot to anchor everything else, and we’re simply following their everyday lives – which is basically dating on the job, with a heavy dose of hospital politics and a pinch of revenge. I am more drawn to the patient arcs (why do I feel more for them than for the actual leads???), but not all are related to the main storyline or the heroine’s character development.

Speaking of characters, I personally would have wanted a little more flaw on the main pair. A power couple is nice; but if you expect to make a gripping drama out of their perfect surgery success rate as well as their heightened self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-healing (before I could even feel for them), then good luck. On that note, even though Seo-woo was irritating at times, she’s the most interesting one in the bunch in terms of character development. Also why do the side characters come and go as they please?


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The verdict:

The numbers already tell that this show ended as a success, and I get the appeal. It’s a drama that caters to a wide audience. It’s a crowd-pleaser in a way – with an easy to digest storyline and generally likable characters, along with touches of cheesy romance. Sizzling start, but after a few weeks, the interest dwindles down. Oh how I wished it just stuck with her gangster angle like how the show was described to be (not expecting Gokusen-levels but close enough), because that’s what got me interested about Park Shin-hye’s new role. Nonetheless, Doctors was able to wrap up on a positive note, sending off the characters (at least those that did not fade towards the finale) with a happy ending.

I already sense stones and pitch forks coming my way, but frankly it’s overrated considering the rather dull overarching theme and the loose subplots. Even though I actually root for the entire cast (especially the puppies Yoon Kyun-sang and Kim Min-seok), I couldn’t overlook the rather weak script. The drama’s most brilliant moments were actually from the cameos and side characters; but overall the show just fell flat for me, and sadly was too long at 20 episodes. Some defend that its “steadiness” is due to it being a human drama, but even with that argument there are better-written stories under that category out there.

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