There’s some debate on the quality of 2019 as a drama year but, from my perspective, this year was a great drama year.
Because with some rare exceptions, this year was almost potted plant free. The promise we saw in last year’s dramas – with its emerging set of female leads who had agency and used it – was brought to fruition in 2019 with drama after drama sporting amazing women, not just in lead roles but also as the supporting cast and even villains.
It’s true that 2019 had a somewhat inauspicious start with the Memories of the Alhambra, which subjected us to a female lead who was both a nonplayer character (NPC) and a slightly wetter NPC. And yet, when you cast your mind back over 2019 you’re going to find it difficult to name another potted plant. Not only was there a noticeable uptick in the number and variety of women with personality and agency this year, there was a decline in Candies generally.
Search Query: WWW
2019 was a good year for…whatever the opposite of potted plants are. Which is to say, women just being women in all their forms. In fact there were so many that I guarantee by the end of this piece you’ll have several more to name that I haven’t mentioned. And they’re not just romantic leads and love interests. They’re professionals, they’re supporting and supportive second leads, they’re flawed, they’re rude, and they’re even villains. They’re everything we are.
If anything, this year is notable for giving us the first male potted plant: Best Chicken’s Park Choi-go. Played by Park Sun-ho, this character was pretty, pleasant, resilient, loyal, and cheerful from beginning to end. He started the show with a chicken restaurant and ended it…with a chicken restaurant. Oh, and a girlfriend, which was the entire point of his narrative arc. Best Chicken is not going to win any awards, (most people probably forgot it existed) but with the female lead getting all the character growth and conflict while the male lead sat there being stoically cheerful, it has one thing that will go down in the history books.
I guess I should start calling a male potted plant a chicken. Let’s see if that one takes off.
Basically, from the awesome Veronica Park and the vigilante secretaries in The Secret Life of My Secretary to the amazing, complex, flawed women in SKY Castle, and the unprecedented female-oriented drama Search Query: WWW, 2019 was the Year of the Women. Hear them roar.
My Strange Hero
My Strange Hero
The new year may have opened with tail end of the Memories of the Alhambra, but we also got my abrasive, tsundere darling, Sohn Soo-jung. Flawed and defensive with a warm heart waiting to be melted by her Candy ex-boyfriend Bok- soo, Sohn Soo-jung would have been a male character in literally any other drama before this year. But then along comes this joyful flower-strewn show about a man named revenge trying to get revenge despite being utterly incapable of getting revenge. Bok-soo may have been adorable, and watching this show may have been like drowning in marshmallow, but Soo-jung was allowed both to be a heroic female lead and unlikeable, inflexible, bad-tempered, and capable of making mistakes. It was a gender subversion that made the show a delightful little gem and it made way for more dramas about emotionally intelligent men being the heart while their girlfriends get the narrative arc.
If I had to pick another name for 2019, it would be Makjangtastic as we saw not one, but two crazed makjangs that seemed to take the genre to new heights of crazy. These steroid-boosted makjangs had one thing that older versions of the genre did not – female leads with true agency who were given permission to win through their wits and hard work. Graceful Family’s Mo Seok-hee is a badass chaebol heiress who returns to Korea after a period of exile in the United States. Her goal is to solve her mother’s murder and get revenge on her dysfunctional family with the help of a genuine, sweet, and down-to-earth lawyer, Heo Yoon-do. The female lead is clever, entitled, bitchy, manipulative, but warm-hearted and the male lead is delightfully beta. And, oh yeah, Seok-hee doesn’t just defeat the bad guys. She annihilates them. And she does it by just being smarter, more motivated, and never backing down.
My Fellow Citizens
My Fellow Citizens
From kickass cops to con artists to loan sharks, this brilliant mid-year romp had so many female characters and all of them different, well-developed and as equally capable of being heroes, villains, flawed protagonists and beloved anti-heroes. Like a lot of similar shows, the love interest of our hero was kept in ignorance too long in the service of plot, but it hardly mattered when the drama had so many other female characters waiting in the wings. And what characters, Kim Min-jung stole the show with her brilliant, impatient, and entitled loan shark: Park Hoo-ja. By the end, you’re not just hoping that Jung-gook wins, you’re hoping Hoo-ja does as well. Her battle against her oldest sister mirrors Jung-gook’s battle against political corruption to the extent that you’re almost sad that she has to lose in order for him to win. My Fellow Citizens never discounts any of its female characters and will have you cheering on the antagonists as much as the leads.
In my 2018’s year-end piece about potted plants, I wrote that in 2018 there were a significantly larger number of women with purpose and agency, and who were genuinely the hero of their own stories. I noted that this boded well for 2019’s dramatic fare.
As we end this year and head into 2020, I can only say that my expectations have been exceeded. This truly was the year the potted plant died. Long may it continue.