Everyone agrees with my opinion, right? Or so I hope whenever I vote in year-end polls.
I have a love/hate relationship with polls. I want to know what others think and I want them to know what I think. But then I want to have a long argument over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. I want to figure out why other people love what they love. Especially if they loved “My Love from Another Star.”
Here, my list of the best and worst things about fan polls, followed by the Poll for Polls.
1. Finally someone is asking what we think. After a year of watching, perhaps alone over the internet in the wee hours of the morning, K-drama watchers come together as one, from around the world, united by one noble purpose: to determine once and for all which Korean actor has the best abs.
2. Internet fan polls can be entertaining in themselves. The critics at Drama Beans have made poll-writing a comic art form. Their first poll in 2007 was pretty straightforward. (If you’re curious, yes, “Coffee Prince” won favorite of the year by a huge margin.) But recent years’ polls are fun to read long after the votes have closed.
What makes their polls so good? It’s a combination of the succinct, snarky descriptions of the shows, and the hilarious bonus categories that change from year to year. In 2013 they asked, “Who had the least tear-inducing first-world problems?” The characters from “Heirs” not surprisingly made up a sizable percentage of the nominees. This year offered competitions for “best memory loss” and “best new body or body part(s).”
3. When a show really touches us, we want to show our respect and adoration somehow, even if only with a vote. We’ll probably never get a chance to hug every member of the cast and crew and cry all over them about how they changed our lives, so this is the next best thing. (But if anyone who worked on “It’s Okay, That’s Love” ever needs an appreciative hug, just let me know.)
1. Other people! Just like in presidential elections, other people keep cancelling out our reasonable votes with their crazy votes—for the wrong shows, wrong actors and actresses, even, God forbid, the wrong abs. We agonized long and hard over our choices. We really really really love this super-amazing show. Why don’t our votes get bonus points for our passionate devotion?
It’s easy to forget that polls can only identify “favorites,” not “the best.” Even though I know “favorite” is subjective, I still find myself thinking, how can that be someone’s favorite show? Really?!? And I’m usually pretty rational, I promise.
2. An amazing show can get neglected if it didn’t happen to have a lot of viewers. The frustrating thing about year-end polls is realizing how many shows I didn’t see. As a result, most of us have to judge a number of shows on the basis of hearsay or watching one or two episodes. But one of the distinctive things about K-dramas is that the first episode or two doesn’t necessarily give a good indication of what’s to come. “Blade Man,” for instance, didn’t get into its deadpan absurdist groove until around episode 3 (and then lost it again in the final episodes).
3. Another heart-breaking fact of the game is that timing matters. Shows that are currently airing at the start of December could participate in a 2014 poll. But should they? How long does a show have to run before you judge it? If you leave a December 2014 show out of the 2014 poll, will you risk forgetting it in the 2015 poll?
An example is the show “Let’s Eat,” which aired on TvN from November 2013 to March 2014. One prominent fansite included it in their current 2014 poll. But another site already put it in their 2013 poll twelve months ago, and it won’t get another chance this year.
MBC’s “Pride and Prejudice” falls into a similar black hole. It appears as an option on a couple fan polls, but it’s only halfway through its run. Even people who are really enjoying it want to wait and see what happens next.
(If Chief Moon does turn out to be a bad guy, I’d nominate Choi Min-Soo for worst villain. Even scarier than Shin Sung-Rok wearing a ring of nails. And if he turns out to be a good guy, he should win a competition for “Most Terrifying Good Guy.”)
4. Moving beyond categories like “favorite,” we get to some difficult choices. The hardest question this year was perhaps “what show was the biggest waste of talent?” Putting megastar Rain in the anesthetized, nearly comatose “My Lovable Girl” was definitely a waste. But how do you weigh giving Rain a boring script with cancelling the final two episodes of “A New Leaf” with Kim Myung-Min?
Do we I take into account the quality of talent involved? I enjoy watching Rain, but Kim Myung-Min is the real actor of the two. Rain can play likable characters well, whereas Kim Myung-Min takes repellent characters and makes us like them in spite of ourselves. If Rain’s talent is X and Kim’s talent is Y, then 2X=Y.
And what’s the equation for dullness versus cancellation? Wouldn’t cancellation have actually worked in favor of “My Lovable Girl”? No one would have missed the final two episodes, given that the most beloved character—the dog—died at the end of episode 14.
Aargh! Trying to quantify the calculation makes it even harder to decide. I have to step back and think it through from another angle: the goal of entertainment is to entertain. Hence, producing a show that bores roughly 90% of viewers is a failure. Rain’s level of talent is less important than the fact that “My Lovable Girl” turned out to be about as riveting as watching Congress sharpening pencils on C-SPAN. And equally as romantic.
That settles it. “My Lovable Girl” wins the booby prize.
The Poll for Polls
Though these polls are still open for votes, I’m granting myself the privilege of judging their categories and nominations now.
The Drama Fever awards are possibly even sillier than the usual fan poll, since the juggernaut streaming site decides ahead of time on the six nominees per category. Nominees are a somewhat random selection, chosen from Drama Fever’s licensed shows according to a mysterious algorithm of their own.
Or perhaps not so mysterious: the point of the awards is publicity for Drama Fever’s collection of shows—and publicity guides the selection. This year’s nominees omit “My Love from Another Star,” for instance, even though it streamed on the site. Only capitalism can explain the choice to leave out the year’s best-known show in Korea and abroad.
Nevertheless, Drama Fever’s broad reach means almost a million votes so far. This number includes people watching from outside the States, but the site is generally aimed at Americans. A million votes shows there’s a healthy audience for subtitles over here.
Ever since Hollywood invented talking pictures in 1927, the entertainment industry has said that Americans will never read subtitles, unless perhaps they’re those hoity-toity intellectuals watching French art-house flicks while guzzling martinis garnished with kale. But in reality, Americans from varied races and backgrounds are tuning in to Korean shows. Immigrant teenagers from the inner city, grandmas in Kansas—it’s not the kale crowd reading subtitles. And I’m not the only Anglo tuning in.
Koala’s Playground 2014 Polls (part 1 for favorite and least favorite shows and part 2 for favorite and least favorite K-drama couples)
Compared to other sites, Koala’s Playground has the fewest voters—roughly several thousand. The four simple polls here allow you to vote for up to three choices. The multiple vote system and the dedicated, relatively small group of viewers give us a broad range of opinions.
The loyal fans of “My Love from Another Star” will probably keep that show on top as favorite. But several shows vie for second place, third place, fourth place, and well, every other place. Every show, no matter how oddball, is someone’s favorite. And though fans of “My Love from Another Star” are many, they’re still a minority of the international community at Koala’s Playground. No single drama in 2014 was beloved by a majority of readers. No landslide victory for anyone.
Funniest Terrifying Reminder of How Many Shows We Missed This Year:
The Drama Beans poll is the most fun to read, even before you make your choices. But the number of categories makes an exhausting list of shows, romantic couples, leading men and leading ladies, bromances and friendships, puns and plots. With this many options, only a few of Drama Bean’s roughly 25K voters will have opinions on every question.
The funny comments about the shows (and the abs, new body parts, etc.) make for a strangely exhilarating tour of all the things you missed in 2014. And if anyone ever claims that they understand K-drama (or South Korea) based on a few shows, just pull out the lists here and ask them about the dozens of shows they haven’t seen.
One of the only generalizations we can confidently make about Korean television is that they make a lot of series, quickly, non-stop. No reruns, no second seasons with existing characters to fall back on. The South Korean television industry has its faults, but no one can say they don’t have a lot of raw nerve. This is high-stakes story-telling.
Most Powerful Reminder that Real Democracy is Really, Really Complicated:
One Hallyu preliminary nominations
If the voting systems above seem too simple for you, there’s always One Hallyu, where fans complete a two-step process. Nominations first, followed by voting. This system rescues voters from collapsing under the realization of how many shows they missed. It also avoids dictating the nominees from on high, à la Drama Fever.
But for it to work, members need to vote twice on a number of questions. The One Hallyu system demonstrates something many of us have long suspected. Democracy’s great, but it’s not for the lazy.
There’s No There There
The liveliness of the overseas fans is part of the fun of watching K-dramas. But here’s the flip side: because we’re spread out over dozens of nations and viewing platforms, there’s no definitive answer as to what show had the best overseas “ratings.”
Year-end polls hint at general preferences, and that might be the most we ever learn about the international audience. But I can’t help wanting to know more. Why did some people adore “My Love from Another Star,” whereas I found it merely okay? Why is it so easy for everyone to agree that “My Lovable Girl” was bad when it’s so hard to agree what’s good? Why were there so many new body parts appearing in the 2014 dramas anyway?
And lastly, what happened to the Beanie award for Most Glorious Mane of Glory? I can only guess that Choi Jin-Hyuk’s win last year was so overwhelming that he took home the Glorious Win For All Time.