February Drama Report: Ratings & Reviews

Check out the report for March as well.

My curiosity about what happens next on Kill Me, Heal Me has become a raging obsession. I lost sleep last night worrying about Cha Do-Hyun and Oh Ri-Jin. And the episode 17 preview didn’t ease my mind, either. I’m going to have panda eyes by the time this show finishes next week.

To distract myself, I’m looking around at the other shows airing right now. I admit I’ve neglected them—but maybe with good reason. Drama Land is pretty unexciting compared to what it was twelve months ago, when My Love from Another Star was pulling off thirty-percent ratings on Wednesday and Thursday nights and getting as much love from international viewers as Koreans.

Network SBS is especially getting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—last year this time, they had My Love from Another Star, this year their post-Punch drama ratings are in an abysmal slump. Weeknight dramas in general aren’t picking up great ratings, though weekend dramas are ablaze—as long as you aren’t SBS.

punch poster optSo have I missed anything during my recent Ji Sung obsession? Who were the winners and losers in drama land February?

Monday/Tuesday: Punch (SBS) and Shine or Go Crazy (MBC)

Monday/Tuesday nights were ruled by the SBS legal drama Punch until its final episode Feb. 17. Punch managed to get the best ratings for a weeknight drama in February, peaking at 17% for the finale. Behind it, we had MBC costume drama Shine or Go Crazy, with Healer (KBS) sitting consistently in third place. The most intense Healer love came from overseas, where it was Drama Fever’s top show for several weeks.

With the conclusion of Punch, Shine or Go Crazy has taken over as first-place weeknight drama, with ratings in the mid-teens. Not bad at all for a weeknight sageuk! Interestingly, it does well with the international video-streaming audience as well, at least according to Drama Fever’s numbers (other sites don’t publish regular stats). Shine or Go Crazy must be doing something right, or maybe people are just attracted to the word “crazy”?

I’m curious in another way about KBS’s new Monday/Tuesday show. News about Blood says viewers have complained about Gu Hye-Seon’s acting—in fact, complained so loudly that producers promised changes. I’m not a huge Gu Hye-Seon fan to begin with, but I wonder what constitutes acting so bad it gets complaints? So far Blood has weak ratings of 4 to 6%. Better than autumn ratings disaster Blade Man, but not by much.

Blood promo poster optI’ll give Blood credit for one thing: the most disturbing promo poster in a long time. I know the show’s about a vampire, but something about drinking blood just doesn’t scream “cute” to me.

Meanwhile, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, the teen pregnancy romance that replaced Punch on SBS is only three episodes in, with mediocre ratings, but at least no loud complaints. Guess that’s something these days, right?

Wednesday/Thursday: Kill Me, Heal Me (MBC)

Wednesday/Thursday nights this month went to MBC’s Kill Me, Heal Me. Its ratings have steadily increased and it’s winning the Wednesday/Thursday drama race. At its high-water mark, though, it has only reached fourth place in the rankings, meaning that variety shows and other non-drama programs are still more popular these nights.

But Kill Me, Heal Me’s way ahead of the competition. Hyde, Jekyll, Me currently has half the viewers it did in its first week—a tough break.

On paper, Hyde, Jekyll, Me looked like a way safer bet than Kill Me, Heal Me. The concept is relatively tried and true, and it stars Hyun Bin in his post-army comeback, which guaranteed some buzz, particularly from overseas. In fact,  Binnie’s international fans made it one of the most successful shows on Drama Fever in February, despite its lack of energy. I still tune in occasionally, but the show feels starved of oxygen, like everyone involved is checking their watches and hoping to go home early.

The fact that Kill Me, Heal Me has an audience twice as big as Hyde, Jekyll, Me must be causing some producer at SBS serious stress-related health problems. Kill Me’s crazy plot, casting problems and late production start made the MBC show a dark horse at best. I can imagine SBS thought they would own Wednesdays and Thursdays in early spring.

KBS concluded historical drama The King’s Face in February with weak numbers, its audience share consistently in single digits. Last week its slot was taken by Unkind Women, with iffy opening ratings. Has anyone heard anything about Unkind Women (except, of course, that it has Song Jae-Rim)?

Weekends: Legendary Witch (MBC)

Friday night, KBS2 has been experimenting by showing two episodes of Spy back to back. The idea sounded good, but unfortunately Spys audience share has shrunk to half its original size and now sits between 3 and 4%. The poor numbers may have to do with the show rather than the time slot. My impression from recaps is that it hasn’t lived up to its exciting premise and cast. The show needs more than Kim Jae-Joong’s pretty face.

legendary witch poster webBut despite the depressing drama scene for weeknights, weekend dramas are on fire.

MBC is ahead, with its 36-episode Legendary Witch topping 30% more than once. Throughout February, Witch has remained the most-watched show Saturday and Sunday nights. MBC’s 50-episode family drama Rosy Lovers has also held steady at second or third place.

Legendary Witch starts out with a group of women imprisoned for crimes ranging from fraud to murder. The first episode was on the slow and serious side, but it did introduce interesting characters. The plot sounds like a redemption-through-entrepreneurship story, focused on women learning to bake in prison and starting their own bakery.

(Do people really learn to bake in Korean prisons? This was a plot point in 2012 cable romance Panda and Hedgehog, too. What do we have to do to get a bakery started on Orange is the New Black? Add “lack of pastry chefs” to my list of civil rights abuses in the American incarceration system.)

KBS is enjoying good weekend numbers as well. In February, it wrapped up What Happens to My Family, which topped 40% a few times, and premiered Bluebird’s House mid-month with over 20% audience share.

But the SBS weekend drama ratings are crazy low. The family drama that followed Birth of a BeautyMy Heart Twinkle, Twinkle—didn’t even reach 3% audience share in its opening week. And the new 20-episode weekend show from SBS, Family is Coming, described as a family drama with romantic comedy elements, is doing no better.

The-Family-Is-Coming-poster webLow numbers for SBS on weekends aren’t new, which is why in December the network announced changes to their weekend line-up this spring. The time slot currently hosting Family is Coming will go to non-drama programming, and the 10 p.m. slot once given to family dramas like My Heart, Twinkle, Twinkle will go to shorter (possible hipper) series. SBS does better with “younger” series than weekend family stuff, but I still wonder why their current weekend shows fall so dramatically behind KBS and MBC.

I also wonder about the SBS promise last year to go “makjang-free.” Because dramas with makjang (exaggerated, implausible scenarios) aren’t necessarily better or worse than dramas without them, the SBS embargo struck me as a weird stunt. “Producing good shows” would be a more constructive goal—but isn’t as catchy.

If you need any evidence that “makjang-free” doesn’t mean “good-quality,” I present My Heart, Twinkle, Twinkle as evidence. I would rather see the most absurd makjang-orama than watch another screechy cat-fight between high school girls like the one that appears in episode 1. And how worked up can characters get over lines like, “He stole our fried chicken recipe”?

Perhaps SBS should have gone cliché-free?

February Picks

Punch stands as the first “don’t miss” K-drama of 2015 by all accounts, so I’ve got to get watching.

In the “great stuff” category, we have a few dramas to consider. For something light and romantic, Healer was thoroughly entertaining, at least until the plot stalled out in its final two weeks. Shine or Go Crazy has been hitting the right notes with viewers, but I wonder how it will end up. (Shining? Or crazy?) I’ll wait to decide. And for those of us who like our makjang with side orders of slapstick and existentialist identity crisis, Kill Me, Heal Me is pure awesome—but the next two weeks are make or break.

Then I have two “maybes.” I don’t watch many family dramas, but my weakness for shows about food might get me to watch another episode or two of Legendary Witch. I’ve never met a show about bread or cakes that I didn’t like.

And in cable land, I keep coming back to Hogu’s Love (Fool’s Love) on TVN. The tone is offbeat and the pacing is relatively slow. Every episode I tell myself, I’ll just watch one more. But this story of a single mother and the guy who had a crush on her in high school keeps drawing me back. It has a low-key vibe and unusual characters. Choi Woo-Shik has excelled in comic secondary roles for years, most recently on Pride and Prejudice as the unmotivated Prosecutor Lee, but here it turns out he can play a character that calls for emotional depth. The chronic pushover Hogu is awkward and naive, but he’s also self-aware and sincerely kind. The female lead, played by pop star UEE, is harder to figure out, making it a firm “maybe.” ♥

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