What I Learned Failing the 2021 MDL Watch Challenge

Disclaimer: this article can be enjoyed in both light and dark mode. Have a fun read!

As 2021 drew to a close, many of you probably took a long hard look at your MDL Watch Challenge list. If you’ve managed to finish it successfully? Congratulations! But what if you failed, you ask? Congratulations all the same! You still had a good time and you did your best with the challenge. And I’m not only saying this because I’m falling into the second category (or maybe just a little). What’s important, nonetheless, is the new experiences you’ve lived with dramas, whether they’re good or bad ones. But still, I suppose it always feels nice to achieve a challenge and put yourself to the test, right? So whether you failed the MDL Watch Challenge, like me, or completed it, you now know your tastes and habits as a drama viewer better. And that is some precious information to keep in mind for the next challenge! In this article, I will try to reflect on my experience and try to provide solutions but feel free to suggest your own solutions in the comment section!


Before we dive in, a little more about me, as I believe my experience with the MDL Watch Challenge is intrinsically tied with my journey in dramaland. My very first experience with dramas came with two Japanese dorama (Good Morning Call and Underwear) when I discovered Netflix a few years ago and then, later on, two Korean dramas (Panda & Hedgehog and Age of Youth). But like many people recently, it has only become an addiction when my country went into full lockdown in 2020. There hasn’t been a week since then when I haven’t watched a drama, always discovering new stories, new actors and new characters to engrave in my memory (or entirely forget and throw into the trashcan, let’s be real). So compared to some people here, I’m just a little kid in dramaland around much more seasoned viewers with many more experiences and different expectations than me. The 2021 Watch Challenge was my first drama watch challenge and looking back… it shows. So now that you know a little more about my journey with dramas up until now, let’s get to the heart of the matter.

NUMBER 1: Planning Ahead

This is what I would call a rookie mistake. As I posted my entry list, I researched titles for about an afternoon and then completely forgot about it, telling myself that I would just look up my blocks and find the titles along the way. Needless to say, it massively backfired. I found myself anxiously looking at a trait or another from the dramas and movies I watched that could “fit the bill” for this or that challenge. Having no plans whatsoever about what would specifically be tailored to respect the rules of the blocks I had chosen made me lose sight of the challenge itself. I ended up watching even more works than I was supposed to with my blocks but only a third of them were actually fitting within the blocks.


Pretty simple in that case. This time I will plan ahead, write down each title, and spend some time researching so that I have a long term vision of the challenge and can plan my watching accordingly.

NUMBER 2: Don’t Underestimate Your “Excited Newbie Syndrome”

There might be another (better) word for this, but allow me this one just for the sake of this article. This one is quite specific to my case and may not apply to everyone (namely more seasoned viewers are less likely to feel it, I suppose) but what do I mean by that? Basically, as I am still very new to dramaland, there are many dramas and many actors and actresses waiting for me to discover them and once I am drawn to one, I can somtimes fall into the “I need to watch their whole filmography” rabbit hole. Which isn’t bad, far from it, I sure had varied and surprising viewing experiences thanks to that (a big wave to misters Cho Seung Woo and Ji Jin Hee, I plead guilty). But as a result, I found myself in a heart vs reason situation, if you’ll allow me the analogy. I wanted to watch as many works from my new favourite actors and actresses, completely disregarding the challenge since most of the things I’ve watched would not always qualify for any of the blocks I had chosen. And I gave in way more to my heart than to my reason.


Allowing myself to choose blocks that will let me put some of my faves’ work in the planning while still leaving enough room for more diversity. And maybe leave a block free of planning if I ever get a new infatuation along the year. 

Poster of korean drama Stranger (season 1) Poster of korean drama Mr Sunshine Poster of the 15th Anniversary release of korean film Tazza Poster of korean mini drama Argon Poster of korean mini drama Justice Team

Some of the titles I’ve watched for the 2021 MDL Challenge (click on the posters to know more!)

NUMBER 3: The Art of Choosing Blocks

Once again, this might sound like a rookie mistake, but I am a rookie after all and making mistakes is what makes us learn. When I looked at all the blocks listed last year, I did not really think it through and only chose blocks that looked appealing to me. Some easy (Jobs, Favourites, Planned on MDL) and others less easy (Martial Arts, 40s/80s works, etc). They looked promising and challenging and of course the point of the challenge is to diversify your media consumption, but this might have been too big a stretch for a first timer like me. I was quickly faced with a lessened interest in some of the blocks, either because some titles were very hard to find or simply because I had a fleeting thought of what would be interesting and cool without thinking too much about my watching habits and preferences.


It goes along with planning ahead. Taking more time to choose my blocks, think them through and find the titles earlier so I have a concrete plan laid out for me. And another important thing: make sure the drama or movie is available. It would be too bad to plan wisely only to realise I cannot find some of the titles I’ve planned on watching.

NUMBER 4: Baby Steps

When I signed up for the 2021 Watch Challenge, I was just recently accustomed to binge watching dramas, in a situation when I had way more time than 2021 actually offered me. Not realising my free time would melt like snow under the sun, I straight up aimed at the Easy target (6 blocks). Ambition is good and true enough, I ended up watching about the numbers required to finish the Easy step of the 2021 MDL Challenge. But, taking into account the previous missteps and what I have just explained, I might have had eyes bigger than my belly.


It’s okay to start slow, to take it “drama after drama, movie after movie”. This year, I will try aiming for smaller at first, not excluding raising the bar for the challenge and adding in more blocks along the year, depending on how my viewing evolves.


2021 was the year of many discoveries in dramaland. And even though I can’t say I am a veteran viewer, I am more experienced and I know my taste, my expectations and my limits better. So why not make a deal? I’ll see you all next year for the update, whether or not my 2022 MDL Watch Challenge was better and if I actually finished it this time! What about you? Don’t hesitate to tell me about your journey with the challenge last year; if you took part or not, what you’ve learned yourself, etc. I want to know it all! And remember: this is a friendly game to broaden our horizons. Don’t fret too much about it, enjoy the ride and have a good time watching new dramas, movies and shows!

Some HwangChoJi for motivation never hurts 😉

Useful links:

  • My 2021 MDL Challenge Custom List
  • My 2022 MDL Challenge Custom List

Image credits: TVN, Naver TV Cast, CJ Entertainment, Ji Jin Hee

Special thanks to the editors!

Edited by: devitto (1st editor)

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