Hindi Lahat ng Pinoy Dramas Ay Bobo

Date posted on April 30, 2020

There was talk about KDramas and Pinoy entertainment recently. I wanted to join the discourse but it might be deemed self-serving since I work in television. Now that it’s been a week, I wanted to jump in and make a plea for you to watch our local content.

Just to be clear, I also don’t completely agree with Direk Erik’s commentary and how he said it. I believe that content creators have the power to shape tastes… but no amount of bad storytelling and unbearable production can ever force a viewer to keep watching. Moreso in this time and age where so much content is available even to those who only have access to free TV. With Facebook, Tiktok, TV Plus and other online (some illegal) streaming sites, they have so much to choose from. Kung ayaw mo, di ka mapipilitan.

However, when someone finds something good, no one can stop them from watching it. I’ve been in rural households in the province whose household stay glued despite the terrible reception of their television sets.

That’s a long-winded way of saying: when something rates or stays on the air for as long as Probinsyano has done, it’s because it appeals to them on some level. Kung di mo tinagalan, malamang di kasi kinaya ng threshold mo. Pero kung patuloy itong nag-r-rate, marahil patuloy itong umaantig sa sensibilidad ng manonood.

Which is why it’s painful when friends say ginagawang bobo ng local dramas ang mga Pilipino. Yes, there are many bad habits that local film and TV can’t seem to shake off. Content creators and industry workers are the ones most frustrated about that, believe us. Because we’re the ones who need to do the balancing of the audience and the producers’ demand with the means available to us. We can’t all be Chito Roños, CGMs or Erik Mattis who have the reps or hold trust to be bankrolled with big budgets, and even for them, kulang pa rin.

But to dismiss it all as bobo is really a discredit not only to local creators, but also other local audiences.

I say all this as someone who watched My So-Called Life and Party of Five when Mara Clara got big enough to fight Marimar and moved to evening primetime; Felicity and Ally McBeal when Pangako Sayo was all the rage; Grey’s Anatomy when Mulawin and Encantadia was changing the game in local television… and still found myself working in local television.

I don’t mean to say I’m a barometer of good taste. I point those out to show that I wasn’t a loyal fan of local content. My appreciation for our dramas might have come late, but it came, and I realised that it came not because I debased my ‘taste’ and dumbed myself down. I’m here now because I realised that I wanted to be a storyteller whose stories spoke to the local audiences, and not just those who belong to my social class. I became a storyteller here instead of overseas because it was the local stories I knew best to tell, I wanted most to tell. And to do that, I had to understand what moved local audiences.

Just recently, fans went berserk watching Popoy and Basha on IG. Then I remembered a conversation a friend (who was a big JLC fan) and I had about that time when she made her then boyfriend watch One More Chance. He’s American. As excited as she was about showcasing OMC as the gold standard of Pinoy romance, her boyfriend thought it maudlin and almost cringe-y.

So are you all Popoy-Basha shippers bobo? Are you all melodramatic, with plebeian tastes? What sacrilege to think that of OMC fans! But is there no merit to that foreigner’s reaction on Pinoy storytelling? May punto naman di ba? Pero baka rin naman, usaping panlasa lang talaga. Maybe simply, it’s culture. Maybe it’s also sensibility.

I have cringed at local films that were critically-acclaimed in international festivals. Their posturing as real-life depictions of Pinoy culture felt pretentious to me (some have said, poverty porn). Meanwhile, there are mainstream movies that I thought deserved more acclaim than it received, thought they were more authentic in their depiction of middle class lives than some of these laureled films. So who’s to say I’m right and Cannes or Berlin or Busan is wrong? Kung nangusap man yung poverty porn sa mga banyagang manonood, sabi nga ni Bobbie, bakit parang sila ang mali?

Personally, I think there’s something about the language barrier and novelty of culture that makes some of us more accepting of these Kdramas than they are with our own. The nuances of language are lost on us… its aggregate beauty, but also its awkwardness and contrivance. I tried watching Goblin when it first aired on ABS, and I couldn’t stand it. I watched it on Netflix, and I fared better. I’m now on my 5th episode.

When local content is dismissed as ‘nakakabobo,’ it’s painful not because it’s a critical opinion. All reactions are welcome. We shouldn’t stop calling out our local creators out for failures or bad habits in their craft. In fact, I’m like that about many local shows and films I’ve watched. Even with my own.

What’s painful to me is when they are categorical. Hindi ko sinasabing walang bobo (o hindi pinag-isipan ng husto). Ang sinasabi ko, HINDI LAHAT BOBO. It feels unfair because of its absoluteness, because there are many local content that can be celebrated despite the undeniable limitations on budget, time, support, and therefore, production value. There’s not enough space here to discuss how debilitating this is and the many ways we can begin to solve our industry’s problems, but it is undeniable – mahihirapan tayong sabayan ang South Korea sa usaping production value dahil napakaliit ng industriya natin kumpara sa kanila. We who work in the industry would be the first to commit to you vast improvements if only the production culture and political economy of Philippine film and television industry were more supportive, and more supported. But it’s not just up to us industry workers. It’s also largely dependent on the system, and it would need huge reforms and restructuring to attain significant leaps. Still… there’s been progress, and that’s why it’s painful to see these denigrated.

So while at home during this ECQ, maybe you should devote at least one hour of your day to watching local content. Iwant can be accessed for free (you can even be a premium member for free if you’re a SkyCable subscriber). It carries not only ABS-CBN teleseryes but also Star Cinema films and films from independent producers. I think GMA makes its content available on YouTube (I wish I could also talk about GMA content with more authority).

If you’re looking for suggestions, why not start with MMK? I suggest this not only because I’ve worked on this show for more than 7 years, but also because its stories are 1 hour long. You can rest assured you’ll see the story through in one sitting.

Should you find that enticing enough, or even if it isn’t your cup of tea, start venturing into teleseryes. Here are some that you might find engaging:
•The Legal Wife (airing on ABS now)
•Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 3 (limited series on Iwant)
•Be Careful With My Heart (on Iwant)
•24/7 (just concluded on ABS-CBN, still on Iwant)
•The Tapes (on Iwant)

May nakapagsabi, nakakabobo na puro love story. Sa mga nabanggit ko, dalawa lang dyan ang love stories. Baka sabihin naman, luma naman na yan. Tatlo dyan, bagong labas lang.

Heck, since I’m shameless, why not throw in the two series I’ve been a part of:
•The Killer Bride
•A Soldier’s Heart (which was on Week 7 before the ECQ forced it to go on hiatus). No other show on Philippine television has ever dared to tackle the Mindanao issues in a teleserye until ASH.

None of those are perfect, but I guarantee you: none of them are bobo.