A ‘teleserye’ that’s not just soap
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in need of a US green card will have to resort to an arranged marriage to stay in the United States.
At least that’s considered true in the latest teleserye craze, “On the Wings of Love (OTWOL),” from ABS-CBN that hit television screens in August.
It tells the story of Leah Olivar (Nadine Lustre) and Clark Medina (James Reid), two working-class Filipinos seeking greener pastures abroad to provide a better future for their families. They cross paths after Leah realizes she will need a green card to work and stay legally in the United States once her visa expires.
Enter Tita Jack (Cherry Pie Picache), Leah’s ex-boyfriend’s mom, who cooks up an arranged marriage between her nephew Clark, a US resident, and Leah. The only thing Tita Jack asks from the two is for them to keep their pretend relationship from becoming something more, because her son is still carrying a torch for Leah.
What they don’t realize is intense attraction and close proximity are a volatile combination. And when destiny steps in, nobody can stop the inevitable from happening.
It’s easy to dismiss “OTWOL” as a mere vehicle for the love team of Reid and Lustre. The stars—known together as JaDine—have had a certain amount of success with their movies, “Diary ng Panget” and “Talk Back and You’re Dead.” You can even consider this show a sort of fan service, a way for ABS-CBN to please (and capitalize on) JaDine’s established fan base.
I honestly thought the show’s premise was meh when I first heard of it. Marriage of convenience is one of the biggest clichés in the romance genre. Plus, I wasn’t a fan of the lead couple.
But two magical words on a teaser I saw made me give this show a second glance: Antoinette Jadaone
I’ve been a fan of Jadaone’s after watching her critically acclaimed films “English Only, Please” and “That Thing Called Tadhana.” Seeing that she, together with Jojo Saguin, would be directing this show, I realized this series was one to watch. And two months since seeing the pilot, what can I say? I’m addicted!
The on-screen chemistry between Reid and Lustre is off the charts. They have an ease in each other’s presence and a natural rapport that add to the authenticity of their TV romance. They have a way of looking at each other that screams of intimacy and sexual tension. As some fans noted, tinginan pa lang, kikiligin ka na.
Someone once accused me of watching “OTWOL” only because the male lead is hot. Yes, Reid is gorgeous. You’re blind, lying or bitter if you think he is anything but perfection na nagkatawang tao. (I would like to thank whoever put the “shirtless scene in every episode” clause, if there is one, in Reid’s contract, because yes.)
But “OTWOL,” however hot its male lead is, will not work without Lustre, whose charm and likability make Leah a protagonist you will want to root for. More importantly, the show is nothing without a well-thought-out narrative.
The unsung heroes of this show are the writers, who didn’t rush the romance even while keeping the general plot fast-paced. The attraction between Leah and Clark was instant, but the love? It was gradual, organic and frustrating—really, the best kind of love story.
The secondary characters and their stories are also compelling and interesting in their own right. Most shows would focus on only the main couple, but this series gives airtime to its supporting cast. There’s the courtship between Leah’s sister Tiffany (Bianca Manalo) and Tolayts (Nico Antonio), a tricycle driver and the show’s main funnyman; the broken relationship of Tita Jack and her son Jigs (Albie Casiño); and Leah’s father Mang Sol’s (Joel Torre) health woes.
Picache is a gem as Tita Jack, a lesbian, single mother who is devoted to her family. Manalo, as Tiffany, is a revelation. She is so effective in her dramatic scenes that I can’t help but weep along with her.
Casiño’s portrayal of Jigs, however, is one for the books. Never have I ever hated a fictional character this much since I watched Joffrey Baratheon on “Game of Thrones.”
Jigs is angas personified. The rock tune that cues his entrance into the scene is like a portent of doom. It’s difficult to describe Jigs without resorting to profanity. As I’ve said on Twitter, he is a dark cloud of negativity. He brings bad vibes wherever he goes. Panira forever! (#NeverComeHomeJigs)
Even though Casiño is a bit clunky in his scenes, I commend him for being convincing in his role. The show needed a foil for Clark. Casiño accepted the challenge and, for all intents and purposes, took one for the team.
“OTWOL” is also a cut above the rest because it knows when to use and when to do away with teleserye tropes. The main couple are both working-class people. There’s no rich haciendero-poor barrio lass scenarios here. It also subscribes to the “Be Careful with My Heart” rule: No villains. (Jigs is the closest thing it has to an antagonist.)
But unlike the Richard Yap-Jodi Sta. Maria starrer, “OTWOL” doesn’t prolong story lines. Problems will be solved in one or two episodes, and plot development is continuous. It took the show more than a month before having a “Friday cliffhanger,” a narrative tool often used in a teleserye to keep its audience hanging until the next Monday’s episode. It’s generous with its teasers, often showing the most kilig moments of future episodes.
It’s not afraid to have fun, too. A very romantic scene will turn hilarious at the last second. It weaves in fantasy elements and over-the-top scenarios, like the fundraiser with Anne Curtis, into the more grounded and realistic story lines. The series also enacts dreams, daydreams and the wishful thinking of its characters.
“OTWOL” is distinctly Pinoy, from its portrayals of close family ties and familial responsibility to the damayan or bayanihan present in Filipino communities both here and abroad.
It should also be praised for its representation of some of the issues and worries that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) encounter in foreign countries: immigration problems, the recent brouhaha about balikbayan boxes and the constant longing for the families they left behind.
Even the different ways children respond to having OFW parents are shown in “OTWOL.” Some grow up to be like Jigs, filled with resentment and anger for a mother who was never there. Others are like Tiffany and Leah, accepting and grateful of their nanang’s sacrifice.
Admittedly, I had issues about the show’s editing and overuse of its theme song. As much as I like the song, the way the series kept playing it in almost all romantic scenes was overkill. The transitions between scenes, on the other hand, were a bit jarring. Sometimes it felt like a scene was cut in the middle of a conversation. But as the series progressed, I’m glad to see that the show has found ways to fix these weaknesses.
My only concern now is the mystery of Leah’s mother, probably the soapiest story line in the show. But I have no reason to doubt the series’ writers. I am amazed at their bold narrative decisions so far.
I am excited to see how the story unfolds in the coming episodes. “OTWOL” made me believe in Filipino series again.
And it seems the show’s philosophy on love applies for both relationships and TV shows: Kapag mahal ka, babalikan ka. We love it, and we’ll keep coming back for more.
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