Talking about sex should be easy. But in the Philippines, that’s not always the case.
In the absence of proper implementation of sex education, adolescents and young adults from the Philippines have been independently exploring their sexuality with the help of the internet. While it’s great that sex advice is increasingly accessible through social media platforms such as YouTube and Tiktok, rampant misinformation continuously poses risks to their well-being and safety.
The media has attempted to address this lack through its programming, but sex in cinema and television is a gray area with a tough crowd. If you turn people on, it’s deemed pornographic (as seen in this video essay). If it has no steam, people lose interest. Burdened with moral responsibility and the need for sexual verisimilitude onscreen, how do you depict sex with broad enough appeal while maintaining the specificity that defines intimacy? There seems no way to win.
In comes the sex comedy: a subgenre founded upon the understanding that great sex is never funny. But bad sex? Hilarious. Well, at least in hindsight. We’ve seen many of these films and TV shows across the years: from local films such as Joey Gosiengfiao’s “Temptation Island” (1980), Joyce Bernal’s “Booba” (2001), and many recent Vivamax titles, to foreign shows such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” Laurie Nunn’s “Sex Education,” and many Thai BLs. By using humor as a Trojan horse, sex comedies introduce important conversations into the mainstream while interrogating the relationships and social strictures that are the source of our shame, demystifying the process of self-discovery for its audiences.
“The Kangks Show” rides the wave of this recent resurgence, but pushes it a step further with its show-within-a-show format. Equal parts Charo Santos-Concio’s “Maalala Mo Kaya” and Margie Holmes’ “Sex Talks,” the WeTV digital series follows Doctor Kara Teo (Angelica Panganiban), a sex therapist and host of a popular late night talk show. Threatened by declining ratings, she goes to desperate lengths to secure the attention of her viewers, often at the expense of herself and of those around her.
By virtue of the usual content moderation in the Philippines, a series like the “The Kangks Show” shouldn’t exist. Cable and network television in the country is still under review by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), drastically limiting the forms of intimacy onscreen and profiting off of conservatism and censorship in the country. But streaming platforms have created digital pockets wherein local content can evade these censorship rules. Paired with the rising demand for the different portrayals of sex onscreen, the exact conditions that enable a show like it to be produced have finally arrived.
Much of the online response around “The Kangks Show” has been centered around its handling of sex and much of the praise is deserved. With episodes written by Antoinette Jadaone (“That Thing Called Tadhana,” “Alone/Together”) and Fatrick Tabada (“Patay Na Si Hesus,” “Chedeng and Apple”), it explores topics that are, for some reason, still taboo or underdiscussed in the Philippines today: ageism, micropenises, threesomes, sexual fluidity, premature ejaculation, alter accounts, femmephobia, and even sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). What’s more interesting is how WeTV’s interface allows people to anonymously share their unfiltered comments in real time, onscreen as the episode plays, which adds another meta-aspect to the discussion.
It’s a slippery slope between sex education and virtue signaling, but “The Kangks Show” (both the series and the production within it) is aware that it only fulfills half of the conversation. Instead of imposing clear-cut solutions, it focuses on arming its viewers with information that can alleviate some of the religious guilt and societal shame they’ve learned from existing in a puritanical society. But more importantly, it illustrates how access to this information can only do so much, especially by exposing how Kara not only struggles with sex but also more broadly with intimacy and stability.
What remains unmentioned about “The Kangks Show” is how it is also about the making and maintaining of a television series. The meta-narrative introduces us to the work involved in mounting a production: pitching, researching, monitoring ratings, dealing with censorship and network interest. But it also allows us to invest in the behind-the-scenes drama: sex with co-workers, powertripping, failed conflict resolution, and how the personal affects the professional, especially in the world of celebrities. By displaying the disparity between Kara’s onscreen and offscreen persona, it uncovers how television uses humor to commodify people’s sufferings and how it can serve as a breeding ground for hypocrisy and virtue signaling, despite its good intentions. In presenting these contradictions, “The Kangks Show” is proof that sex education cannot come from entertainment alone.
While the men in this universe seem a station away from stupid, Jadaone creates fleshed out female and queer characters that orbit around Kara and act as a prism through which her solipsism can be viewed. The workaholic executive producer Nikki (played by the ever-brilliant Angeli Bayani) grounds Kara at the expense of her sanity and her relationship, the fan-turned-foe Cassandra (played by Maris Racal at her most manic and dramatically effective) challenges Kara’s facade through her bubbly demeanor, unabashed authenticity, and irreverent humor, and the innocent fresh graduate Amber (played by the knockout newcomer Nour Hooshmand) serves as a stand-in for millennials trying to make it and those who question the show’s purpose and process.
Like Doc Kara says at the end of every episode: “The world is already filled with problems. There’s poverty, there’s corruption, there’s climate change… Life is too short for bad sex.” And even shorter for bad TV shows. Everyone deserves pleasure. “The Kangks Show” reminds us that it’s possible to enjoy something without the guilt that we’ve been programmed to feel after.
“The Kangks Show” is an eight-part digital series available for free on WeTV. A new episode will be available on Friday at 8 p.m.