Public opinion on the current state of television changes as quickly as switching channels. Young people don’t watch TV anymore; there are simply too many good shows right now; streaming is king; the king is dead. It’s thriving until it’s not, our hands unmoving on Schrödinger's remote control.
Not Philippine TV though. Regardless of our personal feelings about it, it’s historically been a lifeline of our cultural consciousness, being among the most accessible and captivating types of mass media; a long-form medium that is, by design, reflective of the sociopolitical context in which it is produced.
These four titles, having premiered within the last few weeks, vary in form and function, but are all bearers of what local TV has been, and what it could be.
“Sleep With Me”
Cast: Lovi Poe, Janine Gutierrez
Like many of its pandemic-born siblings, “Sleep With Me” was a response to quarantine loneliness. At the center of this queer love story is director Samantha Lee’s reckoning with giving and accepting love — why some find it easy while others struggle.
Echoing the warm intimacy of Lee’s sophomore feature “Billie and Emma,” the six-parter is tender and forgiving, slowly unfolding under the soft lights of its oft-night setting. The show’s title, after all, is an invitation, eventually revealed to be one of vulnerability rather than promiscuity.
But perhaps the series’ greatest strength is the attention it gives to community — Lovi Poe’s Luna and Janine Gutierrez’s Harry are surrounded by so many other (queer!) people who care for and are cared for by them, all of them candid about their personal devotions. Among them are Kai (Kerwin King), Harry’s younger brother who’s harboring a confusing crush, and scene-stealer Wendy (Nour Hooshmand), a convenience store worker who gets into an unlikely friendship with Luna.
Luna and Harry may be lonely, but they are never alone. Love is abundant in “Sleep With Me;” they must only learn to make room for it.
Watch on: iWant
“Drag Race Philippines”
Cast: Paolo Ballesteros, Jiggly Caliente, KaladKaren
Every episode of “Drag Race Philippines” feels like serotonin being injected directly into your bloodstream. The much-anticipated local iteration of the beloved franchise boasts distinctly Pinoy humor (“Can I get an eme up in here?”), glamour, camp, drama, and queer joy. So, so much queer joy.
Frankly, it’s an honor to witness queens of this caliber in their element, though perhaps this should come as no surprise as the drag scene in the country has always been alive and well even before RuPaul’s casting call. The show is simply the global stage they have long deserved; as that one Twitter meme goes, “They had a plan, they just needed the platform.”
Their talent is aptly bolstered by an intelligent production that feels no pressure to westernize the show. References celebrate rather than pander. I always joke with friends that the show does so much for patriotism. How can you watch a sagala-inspired design challenge, an aswang runway called “Shake, Rattle, and Rampa,” or a girl group showdown à la SexBomb Girls vs. EB Babes, and not feel like you’re bursting with Filipino pride? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get “Boom, Turing!” out of my head.
Watch on: WOW Presents Plus, Discovery+, HBO Go
“Suntok sa Buwan”
Cast: Aga Muhlach, Elijah Canlas, Maris Racal
Gentleness is the norm in this series about a retired boxer and his boxing aspirant son. Its sincere deconstruction of hegemonic Filipino masculinity catches us off-guard — in between shots of rings and gyms is a father telling his son that he’s proud, that he loves him. It’s kindness that threads the characters together and propels the story forward.
The show is shot like a movie — thus earning the nomenclature “movieserye” — which offers more space for quieter moments often taken for granted in its more fast-paced counterparts. It’s the prime vessel for Aga Muhlach and Elijah Canlas’ comforting turn as father and son, as well as Maris Racal’s foray into a more dramatic role.
While the rest of the narrative elements are nothing we haven’t had generous servings of before, “Suntok sa Buwan” remains one of the most thoughtfully crafted, beautifully acted shows on mainstream TV right now.
Watch on: TV5, YouTube
Cast: Jane De Leon, Janella Salvador, Iza Calzado, Joshua Garcia
“Darna” the show is as much of a myth as Darna the character. First announced in 2014 as an Erik Matti-directed feature film with Angel Locsin returning to the iconic role, the project underwent multiple transformations under the watchful eye of longtime fans and casual viewers alike. The hero lands on our TV screens, finally, in a series helmed by director Chito S. Roño and brought to life by actress Jane De Leon.
The character has always been a mirror of the social condition, from its first comic appearance after the war to the many retellings during martial law in the ‘70s. While it’s too early to see how Darna fares in the current political climate, it’s clear the series is a product of the now, from relatively trivial plot points like Narda’s stint as a live seller to Janella Salvador’s Valentina using social media livestreams to draw attention to the local administration’s corruption.
Like the television giant “Ang Probinsyano” that held the primetime mantle before it, “Darna,” borrowing the words of critic Emily Nussbaum, is now our “public square, where we hash out the news as it happen[s].” It’s the perfect example of TV being inherently political, not just because its characters deal with the government and the criminal justice system, but because the show (and those who run it) has the unmatched ability to impose headlines onto the familiar template of hero journeys, essentially categorizing ideologies into good and bad. We have yet to see what “Darna” does with this power, but with everything the hero has come to symbolize in its course of existence, I doubt we have much reason to worry.
Watch on: A2Z, TV5, iWant, YouTube