The Notable Teleserye Performances of 2015


The 2015 round up continues for Teleseryes, and this time, we focus on notable performances, which by and large means at least three things, all on the part of the actors: an in depth understanding of the character’s persona, which consequently determines the arc of development towards discovery or transformation; a tempered, nuanced portrayal of this understanding of character; and an expansion of performance towards an articulation of the narrative insight of the teleserye. Artistry is of course always arguable, and for quite a while, there appears a general malaise against the genre, which many quarters consider as anything but artistic.

A teleserye is fundamentally a narrative, sequentially plotted to create a particular effect; characters are created to inhabit the time and space of the plot, and in effect, enable the story’s movement. The performances of actors determine the rhythm of the plot, which intensifies audience interest and encourages following. Performance is being discussed here in a very formalist, classical sense, where external factors like marketability or even the ploy to perpetrate love team fandoms are excluded. This “formalist”, “classicist” discussion is necessary in order to argue that there is indeed artistry involved in the genre, and that it is worthy of critical appreciation. It may have been negligible for its dailiness and popularity, but much of our contemporary culture is embedded in it.

Performance has a lot to do with this cultural embedding and the actors whose performances were selected for this year excellently portrayed their personae considering the three items mentioned. These actors’ characters defined this year’s harvest of teleseryes by televisually embodying personages who went through compelling, transformative experiences that shaped each of the soap opera’s story-ness. Some of the characters were reinventions of original personages, while others were original interpretations that simply leapt out of the television screen to capture the imagination of the audiences. This audience effect—as well as affect—have to be extensively discoursed in order to see how characters basically conversed with the social sphere and became imaginative expressions of current affairs and concerns.

This is when acting becomes—wittingly or unwittingly—political, especially when it transforms into a medium by which social issues, moral dilemma, and domestic drama are taken up. This is the subject of the third item, the performances’ expansiveness, which unequivocally urges teleserye acting to transcend its inherent economic imperative, pacing the soap opera critic Robert Allen. The soap opera—in our case, the teleserye—may have been generically predisposed to this imperative, but it is also a vast space of possibilities where relevant statements may be expressed, performed. 2015’s notable performances offered various manners of expansiveness while also deepening and nuancing portrayals. These performances shaped the Teleserye this year, as it delved, directly or peripherally, on the major themes of the day, aside from tapping into traditional romance and the modal depiction of the family as an important Filipino social institution.

7. Jacklyn Jose, Marimar. Signature camp acting at its finest. Jose’s performance salvaged this remake of Marimar by reinventing Señora Angelica Santibañez, turning the unforgettable and feisty antagonist into a comic, almost metafictive character who owns a classy seaside resort but who is anything but classy. Jose has lent levity to the teleserye by bringing in all sorts of lines and gestures typical of the landed nouveau riche. In an alternative reading, her performance may be seen as a critique of remakes, a statement about its pitfalls and possibilities. It may have been unintended—and it surely was—but her version of Señora Santibañez turned the tables on the soap by exposing the clockwork of Filipino soap opera campiness. Jose’s camp performance in Marimar was but one of a few to be remembered in 2015, and it joins the ranks of Marissa Delgado’s, whose emphatic and queerly phrased English dialogues in Forevermore distinguished her character as a hotel magnate, and Angelica Panganiban’s, who basically made a composite of all her previous campy characters in film and teleseryes to concoct a new Madame Claudia Buenavista in Pangako Sa ‘Yo.

6. Daniel Padilla, Pangako Sa ‘Yo. Many have little faith on this young actor, but thanks to Pangako Sa ‘Yo’s book two, he was transformed into a different Angelo Buenavista after many of life’s challenges. From a bratty governor’s son born with a golden spoon in his mouth, he became the next door, bike-riding baker boy who had to start from the ground up and finally learn from the school of hard knocks. His family’s tragedy motivated him to strive and build his life with his younger sister, who was left to his care. His character’s authentic positive attitude while coursing through the city’s high rises—a sign of a transformed life away from his political and provincial turf—was believable and compelling. Pangako Sa ‘Yo has certainly provided Padilla a good material where he could transcend his matinee image and become a serious actor.

5. Janella Salvador, Oh My G! Distinguished acting for a debut teleserye. Salvador’s Sophie, a sheltered, upper-middle class lass who lost both of her parents to violent deaths, successfully captured the idiom of the times by parsing in social media language into her consciousness, and letting it become the means by which to narrate her adventure of searching for her long lost sister. The use of the current idiolect was part of the ploy to dramatize the timeless search for God in contemporary times, lorded over by Facebook and Instagram, and where there seems to be no time at all for spirituality and reflection. Salvador’s character was lent with moving moments of dialogue with the God-figure, and in these same moments, she constantly embodied the figure of the biblical Job asking the divine the great whys of life. Salvador’s performance was never didactic, but always aspired for the articulation of the self-aware character’s insight and soul.

4. Connie Reyes, Nathaniel. A Connie Reyes performance must definitely be noted since this actress’s body of works in television drama is a dramatic school of its own. This year, she played Angela V. Lacsamana or AVL, a successful business magnate with a dark past, and an even darker present, since quite literally, she was being used as an instrument of the dark forces from hell (mind the semblance of the sound of the word “evil” with the popular initials of Reyes’s character). Some may argue that AVL’s persona reeked of being stereotypical, but again, the soap has to be read as an allegory of the current reign of greed. In the battle between good and evil, Reyes’s AVL personified excessive materialism and hunger for power. Was the teleserye commenting on contemporary morals? In the time of widespread corruption, was this soap of angelic proportions, through Reyes’s AVL, a performance of a final reckoning? Reyes certainly played the part well, and nobody else would have been able to pull it off.

5. Glaiza de Castro, The Rich Man’s Daughter. De Castro’s Althea provided a nuanced rendition of the underrepresented figure of the lesbian in Philippine television. Her’s basically veered away from the stereotype, and attempted to reimagine the liminal figure by internalizing and embodying essential concerns and conflicts. She did not flatten her character into another that aspired to mythologize, so to speak, the similarity of her dilemma with that of the whole heterosexual norm. Althea was brave as a dramatization—and not merely a celebration— of difference. It may be easy to categorize De Castro’s Althea as a lipstick lesbian who happened to help her beloved awaken into coming out of the closet herself, but her natural spunk yielded for Althea a distinct character and bravura.

2. Ketchup Eusebio, Ningning. Eusebio is one underrated fine actor, and has only been given a few lead roles in the past. His performance in the late morning, feel good teleserye was nevertheless a refreshing one. He played the role of Dondon, father to the child protagonist Ningning, played by Jana Agoncillo. Eusebio gave a tempered performance of a father who transitioned from a life of fishing in a storm-ravaged seaside town to a life in the streets in the urban sprawl—indeed a very gripping initiation. He played the part of the father well, employing his signature comicality for levity and lightness, and his restrained pathos, especially when he shares the frame with Agoncillo, who at a very young age already has the makings of a fine actress. His recent exchanges with Agoncillo, as he was explaining to the the child’s character the need to have an eye operation in order to avert blindness, was a moving scene, sensitive to the mood of the situation and the positive disposition of the show.

1. Paolo Avelino and Jericho Rosales, Bridges of Love. The performances of the two actors playing the estranged brothers Carlos Antonio/JR Nakpil and Gael Nakpil, respectively, could not be appraised separately, thus this decision to have them share 2015’s top spot. Both consistently maintained acting intensity, evolving a dynamic that foregrounded their climactic discovery of their relation to each other towards the end of the teleserye. Avelino’s Carlos Antonio was fired up by anger for being abandoned as a boy, while Rosales’s Gael was motivated by the strong desire to succeed and redeem his life after his initial but defining travails. Carlos Antonio’s anger was fomented by the man he considered his father, the construction mogul Lorenzo Antonio, played by Edu Manzano, who has long kept a grudge against the Nakpils. Avelino has finely performed the deeply troubled character of Carlos Antonio, a great foil to Rosales’s Gael, rendered with restraint and intelligence by the said teleserye veteran. The consistent intensity in both was observable in the warranted rage and violence in the final scenes of the soap. In looming death, both had dramatized how blood would always be thicker than water.


The Notable Teleseryes of 2015: The Expanded Version


2015 has been a year of innovations, as far as Teleseryes are concerned. The rise of the “Kalyeserye” through Eat Bulaga’s “Aldub” fame proves that the genre continues to evolve, its power extending to other equally institutional genres like the variety or noontime show. The Filipino audience’s passion for narrative and romance propels the evolution, especially that the Teleserye concept marked its 15th year, has been in extensive usage in formal and informal discourses to refer to the Filipino soap opera, and has basically transcended its initial network-based, marketing aim. This year’s harvest, so to speak, proves that both the word and the local genre have come of age because of the industry’s exciting ventures and treatments, even if, say, the networks were reworking old materials. Two reworkings highlighted this year, both canonicals in their own ways, but approached differently to articulate distinctions.

ABS-CBN’s Pangako Sa ‘Yo, which you will find in this list, was the banner remake, not only because it marked the 15th year of the Teleserye concept but also reinvented the original by catching up with the times. Now on its “book two”—because the expositional “first book” has ended with the fall of the Buenavista political clan and the supposed death of the nemesis Madame Claudia Buenavista in a car crash—the soap has so far provided interesting characterization for the key characters, but more of this later. On the other end of the spectrum is GMA 7’s Marimar, which I think distinguished itself for the campy acting and quotable lines of Jacklyn Jose, who played the unforgettable Señora Angelica Santibañez. The soap was of course appealing because of the Tom Rodriguez-Meagan Young tandem, but it was the antics of Jose’s Angelica that carried the show. We needed a break from all the heaviness that teleseryes tend to offer, which may also be found in political news and current affairs that emulate teleseryes. This year’s Marimar did not make the cut because, as in the first one, it was merely a parody of the original, albeit with more finesse.

Adaptation is also a form of remaking, and TV 5 was on its toes this year catching up with the Teleserye industry, tapping into Korean drama and the popular Wattpad stories. Its two attempts at hallyu however, Baker King and My Fair Lady, turned out to be awkward, but quite understandably. The network is still trying to learn the ropes, and it may be sensed that it is trying to offer an alternative to the polished and glossy teleseryes of number one and two. Their paragon this year was ABS-CBN’s Two Wives, which successfully Filipinized the original Korean. Meanwhile, I find the Wattpad adaptations to be more exciting, though most of the stories needed a lot of reworking, even in teleserye format. In the future, the network’s new media-directed approach might work to its advantage. However, it has to take storytelling seriously and process well its usually raw romantic materials. Expanding materials resource could be key in further evolving the genre, as well as tapping into the discursive platform of social media. Networks have been generally employing this strategy in their teleseryes, introducing hashtags in their program billboards and activating discussion on social media pages. TV 5 however has long been benchmarking in the digital platform and its efforts might bear fruit in the coming years.

This year may also be described as a year of Teleserye romance, and one might ask: what year is not a year of romance for Teleseryes? It is, after all, what animates it? I say that it is a year for romance because of the teleserye pairs that emerged and gathered strong following. This list, I have to clarify, does not include Eat Bulaga’s “Kalyeserye” because it is sui generis, of its own kind, and worthy of a separate and devoted explication. But as one with the trappings of a “teleserye”, it surely did embody romance, with the chemistry and play of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza. Hands down, the couple deserves to be given the Love Team of the Year title, certainly giving the existing and equally followed love teams a run for their money. The “Aldub” couple however spelled out once again the formula for romance which must, first and foremost, be authentic. The Kathryn Bernardo-Daniel Padilla/Kathniel love team is tried and tested, and fans just can’t get enough of them together. And so does the Jodi Santamaria-Ian Veneracion team up of Pangako Sa ‘Yo, which to a certain extent overindulged with the rekindling of their romance after years of being away from each other. The “kiligan” so to speak ran for many days and the narrative barely moved. We have to give to ABS-CBN, that flair for the romantic, which also led them to invest on the popularity of the James Reid-Nadine Lustre/Jadine love team to ferry their trademark teleserye “kilig” towards the last two quarters of the year.

There was also a remarkable sense of place in some of the teleseryes produced in 2015. The ABS-CBN soap Forevermore, which aired beginning late 2014 but commenced May 2015, showed a new sense of Baguio City through its famous La Press mountainside community. The city provided a quaint backdrop for the blossoming of the romance between the characters of Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano. The teleserye had more character because of its location, which became more believable with the characters’ conscious use of Ilocano. There are still so much to learn from the Koreans and their Korenovela tourism model, but Forevermore showed that it was possible for a teleserye to encourage tourism and a set to become a tourist destination. Meanwhile, I would like to mention a more interesting series, GMA’s Dangwa, which actually had various narratives pulled together by a magical maiden named Rosa, played by Janine Gutierrez. In her pursuit of returning to her fairy world, Rosa found herself becoming a flower store keeper in Manila’s district of blooms, Dangwa. The teleserye was notable for its foray into the urban landscape, which basically shaped the lives of people Rosa met in the course of her journey.

All things considered, I offer you my take of this year’s notable teleseryes. I selected seven because they embodied the best aspects of this year’s production, articulated earlier in the review. Some of them not only innovated on old material but also circumvented the modes and tropes available for soap operas. Some were bold enough to push the envelope and show the most dramatic of unfoldings, or the bravest of characters in an industry limited by marketing constraints and conservatism. I commend these teleseryes for engaging the public with eye-opening materials. Some basically came out with a fresh approach to the dramatic form, much to the betterment of the teleserye as a distinct Filipino televisual form.

  1. Princess in the Palace. This is TAPE Incorporated’s return to teleseryes after a long hiatus and after focusing on Eat Bulaga, which has recently contributed to the development of the form after “Aldub”. Historically, TAPE has also been into soap opera production and it boasts of canonical soap operas since it expanded into the genre. There was Heredero, of course, and Agila and Valiente, afternoon soap operas all that featured strong male figures. Good thing there was Ryzza Mae Dizon, who needed to grow up and evolve from her two-year stint as a cute talk show host doing a front act for Eat Bulaga. Still currenly running. Princess in the Palace is a story of a little girl adopted by the President of the Philippines. While national politics is very peripheral in the story, the soap humanizes the characters inhabiting the Malacañang Palace by peering into their domestic and personal issues. Usually providing contrast is Dizon’s Princess, who utters all sorts of feel good, words of wisdom. Her didactic turn reminds us all that she is, and will always be the Aleng Maliit people learned to love. Cheers to TAPE which we must all compel to do more soaps to contribute to the shaping of the Teleserye, if only to reiterate its stake in the history of the form.
  1. Destiny Rose. This GMA afternoon soap was notable for its courageous attempt to continue the network’s pursuit of tackling issues of gender after the success of My Husband’s Lover and The Rich Man’s Daughter, which will be read about in this list shortly. After providing space for the romance of discreet gay men and of lesbians, the network decided to dramatize the life of a transgender. It signed up the androgynous Ken Chan to play the role of Joey, who beautifully transformed into the transgender Destiny Rose, a novelist involved with two men—the Italian pen-pal Gabriele, played by Fabio Ide, and the first love Vince, played by Jeric Gonzales. Chan believably played the role, moving with ease and finesse while Destiny Rose’s drama unfolded. The soap basically put a face on the transgender issue, attempting a more humane representation of an often socially scorned figure.
  1. The Rich Man’s Daughter. Like Destiny Rose, this GMA primetime soap opera provided space for the underrepresented lesbian figure in Philippine society by dramatizing one woman’s awakening into her sexuality. The rich man’s daughter was Jade, played by Rhian Ramos. Jade came from a conservative Filipino-Chinese family and was in a relationship with David, played by Luis Alandy, for many years. The equilibrium changed after she met the wedding coordinator Althea, played by Glaiza de Castro. They developed fondness for each other which evolved into romance that complicated the situation and compelled Jade’s father to offer a million pesos to any man who could bring her back to her “normal” self. The ending kiss between the two women in the finale was significant: it used as a backdrop what seemed like the LGBT Pride March. I say that it’s bolder than My Husband’s Lover; by situating its last moments in the scene of the march, it has put its foot down—in stilettos, mind you—to politicize the drama of the underrepresented.
  1. Pangako Sa ‘Yo. Hands down, this teleserye is the banner remake, and it has to be commended for the way it distinguished itself from the first Pangako Sa ‘Yo, also the very first teleserye. The team already has the production structure so to speak, as well as the familiarity of the audience. When its first book ended however, it reinvented the story and helped Padilla emerge into a more mature actor. Finally, he had been given a chance to dramatize pathos that added to his character more spunk and motivation. The currently running second book of the teleserye where the main characters are slowly coming together again—and of course, everyone is awaiting the re-emergence of Angelica Panganiban’s Madame Claudia—provided a breather to the intense tragic last scenes of the first book. Pangako Sa ‘Yo 2015 is the monument to the Teleserye concept and it has certainly come along way from its original form. This time, it banked on very effective psychological treatment to thresh out character motivations and development.
  1. On The Wings of Love. This teleserye is a breakthrough of the year and a refreshing one, perhaps because of the many interesting perspectives brought in by directors Jojo Saguin, Dan Villegas, and the emerging Antoinette Jadaone. Jadaone took on this soap fresh from her success in the film That Thing Called Tadhana, and her directorial gloss is certainly seen in this transnational romance featuring the characters of Reid and Lustre, the lovers Clark and Leah. Yes, On The Wings of Love is another American dream drama, and its story certainly revolved around the challenges and dreams of the diasporic Filipino. It has been showing different facets of this collective desire for mobility, as it has also been dramatizing the interesting archipelagic variousness of Filipino culture, basically shaped by this neocolonial dream. We hear Nanette Inventor’s signature Kapampangan on the one hand, and all of a sudden, we are transported by the whole gang to Ilocos Norte, which lets us hear the Ilocano lilt and verve, as Leah retraces the roots of her mother, who abandoned her family many years ago. Notable as well was its inclusion of spoken word poetry, courtesy of Juan Miguel Severo, whose words add more nuance to the “hugot” and “kilig” of the teleserye, making it not only fun but intelligent.
  1. Oh My G! Speaking of intelligence, this well-thought, tightly structured teleserye offered a very refined treatment of one’s youthful search for God in days of desolation. Reportedly produced in line with the 500th anniversary of the writer and mystic St. Teresa of Avila, the teleserye used the figure of the Carmelite saint as an important motif, tying the lose ends of the narrative and helping the lead Janella Salvador’s character Sophie piece together her father’s dying wish—that of looking for a certain Anne Reyes, who happens to be her sister, and who she discovered to have taken the habit of a Carmelite contemplative nun. Sophie, a digitally savvy and social media creature, embarked on this adventure, typifying the contemporary teenager looking for herself amidst life’s early tragedies. She was accompanied by the omnipresent G, God himself, who took on different human forms but mostly inhabited the figure in all white played by Leo Rialp. G made sure she did not stray from her mission. Sophie’s contemporaneous language and consciousness proved to be one of this year’s best in characterization. Also, the insertion of Filipino poetry in the classroom scenes was very commendable and educational. We seldom see teleseryes remembering Jose Corazon de Jesus.
  1. Bridges of Love. Another intelligently conceptualized teleserye was this action-packed sibling rivalry and love triangle story spanning two generations and brought together by a controversial bridge project marred by corruption. The stowaway siblings Gael and JR, played well by Jericho Rosales and Paolo Avelino, respectively, were separated from each other by the tragic collapse of the aforementioned bridge. Later in life, they were brought together by a woman, named Mia, played by Maja Salvador. Mia was Gael’s girlfriend before he flew to the Middle East to work, but only to land in jail. After his travails, he returned to the Philippines as a new man, achieving his dream to become an architect, and internationally renowned at that. Mia became entangled with Carlos Antonio, who was actually JR, kept and raised by the construction magnate Lorenzo Antonio. Lorenzo married Alexa, played by Carmina Villaroel, who also had a previous affair with Carlos. Old conflicts abound in this story since Lorenzo was in the past involved with Gael and JR’s mother, Marilen, played by the returning Maureen Mauricio. He continued bearing the grudge against Marilen and her husband Manuel, played by Lito Pimentel. This grudge was revealed to be the motivation for saving JR and raising him as Carlos Antonio. As the most intense teleserye of the year, Bridges of Love boasted of a powerhouse cast that never faltered in acting vigorously. It also featured a satisfying, almost Oedipal, bloody climax that is certainly one for the books.