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.