What makes a Filipino Drama

I’m planning on doing a write-up/ recap on Down with Love episode 12, but my internet connection is waaayyyy tooo slooooow. Video downloading is waaayyy tooo chooopy. I’ll probably take me waaayyy tooo long to recap a single scene.

So here I am, thinking of something to write about. And out-of-the-blue, wooosh! I’m thinking Filipino dramas.

For the purpose of clarity and simplicity,first, we define the term “Filipino drama”:

Filipino dramas/ soap operas come in different names, depending upon the length, time it is aired, genre, and  even the origin of the piece.For example, drama series that centers on fantasy and magic are often called fantaserye. On the other hand, dramas that originates from movies are fondly named sinenovelas. However, this post is all about the teleseryes, which is the more popular form and genre.

Just to give you a simple background, MOST of the Filipino  teleseryes, are heavy melodramas. Running time varies from 3 mos. to 3 YEARS! Teleseryes are being aired Mondays-Fridays with approx. 30 minutes per episode, usually, between 8-11pm (prime time). However, because  of the increasing popularity of Korean and Taiwanese dramas in the Philippines, modern teleseryes are often cut short to 3-6 mos.

Moving on to the core of this post, let’s talk about the main ingredients that definitely makes up a typical teleserye.

(1) Extreme Characterization. Female leads in a typical teleserye are often characterized as the “perfect damsel who is always in distress”. They have the perfect face, has the perfect attitude and most importantly, they are the perfect push-over. They are impossibly kind, and ridiculously selfless. They carry the heaviest loads, thus, they do a lot of crying. Simply said, leading ladies are  humanized angels roaming around the earth.

Male leads, on the other hand, are most often portrayed as the ultimate gentlemen. Though they are not as perfect as their female counterparts,  they still do what they do best: save the “perfect damsel who is always in distress”. Thus, even though they have minor flaws, like being too arrogant, too torn etc., they are still well-loved.

Just as the female leads are amazingly faultless, and the male leads almost overly perfect, the villains are impossibly wicked. Villains in teleseryes are the ultimate crooks. They embody all forms of evilness: greed, uncontrollable jealousy and violence. They are purely evil, thus, they have no chance to change.  That is why, villains often end up being killed, imprisoned or insane. Each villain, has her/ his trademark evil laugh (mwahahaha!).

(2) Catfights! A typical teleserye would not be complete without the most anticipated catfights. Remember I said that the female leads play as the perfect push-over? Well, they don’t remain like that forever.  Somehow, before the teleserye ends, the female lead will miraculously change from the “poor little damsel who is always in distress” to a bold and daring supah woman. When that time comes, she’ll be able to participate in the catfight. Female brawls are always intense. The scene may involve a couple of slapping marathons, or they may get a little violent and wrestle to death. But most of the time, they just exchange spiteful words.

One of the best catfights ever is the confrontation between Catherine and Scarlett in Iisa Pa Lamang:

Scarlett: “Walang hiya ka!” (Shameless!)

Catherine: “Mas walang hiya ka! (You’re twice as shameless!)

Scarlett: “Home wrecker!”
Catherine: “adulteress!”

Scarlett: “Social climber!”
Catherine: “Slut!”

Scarlett: “Black widow!”
Catherine: “Desperate Housewife from hell!!”

(3) Power lines. Most teleseryes are remembered because of the power lines. These are dialogues that stir the viewer’s sentiments, making them emotionally attached and hooked. Power lines are simple and short but emotionally precise and are  delivered with conviction and integrity.

Some power lines are:

Lavinia: You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard, copy cat! (Bituing Walang Ningning)

Scarlett: You’re just a gold digger in red! (Iisa pa lamang)

JB Berenguer: I…never said…that I love you! (Maging sino ka man)

Celine: Yes! I’m a slut but I’m the best slut in town! (Maging sino ka man)

Corazon Berenguer: I have had enough weak men in my life and I don’t want another one for a son! (Maging sino ka man)

(4) Gold, Guns and Goons. Ever present in typical Filipino dramas are gold (millions of money), guns (yeah, the real guns!) and the goons (hired thugs). These are the perfect gears used by villains to attain their goals. Without these, there can never be a teleserye. Why?

Here’s how it works: The gold (money) serves as the evil villain’s ultimate goal, the very reason why he is evil. He then uses guns to inflict terror and thereby, get the gold. And of course, guns wouldn’t be useful without the people pulling the trigger, so the villain needs an army of equally evil minions and thus, there is a need to hire thugs.

Applying the rules of logic: Without  money, guns, and goons, there’s no villain. When there are no villains, there are no leads. When there are no leads, we don’t have a story.

(5) Crying Time. As I’ve said before, teleseryes are heavy melodramas. And when I say heavy, I really mean heavy! It seems that these dramas exist just to make a running faucet out of our tear ducts. The leads cry when they are happy, they cry when they are sad, they even cry when they are angry! So, expect that there are a lot of crying times.

My views and opinion:

Putting it into a more specific and concrete illustration, watching a teleserye is like swimming against a raging current. The more you  swim forward, the more exhausted you get. It’s a long and tiring journey, you may think of quitting along the way. But somehow, when you push yourself through, you’ll definitely arrive on top and you’ll find the journey worth the while!

I lack the in-depth knowledge to give an impressive opinion on Filipino dramas. I don’t even watch a lot. But this much I can say, teleseryes are rapidly evolving. Humour is already incorporated (unlike before), the plots are gearing towards the trendy and unconventional storylines, conflicts are becoming simpler and light.

Hope to see a feel-good Filipino drama soon… 🙂


Posted on April 29, 2010, in Filipino Drama Series/ Movies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. my sentiments exactly! i’m filipino but i seldom watch teleseryes, for many reasons:

    1. the story- they are so long winded, especially when ratings are good, more episodes are added to mild the interest of the people (and, well, more sponsors!); it’s nice to watch a teleserye that ends when planned and not in a rush(or in a very prolonged manner)
    2. the genre-i am not particularly fond of melodramas, i prefer feel-good dramas
    3. the characters- you were right, the characters need some diversity; people just do not want to see the hapless, push-over protagonist and the overly evil antagonist…but i could be wrong


  2. I think, Filipino producers of these teleseryes should come up with something new, something that is not following the other footsteps of some ‘old-boring’ dramas that they made to span for even years! Not only because of commercials or sponsorship should be the main reason a teleserye should be shown to the audiences, they should also think some new and fresh ideas so that the show they produce will linger on to the minds of viewers right?

    I’m also a Filipino but i’m not saying this to disgrace my own race but to give a frank comment that the series you are producing are just making those people like me to switch to other dramas like Korean and Taiwanese dramas.

    I mean c’mon people, let’s be frank here okay? We are living in this practical world right now. If you will be in our shoes, (I’m addressing this to some lame producers out there!)if you will watch your own produced-teleserye, would you like to look it like it’s a work that is rubbish and don’t have any sense of style to make us, the televiewers to crave more? I mean we need more some fresh and new ideas for us to crave more you know? Something that is worth watching and is worth in our precious ‘rest’ time. We are spectators and we judge your work.

    How can I say tangkilikin natin ang gawang pinoy if the work you are trying to offer to us is rubbish? Well, I don’t say that all of the series you made are rubbish. There are quite few that is still worth to remember. But, how do I put this? You also make Pinoy versions of other Asian country’s own idea? Gah, I find it lame instead of being proud to it. Why don’t you try to challenge yourself to make some better shows from other countries’ own work? Why revising it and make it in Pinoy version? No wonder why there are some ill-minded people call us ‘copycat’ and I hate it.

    Better work, better results.

    Is that the best you can do? Are you sure?
    I think you should pull an all nighter thoughts about it…

    Gah, I sounded like something lingered in my mind that I watched somewhere…Arrrgghhh, I hate it. I wish there is also some pinoy punch lines that I could remember aside from “You’re nothing but a second rate trying hard copycat!” Something simple, yet sound useful.

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