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Up and above the clouds: OTWOL and embracing the inner jologs/romantic

Kind of a funny story: these last few weeks I've found myself so caught up in something quite unexpected — a particular teleserye on primetime bida, On The Wings of Love. Since I first stumbled upon a random clip on YouTube, I've gone from lukewarm to completely invested in such a short span of time. Quite interesting that it's a local show this time, because thus far, my list of "Shows I've Sunk My Teeth Into" are all one-hundred-percent Western. One Tree Hill, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Ally McBeal, The Mindy Project, Suits, New Girl... the list goes on.

And yet, it's always nice to find an exception every now and then isn't it?

On The Wings of Love is actually a pretty uncomplicated story: simple Filipina girl marries working class Fil-Am boy for a green card. She needs him for the legal status; he needs her for the money she's going to pay him. They are forced to live together and pretend to actually be married to convince immigration officials that they're not committing marital fraud. Typical enough to be relatable, but quirky enough to be very amusing.

I have to give props to the entire team because truly, I am enjoying every bit of the show, from the writing, the acting, and yes even the cinematography. No surprise there, since it is, after all, steered by Antonette Jadaone, the director of the #hugot cult favorite That Thing Called Tadhana. If her filmography is any indication, this show is nothing less than honest, believable, and just genuinely charming.

The characters themselves are the strongest part of the show for me. The way they are written - they are fleshed out and three-dimensional. I mention this because back in undergrad, the most important thing I learned in my fiction classes is that stories are propelled by the people themselves. In real life, we don't always have accidents, bouts of amnesia, or documents revealing a mix-up at the hospital to conveniently move the story along. Life happens because of the choices we make, regardless of the circumstances. And for most people, these choices may be simple - i.e. What will bring food to the table? What will let me buy medicines for my dad? What will keep me going for another day? - but they are decisions that hold much weight.

That's pretty much the grounding premise of this story. Leah (Nadine Lustre) wants to go to the US for very simple, practical reasons. She wants to be able to bring her family to the US to fulfill the dreams of her mother, who once worked there too but "died" in San Francisco. Finding her mother's grave, and then finding a job - pretty ordinary, and perhaps not at all an alien sentiment for many other Filipinos. But of course, things take an unexpected turn as she meets her ex boyfriend's mom, Tita Jack (Cherry Pie Picache), who also happens to be the aunt of Clark (James Reid). Hilarity and lots and lots of kilig ensue.

I won't mention any more plot points because I might not be able to stop squealing and gushing here.  Although the result is of course predictable - they will fall in love, obviously - it's the getting there that's very much thrilling. The way the story unfolds and the way their relationship is explored is so subtle, so natural, it's hard not to keep your eye on the screen. The dialogue is very authentic. The two leads, who are just in their early 20s, speak casually. No dramatic proclamations of any sort; you won't be hearing anything that you wouldn't be caught saying out loud in real life. The characters are presented as real people. No rich-guy-whose-parents-own-a-company here. No damsel-in-distress narrative. No kontrabidas, no kidnapping plots. Just regular folks, with actual conflicts. Worthy of note are the two female leads: Leah and Tita Jack. Leah is a feisty and determined character, who is firm in her stand and doesn't embody the typical teleserye lead of being completely prisoner to her emotions and trapped helplessly by the consequences of everyone else's actions. She stands her ground; her doubts stem from the fact that she has convictions. And then there's Tita Jack, who is a lesbian, but whose main plot point is not about her sexuality. It was important in one episode, but that's that - her issues aren't solely about the fact that she's gay. She's been gay all her life; the people around her have always kind of known. And so there's room to explore the other aspects of her character more intently because her sexual orientation is not even an issue at all. We need more characters like these!

I also like the fact that it particularly caters to the OFW community, because the dynamics they explore in the show - adjusting to life abroad, being away from loved ones, finding family in the comfort of other Filipinos in your neighborhood - are true to what most overseas Pinoys experience. But the overall mood of the program isn't depressing at all. While the reason that drives them all to the States is quite sad (i.e. they have to leave the country just so they can provide a better life for their family), they're not presented as miserable. They make the best of what they have; they relish in the fact that there is a promise of a better life at the expense of being away from home. It's an optimistic but still grounded-in-reality kind of narrative.

There is actually a potential Labor law research paper that can be written about this story somewhere - about the Filipino diaspora, or the doleful status of our unemployment rate in the country (hehe pun intended sa DOLE), or just the status of our migrant workers abroad. But that deserves another post altogether. I just really appreciate the fact that OTWOL doesn't gloss over reality just because it's a feel-good show, but at the same time, that it doesn't exaggerate as well, to the point of ridiculousness. It's so authentic. I can't stop saying that about this show.

Napa Valley!
(All photos grabbed from here.)

But who am I kidding, the best part of this show is really JaDine. I swear to God, I am a grown-ass 23-year-old woman, but my heart palpitates like a lovesick teenager whenever they're on-screen. Their chemistry is just off the charts! I literally scream at my television screen every time they share a tender moment. I may share the same initials and surname with one half of the other loveteam, but man, I am so totally on Team Jadine now! :)) Can I just say na ang gwapo gwapo gwapo pala ni James Reid?! He can just gaze off into the distance and my panties drop to the floor in an instant, lol.

And the funny thing is, I AM NOT ALONE IN THIS. Almost everyone I know on my feed - be it Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram - is just as hooked as I am. Walang pinipili eh, kahit sosyal or hindi. People I know watch it and feel the exact same way that I do. Especially my law school friends! My FB message threads are filled with CLeah photos and kwentos. We over-analyze the episodes online, we gush about it when we see each other in person. Just the other night, I had a viewing party with some of my blockmates here in my condo after we went out for a blockmate's birthday. Yes, we had to cut our karaoke/dinner short just to get home in time for OTWOL! It's so incredibly hilarious! Here we are supposedly earning our Juris Doctors but the only JD we care about at 9:30 in the evening is JaDine. :)) Yep, it's an epidemic.

But an incredibly fascinating and cheerful one at that. It's just so untroubling and laid-back, it really does make my day. It's so comforting to be able to find joy in even the simplest things. Who cares if it's "jologs" or "mababaw." Nakaka-good vibes lang talaga eh.

Sometimes, you find the greatest satisfaction in being accepting of things that are so simple. I've seen people on Facebook lately throwing shade at loveteams and shows they deem to be shallow. And of course everyone is entitled to that opinion - even I can't stand some of the rubbish we have on local TV these days. But the truth is, there are some of them that aren't exactly junk food for the minds. Some have real values in them, some have a great message to share. No matter that the medium isn't perfect - yeah, it's a teleserye or a noontime show, not a documentary - but so what? If it's a story that makes sense to a lot of people, if it's a narrative that calls out to them and mirrors a certain kind of truth in their own life, then, why can't we let them be? Appreciating pop culture is not mutually exclusive with being an intellectual. We all have our own tastes, we all find our silver linings our own way. For some, it's watching American procedural shows or reading dystopian novels or livestreaming football matches.

And for some of us, it's being glued on our screens and suspending our disbelief for thirty minutes each night, believing in the promise of a great love that is simple, and persevering, and honest; a love found in the most unexpected of places (and in the most attractive package, juskolord Clark Medina). #PushforLove! :))

Thanks to this show, I now have new places on my bucket list: San Francisco and Napa Valley!