The wildly popular online Thai series 2gether (produced by GMMTV that aired on GMM25 and available online via Line TV and YouTube) didn't ink a partnership with the country's largest media network recently on a whim. It stemmed mostly from the huge rise of Boy Love (BL) very recently, and while this has been more felt in and from Thailand, BL stories actually originated from Japan. Such featured homoerotic relationships between male characters, which, typically, women created for women. It's distinct from homoerotic media marketed to gay and bisexual male audiences. BL covers a diverse range of subgenres—high school love comedy, period drama, science fiction, detective fiction, to name a few.
BL's recent mainstream emergence has even led ABS-CBN's very own Black Sheep to release its first locally-produced series—Hello Stranger. Though it's not the first Boy Love series in the country (it comes after Gameboys, Sakristan, and Yours Truly), it piloted with "Hello Enemy!" last week via YouTube and Facebook. As of this writing, on YouTube alone, the episode already has more than 900,000 views and on Black Sheep's Facebook page, it's close to 400,000. Its second episode "Hello Feelings" is close to 700,000 on YouTube as of press time.
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Patrick Valencia and his team of writers deserve the commendation early on. They succeeded in incorporating into the characters' milieu—the present-day pandemic—as the starting point of the story. The chosen setting: The academe, which, due to the government’s quarantine rules, is forced to conduct classes online. In college, Mico Ramos (JC Alcantara) is asked to assist Xavier de Guzman (Tony Labrusca) with a school project through, yes, the serendipitous buddy system. With the latter's varsity scholarship grant is at stake, the nerdy Mico is relied on to salvage his (attractive) partner’s grades. The two work together to get good marks at the end of the semester. +3
Mico and Xavier become comfortable with each other, eventually, with the freshman seeing the junior as a welcome distraction. The dynamics of their friendship takes off when Mico accidentally likes the former's IG post. Labrusca manages to be charming despite being a badass in most times, making Alcantara's character intrigued over Xavier. +2
It's refreshing to see new faces taking on lead roles in this series. The Young Padawans comprise Patrick Quiroz as Seph Policarpio, Vivoree Esclito as Kookai Yambao, Miguel Almendras as Junjun Sandico, and Mico. The foursome buddies blend well as a group, with Seph, Kookai, and Junjun being good support characters to Mico. Seph seems to be the guy who teases Kookai's (obvious) admiration toward Mico, but perhaps in the latter episodes—both might end up together. Junjun, on the other hand, is likely to suspect Mico's weird behavior toward Xavier (refer to episode two) even with the latter stressing his relationship with the athlete-scholar as purely professional. Amongst everyone, perhaps, for his popularity alone, Labrusca's inclusion as Xavier is enough to excite the local BL fans. +3
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With the community quarantine imposed restricting the entertainment industry to temporarily hold off tapings, Vargas does brilliantly as the director. He manages to make the two male lead stars Labrusca and Alcantara act as if they are on a real set. In reality, most actors and behind-the-scene personnel had to communicate via group chats and Zoom meetings—imagine the challenges they all went through! Still, what a meaningful output! With the series still in the middle of taping, Vargas specifies “having to do everything remotely--from me directing, to staff and crew, and even the actors” as the “biggest challenge.” +5
Nitpciking here but very crucial, that with most scenes revolving around online chats and encounters, some stuff are amiss. Case in point: The graphics on screen could have been believable if the microphone and camera icons are all turned on. It ruins the entire idea, really, so maybe better attention to detail, please? Our suggestion: The local series production may want to look to how Thais do it, and maybe make the neighbors a benchmark in executing its graphics. +2
Glenn Barit's musical score and the theme song "Kahit Na Anong Sabihin Ng Iba" (Seth Fedelin) both fit the story's youthful vibe. Though, Fedelin's song (think Daniel Padilla’s pop rock) isn’t exactly within the same genre 2gether employs with how Scrubb tells Tine and Sarawat’s story (Metawin Opas-iamkajorn and Vachirawit Chiva-afree, respectively) through music. Still, it complements the sound that most millennials and generation Z prefer. +3
[related: In Focus: '2gether' Hotties Bright And Win On Love Always Winning]
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Alcantara and Labrusca’s tandem onscreen offers a unique appeal to tickle their audience's fancies as opposed to other BL series featuring fair-skinned, picture-perfect lead actors like 2gether stars Bright and Win. At least, the local BL version isn't following the trend that seems to stem from Thai's colonial roots (even Filipinos do have such mentality sometimes). Based on its pilot episode, there are already kilig moments, with the second episode further confirming Mico's attraction toward Xavier. +1
That video chat between Mico and Xavier where they first discuss their school project—the ultimate icebreaker! That time Xavier teases Mico on the latter's dilly-dally in accepting his IG follow request (Xavier’s lines tend to be flirty! "You know, Mico, don't be too defensive. Just accept it. Who knows, I can be one of your true friends.”). That time the two say bye online, with a smile on Mico’s face just as he closes his laptop. That time he grabs his phone and looks at Xavier's follow request again. +2
[related: ABS-CBN Lifestyle Asks: Tony Labrusca Re-Enacts These Iconic Movie Lines!]
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At 21 points, the series kicks off with great promise. It spreads across topics of relationships, humor (the Young Padawans’ banters FTW!), and perhaps even tragedy. In the pilot’s opening scene, for example, Mico is speaking to himself despondently, "It hurts. It really does. How did I get here? Where did it all start? How did I get my heart-broken?” This is already a hint of what to expect. For now, anticipate who between Mico and Xavier would turn out to seme (the active pursuer) and uke (the passive pursued). Another thing to watch: If Hello Stranger would choose the route of a Yaoi or a Shounen-ai.
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Banner image courtesy of Black Sheep