By Danielle Liwanag
Between hearing the infamous beat of starting a new Netflix show and seeing the bright light of the screen occupy the room, it goes without saying that watching shows has become a pastime many have turned to. Since the start of the pandemic, it has been easier to binge-watch the latest trending series, even after long days of doing all our work online. Nowadays, consuming newly-released media is no longer just looking at the plot and the characters, but going beyond what is shown and looking at how it can be applied in current contexts. The shows we watch today have progressed and sparked conversations around the relevance of its themes in our country’s situation. Let us take a look at shows that have trended in the Philippines this 2021 and why they had so much impact.
Girl from Nowhere
Of high school dramas, exposing secrets, and iconic laughs, the hit Thai series Girl from Nowhere made its season two comeback last May, more than three years after the prior season’s release. As a whole, the show tackles Nanno, who exposes the modern problems of high school societies. The show becomes unique, however, when every episode doesn’t necessarily follow a chronological order but instead shows Nanno transferring into different schools every episode which in turn have their respective controversies. To make it even more thrilling, the audience is constantly left unsure where Nanno really came from—hence, the title—and thus leaves us anticipating who else she targets as she transfers schools. The unconventional storytelling method of the series certainly captures its audience and leaves them looking for more.
Although set in Thailand, the high school issues that Girl from Nowhere tackles are closely intertwined with those found in the Philippines. Themes like sexual harassment, academic pressure, bullying, teenage pregnancy, and social rankings emerge in the show’s episodes—but perhaps worthy of discussion is one that deals with privilege. In season two’s third episode, “Minnie and the Four Bodies,” a socialite student gets away with killing four of her classmates while drunk driving due to her privilege and parents’ money. Much like many instances we see on the news, the rich and privileged continue to be the ones who get away with more heinous acts, but it is the less privileged who suffer because of it. While the series only shows this in a high school context, we must remember that it is in the societies that we start with where our values are formed—what more does it mean when these keep the privileged in different standards? But as Nanno takes her usual karmic revenge, a tiny flash of hope appears in trying to dismantle unjust cases of privilege.
Tabi-tabi po. Circulating around Twitter were videos of ever-familiar Filipino mythological creatures running around the streets of Manila and vandalizing posters and billboards. Lit up on the side of ABS-CBN’s building was the title of the newest Filipino animated series on Netflix: Trese. Dubbed in Filipino, the show has been hyped by Filipinos as it aims to represent the diverse folklore of Filipino mythological creatures. The animated series revolves around Alexandra Trese, who is a supernatural detective that solves cases that involve Filipino mythological creatures, like the aswang and tikbalang. The show has been met with wide recognition from its Filipino audience, especially with the multiple references to our local culture—like Nuno’s favorite dessert: the beloved ChocNut. Many have also grown to love the characters, more prominently Crispin and Basilio, Alexandra’s partners-in-crime, who have captured the hearts of the series’ audience with their charisma, despite having disturbing origin stories.
Aside from this, the recognition is also widely caused by its relevance on Philippine contemporary issues. A striking scene from one of its episodes deals with the severity of cases of police brutality in the country, especially amongst the persistent war on drugs. One of the characters unleashes the undead to take revenge on a police station after his brother was gunned down by policemen. In a confrontation with the police captain, he reiterates just how looked down upon the victims of police brutality and extrajudicial killings have been. This scene has received praise from its audience due to its portrayal of the real situations in the Philippines. Another main theme deals with how Philippine mythology has been used in Filipino traditions and beliefs. One particular episode that tackles Philippine showbiz also showcases the tiyanak being used to scare women from getting abortions. Abortion has always been a sensitive topic in the Philippines due to the Catholic influences in the country. In Trese, it shows just how little women have control over their choices due to the traditional beliefs that have also influenced the laws of the country. As Trese continues to deal with the supernatural, let us not look over the themes discussed in the show that reflect real-life stories.
Pink soldiers, green suits, children’s games turned gory, and a 456-billion won prize. This list certainly won’t be complete without mentioning Philippine’s new favorite Korean series, Squid Game. The worldwide fame that Squid Game has acclaimed is beyond comparison, being Netflix’s biggest international series to become so popular. Squid Game follows Gi-hun, who is in debt and desperate for money, as he attempts to win games in order to survive and even claim the winning prize. The series leaves first-time viewers in shock with the first episode, where a seemingly innocent game of Red Light, Green Light becomes a killing spree of players who lose the game. As the games progress, more and more players get killed and the true nature and history of the games are unveiled.
The rise in popularity of the show has also sparked meaningful conversations on capitalist societies, especially given that the show’s creator intended the show to be a commentary on the effects of capitalism in today’s context. As the players in the game struggle to maintain income due to unfortunate circumstances or lack of opportunity, they become desperate enough to harm other people to live a life of leisure. Much like many situations in the Philippines, there is a clear lack of opportunity that is a factor in poverty and unemployment in the country. Just as how the Frontman in the show makes the players think that it is their choice to stay in the game, our fellow Filipino citizens are led to believe that the circumstances they are in are brought by their own doing, instead of the system that favors the rich and powerful.
As more and more shows continue to rise in popularity, let us not forget the conversations that have sparked amongst the trendy shows we have watched over quarantine. It shouldn’t only be entertainment that we seek, but also reflections on how it affects us and the actions we should take individually and as a nation. It is clear that with these trends, more shows will follow suit in terms of incorporating contemporary issues as their central themes. May these shows serve as a daunting reminder to look beyond the bright screens and look further into ourselves and the community around us.