The upcoming local adaptation of the ‘70s mecha anime Voltes V has ignited the long-running debate among local viewers about the supposed predictability of Pinoy soap operas.
A comic strip released on Jan. 19 by veteran cartoonist Pol Medina Jr. shows his iconic Pugad Baboy characters discussing the Voltes V adaptation, saying it might involve slapping and hair-pulling—scenes usually associated with Pinoy dramas—instead of Voltes V’s usual action scenes.
Voltes V: Legacy head writer Suzette Doctolero said Medina’s comic strip was “offensive,” claiming that it looks down on soap operas and its writers.
And while many took issue with Doctolero’s delivery of her defense on the Pinoy soap opera, she does have a point. The local soap operas that have been on air in the past decades have gone past the “sampalan at sabunutan” scenes many—mostly non-viewers of these TV dramas—associate the genre with.
But at the same time, it cannot be denied that our TV dramas still rely heavily on cliched scenes and overused tropes—the kind of scenes Medina mentioned in his comic strip. There is a good reason for this. Our recent TV dramas run daily for several months (or years, in the case of FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano), but soap operas from several years ago were on air for more than a year (like the ‘90s classic soaps such as ABS-CBN’s Mara Clara and GMA-7’s Villa Quintana). Tropes—commonplace plot elements—are presumably used by writers in order to sustain a story that should last on air for several months.
Be that as it may, even if we understand why local soap operas use tropes and TV cliches, it can’t be denied that some Pinoy drama trope-inspired plot twists are just too absurd or insane… even for soap opera standards. Here are some of our top picks for the craziest scenes and storylines from Pinoy dramas and soap operas:
The finale kidnapping—Claudia imprisons Yna and Amor in a glass cage (Pangako Sa’Yo, 2015)
The kidnapping remains to be a popular plot device in soap operas. It is often used near the end of the show (or during the show’s finale), as it is a way of creating an easy conflict and resolution among its protagonists and antagonists (in the same vein on how ‘90s comedy movies usually end with elaborate, comedic fight scenes).
Of course, kidnapping in television is ridiculous in itself, given how often it happens and how easily the TV villains can do it. But perhaps very few TV kidnappings can match how over-the-top the 2015 remake of ABS-CBN’s Pangako Sa’Yo is. A summary: Claudia (played by Angelica Panganiban) kidnaps Yna (Kathryn Bernardo) and Amor (Jodi Sta. Maria), takes them to a warehouse, and locks them up in a glass cage. She plans to slowly pour cement on it, which would, ideally, lead to the heroine's demise. The key to the glass cage is placed in a box filled with other decoy keys, in anticipation of Angelo (Daniel Padilla) coming to rescue the two. It’s unnecessarily elaborate, but at least gives the overused trope of kidnapping a fresh, over-the-top spin.
The deformed sister—Two sisters share the same body in Kara Mia
The conflict between siblings is so common a theme in Pinoy soap operas that every possible iteration of it must have already been fictionalized—from rivals who do not know they are siblings (ABS-CBN’s Magkaribal starring Bea Alonzo and Gretchen Barretto) to a young woman possessed by the ghost of her sister (GMA-7’s Kambal, Karibal starring Bianca Umali and Kyline Alcantara).
A popular soap opera trope involving siblings is the deformed siblings—mostly sisters, one of them pretty (usually ill-mannered, the show’s villain) and the other suffering from a physical deformity. It is a plot that has been used before the modern local soap opera, popularized by serialized komiks series such as Rod Santiago’s Agua Bendita (about twin sisters, one of whom is born in water form) and Jim Fernandez and Ernie Santiago’s Kambal sa Uma (twin sisters born with rat-like physical traits). It’s a device that creates instant conflict between siblings while showing that what’s on the inside is the beauty that counts,
GMA-7’s 2019 fantasy drama Kara Mia takes this trope to the extreme. Kara and Mia are siblings who share the same body, with Mia on the back of Kara’s head. Eventually, they discover that they separate from each other every night, with their bodies returning to its singled body state every morning. Viewers went wild when a teaser of the show was released prior to Kara Mia’s airing, commenting on how bizarre the plot is (not to mention its use of very shoddy special effects). But regular soap opera viewers know that this is just a different take on a very popular theme—the relationship and the love that binds siblings together, regardless of their differences.
The convenient plastic surgery—Elise and Rose look exactly alike in I Am U
Plastic surgery is also a common soap opera device—often used either as a reward for a pure-hearted character or as a means for revenge.
The iWant digital series I AM U uses it for the latter, to extreme, unbelievable measures. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the show: rich girl Elise is saved by less privileged Rose (both played by Julia Barretto). They look exactly alike, so Elise convinces her parents to take her in their care. A house fire (take note: another soap opera trope) kills Rose—except we learn eventually that it didn’t; Rose killed Elise during the house fire and pretended to be her in order to exact her revenge against Elise’s parents, whose business dealings years prior held to the demise of her family. And why does Rose look like Elise? Simple: Plastic surgery. How did poor, little Rose manage to get herself plastic surgery that made her look exactly like Elise? Why come up with a plan that hinges on Elise taking a liking to Rose because they look alike? No one knows! I AM U is a show that plays with these soap operas tropes so straight and earnestly you would end up wondering if it’s supposed to be satire.
The invincible villainess—Selina refuses to die in Mula Sa Puso
Death means nothing in soap operas—especially when you’re the villain, in which case you’re practically immortal. No one embodies this trope more than Selina of the 1998 ABS-CBN soap opera Mula sa Puso. Played by Princess Punzalan, Selena is menacingly and schemingly antagonistic against her brother Fernando and his daughter Via (the show’s main protagonist, played by Claudine Barretto) in the hopes of acquiring their wealth. Mula sa Puso, being a show from the late ‘90s, is as soapy as a soap opera could get. Via’s mother (Jaclyn Jose) is a good-hearted woman with half of her face covered in scars. Two good-looking men (played by Rico Yan and Diether Ocampo) are fighting over Via’s love. The show has a penchant for exploding vehicles (in one of local TV’s most iconic scenes, Selina sets a bus full of commuters to explode in an attempt to kill Via)
Selina is easily its most riveting character. The evil villainess isn’t new in local TV at that point (Marimar’s equally iconic antagonist Angelica Santibane predates Selina by a couple of years). But Punzalan portrayed Selina both menacingly and gleefully; the character remains to be one of Philippine TV’s most memorable characters. In one of its latter plot developments, Selina tries to kidnap Via but is stopped by the police. Via manages to escape Selina, who is trapped in a burning car. The car eventually explodes with Selina in it, making Via believe her aunt is finally dead. Except she isn’t. Selina survives the explosion, her face now marked with scars. Selina does eventually meet her end, although it is perhaps because of her that the trope of the evil, invincible villainess persists.
Baby switching—Georgia burns an entire hospital to get Emma’s baby in Ika-6 Na Utos
Baby switching is the grandmother of all soap opera twists in Philippine TV. We all have to thank ABS-CBN’s now-classic ‘90s soap opera Mara Clara for that. Here, Mara (Judy Ann Santos) and Clara (Gladys Reyes) are switched at birth as some sort of revenge scheme. The switched-at-birth plot (and its numerous versions) has since been part of local TV, making DNA tests a staple in soap operas.
But Georgie of GMA-7's Ika-6 Na Utos took it to the extreme. Emma (Sunshine Dizon) and Georgia (Ryza Cenn) both have a child with Rome (Gabby Concepcion); coincidentally, they gave birth around the same time. Georgia’s child, however, dies, so she does the most soap opera thing to do—steal Emma’s child at the nursery and sets fire to an entire hospital. Emma believes her child died in the fire, while Georgia raises Emma’s child as her own—of course, as revenge for their long-running rivalry. Of course, what everyone remembers about Ika-6 Na Utos is Emma and Georgia fighting over a baby stroller using toy guns. It's easily one of the most iconic Pinoy soap opera moments in recent years, and any show trying to amp the camp has this show as its inspiration.
BONUS: “Sampalan at sabunutan”—Almost every Pinoy soap opera
Pol Medina Jr.’s insinuation that Voltes V: Legacy may feature “sampalan at sabunutan” scenes isn’t unwarranted, given how commonplace it is in Pinoy soap operas. But it’s also very outdated.
While Pinoy soap operas still do feature a lot of scenes involving melodramatic confrontations, (usually between women), many shows actually prefer witty and campy exchanges of dialogue over plain physical confrontations these days. It seems this is the Pinoy soap opera writer’s way of telling us that they’re aware of how overused some of the plot elements in their shows are. Many of these confrontations are so ridiculous and unrealistic—and knowingly so.
One of the more popular soap operas of this vein from the previous decades is the deliciously campy 2008 ABS-CBN soap opera Iisa Pa Lamang starring Claudine Barretto, Angelica Panganiban, and Gabby Concepcion. Claudine plays Catherine, who a young woman who has captured the hearts or Miguel and Rafael (Diether Ocampo and Concepcion). But she ends up marrying rich old man Martin (Bembol Roco), whose daughter is Miguel’s ex-girlfriend Scarlet (Panganiban). Of course, despite being married, there is still romantic tension between Catherine and her two admirers, hence making her stepdaughter Scarlet also a romantic rival. Besides the convoluted plot, what made Iisa Pa Lamang stand out is its use of campy dialogue with the traditional soap opera “sampalan at sabunutan.” It was dubbed by viewers then as a “bekiserye” due to its elaborate and flamboyant confrontation scenes.
In an iconic scene, Scarlet tells Catherine: “You’re just a gold digger in red.”
Catherine replied, after a brief catfight, “Same to you, anak.”
In another scene, Scarlet confronts Catherine by saying, “Lahat ng yan, babawiin ko sa’yo.”
Without missing a beat, Catherine says with a wide smile: “Sige, maglaro tayo, agawan ng yaman.”