There’s no stopping the surge of Filipino versions of Boys Love (BL) series. The growing number of local productions is so fast, it has become a challenge to keep track of them. I have actually lost count, but my list has 31 Pinoy BL series to date. Most of them are just in the pipeline, some are still running, while others have ended.
However, it can be argued that not everything on the list can be considered BL in content — in the purist tradition of the genre. Some simply label their content as “BL” and hide under its guise if the story involves homoerotic affairs between two guys. Clearly, they are just riding on the genre’s popularity to gain viewership.
The Pinoy BL phenomenon is similar to what happened in the early noughties when digital video technology was introduced. There was a sudden boom in the local production of gay-themed independent films — so many that people thought indie films were mostly just gay skin flicks.
Indie gay films were not necessarily advancing a cause or representing the gay community. They were mostly sexploitation (bordering on the pornographic) movies, and a number of them only had straight-to-video releases.
Today, we might be seeing the same pattern. Pinoy BL is dominating the content of series productions.
Good storytelling is key to the success of any series. Many BL series in Thailand — where BL first caught fire, after Thais adapted it from Japan — have a high global following because they have interesting narratives.
The success of a series is usually determined in the first two or three episodes. Viewers might be forgiving of a weak pilot episode and wait for the succeeding episodes before deciding whether to keep watching.
While there are commendable Pinoy BL series such as Gameboys and Hello, Stranger, others pale in comparison or barely meet standards. What set the two series apart were their tight storytelling, remarkable cast and creativity of their respective directors.
Some Pinoy BL series fail because of poor plot development. Oftentimes, they have useless scenes that don’t push the story forward, and dialogues that serve no purpose in character development.
For instance, one series extended its inciting incident to the third episode, and yet the audience still couldn’t get a grasp of the characters’ goals.
The characters were also bland. The lead couple lacked chemistry and some cast members were just eye candies. In fact, one series had a newbie actor who alluded to, if not imitated, the acting and expressions of Gameboys’ Cairo (Elijah Canlas). The declining viewership of that series on YouTube confirmed its failure to capture an audience.
There are also some series that should be condemned. Everything about them — lighting, sound mixing, scriptwriting, acting — is bad.
However, there are a couple of Pinoy BL productions with redeeming factors. They got some aspects right — the cinematography, production design and editing. Nonetheless, there is no amount of production value that can compensate for bad screenwriting and direction.
Moreover, these series include tacky product placements in the tradition of tawdry movies shown in the Metro Manila Film Festival. It would have been better if “real” ads were placed instead.
Another example of what appears to be a promising series — at least based on its trailer — is My Extra Ordinary, which premieres on 27 September on TV5. I think the drawback is that it views homosexuality as a problem. This is disappointing because we expect a better treatment of the topic from a prizewinning writer.
The series’ creators may claim that it’s depicting a social reality and a sad truth, but such portrayals have been done to death. It is high time to change the narratives and perspectives to provide more empowering portrayals of the gay community in media. Homosexuality is not the problem; people’s thinking is.
Meanwhile, there is much to expect from Juan Miguel Severo’s Gaya sa Pelikula (Like in the Movies) on 25 September. The script of the first three episodes is well-written and has been well-received based on the overflowing positive comments. It can be accessed on Wattpad and has more than 160,000 reads so far.
Furthermore, one of its lead actors, Paolo Pangilinan, identifies as queer and is playing a queer role. This is an example of inclusiveness and better representation.
Jumping on the BL bandwagon is not really the issue, especially if it helps promote a cause. The more important question is, are these Pinoy BL series telling the stories that need to be told, and giving voices to those who need to be heard? It is not easy to strike a balance between entertainment and an advocacy, but it can be done.
The real problem is the false notion of Pinoy pride. Many Filipino BL fanatics on various online fan groups and pages keep on calling for support to all Filipino-made BL series regardless of its quality.
This is a bad habit and mindset that encourages the mushrooming of productions with substandard content.
This predicament will also saturate the market faster than the BL product can develop, not to mention that it runs the risk of generating BL fatigue in a space that has become overcrowded.
The surplus of bad content that is flooding online platforms right now might eclipse the good ones and kill the genre even before it grows. While there is a need to reclaim our narrative, the avalanche of mediocre Pinoy BL content also needs to end now.