Note: This post was written on April 4, 2017.
If you're like me and you have a Filipino mother who can't live without watching her Filipino shows and dramas then you must be subscribed to either TFC (The Filipino Channel) or GMA Pinoy TV. Nowadays though, a simple search on Google can lead you to your favourite pinoy teleserye/soap opera (legal or not, idc do youu).
In 2016, the most viral filipino series, however, did not come from an afternoon soap or an evening drama but from the longest running noon time show in the Philippines, Eat Bulaga. It was the segment "Kalyeserye" that swooped the hearts of Filipinos around the world, even the biggest and toughest uncle I know got so much kilig (romantic excitement) from it!
A quick synopsis: the segment features an unlikely love team - actor/celebrity Alden Richards and DubSmash-famous then, now actress/celebrity Maine Mendoza as "Yaya Dub". Yaya Dub is a stern-faced, grouchy house nanny to Lola Nidora (who later turns out to be her niece or something?). Yaya Dub's persona suddenly takes a turn when she sees Alden Richards' face on the split screen and wasn't able to keep her RBF on (resting bitch face). Little did she know, that simple smile would be the start of Maine Mendoza's rise to fame and her love life weh! The love team communicates by cue cards and lip synchs lines to famous love songs to heighten their messages to each other and make everybody else swoon. To date (as per Wikipedia), #ALDubEBTamangPanahon on Twitter holds the record for most number of tweets at 41 million beating the 2014 world cup match between Germany and Brazil.
I was definitely obsessed with the ALDUB love team which is obviously why I'm about to deconstruct this piece of media and apply what I learned from Media Studies and argue why the show became so successful!!! Okay I won't go all academic, but I will point out 3 things I believe made the show so relevant to the Filipino people around the world that made my best friend and I stay up and wait for the live broadcast of Eat Bulaga to air at like 2 am Toronto time because Manila is freaking 12 hours ahead!
So why was ALDUB so damn relatable?
It is reminiscent of OFWs abroad connecting with their families online.
OFWs, or Overseas Filipino Workers are Filipinos who work in another country. Depending on their work contract or the nature of work they do, they go back to the Philippines every year (or every 2 if you were my dad) and maintain their Filipino citizenship. Basically, the whole point of leaving the Philippines is just to work, aka, their whole lives are still back home. For a culture that is very family-oriented, being on your own can be very lonely and the feeling of being distant from your loved ones can take its toll. Back in the day, my dad would send us letters, we would record messages on cassette tapes to send to him, and he would send us one back. My dad would even crop a picture of himself and photoshop it in our family photo. But now with the digital age, seeing your loved ones is just a click away. Skype, Facebook, FaceTime are all well used forms of media to get in touch with your dear ones from far away. In the show Kalyeserye, the split-screen set up is very reminiscent of this online video chat phenomenon.
In the show, Alden and Yaya Dub interact via split screen because Alden is in the main studio (Broadway Centrum) while Yaya Dub is out on location for the Juan for All, All for Juan segment, which usually precedes Kalyeserye. Yaya Dub, along with 3 comedians - Jose Manalo, Wally Bayola and Paolo Ballesteros, travel to different barangays or towns/villages everyday to do this segment, to get up close and personal to sometimes the poorest areas in the country to spread joy and give back to the community.
Separated by distance, the ALDUB love team carry out their sketches live via split-screen sending out romantic messages on cue cards, making hugot, blowing kisses, doing every kilig moments you can possibly think of. If you are someone who's been away from your loved one for so long and you're Filipino and you're watching this on your Filipino network and you're homesick AF, you'd start to become Team ALDUB.
2. What's behind the curtain - the audience gets a chance to see backstage
Another way that Kalyeserye is interactive is the camera work that is done throughout the segment. The camera follows wherever the characters go, whether it'd be at Broadway studio or somewhere in the barangay. What I think is most intriguing for the audiences is how the camera follows Alden everywhere backstage. I mean you see him in his "lunga" haha his little corner where he watches Yaya Dub on screen. You see him running in the hallway backstage, stage left, stage right, I feel like I know Broadway inside out now just by watching Kalyeserye. For fans of Eat Bulaga and also for Filipinos abroad who can't be at Broadway to see the show, this is a nice bonus. It also proves to the audience the transparency of the show and therefore its authenticity, that the show is totally live and majority of it is improv. There was even an episode when Jose Manalo went up to the control room and the staff were totally caught off guard. Seeing more than a glimpse of what's behind the scenes in Eat Bulaga on a daily basis is one of the reasons Filipinos kept wanting more of Kalyeserye.
3. Rich vs Poor narrative / romance between a celebrity and a yaya
And finally, the romance between the different status quo of Alden Richards and Yaya Dub, I believe is the most relatable feature of the tandem and the show. This rich vs poor narrative is one that Filipinos love to watch over and over again. I mean it's no question that the poverty gap in the Philippines is the biggest problem and possibly the root of all problems of the country. And this gap between the rich and the poor only continues to widen. Plus, with the media perpetuating and glamourizing the rich vs poor narrative in soap operas and movies, solving this economic gap gets harder. But enough of my political commentary. The point is, this poor girl meets rich boy, they fall in love, their families don't approve, type of story is such an archetypal plot in Filipino media.
And we love this sh*t.
We cry over them in movies, we root for these love teams, we anticipate for their success.
In the case of Kalyeserye, it's no different. As a yaya, Maine Mendoza's character has an extra kind of hold to Filipinos. It is no secret that Filipinos get jobs as nannies or caregivers when they go abroad. For some, they use this position as a stepping stone to be able to go abroad and go for their true career afterwards. For some, it's really what they do. And I'm not writing here to judge, do you! Nonetheless, a large number of Filipinos relate to the character of Yaya Dub, even those in the Philippines. Because of the poverty gap, many Filipinos from the rural areas, for example, find jobs as yayas or nannies so they can start working and go to the city. Sometimes they can't afford to pay for school and must help their families financially so they have to start work early and being a yaya is the only viable option for them. It's one of the things we took away from the Spaniard colonization, maintaining that superior vs inferior slave mentality. Now we're doing it to each other. Isn't that something. But I digress once again..
The actor falling in love with a yaya is something out of a movie. Yet, in Kalyeserye, this chemistry between Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza transcends beyond the TV screen (they're actually dating now). It could also be argued that Maine was assigned the role of a yaya because she does not uphold the beauty ideals of Filipinos in mainstream media. Maine is not fair-skinned. She is also very goofy. She is not mahinhin (lady-like). Nevertheless, these are actually the traits that captured the hearts of everyone who stood by her rise to fame. And in fact, Maine Mendoza's physical appearance is very definitive of an average Filipino woman. Tan-skinned, round nose, dark hair, uplifting personality. Therefore, Maine's character Yaya Dub spoke to every Filipino girl and woman watching. And the love interest to Yaya Dub of a male celebrity who upholds the standard beauty ideals gave these women a sense of hope and confidence in their own beauty despite what mainstream media says about what they look like.
So there you have it. Kalyeserye's recipe for success, in my own opinion. Although the segment is done, it was definitely a groundbreaking moment in Filipino TV history and brought many Filipinos together in so many ways. Not only did the show bring so much romance, but it also conveyed positive messages and lessons about family, life, love and God and being Christian, while keeping it light and comedic.
Team ALDUB all the way.
Did I miss anything? Comment below and let me know!