“Sa mundo ng panloloko, totoo pa ba ang true love (In a world of lies, is true love still true)?” This is the primary question asked by the narrator in the latest KathNiel romantic teleserye. Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, two marquee stars who dominated the past decade, have encountered numerous star-defining turns and matured right before our eyes. But the world they inhabit has changed since they first paired up in 2011; in fact, a grim and sobering reality looms heavy on the show (a reality that both leads campaigned against).
It’s easy to be cynical about love teams. Do we even still need them? Why should we care about the latest permutation of Kathryn and Daniel (spoilers) ending up together when there are more things to be concerned about (like, maybe the fate of our democratic institutions?). But that’s the beauty of love teams. From Rogelio de la Rosa and Carmen Rosales, Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa, Jolina Magdangal and Marvin Agustin, and John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo, the history of the Philippines is inseparable from the pairing of attractive and relatable actors who tell stories of hope, and sometimes, even a little bit of magic.
A first for Philippine television shows, 2 Good 2 Be True premiered both on TV and Netflix, a testament to the audience-grabbing strength of Kathryn and Daniel and a move almost certainly affected by the shutdown of their previous teleserye home. Bernardo, who now has two of the country’s highest-grossing films to her name, returns to her roots and remains persistently endearing and lovable. No one does it quite like her, effortless in the little details like a chef gently kneading dough, with the confidence that she’s done it a million times before. She’s a generational star who shines in every scene she’s in.
Coming off the heels of a solemn and striking turn in Kun Maupay Man It Panahon, Padilla wears his bad boy gloves once again — and it surely still fits. He’s as much a heartthrob as he is a softie. The spell he casts is one of unexpected empathy, the knowledge that he has a troubled past and that his toughness is a facade waiting to be broken down by someone taking a chance to understand him. In the pilot, he employs nearly every tool at his disposal, including seductive gazes, playful banter, and an arrogant veneer so certifiably his own that it might as well be copyrighted.
2 Good 2 Be True follows Ali (Kathryn) and Eloy (Daniel), who begin their chance encounter in the worst scenario possible — a robbery. Having been a witness at the crime scene as a private nurse, Ali accuses Eloy and his gang of scam artists, confirming her suspicions. Even though the pilot synopsis might seem heavy, don’t be fooled; what ensues is a lighthearted jaunt where Kathryn and Daniel make use of their chemistry to great effect.
Director Mae Cruz-Alviar returns to direct the pair after her successful runs with them (Crazy Beautiful You and Can’t Help Falling In Love, among others) and opts to showcase the redefined versatility of the two now-adult actors. After being away from teleseryes and separated on the big screen for a time — Bernardo breached new heights in Hello, Love, Goodbye, and Padilla disrupted his usual roles by working with surrealist director Carlo Francisco Manatad — 2 Good 2 Be True feels like a culmination of everything they’ve learned applied to an honest-to-goodness, swoon-inducing romcom.
“Mas particular na kami ngayon sa pupuntahan ng kwento. Ang dami na naming nagawa for the past years kaya dapat conscious effort talaga kung paano mo ‘to iibahin (We’re now more particular with where we want the story to go. We’ve done several projects, and it requires a conscious effort to spice things up),” Bernardo mentioned. That spice she refers to is apparent in the show’s opening, scattered with adult themes and a look into criminality that’s shaping up to reveal ugly truths about the wealthy elite, centering on the character Lolo Hugo (played by Ronaldo Valdez in his teleserye return).
But, even if the show fails to deliver on more serious subtexts, it’s not that big of a loss. The weak parts of these shows come out when they stray too far from the central romance without coming up with interesting subplots to make up for it (a plague that often envelops K-dramas). One arrives at these projects expecting Kathryn to get mad at Daniel for being blatantly insufferable and then be impressed when one of the two changes for the better. It can be stupid and sometimes even dull, but in it is the joy of a kilig moment, or the joy of a fleeting escape — best not to distract from that.
Granted, it still has the usual teleserye tropes: conventionality, frantic pacing, and even the heavy-handed flashbacks that explain all one needs to know with little breathing room. But this language is defined and purposeful, forming semiotics that rabid fans respond to and forging connections that bind a gloomy teenager to unpretentious bliss. I would know; I was one of those prepubescent fans who eagerly awaited each Got to Believe episode; I practically grew up with them, as did many viewers of this show.
Head writer Denise O’Hara, together with Jaja Amarillo, Jmar Castro, and Raymund Barcelon, are cognizant of the power that a teleserye can bring, reminding us to find ourselves in KathNiel as they struggle with grief, injustice, and turmoil, while also jolting us out of our collective pessimism with a touch of romanticism that’s desperately needed. Corny, yes, but a bit of wheat and cheese is still healthy at the end of the day.
In these dire times, feel-good shows like this might just be too good to be true. – Rappler.com