Binge-worthy: 'Call Me Tita'
MANILA, Philippines — Call me Tita is a study of all the triumphs and travails of titahood.
It follows four friends: Ruth (Cherry Pie Picache), a café owner. She’s married, but is unfulfilled sexually. Celine (Agot Isidro) is a self-styled social media influencer. She’s a former beauty queen and starlet, and is now a rich man’s mistress. Maya (Joanna Ampil) is a successful professional dealing with her “old maid” status. Frida (Mylene Dizon) is a yoga instructor and a survivor of an abusive relationship. And there’s Josa (Lorna Tolentino), their absentee friend.
After introducing each of the main characters, we meet Gabbi (Angelica Panganiban), Josa’s daughter. Gabbi asks her mom’s friends for help — her mom was caught by the police, and is being detained over drug charges. The group (minus Celine, who sends her assistant JR in her behalf) arrives at the precinct, only to discover that Josa is no longer there.
The friends worry for a bit... and then go about their usual routines.
Ruth has her dalliance with Pablo, her hunky head chef, Celine gabs for her followers and fusses over her son, and Frida struggles to finalize her divorce with her American husband. Josa serves as a sort of unifying thread through these different storylines.
Friends without benefits
The only problem here is that nobody seems to care about Josa. The friends are all tight, but that familiarity also breeds contempt. They’re used to Josa getting in trouble, and that makes them lackadaisical. At one point, Josa tries calling Ruth, only to get brushed off. “Just clean up your own mess,” Ruth disdainfully advices her friend.
The series handles Josa’s character very poorly, which is a shame, since she’s the one who could have had the most interesting background. People who have reason to disappear also tend to have the best stories. There’s a lot of wasted opportunity here to introduce depth and gravitas to the character. Instead, we get a character that is one-dimensional and devoid of any intensity.
And the problem isn’t just that Josa is one-dimensional. Josa acts out of character for someone who (we assume) has a past filled with peril. She’s cheeky, almost bubbly, which makes it hard to reconcile what we’re seeing with what we’ve heard about her. It seems like the series wants to show a character that smiles and jokes to hide personal trauma. But the series can’t fully commit to building Josa’s character — it has four other “main” tita storylines to follow.
Among these storylines, Frida’s is the simplest, but also the most affecting. She helps students in her yoga studio find inner peace, but her calm veneer hides her own anguish. Frida was physically abused by her now-estranged husband — it’s a situation that could lead to over-the-top dramatics, but Dizon handles the damaged Frida with utmost care. Dizon shows that subtle details like a pensive gaze or a moment’s hesitation before greeting her new friend Sam (Ice Seguerra) can speak volumes.
Sam is an artsy type, and he and Frida form a bond, which becomes romantic. Whereas Frida would teach her students to find their zen, Sam convinces Frida to call her estranged husband and just let it all out. Frida has been wound up for so long that when she finally rips into the guy, it doesn’t feel over-the-top or outrageous at all. Frida has earned this moment. And it’s satisfying for the audience to finally have that moment of catharsis — we’re right there with Frida.
The rest of the friends have their own struggles as well.
For Ruth, it’s with Pablo. The strapping young chef threatens to leak a sex tape he secretly made of them, unless Ruth forks over copious amounts of cash. For Celine, it’s with the reality that her offline life isn’t as perfect as she wants her followers to think. She has an overbearing mother-in-law (who dismisses her work as “social media nonsense”) and a son who turns out to be gay.
Call Me Tita is an exploration of the lives titas lead behind the facades they’ve erected — a fact that is most apparent with Ruth’s, Celine’s, and Frida’s stories.
Both Picache and Isidro also do justice to their roles. Picache goes all-in on Ruth’s cougar-ness, while Isidro channels the quiet desperation of Celine. The downside to their stories is that both are resolved quickly and predictably. The series brings interesting conflicts, but lets its characters off the hook a bit too easily.
Josa eventually surfaces and gets in touch with Gabbi. We’ve been waiting for this moment the entire time, but when it finally comes, it’s devoid of any emotional weight. The show wants us to care about Josa. But none of Josa’s friends could sustain any concern for their missing friend, so why should we?
Call Me Tita culminates in a celebration at Ruth’s café. There, Josa makes her grand entrance. “The biggest bitch is back,” she proclaims to a room of people who had been busy doing their own things during her extended absence. There’s some concession towards reconciliation, but then the show throws us a curveball. During the celebration, a gunman aims a gun at the café door, and fires. Josa has a look of surprise on her face, but we don’t know if she — or anyone else — got hit.
The scene is a big miss. It tried to cash in the emotional investment I’ve made in Josa. But here’s the problem: I didn’t have any. That ending was pretty pointless, and caused any appreciation I had left for the show to evaporate. — Rappler.com
Iñigo de Paula is a writer who lives and works in Quezon City. When he isn't talking about himself in the third person, he writes about pop culture and its peripheries.