GMA Network took a big risk with its self-dubbed “epicserye” Amaya; a big historical drama with some fantasy, costumed characters, very deep, malalim Tagalog/Filipino dialogue. This in a television landscape where the highest rated scripted programs are run-of-the-mill schmaltz, contrived sentiment, and glorified violence and abuse.
But Amaya managed to be successful, not only with its incredibly different and distinct production, but with weaving a consistent and engaging story.
Plus, more often than not, Philippine soap operas that get “treated” to an extension or two past their originally scheduled end date, flounder and wallow in tepid and uninspired forced writing. Amaya largely avoided that and beat the odds with a talented writing staff that kept the show moving forward without falling into slush.
Amaya was a hero’s epic, the story of one woman who stood up to fight in a male-dominated society. It had action, adventure, romance, politics (!) and traditional soapy drama. The production side of the series also maintained the high (and expensive) quality throughout the run.
The cast delivered fine performances. Glaiza de Castro, Irma Adlawan, Sid Lucero, Rochelle Pangilinan, and Lani Mercado, who put in the most time out of the supporting cast, did admirable work with the difficult dialogue and often heavy material.
But it was Marian Rivera and Gina Alajar who really excelled. No question, Amaya was a star vehicle for Marian Rivera and she was well-suited for the role. A no nonsense fighter, a daughter and friend and an eventual leader, Rivera’s personal qualities as an actress actually helped boost Amaya’s depth as a character. This was Rivera’s biggest dramatic test as an actress since leading the Philippine adaptation of Endless Love and she passed this test maybe a little better than she did with that one.
But while Rivera was the star, veteran Gina Alajar provided what may be a career performance. She was able to turn what could have been a standard kontrabida into a well-rounded, multi-faceted character. Villainous for sure, but with a strength and conviction that separates worthy adversaries from cartoon characters. She made Dian Lamitan just like Amaya in many ways, proving a woman’s place in society is more than just that of a gatherer to the male hunters. Alajar’s experience certainly played a big part, but her performance definitely elevated the character and in turn the story into more than what may have been originally planned.
The series ended with a happy ending for the titular character, but the epilogue of sorts that brought the series full circle and thrust it into the future was really a wonderful way to finish. With the glimpse of Spanish galleons arriving on Philippine shores as well as glimpses of Katipunan fighters, it was a reminder of just how full Philippine history is of incredible stories waiting to be brought to life.
Amaya served as a nice template for (hopefully) future attempts at dramatizing Philippine history. The series was the perfect mix of history and fantasy with plenty of adventure and excitement. One would hope this isn’t the last attempt at bringing grand epics to Philippine television.