UPDATE 1/11/11 – I basically retract every single thing I said in this review. Read Hindsight Review: ABS-CBN’s Mara Clara – What Philippine Primetime DOES NOT Need to find out why.
ABS-CBN’s Mara Clara is typical Filipino soap opera. It is also a remake of one of the most memorable and beloved Philippine soap operas ever. But the series’ main accomplishment this time around is that it finally presents a showcase for underused young talent.
The original Mara Clara aired for four and a half years in the 90s and it propelled young actresses Judy Ann Santos and Gladys Reyes to superstar idol status. The drama, about two girls switched at birth, captured the country’s hearts and minds like no other series has since.
This 2010 remake, presumably set to air only a fraction of the original series’ run, has a more nuanced plotline but in turn sets the series up as too typical and clichéd.
The babies are still switched, but now the switch is motivated by revenge by a jealous ex. One girl living in the slums and the other girl living a privileged life, each in a world completely opposite of where they should be.
The series focuses on the two girls, Mara and Clara, now in high school. And that set up provides for some typical high school angst and romance. There are mean girls, there are best friends, and of course there is the thrill and cuteness of first love.
But none of these plot points are particularly new concepts. What Mara Clara does best is allowing ABS-CBN to finally utilize their young and talented actors and actresses. Kathryn Bernardo and Julia Montes, who play the title characters Mara and Clara respectively, are just two of a big group of young stars who are too old for the kiddie gag comedy show Goin’ Bullilit and too young for a full fledged romantic vehicle or soap opera.
While rival network GMA has been able to successfully capitalize on fresh, young talent, ABS-CBN has wasted their own large pool of teenage talents by relegating them to bit parts and the typical “young *insert character name*” premiere week set-ups for soap operas.
Mara Clara shows that not only is there an audience for series centered on teenagers (and real teens, not early 20s playing teens), the young talents are more than capable of carrying a show.
Just like Philippine networks should believe in young children being able to carry shows, so too should they believe in their teen talents. They could have easily developed a high school drama or soap opera to showcase them, but Mara Clara seems to be the closest we’ll get.
And that is Mara Clara’s biggest selling point. Both Kathryn Bernardo and Julia Montes are charming and refreshing, contributing a great energy to a show that would otherwise be just like any other series on TV today.
Hopefully Mara Clara can open the network’s eyes to more possibilities.