What a crazy ride ABS-CBN’s Maria la del Barrio has had; from its months-delayed premiere to its excellent start to that regrettable middle patch to its eventual kidnapping (orly?) and lovefest ending. A show that ended up being filled with missed opportunities, near-fatal missteps, and questionable network influence, but carried by a strong performance from the should-be title character.
Maria la del Barrio was supposed to be based on the Mexican telenovela of the same name. Topbilled by Thalia, it became a worldwide hit, including in the Philippines.
But this Maria la del Barrio‘s relation to the original was in name alone. Just like NBC’s American “adaptation” of the British classic Prime Suspect, while Maria la del Barrio Philippines would be a fine Filipino series on its own, it suffers in comparison to the original, forcing comparisons when only the title is similar.
The original Maria la del Barrio was a great mix of fun and melodrama with classy sexiness from its title character. Maria la del Barrio Philippines was almost devoid of all of that and instead was a straightforward Filipino soap opera.
Which is fine, but again, with the comparison to the original, it comes up far short.
With adaptations like this, you want to be original, but also be respectful of the source material. Maria la del Barrio did that well when it first premiered, expanding the backstories of the parents of the would-be destined couple of Maria and Luis. But it seems as the series drifted further and further away from the original, the more it actually became more typical. And typical Filipino soap opera isn’t always a good thing.
There’s no doubt the show may have suffered after the pre-premiere upheaval and overhaul that replaced a number of the cast, turned the story around and delayed the series for months. This was after the network hurriedly wanting to rush the series to air to help save its sinking afternoon schedule. They released a teaser trailer of scenes specifically shot for it (instead of actually filming the series and then clipping scenes together into a true preview trailer) and from there the worry that the essence of the original MLDB, the spark and sizzle, would be absent from the Philippine series.
It unfortunately turned out to be a sign of things to come.
The teaser trailer looked like any other standard Filipino soap opera; a more typical “check off the boxes” teleserye and not a remake of a telenovela.
Even the iconic theme song, which already has a Tagalog version sung by Thalia herself, was absent from the teaser trailer. Used instead was the coronation song of a recent reality singing contest winner from the network. You couldn’t be as far from Latin flavor and as close to typical Pinoy soap than that.
The iconic theme would eventually only be heard in 30 second character teases for Maria and Luis.
After the series was put on hold and overhauled, it finally premiered and perhaps against the odds, got off to a strong start. Powered by the hued, fairy-tale-like visual style seen in a few other series before it and by excellent performances from Erich Gonzales and Ai-ai de las Alas, Maria la del Barrio gave hope that maybe the series would actually work despite having so many things thrown against it so far.
The differences between the original and this Filipino version in the beginning of the series were actually positive. A more fleshed out backstory gave the series more depth than the original. But as the series continued to delineate from the original, the more it became obvious that things weren’t going in the right direction. The focus was removed from the title character. The series became an ensemble drama instead of being a star vehicle for Erich Gonzales like other telenovela remakes were for the likes of Marian Rivera, Carla Abellana and Angelica Panganiban. And for Rivera and Abellana, the roles were career launchers.
They abandoned that Latin flavor; that sexy, fun, breezy vibe present in the other telenovela remakes
Then came the network’s sticky fingers. Halfway through the series came the inexplicable 180s. Jarring and contrived story turns delved the show into frustrating territory. It’s like the writers gave up on everything that was working and instead went to something else they weren’t sure would work at all..
The originally interesting adult triangle between Assunta de Rossi, Ian Veneracion and Angel Aquino became tired and overused. Maria’s story became one-dimensional.
Newly welcomed cast, no doubt ordered by the network higher-ups, wilted alongside stronger, more talented actors. Jewel Mische was an incredible weak link. She just did not and right now, does not have the ability to keep up with the rest of the cast. Scenes between her and any combination of Erich, Enchong and Angel were just painful to watch.
In contrast, this was Assunta de Rossi’s most significant television role to date. And even though the character itself flailed around this 2nd half, de Rossi was on point throughout. With a little better writing, this could have been a career performance for her.
For Angel Aquino, she started off great, seemingly jumping off of her acclaimed performance in 2010’s Magkaribal. But as time went on, her character just turned into a poor imitation of her Magkaribal character Vera Cruz.
Unfortunately underutilized characters kept Arron Villafor, Jane Oineza and Paw Diaz from being able to do anything with the material given to them. And Ai-Ai de las Alas was offed too soon (thanks to having already been booked onto another show).
The show did find a charming little girl in Alyanna Angeles as Andi, Maria’s biological daughter. Especially during the show’s darkest periods, she was one of the few bright spots and greatly helped boost the show’s otherwise iffy final week.
If this was supposed to be a career performance for Arron Villaflor, it was twice or three times that for both Erich Gonzales and Enchong Dee. After their many team-ups since their breakout roles in Katorse, Maria la del Barrio was their opportunity to truly take on more mature roles; growing up and moving forward with their careers.
For Enchong Dee, it was a little more of the same. If anything, his character was just written too similarly, if not a combination of his past roles as the spoiled, rich son, the son of the Vice President of the Philippines and the street smart Tondo-grown teen. Because of that, his opportunity to really take a step forward was limited.
For someone who really got shortchanged though, it was Erich Gonzales. Maria la del Barrio was never truly all about her, when it was supposed to be. There would be episodes when she got less screen time than the antagonists. If one was looking for a true, starring, front and center role for Erich, this was not it.
But for all that the material for Maria lacked, Erich made up for in her performance. She made the most of what was given to her, lemonade from very few lemons, and was able to give a strong, sometimes excellent performance to really carry the show in spite of what almost seemed like efforts not to let her do that.
The story ended up being a very simple, yet prolonged outline: Luis and Maria fall in love – Maria gets pregnant – Parents break them up – Fast forward a few years – Lies uncovered – Luis and Maria want to be together – Luis and Maria search for their long lost daughter – Luis, Maria and daughter live happily ever after.
There are of course detours and road blocks along the way, yet the series finale made it seem like the outline was actually: Luis and Maria fall in love – Luis, Maria and daughter live happily ever after.
When watching a soap opera, or especially Filipino soap operas, you can sit through the frustration and mind boggling plot twists if it means getting one big payoff in the end. That ending that makes everything the characters, and you as a viewer, have suffered the last couple of months worth it.
Maria la del Barrio‘s lovefest ending was not only unsatisfying, it was jarring. After spending a week of painting Maria as borderline crazy by kidnapping her daughter (though still managing to completely sympathize with her and no one else), it’s a quick cut to a party (one year later) where every single person is happy and friendly, as if nothing has happened. Not a single thing.
You may have heard about “forgive and forget,” this was more like a case of collective amnesia. Though Erich Gonzales and Alyanna Angeles made that “Wag ‘nyong saktan ang mama ko!”/”Don’t hurt my mama!” scene emotionally effective, it was also completely forced. And that was because the story was almost written into a corner with the unnecessary plot twists in the dark middle of the series that would’ve turned Maria into the antagonist instead. An absolutely convoluted and contrived ending born out of a completely pointless turn of events.
Like the title says, the series was supposed to be about Maria from the barrio, a spunky girl wanting to bring herself out of poverty and be successful. And in doing so, showing all the people who put her down (and attack her, physically and emotional, of course) that she actually has what it takes to do it.
Instead, it became a show about Maria from the barrio who became the other woman who had to struggle just to even be near the man she loves and her biological daughter who was ripped from her arms all because her rival, the kontrabida can do whatever she wants.
I don’t know about you, but that first description sounds inspiring, but also exciting and fun. The second one makes me go “What else is new?”
Network Didn’t Care… So They Screwed it Up
The criticism can’t lie solely on the show’s production team though. Because they started off very well and showed bits and pieces of greatness throughout. But it was obvious the network could care less about the show, so much that they almost treated it like some experiment they could toy around with. Throw things at the wall to see what sticks without putting much effort into it.
The network didn’t even care to come up with a new song instead of a recycled reality show coronation song and a 3 year old single. I was upset they didn’t use the original theme, but then I realized, the original theme just does not fit with the series as it became. The Angeline Quinto and Erik Santos songs were still completely out of place though and were always used at the most inopportune moments during the show.
Then you have the show’s 15 minute runtime per episode, with approximately 11 minutes of new material each day (the other 4 minutes devoted to recaps, next
day week previews and a repeat of several minutes from the previous episode).
And those inexplicable story twists likely ordered by the higher-ups, mainly to accommodate
flavors of the month actors the network wanted to promote that particular week.
I was looking forward to the series because it was the first ever Spanish-language telenovela I ever watched. It was also one of my aunt’s favorite shows right before she passed in 1997. Being a fan of Erich and Enchong, I knew that the show would be in good hands in terms of its leads. And I was excited for them, this being their first show, a show that really was centered on them and Erich especially.
But maybe it was that high expectation that did the show in for me. Maybe I expected too much from the Philippine Maria la del Barrio. But I got over my high expectations pretty quickly and just hoped for a good show.
At times it was, other times it was horrible. There were several moments when the show had the opportunity to turn itself around and get the ship back on track. It never fully did. But in spite of everything, one thing’s for certain, Erich Gonzales took what little was given to her and made the most out of it. She more than carried the show on her shoulders and for that alone, maybe the series was not a complete disappointment after all.