A charming Nadine Lustre highlights ABS-CBN’s newest primetime drama On The Wings of Love.
The series debut of the popular Nadine Lustre-James Reid loveteam (better known as JaDine) mostly hits the right notes in its first two episodes.
On The Wings of Love begins as we follow Leah Olivar (Lustre) through the process of obtaining a United States visa to join her choir at a music festival in San Francisco. She also hopes to visit the grave of her mother, an OFW (overseas Filipino worker) who died in an accident in The City years ago.
But really, her main goal is to find a job in the US that pays better than her desk job in Manila that will allow her to buy her father’s medicine and help her older sister return to school. Even if that means overstaying her visa and becoming a TNT (tago-ng-tago aka illegal/undocumented immigrant).
While we also meet her boyfriend Jiggs (Albie Casino) and his cousin (and of course Leah’s eventual love interest) Filipino-American Clark (James Reid), the focus in the first two episodes is really on Nadine Lustre’s Leah. And Nadine’s performance and charm helps to elevate the show above any of the possible questions raised by the story itself.
The first two episodes are enjoyable enough, but while there was no sign of it yet, the basic premise of the series is that Leah and Clark will get married so she can get a visa and he (who is in the process of getting his American citizenship) can get the money he needs to pay off loan sharks while also helping his family back home. They won’t be too keen on each other at first, but naturally, they will fall in love as the days and weeks in their fake marrige go by.
Now that’s the kind of premise that warrants a good 13-week run. A Koreanovela-style set beginning-middle-end story with no unnecessary extensions. (I am a firm believer that extensions are not a reflection of creative success on Philippine TV.)
But what makes me a little sad is that central premise. For the rest of the series, I’m certainly not expecting any big commentary on immigration. But it would behoove the series not to romanticize illegal immigration or TNTs. The Philippines is one of the top countries of origin for illegal immigrants and it would be great to encourage Filipinos to keep themselves above the fray and follow the rules.
Setting that possible discussion amidst the backdrop of a light romantic drama is probably not the best opportunity or venue. But we’ll wait and see.
These first two episodes do touch on that point. One of the best scenes is when Leah’s father (played by Joel Torre) tells his daughters that while they are not rich, he also hasn’t let them go hungry so much that Leah needs to take a huge risk by becoming a TNT. My hope is little moments like that or even a creative justification for the “fixed marriage” will deglamorize the idea of risking your life and future by breaking the law.
However, the biggest nagging question for me though is: How the hell can James Reid’s Clark afford an apartment in San Francisco?! One room closets can cost over $1500 a month! And his apartment is huge and pretty. Plus, his character is supposed to be sending money back home too!
At the moment, that detail seems pretty inconsequential. But since money is one of the big themes of the series, it would’ve been nice to see more realistic details.
It’s always great to see my hometown on TV. But there’s definitely some harsh realities in San Francisco that could’ve been used with great effect, even in these first two episodes with laying the groundwork for the central premise.
The idea of a fake marriage is definitely not a new concept in the world of Asian dramas. But that immigration/visa angle is a little iffy and sort of lessens the grand, romance that we’re supposed to be rooting for.
On the other hand, one big plus for me is the implication that Leah’s family is Ilocano. With her mother first to immigrate, it is one realistic detail in terms of Filipino immigrants, especially in California and Hawaii. But other than “Manang” and “Tatang” and “Nanang,” I wish we could’ve heard some actual lines. (And correctly written Ilocano lines too, not like the Google Translated Ilocano lines of Hiram Na Alaala. *shudder*)
But really, the biggest reason I’ve been anticipating the series is that I’ve been rooting for Nadine Lustre since first seeing her on TV5’s Bagets. What’s been great is that Viva has chosen the right projects for her that allow her to show what she’s capable of as a dramatic actress, but also help maintain her bright, likeable personality. There are not very many young Filipina actors today that are as charming and relatable.
She and James Reid definitely have a great chemistry that’s been tested and proven, both on-screen and on-stage too. So in that sense, their series debut should be no problem for them.
For James Reid, this should be an opportunity to show off his capabilities as an actor as well and to allow him a non-cocky, bad boy role. It is also great when networks actually allow their actors to spread their wings.
Albie Casino also has a similar opportunity if they are able to delve deep with his character, which they showed some signs of in the 2nd episode. (Putting his two year TV5 experience to good use!) The supporting cast of Cherry Pie Picache, Joel Torre, Bianca Manalo and Nanette Inventor are solid as well.
Promise and Potential
I don’t doubt Nadine Lustre and James Reid’s ability to carry a series. Their natural chemistry and individual charms make them and the show immediately likeable and relatable.
The first two episodes show the series has a lot of potential both as a romantic drama and possibly a little bit of commentary as well. While I do think there is definitely a great story about OFWs and immigration for a young loveteam somewhere without any of the TNT and “marriage for convenience” business, On The Wings of Love can still be a fully enjoyable series. Especially when focusing on a good balance of love and family themes instead, the strongest parts of the premiere episodes.
My hope for the series is for a good, succinct run. One that does not involve stretching a simple premise too thin because of extensions. For one, it maintains the creative integrity of the series. But also, because it would mean another, maybe even better project is waiting for these talented and promising leads.
On the Wings of Love has what it needs to make that hope a reality and to help itself be a success.