Good Ol’ Review: GMA Network’s Engaging and Refreshing “Onanay” Succeeds In Spite of Unintentional Efforts to Undermine It

WARNING! MAJOR spoilers, with warning, though also including possible spoilers in video thumbnails.

GMA Network’s Onanay is both an engaging and frustrating drama series. Engaging because it was a refreshing take on the usual Filipino soap opera. But it was also frustrating because the solid foundation it had built up for story was undermined by the network’s jerking it around with last minute extensions.

We’ll get to that later. But first, the great things about Onanay.

GMA Network has surprisingly been ahead of the curve in tackling different stories and uncommon main characters over the last couple of years. They’ve often taken chances with series featuring LGBT main characters and main characters with developmental disorders. And those chances have paid off for the network, most of the series drawing critical acclaim and solid ratings.

*spoilers begin*
Onanay stars newcomer Jo Berry as Onay, a young woman who has Achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Despite what she lacks in height, she makes up for in heart, as pointed out by her mother Nelia (Nora Aunor). She doesn’t let her condition get in the way of providing for her family.

Onay finds love in Elvin (Adrian Alandy) and they have a daughter. But in a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Onay is kidnapped, raped and left for dead. She survives and soon learns she is pregnant from that rape. But Elvin soon dies after pursuing Onay’s captors.

Helena, Elvin’s mother (Cherie Gil), still disgusted by her son’s choice of wife, takes Onay and Elvin’s daughter Rosemarie and kicks Onay ouf of their home. Helena then raises Rosemarie as her own, renaming her Natalie and taking her to Paris.

Meanwhile, Onay gives birth to Maila and resents her for more than 18 years as she is a reminder of her rape and the death of her husband Elvin.

The series then continues with Onay’s search for her daughter Rosemarie and the ongoing rivalry between Maila and Natalie who have no idea they are actually sisters.

After Onay realizes her mistakes in her treatment of Malia, she meets Lucas (Wendell Ramos), the father of Maila’s boyfriend (Enrico Cuenca). And it turns out, Lucas is actually Onay’s rapist. But only because his friend (Marco Alcaraz) wanted Lucas to be devirginized on his birthday, thus drugging him and getting him (and Onay) drunk, resulting in the rape.

Still following?

Onanay may have started off pretty dark, but the series mostly focuses on hope and love. Onay and her family are always hopeful and hard-working. They never give up despite various hurdles or road blocks, violent and not, trying to bring them down.

There was a long stretch where Onay and her family were bullied, harrassed and even burned out of their home and market stall (twice!). A lot of that was care of Helena and Natalie. Other instances were by Natalie’s BFFs and Lucas’ own adulterous wife. Onay, Maila, Lola Nelia and Uncle Dante (Gardo Versoza) were victimized, assaulted and harrassed to no end.

And for the Filipino audience, they didn’t seem to really enjoy seeing the supposed bidas or heroes always getting stepped on and losing. The ratings seemed to reflect that and the network supposedly was ready to wrap the show up in December.

But then ratings suddenly perked up and the network reconsidered. Onanay was extended for a few extra weeks past the New Year. And then the Friday before Christmas, on the show’s 100th episode, the series reached a new high. And the show was extended again.

This situation would repeat several times, to the point that there would be no more than one day between filming and airing. Conceivably to account for more last minute extensions from the network.

Unfortunately, the last minute extensions prevented the series from properly planning out proper climaxes. Instead, the series had to try and top itself and fill the extra time. And when you’ve brought out the big guns already, it’s kind of hard to go back from there.

Plot points that would’ve been well used if outlined properly were instead thrown together or forgotten completely. That resulted in these last few weeks especially feeling anticlimactic.

The series experienced its highest ratings as Onay was buried alive, upon orders from Helena. What could’ve been the perfect finale week climax was instead wasted one month early. Helena kidnapping Natalie was used two months early as well, for example.

Meanwhile, the revelation of Lucas being Onay’s rapist should’ve also happened before any kidnapping and hostage taking arc. The fallout from that revelation should’ve been perfect opportunities for drama and possible standout performances from the cast, especially Jo Berry, Wendell Ramos, Mikee Quintos and Nora Aunor.

The revelation was instead thrown in during the last week with no time for any fallout or resolution at all.

Maybe the biggest regret should be the missed opportunity for Onay and her family to get any sort of revenge against all the people who have pushed them around. Even more so, simple justice for being burned out of their home and livelihood (again, twice), getting kidnapped and even for the death of Dante.

The Filipino audience craves that kind of justice and seeing the villains get their comeuppance. But that’s what Onanay was unfortunately unable to provide in the end.

Yes, Helena and Vince shot each other to death. But that fate ended up being the easy way out for them both. Even Lucas went to jail despite him eventually marrying Onay in the end. What about all the other people who’ve done the Matayogs wrong? Even Natalie, who first set fire to the local market got off without even a slap on the wrist.

Proper “karma,” as Filipino fans would describe, would have made any ending all the more satisfying and likely resulted in even bigger ratings and buzz. (As shown by the high ratings for the few very moments of “karma” or poetic justice in favor of Onay and family.)

Though Filipinos believe the final judgement lies in God alone, when it comes to soap operas, the audience want to see some of that karma while the villains are still alive and wreaking havoc.

But that’s not to say the series was a failure. Quite the contrary. Commercially, the series ended up being GMA Network’s most watched scripted program through its run.

*spoilers end*
Onanay also proved that a series can be successful and engaging with a leading lady that may not look like the “typical” leading ladies you might see on Philippine TV. Jo Berry delivered an absolutely excellent performance all-series long. The series was certainly a showcase for Jo Berry’s talent. With an emotional and engaging performance, it would be impossible not to root for Onay through all her struggles and hardships.

And for any one jokes or insult thrown at Onay and the show, there were hundreds of messages of being inspired and touched by Onay and the hope she and the show shared.

Onanay also helped solidify Mikee Quintos and Kate Valdez’s place in the industry as two young actress poised to continue their steady ascent to become lead actresses in the own right.

Wendell Ramos was a little bit of a revelation as well in what could be one of the most significant roles of his career. At least, one of the most substantial and deepest characters he’s portrayed. And he showed he’s deserving of more leading man roles in the future.

Gardo Versoza, Eunice Lagusad and Rochelle Pangilinan helped provide great support to the main characters.

And Nora Aunor and Cherie Gil, definitely no strangers to television and even to each other, delivered the type of performances that come effortlessly for them. And they helped add some gravitas to the already strong cast.

Overall, while there was plenty of potential left on the table, Onanay was an engaging and emotional series. It was groundbreaking in many ways. But its different and refreshing takes on familiar Filipino soap opera themes made it stand out, along with great performances from its strong cast. When Philippine TV likes to rely on anything other than substance, Onanay was able to be an atypical series. In more ways than one.

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