Sunday, October 29, 2006

Filipino masters of comedy

As I was posting this column, it occurred to me that the leading actors of this short-lived comedy series have all departed from the scene: Pugo, Patsy, Jay Ilagan, and I believe, also Tange. They are four of the better Filipino actors, with acting portfolios very few of today's comedians/actors can approximate.

Students of Philippine cinema and television should attempt to find archived copies of this series, as well as of the earlier
My Son, My Son. They will learn a lot about the golden age of Filipino comedy and will see why many critics mourn the deterioration of the genre.

"Impressions," TV Times, 2-8 July 1978


Some people have the unusual gift of translating the life around them into such universal terms that their audience is often moved, through either laughter or tears, into a recognition that here--in microcosm--is the basic stuff of humanity. In the reality of their performances, these people stain the memory with the sheer weight of their sharp and sympathetic portrayals of the various ways in which ordinary, well-meaning people stumble into one sad mess after another.

Son of My Son falls short of such affecting universality, but it is an amusingly kinetic show, nevertheless. The subject here has grown from the original My Son, My Son family to embrace another and future family--still Pugo's, through his now-married son, portrayed by Jay Ilagan.

The family is, of course, a favorite formula in traditional situation comedies. And every week, Pugo and his screen family wiggle through some generally amusing, though not individually hilarious, scenes.

John & Marsha, the late celebrated family sitcom, used the same nucleus of the family. The difference is that the family as conceived in Son of My Son has adapted through the weeks, constricting or expanding as the episodes demand. The family in John & Marsha did not allow enough flexibility and space for growth. John & Marsha, if it had wanted to stay on the tube forever, would have had to discover new themes, new plots, new adventures, to balm the occasional boredom of its viewers. In the end, John & Marsha died because of its failure to balm such boredom. Son of My Son can escape this fate by simply extending its reach and growing in size, number, and, consequently, experience.

The staying power of Son of My Son duplicates the staying power of its lead actor--the durable, admirable, lovable Pugo. Here is that touchingly vulnerable bumpkin who perhaps epitomizes the Filipino comedian. Of course, the comic can be scurrilous, too, but I know of no other local comedian onscreen today who so consistently commands respect from the audience even when his comedy is sometimes tipped with coarseness. His is a mocking, at times graceless, wit that is both casual and lethal. But who faults him for that? Certainly not us, who can only bow before the experience and expertise that made him the dean of all local comedians. Besides, there is, in Pugo, that essential kinship with all other men who have marked many miles of their long life journeys with grouchily funny jabs at the rest of mankind, but who, at the end of each mile, are always humble enough to confess and apologize for their misdemeanors, however grouchily they may do so.

Ably playing the accompaniment to Pugo's melody are Patsy and Tange. Both are fast on the verbal draw and bracing in their characterizations. Jay Ilagan has been showing a little more feel for comedy after a little more time with the masters. The three, together with Pugo, lend Son of My Son a charmingly improvisational air that breathes freshness into what are often boringly familiar plots.

The rest of the cast may be adequate, but they appear to suffer from a very basic seriousness in their approach to their little roles. Too much seriousness can rob performers of that amused, detached eye, that spontaneity and lightness, that feel for comedy. Come to think of it, though, they do provide a contrast to the zany company of Pugo, Patsy, and Tange, making the three stand out even more in a genre where they are the acknowledged and unquestioned masters.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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