Inquirer Super

Wow, ‘OTWOL’ is back

By: Ruel S. De Vera

As the big two TV networks have paused production of its teleseryes for the safety of its talents, popular older teleseryes have returned to take the places of their newer counterparts. This meant an unexpected development: “On the Wings of Love” was back on the air.

“On the Wings of Love,” better known by its ubiquitous initials “OTWOL,” ran on ABS-CBN from 2015 to 2016, 145 episodes total, starring the love team of James Reid and Nadine Lustre, also known as JaDine. This was the arrival of something new and something big—it also turned out to be the peak, something we didn’t realize until much later.

ABS-CBN began re-airing “OTWOL” last Monday, March 16, back in its old time slot, 8:30 p.m. In recognition of the return, we present a Super obsessive guide to “OTWOL”:

The origin

“OTWOL” is a project from ABS-CBN’s Dreamscape Entertainment division. Created by Regie Amigo, Rondel P. Lindayag and Dindo C. Perez, it was the first TV project for Antoinette Jadaone, who was coming off the critical and commercial success of the 2014 film “That Thing called Tadhana”; she directed the show with Jojo Saguin and would go on to do two more projects with JaDine. The second most interesting trivia about “OTWOL” is how it was supposed to have originally featured Coco Martin in Reid’s role, Judy Ann Santos in Lustre’s role, and Nora Aunor as Reid’s mother. The original choices all turned out to be unavailable for various reasons and the roles eventually went to Reid, Lustre and Katya Santos. The show would start airing August 10, 2015, replacing the Jericho Rosales-starring “Bridges of Love” and would run until February 26, 2016, when it would be replaced by “The Story of Us” starring Kim Chiu and Xian Lim. “OTWOL” would also be aired in the Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand and the United States. 

OST

The show takes its name from a truly epic 1982 Jeffrey Osbourne song that has remained very popular on Philippine radio through the decades. Listen to it here:

For the show, Kyla sang a popular cover that proved to be popular on its own, especially during the time the show was running:

The show’s later half featured a bittersweet ballad by Daryl Ong called “Stay”:

And of course, Reid and Lustre being music artists, have their own version of the theme song.

Finding JaDine

The Filipino-Australian Robert James Marquinez Reid and Nadine Alexis Paguia Lustre were charting separate showbiz trajectories despite similarities in their interests: music and movies. Reid had been discovered on the reality show “Pinoy Big Brother: Teen Crush 2010” when he was named Big Winner. Lustre had started her career as a TV host at 12, been part of a girl group called Pop Girls and appeared on the TV5 remake of seminal teen property “Bagets.” ABS-CBN finally found the right mix when it got the two together in 2014 on a story arc of the show “Wansapanataym Presents” called “My App #Boyfie.”

That same year, JaDine appeared together in Viva’s “Diary ng Panget” and “Talk Back When You’re Dead” and in “Para sa Hopeless Romantic” the year after. But it was when “OTWOL” started airing on August 10 that JaDine really got going.
Love teams have always loomed large in the Filipino imagination: Carmen Rosales and Rogelio dela Rosa, Rosemarie Sonora and Ricky Belmonte, Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion. In a time when love teams were really kicking into higher gear, JaDine was perfectly poised to capture the public imagination. From 2015-2016, there was nothing bigger and “OTWOL” proved to be the high point. There’s that nomenclature of a conjoined name, JaDine (pronounced Jay-Deen, a portmanteau of James and naDINE, with their fandom known as JaDines), and a divisive showbiz landscape saw further polarization with the sheer power of the show’s popularity.

Team Real

JaDine has several nicknames. They’re also known as “CLEAH,” another portmanteau, this one of the show’s characters, “CLark” and “lEAH.” But the one that really fit them for the show’s run was “Team Real.” The reason was because the two became a couple during the show itself. The Team Real tag remains relevant when placed in context with love teams which really also were couples in real life (KathNiel) and those were never were (AlDub, sorry).

This in itself is not completely unknown. In fact, rumors about a love team suddenly dating out of the blue often happen whenever there’s a new movie or TV show out. Such rumors are met with cynicism and skepticism. Some love teams even do wind up together and even married.

But Team Real became a thing because of how organic it was. “OTWOL” really did actually mirror what happened to Reid and Lustre. It’s almost like watching their onscreen and offscreen romance evolve simultaneously and in real-time. Now that is rare.  The characters on the show initially disliked each other fiercely before falling head over heels for each other. Reid and Lustre famously did not like each other throughout their initial projects and even more so during most of the production of “OTWOL.” They had been working together so much that familiarity bred contempt.

The two are also quite different. Reid was born and grew up in Australia—he could barely speak Filipino when he arrived here to start a showbiz career. He is very outgoing. Lustre has said she is a shy person, more of an introvert.

But during an out-of-town taping for a later part of “OTWOL,” the two had a heart-to-heart talk that cleared the air. The two returned with a fresh understanding and appreciation of each other that only grew as the show continued to be shot and aired. By the time “OTWOL” neared its finale, they were an item, something that fans embraced ferociously and culminated in the Ynares Center public profession of love.’

Themes:

Leah Olivar (Lustre), an otherwise well-behaved girl, goes TNT in San Francisco to provide income for her ill father Sol (Joel Torre). It is there she meets the brooding Clark Medina (Reid), and the two get married solely so Leah can stay in the US without being deported—she pays him with whatever little she has. The opposing forces soon meet as Leah and Clark find themselves falling for each other. It doesn’t go off without hitches, including a trip back home for the two, misunderstandings and the presence of Leah’s boss Simon (the charismatic Paulo Avelino).

The show tackles a lot of Filipino concerns through its run, most notably the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (There are at least six of them in the first and secondary cast). “OTWOL” takes head on the TNT issue. It handles the bittersweetness of first love, the challenge of long-distance relationships and even otherness. In reality, Clark and Leah share a lot more than they are dissimilar.

Structurally, the show uses a lot of Filipino teleserye tropes, with some filler and the kitchen sink thrown in right at the very end. One if the things that Jadaone has turned into a signature is a mix of romanticism and realism and that’s on display here as well. If there’s one thing that is more obvious during the re-watching than during the pulse-pounding original run is how much the show resembles a K-drama. There are some very surprising twists (such as the one regarding Isay Alvarez’s Rona) that is straight out of the sopa opera playbook.

The show doesn’t suffer from a longing for escapist and expensive trappings so often present in teleseryes. The San Francisco scenes happen mostly in tiny apartments. The Manila scenes happen in a tenement building that, while humble teems with life and community. Sol is a jeepney driver. Clark’s aunt Jack (Cherry Pie Picache) does odd jobs.

The show championed a few unusual storytelling techniques, but none more than the use of spoken word poetry performances sprinkled throughout the run done excellently by actual spoken word poet Juan Miguel Severo.

“OTWOL’s” no-nonsense acceptance of LGBTQ+ characters was also welcome. Cherry Pie Picache’s Jack is lesbian and there is a large group of gay characters in the tenement led by the delightful Joel Saracho as Mama Lulu.

It has one more thing that you really rarely see. “OTWOL” was at its zenith just as the show was ending allowing it to do a live episode at the Ynares Center where the two professed their love for each other. Live events are not a common thing even among the most successful teleseryes, and “OTWOL’s” daring in doing so remains unprecedented.

Casting coup

One of the things that makes “OTWOL” work so well is the well-rounded casting. The secondary roles and supporting cast are all filled by good actors, including Torre, Benj Manalo and Rafael Sudayan, among others. Here are some other highlights:

Jigs is a jerk

Because he’s so good in the part, Albie Casino can’t help but make you hate his Jigs. Impetuous, selfish and short-sighted, Jigs is Leah’s boyfriend at the beginning of the show, he’s also Jack’s son and thus Clark’s cousin. He’s belligerent and constantly keeps throwing monkey wrenches into the Cleah combination. He’s not only unfair to Leah, but he’s mean to Clark and, most unforgivably, oblivious to Jack’s sacrifices. Which brings us to…

Jack is a saint

No one goes through more on “OTWOL” than Pichache’s Jack. She is the first TNT on the show, working hard tio send money back to her family. Then her sister dies on her, leaving her to help take care of Clark. She turns into kind of a help desk of newly minted TNTs. But the show throws two particularly difficult things at her. She keeps sending money back to the spoiled Jigs, who resents her for being an absentee mother and sees her only as an ATM account. Then Jack has to deal with the troubled nature of Clark and Leah being something Jigs hates but she personally sees is a good thing. That doesn’t even include the subplot of Jack being a lesbian and Pichache essays all of this with a believable exasperation and even overcomes one of the worst wigs on primetime.

Manang ang Tolayts are a delight together

Often overlooked as well is the light touch brought by two supporting characters. Bianca Manalo plays Tiffany, Leah;s older sister who never finished studying and is the single mother of Gabby. Serious and devoted to her family, the woman dubbed “Manang” is a steadying influence on everyone around her. She is constantly wooed by the golden-hearted tricycle driver Tolayts, played by Nico Antonio. The interplay between these two provide many a light yet grounded moment on the show. They aren’t a fantastical couple; instead they are more of the will-they-won’t-they element.

Simon is evil

Another actor good enough to hate on the show is Avelino, who plays Leah’s boss Simon Evangelista. He seems harmless enough when viewers meet him and it is always clear that he is genuinely in love with Leah. But Simon becomes evil when he starts using his position and power over Leah to win her over. This turns him into the antagonist of the second half of the show (Jigs was the first one) but a truly powerful one and almost takes Leah away. This is something he does willfully. He does so through trickery and omission. He already had the advantages going in–he is one of the few avatars of privilege on the show—and uses them to his full advantage. Avelino does this part brilliant to the point that you would understand why Clark at one point loses Leah to him and why you feel for the show’s ostensible villain when Leah finally chooses Clark in the end.

Super coincidental

One of the things that’s easily glossed over about “OTWOL” is how there are a lot of convenient coincidences on the show. This goes beyond how Clark and Leah keep bumping into each other in San Francisco, or how Clark is Jigs’ cousin.

Remember that scene at the hotel in SF when Leah is doing a solo with the choir at the competition when she’s singing “On the Wings of Love” and Clark starts singing along? That’s actually the only time the meeting of the two is subverted. At the talent show at the bar Clark is working at, he sings the SAME song to win the competition.

Clark has some mighty convenient skills, particularly the wood-carving and carpentry skills that he apparently learned genetically because his family owns a wood shop.

But the most convenient coincidence on the show is Leah and Clark’s back, back story, their childhood connection, which brings us to the single most ridiculous thing on the show: Mekeni.

Mekeni is Clark’s childhood pet, a dove. Mekeni (it’s not clear if it is male or female) is still alive at the show’s conclusion. Doves live at the most 15 years. This must be the oldest dove in all of existence, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the role Mekeni plays.

The ‘kilig’ is back

But that’s fine considering the thing that makes “OTWOL” work: the very real chemistry between Reid and Lustre. There are small signs of this in “Panget” and the earlier films, but when they get together in “OTWOL” scenes, the chemistry just jumps out at you. It’s amazing the two didn’t themselves realize it until much later in the show because it was obvious to everyone who watched the show from the beginning. Reid has a swagger of a modern rebel youth and Lustre had the girl-next-door-who-doesn’t-realize-she’s-really-hot thing doing. They positively look like babies during “OTWOL,” so fresh-faced and without artifice, before Reid became a hi-hop producer and Lustre FHM Philippines’ Sexiest Woman.

Their romance creates genuine kilig feels that is surprising strong today, almost half a decade after the show first aired. This re-airing of “OTWOL” shows the chemistry and the romance were oh, so, real.

The ‘kilig’ is gone

After “OTWOL,” Reid and Lustre worked pretty much exclusively together, appearing in another Jadaone series, “Till I Met You” or “TIMY,” that tried but failed to replicate “OTWOL’s” success. They did some music and a whole lot of endorsements, become super popular. And they dated publicly.

Remember how “OTWOL” reflected the couple’s real-life development. In 2019, Reid and Lustre appeared in their masterpiece, Jadaone’s ode to Makati and millennial Filipino romance, “Never Not Love You.” In that film, the two fall in love and then fall apart when challenge by career and personal choices. The gorgeous film ends on a cliff-hanger that can be interpreted differently by different people, “Inception”-style. In another fateful twist, that movie just became available for streaming on Netflix.

On Jan. 20, 2020, Reid and Lustre announced in a statement they had broken up. There would be no more attempt to relive “OTWOL.” This is as good as it gets, for JaDines and everybody else.