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Primetime Delight of FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano

Image captured from Ang Probinsiyano trailer on YouTube.

As a little boy, I used to be a fan of those black and white FPJ, Erap Estrada or Tony Ferrer horseback riding adobo western movies that they showed in the afternoons when my Mom would have preferred that we took naps, instead. Of course, I didn’t; and these movies were quintessential to stories we role-played in baril-barilan games in the yard.

Then I grew up; and among the realisations that came with doing so was that western movies could contextually exist in the Philippines only in an alternate universe. So, I stopped watching FPJ movies, something that is serving me in good stead as I follow the fortunes of Cardo in the television adaptation of the FPJ classic ‘Ang Probinsiyano.’

Chances are that you are watching it, too. From the 8th to the 16th of October, or so Kantar Media reports, the series has garnered daily ratings in excess of 40%. This means that for seven straight days, at least 40 out of every 100 households were tuned in to the show.

The other networks have been left to fight for the remaining 60% of audience share with the countless local and international niche-specific television stations for this slot immediately after the evening news.

Because I had not seen the original movie, I am able to enjoy the series unburdened by having to judge if it has been faithful to the original story or not.

There is something basically intriguing about the plot of a twin brother trying to assume a dead brother’s persona, so that to an audience looking for believability, the question as the story rolls along always is whether a scene is possible in real life at all or not.

Most times, the story fails the test of believability and one has to consciously keep in mind that the series, after all, is entertainment and not at all a documentary; and based on an FPJ movie, many of which were not at all averse to stretching the imagination.

That said, the series is presented with so much charm that one is always prepared to overlook creases in the storyline. Yes, even one scene when Cardo did a Ryan Rems Sarita 360º turn with handguns to wipe out a group of outlaws armed with automatic weapons. That a single man could pull that off is not believable in the real world; but it always will be possible in an FPJ movie.

The series is, of course, a platform for Coco Martin’s wide-range of acting skills. Martin, perhaps, still does not have the chameleon like qualities of a Joel Torre. That said, he has this raw ability to interpret a dramatic scene that he can be powerful even without dialogue.

For instance, that scene when he had to stare down at his twin brother’s corpse inside the morgue was gut-wrenching. They say the best actors are those who do not act at all; and in that moment of pure grief, Martin was not an actor playing Cardo. He was Cardo; and his pain was beamed into living rooms across the nation.

His facial expressions, too, when Cardo was first introduced to Ador’s family were simply priceless. Cardo, after all, was something of a rogue cop being asked to deliver a FAMAS Award winning performance to fulfil a mission; and even without the benefit of dialogue, Martin was able to perfectly convey the awkwardness of the situation.

Of course, Martin’s brilliance often means that the remainder of the cast often cannot keep up with his quality. I loved Susan Roces as much as I did FPJ in those black and white movies that I used to watch as a boy; but in this contemporary interpretation of ‘Ang Probinsiyano,’ her acting often appears still trapped in those sixties Sampaguita classics.

Even Maja Salvador, who enjoys top-billing with Martin, has often paled in comparison. For instance, in last night’s episode with Joey Marquez, she seemed somewhat tentative in the delivery of her lines and was easily outshone by Marquez’s spontaneous and effortless performance. In fairness, her character Glen has largely been peripheral so far.

The only one who has kept stride with Martin as far as I am concerned has been Arjo Atayde, who like the former has skilfully used facial expressions in the absence of dialogue. Atayde is the son of Sylvia Sanchez, so his ability to act without really acting must be a genetic thing.

Then there is Xymon Ezekiel Pineda, a.k.a. Onyok, erstwhile Little Bamboo in It’s Showtime’s Mini-Me segment but now with a supporting role in this major television production. Considering the amount of airtime that he has enjoyed of late, it’s arguable that his is still a supporting role.

That the boy has charm was apparent even in the Mini Me. However, ‘Ang Probinsiyano’ has given him an altogether different platform with which to exude this charm. His repartees with Cardo have been priceless, the comic relief to what is otherwise a heavily dramatic series.

Bela Padilla has also done the character Carmen, Ador’s wife, real justice. Her apparently sexual advances upon Cardo that first night together was easily among the series’ highlights so far. How Cardo continues to avoid the marital bed is among the things that tests the series’ believability; but it is also among its most intriguing subplots.

Meanwhile, the story goes on. In real life, Lola Kap and Carmen would probably have immediately discerned that Cardo was not Ador right from the first time the family was reunited. However, Cardo’s subtle slips continue to flame suspicions that Ador is not Ador at all.

And waiting for the secret to be revealed, and waiting for the inevitable trauma that awaits Ador’s family, is what continues to make FPJ’s ‘Ang Probinsiyano’ very, very watchable indeed!