Gameboys Episode1-4

Kokoy de Santos has an infectious smile and he knows it.

I am not going to write a long synopsis or analysis for this show but I thought I would give it a quick review. This show is the first official BL series from the Phillipines. In terms of BL, it has the feel of a Thai BL. If you see my article on what is a BL and what makes Thai BL so special, I explain that a BL emphasizes the romance over the personal queer experience and in a Thai BL anyone can be gay. This show meets these criteria.

I believe Gameboys is the first high-concept BL series. It is premise is pretty straightforward. Cairo is a gamer. He hosts a gaming channel where he streams himself playing video games against other online players. In one of his live streams, he meets Gavreel, a fellow gamer. A relationship slowly develops and we watch it blossom. The show relays on the concept of these two boys communicating online so most of the show consists of video clips, video chats, chats, and instagram and facebook postings.

High-concept shows are tricky. How do you develop an entire show around a simple premise? Many times, these kind of show fails because the concept is cool but there is no story. Gameboys has done well in this regard. Thus far, four episodes in and the show has manage to throw us in a rollercoster of emotions. Another fear I had when I first watched is that we would never get to know the characters well, since we are relaying on observing only a small part of their lives. But the director has used very simple methods to show us more than just the video chats. In fact, unlike most BLs from Thailand, here we can listen to the internal monologue of the characters. For example, Cairo will type something but then he will erase it and type something else again. This will sometimes be accompanied by a short voice over that tells us why he is changing his mind, “too desperate”, “too serious”, etc. Other times, we hear a short voice over that lets us know the current emotional state of the character. When Cairo tries to reach Gavreel, we hear him plead for Gavreel to answer. We also get to see the conversations between Gavreel and his friend, which enables us to know more about Gavreel and his dating history. It is a very clever use of all the different story telling tools at the director’s disposal.

The show doesn’t shy away from the reality of the pandemic. We learn that Cairo’s dad is in the hospital sick with COVID19. Gavreel seems to be that little ray of sunshine that makes Cario’s days better. We hear Gavreel cough and we worry with Cairo and wonder with him, if perhaps Gavreel has IT. They also talk about the limitations on their movement impose by the pandemic and the fact that Cairo can’t visit his dad at the hospital. These are all realities that we have to deal with in this pandemic.

Overall, this show is great. Some folks have said it is not that original because apparently a show about two lovers who can’t meet and only talk by video, has already been done in the Philippines. The show was called The Street Series with a couple called AlDub. Many in the Philippines have speculated that AlDub was the inspiration for Gameboys. I won’t deny that this is possible, but from the video clips I watched for The Street Series, I can safely say that Gameboys is more polished and better delineated (in terms of plot development) than The Street Series, which was actually a show within a show.

Regardless, Gameboys is the most original BL released this year. The production values of Gameboys is also very high, which is impressive considering the entire show is done online, with the director doing all his directing by video chats, often having to explain to the actors how to get better lighting for a shot or asking them to change the camera position. It is quiet an accomplishment that they have been able to shoot this show during a pandemic, but it is even more amazing that they have been able to keep producing such a high quality show with all the limitations this pandemic presents to them.

This show does not deviate from the BL formulas set by Thailand. Gavreel never asks Cairo if he is gay. Instead, he assumes that if he asks Cairo, he will say yes. This is part of the “everyone is gay” trope in Thai BL. No time is spent dealing with coming out or being a gay gamer or whatever other myriad queer experiences we could explore in this show. The emphasis is on the romantic relationship of the two boys. BL at its finest and purest.

I have smiled and I have felt sad with this show. I have felt excited and I have felt the desire to scream at a character from the show. I think this show has done an excellent job at making me feel like I know these characters. At the end of the day, these are the kind of things I look to get from a BL series: entertainment with emotions. Thus far, this show has exceeded my expectations.

Negatives? I think Kokoy (Gavreel) could smile less and Elijah (Cairo) could smile more. I get that they are trying to follow the Thai stereotype of Seme and Uke, which means that the Uke has to be oblivious and the Seme has to pursue and charm the Uke but I think the constant smiling from Kokoy can be distracting and feel unnatural at times while Cairo’s constant sour face can be off putting.

Overall rating 4/5 Good acting. Good script. Some unexpected twists. Clever use of webcams and other ways to convey what a character is thinking or feeling. This show is a solid BL and my Pinoy friends should be very proud of their first foray into international BL series. (I expect the first episode of this show to reach 1 Million views very soon).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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