Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Hanging Out,” Team Magazine’s first foray into the world of scripted serials, starts with an almost-bang. David (Paulito Del Mundo), a twenty-something sketch artist, becomes an accidental party-crasher when a Grindr hookup sends him to the wrong address. Instead of the promised romp, he’s pulled into a room of strangers who force him to hold up a birthday sign for Adrian (Jox Gonzales), the guy they think he’s dating. The awkwardness creeps in once everyone realizes the mistake.
During the show’s premiere night, at Team’s Gay-Per-View event, creators Petersen Vargas and Patrick Valencia (whose writing credits include the films "How to be Yours" and "Always be my Maybe") said they wanted to tell the story of a group of gay guys in a post-coming out setting. In the Philippine context, where good LGBT stories are hard to come by, the idea is refreshing. Coming out has always been a go-to point of conflict for any gay story arc that makes it into network TV. If not that, it’s one of the other predetermined “homo problems” — infidelity or a life-threatening illness — making it seem like homosexual characters can never be truly happy unless they’re the designated sassy gay friend.
The pilot steers clear of these issues and instead focuses on David and his eventual assimilation into this barkada. He’s introduced to Fidel (JP Mercado), the group’s token straight guy who mistakes him for Adrian’s date; Jessie (Eboy Fernandez) and Misha (Sheena Ramos), the group’s Jack and Karen whose only main function, it seems, is to throw shade at each other; and Kiko (Albert Saspa).
“[They] are amalgams of people we know,” explains Wanggo Gallaga, who developed the characters. “We tried to be as varied as we could in creating a realistic group of friends who would happen to ‘adopt’ someone who came to the group by accident.”
Gallaga and the other show creators knew it was impossible to represent the entire gay community in just one web series. To help them narrow down the characters, they held focus group discussions with a number of Team’s avid readers. But even with this measure, he is very aware that a big part of the LGBT community might still feel left out. “Regardless of how one expresses their queerness, the dynamics of friendship and love are all pretty much the same. If we're true to that, then it's the first step to being inclusive.”
On paper, the story is more vivid. (An excerpt of the screenplay was published in the magazine’s latest issue.) Readers get a better feel of each of the characters. Kiko, for example, is actually a promdi with a doting family back at home. But this detail barely registers on screen as his brief phone conversation is lost in the ambient noise.
Production challenges are obvious, even with a two-camera setup. There are many lapses in visual and sound continuity. This is most glaring in the scene where the group is first introduced. The lack of an early establishing shot makes the orgy joke less funny than it could have been. The editing and shot choices also make placing the characters in the space a confusing experience.
Most of this could have been fixed through a reshoot, dubbing, and extra work in post, but it seems that time and budget were main setbacks. It also didn’t help that majority of the cast were first-time actors who were still getting their bearings.
Although generally passable, the pilot episode feels very wobbly. Like watching a baby trying to get used to its legs, however, we can’t help but still cheer it on. There is something about “Hanging Out” that makes you want it to succeed.
The series makes its debut in the post-“Looking” era and comparisons to Andrew Haigh’s short-lived show will always be inevitable. “Looking” and other successful gay web series like “The Outs” and the oddball “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo” are tough acts to follow. But there is a need for a show like “Hanging Out” to exist, especially in this country.
The episode has only been up on Facebook for less than a day, and already it’s amassed over 100,000 views and over 2000 shares as of this writing. It’s indicative of how the local gay community is searching for more content that better represents them, content that they can actually relate to. The show debuted to generally curious and positive responses, with many pointing out how it’s set apart from its local contemporaries. It unabashedly depicts aspects of everyday gay life without the censorship of heteronormative mainstream media.
“Hanging Out” may have awkwardly stumbled into the local gay scene, but here’s to hoping it sticks around longer and gets better in time.