The Butcher | Home Sweetie Home: Extra Sweet, boringly sweet

Photos: screengrab from ABS-CBN Entertainment

Photos: screengrab from ABS-CBN Entertainment

During the early days of television, sitcoms about marital life was a program format that easily became popular among viewers. In America, the most iconic was I Love Lucy that starred real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

In the Philippines, one of the earliest sitcoms of this kind was Pancho Loves Tita, which topbilled the real husband and wife team of Pancho Magalona and Tita Duran. This was in the mid-1960s – when censorship rules were so strict, even Pancho and Tita, who had close to a dozen kids between them in real life, were not shown sleeping in the same bed. In their bedroom scenes, shot in the old ABS-CBN studios in Roxas Boulevard, they had separate twin beds with a night table between them.

After Pancho Loves Tita came other sitcoms that tackled the highs and lows of married life: Sa Kabukiran, which paired Luz Valdez of LVN Pictures with Luis Gonzales of Sampaguita; Wala Kang Paki, again featuring Luis, but this time with Nida Blanca, ‘Yan and Misis Ko with Ronald Remy and Rosa Rosal and Wanted Boarders with Pugo and Patsy (they later also starred, again as husband and wife, in My Son, My Son).

Of course, the most successful program of this kind was John & Marsha with Dolphy and Nida Blanca. After EDSA I came Hapi House that first featured Tito Sotto - with Sandy Andolong as his wife. When Sandy left, her role was taken over by Helen Gamboa and the show became even more successful – most likely because the real couple had better chemistry between them.  

In time, this kind of format practically disappeared from the local TV landscape – until ABS-CBN lured Richard Gomez’ then new bride Lucy Torres to showbiz and Richard Loves Lucy was born a few months after they were wed in April 1998. 

At the start of the new millennium came Kaya ni Mister, Kaya ni Misis (it later became Bida si Mister, Bida si Misis) that paired Maricel Soriano with Cesar Montano. 

More than a decade after Kaya ni Mister closed shop, ABS-CBN revived the format through Home Sweetie Home that featured Star Cinema’s two biggest money-makers: John Lloyd Cruz and Toni Gonzaga. As Romeo and Julie they were depicted as this millennium’s John and Marsha – although they are more financially stable and don’t live in a shanty the way the Puruntongs did.

Unfortunately, John Lloyd was hit by a bad case of career burnout and disappeared from the scene (his last sighting was at the wake of production designer Cesar Hernando at Funeraria Paz in May).

In lieu of John Lloyd, the show brought in another one of the network’s precious possessions, Piolo Pascual. From the beginning it was clear that the addition of Piolo was guaranteed failure. No, it wasn’t Piolo’s fault . It was the situation he was thrown into. Replacing John Lloyd with another male lead star was not going to work. Imagine taking Dolphy out of John and Marsha and replacing him with Chiquito, Panchito or Babalu. 

The show also became the dumping ground of escapees from GMA, led by Ogie Alcasid and Rufa Mae Quinto. Their addition to the program didn’t help at all. 

In time, there were so many cast members, it became local television’s most overcrowded show. If ABS-CBN didn’t stop adding more people, it would have probably rivaled China and India in terms of population. 

There were so many of them – talking, laughing and making jokes all at the same time that the entire biblical chapter about the Tower of Babel looked peaceful, quiet and very orderly.

If Home Sweetie Home were a dish that time, it would have had more ingredients than the most elaborate chopsuey recipe in any Chinatown restaurant in the world. 

Last year, Rico J. Puno, who played John Lloyd’s father, got sick and passed away. Surely, that is not a good way to take out excess people in the show.

What ABS-CBN did was to reformat the program and now it is called Home Sweetie Home: Extra Sweet – still with Toni Gonzaga in the lead. The program kept its old time slot, which is Saturday evening, after TV Patrol Weekend.

Supposedly, Toni – still as Julie – got her marriage annulled and then her house burned down. Rising from the ruins of her life, it remains to be seen if she’ll be able to rebuild and turn things around.

In her new life, she stays with her aunt, played by Rio Locsin, in a completely new neighborhood. Employed as a schoolteacher, she also now lives with a half-sister she just met – played by real-life sibling Alex Gonzaga.

Rio runs a boarding house and among her boarders are Luis Manzano, Vhong Navarro and Bayani Agbayani.

In the first episode that I saw, Rio scolds her boarders for not helping out in the chores. Now, I never lived in a boarding house in my whole life, but from what I know boarders are just supposed to pay rent and are not obliged to help clean the house, among other household duties.

The second conflict in this episode shows Toni doubting the teaching skills of Alex (they teach in the same school) and this causes a rift between them. 

I remember laughing out loud only once in the entire show – a joke about “adobong kuko ng baka” being the favorite dish of Rio Locsin. There are also other funny moments that come later in the story, but these are few and far between.

The following week, I caught the show again and this time around, I promise to spend my Saturday nights doing more worthwhile activities. 

The story this time revolves around Vhong Navarro’s disappearance. Everyone panics and every cast member is supposed to bleed that situation to create humor. Again, there’s this one laugh out loud scenario – the one where Rio scolds her two nieces and tells them to “listen to me!” At that point, her phone rings and Toni and Alex – as instructed - listen in on the conversation.

It was downhill after that and I tried to kick myself in the head for skipping the Saturday anticipated Mass and choosing to stay home to watch Home Sweetie Home instead. Was heaven punishing me for it?

For sure, the problem of this sitcom cannot be blamed on the choice of talents. It has some of the best in the field. Toni Gonzaga, for one, can wheeze through an entire show riding on the crest of charisma alone. Sister Alex must be the funniest young comedienne today. Even Rio Locsin gets to display her comedic side – a facet nobody noticed in her 40 years in show business.

And then, there’s Luis Manzano. Luis is a brilliant host and comedian (I miss his comedies with the late Wenn Deramas). With all his product endorsements, he is undeniably very much in demand. 

So what the heck is he doing here in this program playing a token role? Or did the network put him there for additional star power? Too bad for ABS-CBN, he doesn’t seem to have the time for the show. In the second episode I saw, you only hear his voice in a phone call he makes to Rio Locsin.

And so with all the gifted talents there in the show, why is Home Sweetie Home lacking in terms of entertainment value? As in most local sitcoms, the problem is substance or the lack of it. Looking from the outside, there’s hardly anything that could be faulted with the cast members. It has a powerhouse cast – all talented and throbbing with energy and simply waiting for reasonably funny lines to deliver. But those moments never come their way.

Or could the problem lie with the cast members? Maybe the show’s creators are also having a difficult time adjusting to their availability. It’s no joke writing a script if your star is a no-show. Again, in that second episode that I saw, even Vhong Navarro’s participation was reduced to a video call.

Whatever the root of the problem is, I hope ABS-CBN does something to get this show’s act together because Home Sweetie Home still has one saving grace that makes it worth-watching: decency and positive values. There’s no toilet humor in the program or any form of vulgarity – a rarity, especially today when every other platform competes for shock value.

At this point it is quite evident that the show is still in its adjustment period. Maybe things will get better. Maybe the program will be funnier in its future episodes.

But for sure, the writers, director and cast members of Home Sweetie Home: Extra Sweet still have a lot of work to do to encourage viewers to stay home Saturday nights and watch this show.

 

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