Viu review: Music uplifts gloomy pandemic-set 'Still'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 10 2022 07:34 PM

Mike Shimamoto, Gab Pangilinan, Julie Anne San Jose, Christian Bautista, Bituin Escalante, Lance Reblando, and Abe Autea lead the cast of 'Still.' Handout
Mike Shimamoto, Gab Pangilinan, Julie Anne San Jose, Christian Bautista, Bituin Escalante, Lance Reblando, and Abe Autea lead the cast of 'Still.' Handout

Daloy Himig was a music camp for young musicians located in a remote area in Mindoro island. With the unexpected announcement of the pandemic quarantine restrictions in March 2020, the young people could not go back to their homes. Mentor Kulas (Christian Bautista) continue their activities to keep the students' spirits up during the lockdown, but his fellow mentor Annette (Bituin Escalante) had more pragmatic concerns.

One night, grad school researcher Sab (Gab Pangilinan) and her childhood friend Laura (Julie Anne San Jose) snuck out of the Balay house at midnight to hitch a ride with Sab's boyfriend back to Manila. Three other workshoppers -- cheerful Iggy ( Mike Shimamoto), eccentric Tugs (Abe Autea) and transgender Leigh (Lance Reblando) -- got wind of their plans and joined their secret escapade. They get to know each other more while waiting for their ride to arrive. 

This is how the Viu original Filipino musical drama series "Still" begins, eight 50-minute episodes telling stories about millennial (and middle age) angst in songs, set against the grim backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show was created by Pat Valera (who wrote hit musicals "Dekada '70" and "Bagong Buwan"), with Giancarlo Abraham and Nicco Manalo. Direction is by Treb Monteras II (director of acclaimed film "Respeto"). 

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Musical director Matthew Chang and his team of writers crafted songs that summed up each episode. Theme song "Still" asserts one's presence. "Bagong Mundo" was about coping in a new normal. "Mundo, Umikot Ka" and "Muli" are about friends supporting each other. "Matatapos Din" was about not forgetting how to love despite all troubles. "Paalala Para sa 'Yo" reminds us of our importance in the world. "May Liwanag" is about the love we all have within us. "Tuloy Ka Lang" encourages us to move on in our own paths. 

Julie Anne San Jose and Gab Pangilinan both are at their brooding best in the lead roles. A force to reckon with, Bituin Escalante was so effortless as the ever-serious Annette. In contrast, Christian Bautista's Kulas bubbled with optimism despite his insecurity. Shimamoto, Autea, Reblando, and Gabby Padilla (as the snooty snitch Debbie) did not back down from the singing and acting challenges.

The first episode introduced us to all the main characters and their individual quirks, with more details about their private lives (Sab's boyfriend Joe, Laura's mother Celia, Kulas' and Annette's friend Jaime) revealed in the next episodes. 

The mood may frequently be gloomy, but the songs uplift with positive message. Overall, the scripts spoke to young people about pressing issues that matter to their generation. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, “Fred Said.”