Apr 28, 2018

[TV] Amo: Season 1 Review

So Netflix has finally started to include original Philippine content in their library. One such inclusion was the critically-acclaimed Birdshot. Another was the surprising choice of Brillante Mendoza's Amo.

Originally created for TV5, the 13-episode series is a rather controversial look at the current "war on drugs" in the Philippines from man who has been pretty vocal about being pro-administration. Had it remained on local network TV5, we probably would not have paid attention to it.

But now it has a much wider distribution thanks to Netflix and thus this particular take on the supposed drug situation and that has some people squirming in their seats. Duterte's war on drug makes a lot of assumptions about the state of affairs in the Philippines and this show perpetuates them and presents them as the truth, if you buy into the premise of the show.

And while I was not interested in supporting this particular project, I figured that I neded to see it in order to make a proper review with all the facts in hand rather than just rely on other opinions out there. I bit the bullet and watchced the series from start to finish between other tasks.

Synopsis: Amo (Boss) is a 2017 Philippine crime drama series directed by Brillante Mendoza with writing credits for  Troy Espiritu. The series originally set to air on TV5 starting August 2017 and has become available through Netflix this year.

Joseph Molina (Vince Rillon) is a young drug runner who juggles school and his drug carrying duties. As members of original gang have run-ins with the law, he somehow ends up moving up in the drug trade until he's eventually in charge of handling the supply of drugs to a Taguig night club. He is initially only able to stay out of trouble thanks to the help of an uncle in the police force who is more than willing to leverage personal ties to keep family out of hot water.

We also meet policeman Rodrigo Macareg (Derek Ramsay), who at first seems like a straight-up cop doing his part in fighting the war on drugs. But it is also revealed that he's not as clean as we'd like and he and other cops take it upon themselves to exploit some of their drug suspects in order to earn some money on the side. And he's not alone in this effort and it makes it harder to determine who the heroes are.

What I Liked: Amo gets a few things distinctly right about the drug situation in the Philippines. Never will you see a warrant being served prior to any of the police actions depicted. The cops operate based on instinct and there's a lot of kneejerk reactions like shooting at anyone running away from the scene of a raid or arresting anyone who looks suspecious in the area.

And for the most part, Rillon does his part to act the heck out of his role as Joseph. And for a good two-thirds of the series he is the major focus until we decide to move on to explore the corrupt cops a bit more. It's hard to comment on anyone else since they're so much motion blur at times. But at the very least this kid tries hard.

What Could Have Been Better: Where to begin here? The characters on the whole don't really have much agency in this series as things just keep happening around them and they just get pulled along in the current. Even things like the plan by the corrupt cops sort of comes out of nowhere so there's no reason to support him for we don't even know his motivations apart from basic greed. And that's not enough to craft a good story about - especially one with terribly shaky camera shots and very weight waist-high shots.

And as someone living in the Philippines, one can't help but feel bothered by the heavy-handed nature of pro-government stance here. All the characters that end up being the focus of police attention are in fact valid drug personalities. There are no false-positives here and the police always seem to get it right or the narco list remains irrefutable. The businessman who gets held for ransom by the cops was ultimately still a drug lord of some sort and thus it was really okay that he was taken advantage of. And that's not we know to be true.

The show is light on logic and big on action. We can't be bothered with legal delays and instead it's all about cops engaged in gun fights with drug personalities who are always armed as well and they always shoot back. Thus indirectly the show continually stresses that the drug war is correct because look at how bad things are.

TL;DR: Amo is a weird creation and one that is practically pro-Administration propaganda presented as conventional entertainment. And it's not even a well-done series so it's totally a waste of time for both intellectual and political reasons. And thus the series only gets 1 person killed in police encounters out of a possible 5.

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