Familiar plotlines cannot keep viewers hooked

Tanglin starring (from left) Darryl Yong, Wee Soon Hui, Laurence Pang and Charlie Goh.
Tanglin starring (from left) Darryl Yong, Wee Soon Hui, Laurence Pang and Charlie Goh. PHOTO: CHANNEL 5

REVIEW / TELEVISION
TANGLIN
CHANNEL 5, Weeknights, 8.30pm and also on tv.toggle.sg
2.5/5 stars

Tanglin is Channel 5's first long-running drama series. More than $1 million was spent on big custom- built sets and the episodes are nicely lit and shot.

It features a sprawling cast and the return of Wee Soon Hui from the nostalgia drama Growing Up (1996-2002). She plays widowed matriarch, Li Yan, of the Tong family, a nurturing mother to her five children and the friendly boss of Tanglin Coffee House.

With 199 episodes commissioned, there are plenty of characters to introduce in order for enough storylines to play out.

Li Yan's brood include nice-guy Ben (Darryl Yong), twins Diana (Jae Liew) and Christopher (James Seah), and the youngest, Eddie (Charlie Goh). The eldest, laidback Adam (Adam Chen), is married to career-minded Xue Ling (Constance Song) from the Lim family. Her father (Richard Low) heads the stodgy KS Foods.

Adding to the racial diversity are the Rahman and Bhaskar families. Bubbly Salmah (Masturah Ahmad) is Li Yan's friend and her two daughters are complete opposites in temperament. Bhaskar Ram (Mathialagan) is the neighbourhood doctor with a bachelor son Arjun (James Kumar) and a daughter Shruti (Eswari Gunasagar) in junior college.

Many of the initial episodes were spent on establishing who's who and their relationships with one another.

After five episodes, though, it feels like Tanglin is can-see TV rather than a must-see. It plays too much like a low-key, genteel series. And that is not enough to keep viewers hooked in the long run.

While possible arenas of conflict and likely romance arcs have already been sketched out, at the moment, there seems to be little danger of getting sucked into the stories.

A clash is brewing at KS Foods between stick-with-tradition chief executive officer Lim Kwong San and his time-for-a-change daughter. But it is the overly familiar plotline that needs an overhaul.

Meanwhile, Shruti's attempts to ingratiate herself with the in-crowd at school is a tired retread of the Mean Girls (2004) playbook. And why does a tame prank of giving wrong directions to the principal's office warrant parents getting summoned to school? It feels like a clumsy way of getting a few characters into the same room.

More promising are the relationships in the process of getting tangled and secret histories which are slowly being revealed.

Li Yan's tomboyish daughter Diana is constantly bickering with the new chef Jay (Nat Ho) at the coffee house. At the same time, Arjun finds himself drawn to the feisty Diana even as his mother tries to make a match for him.

Complicating things is the long- buried relationship between Li Yan and Bhaskar Ram. But I am not convinced that a woman who had five children with her husband would carry around a keychain with another man's initials on it.

Intriguingly, the age gap between Li Yan and her eldest son Adam is a shocking 14 years, according to the official media kit. Either he was adopted or the show is venturing into teenage pregnancy territory. Regardless, there seems to be an interesting backstory there.

Still, a single episode of the recently concluded mega Taiwanese soap Night Market Life mustered more thrills and spills than Tanglin has managed to rustle up so far. Of course, not everything has to be a melodramatic roller- coaster ride, but this home-grown series needs to turn the dial up on the drama.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2015, with the headline 'Familiar plotlines cannot keep viewers hooked'. Print Edition | Subscribe