Friday 17 February 2017

Friday flashback: 10 years ago, Phua Chu Kang ended (and then it didn't)

It started with a lion dance because Chinese New Year was a week away.

And, you know, because it was so fittingly cheenah.

The series finale of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd aired on Channel 5 on Feb 11, 2007.

This month is the 10th anniversary of that last episode.

I was executive producer of the eighth and final season of the show. I wrote a few of the episodes too. (I was also involved in seasons two and three.)

When I die, my orbituary will likely say I was a "former executive producer of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd". has already described me as such in a recent article.

Admittedly, the TV series was probably the most impactful thing I worked on in my career. I've spent the last 10 years doing little of note except waiting to write this blog post.

Producing that last episode was tricky. Although the show was ending, we knew it wasn't the end of the Phua Chu Kang character(s). We knew we couldn't, say, kill him off. Or have PCK and Rosie get a divorce.

A status quo had to be preserved to allow the possibility of PCK returning in some future form if need be.

This was before we knew anything about the Malaysian series or the movie or the webisodes.

For the final two episodes, I brought back Ah Ma, played by Neo Swee Lin, who was in seasons one to four, to complete the circle.

I wasn't around when Neo left the show, but from I was told, it wasn't on good terms.

Of course, I had to also bring back her husband, Lim Kay Siu, to play PCK's arch enemy Frankie Foo (albeit without a leg) for that last episode.

I got the idea for the show-within-a-show from the series finale of the US sitcom Cheers, which I saw in America in 1993.

For the PCK series finale, I got Adrian Pang to host the show framing the last PCK episode and interview the cast at the end.

The episode itself wasn't a particularly good one. It tried to do too much and was too big and unwieldy.

But overall, I was happy with that final season of PCK. It ended the series on a good enough note that there was a demand for a sequel, which was produced two years later in Malaysia, called Phua Chu Kang Sdn Bhd.

The show aired in Malaysia first, then in Singapore. PCK is apparently more popular in Malaysia than in his country of origin.

Along with returning stars Gurmit Singh and Irene Ang, the new series also starred Malaysian Harith Iskander, the comedian who was named World's Funniest Person last year (but not for PCK Sdn Bhd).

Then came Phua Chu Kang The Movie (2010), which I was involved in and didn't turn out so well. I have yet to see it and frankly, I don't want to because I didn't have much creative control over it. While the script I wrote wasn't that great to begin with, it was made worse by trying to turn it into a Jack Neo movie, which was all the production company knew how to do.

Like PCK Sdn Bhd, the movie was set and filmed in Malaysia to cut cost.

Over the years, I have observed the ebb and flow of the popularity of PCK.

I first knew about Phua Chu Kang when he was just a recurring character in Gurmit's World in 1995 after I heard some kid say "Use your blain, use your blain!"

The first season of PCK Pte Ltd was like a breath of fresh Beng air amid the proper English-speeaking Under One Roof and Three Rooms.

Then second season reached a new ratings high with an episode I wrote called Bloodline.

Then came the Singlish backlash with then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's 1999 National Day Rally speech.

Season three's ratings sufferred because people believed the show wasn't as good anymore after PCK attended BEST English classes.

But the 2000 President Star Charity featuring the first PCK musical was well-received.

So was the timely 2003 PCK Sar-Vivor rap.

But the 2005 stage musical at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was not.

In 2006, I was asked to be executive producer of PCK's final season because the brand was so damaged, nobody else wanted the job.

I helped rehabilitate the brand enough that people wanted to make the Malaysian series and the movie.

And then I helped kill the PCK brand again by writing the 2010 movie, which was about as poorly received as the 2005 stage musical.

But the PCK character remained iconic enough to join Madame Tussauds Singapore in 2014.

In the same year, Mediacorp's Toggle also started streaming the 10-part online series, PCK Walkabout.

Yes, as long as Gurmit lives, Phua Chu Kang will never die.

Even though the original TV series ended a decade ago.