Tuesday 25 August 2020

Is 'Best of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd' on Netflix really the best? Maybe the chicken episode

A bunch of old local movies and TV shows started streaming on Netflix this month with more coming soon.

"Tofu Street" is a classic.
Posted by Mothership.sg on Sunday, July 26, 2020

One that is particularly close to my heart is Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd.

If you watch the first episode, the first credit you see after the opening titles is “Written by Ong Su Mann”.

That’s me.

Do I get any residuals? Of course not. Neither does anyone else who worked on the show, including Gurmit Singh. The only one making any money out of this is Mediacorp.

Still, it was a thrill to see my name on Netflix. More so than finally seeing my cameo in Eric Khoo’s Mee Pok Man, also streaming on Netflix now.

Last I checked, “Best Of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd” was ranked sixth most watched in Singapore yesterday, the only local production in the Netflix top 10. Sorry, Mee Pok Man.

But that first PCK episode on Netflix is not the first episode of the TV series. For some reason, the 26 Netflix episodes are from the sitcom’s third season – and trust me, not all are the best.

For example, in an episode called Yum Seng, someone in a men’s room bumps into a wall and the wall moves!

As executive producer, I could’ve chosen a take where the wall didn’t move. Instead, I decided on the one with the best performance even though it revealed our flimsy set.

Thanks, Netflix, for making me relive that mistake two decades later and exposing it to a whole new generation.

But the men’s room wall isn’t the only thing that hasn’t held up after all these years.

My woke 20-year-old zoomer daughter is appalled by an episode co-written by me called Excuse Me, Are You An Aquarius, where “Aquarius” is used as a euphemism for a local term that could be considered a homophobic slur. You know what I’m talking about.

I probably couldn’t get away with something like that nowadays. Just last month, Mediacorp had to apologise for depicting a gay character as a paedophile in the Channel 8 drama My Guardian Angels.

Mediacorp said it had "no intention to disrespect or discriminate against the LGBTQ community in the drama".

Posted by The Straits Times on Tuesday, July 14, 2020

At least he wasn’t called an “Aquarius”, I presume.

My daughter is even more horrified by an episode where Rosie acts like a dog and is put on a leash. But I wasn’t involved in that one so not everything is my fault.

So if these episodes aren’t the “best”, except maybe for the one where Ah Ma gets a pet chicken, why did Netflix start with the third season and not the first?

Could it be because the third season starts with the landmark episode where PCK completed the Best English course after being chastised for speaking Singlish by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in his 1999 National Day Rally speech?

Many complained the show wasn’t as funny after that.

Yet PCK has endured and this has been a banner year for the character. Besides the Netflix debut, PCK has fronted a couple of Covid-19 videos for the Government and is currently shilling for Shopee.

What’s ironic about the hype over PCK and other Mediacorp shows coming to Netflix is that they have been available for free for years on Mediacorp’s own streaming platform Toggle before it became MeWatch, but no one seemed to care.

That’s the power of Netflix for you. And the lack of power of Mediacorp.

But if Netflix whets your appetite for more PCK, you can watch all eight seasons on MeWatch. I recommend the second and the eighth. They may not be the best in Singapore and JB (and some say Batam), but that’s where my name pops up again.

Remember, I don’t get a single cent.

- Published in The New Paper on 24 August 2020

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Season 1 of Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd on Netflix is not actually Season 1 — it's Season 3

So Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd is now on Netflix.

Netflix lists the first episode called Cast The First Scone as Season 1 Episode 1, but it's actually Season 3 Episode 1.

I should know. I wrote it.

Of the 26 episodes available on Netflix, I wrote (or co-wrote) 16 of them. And they're all from seaon 3 when I first took over the show as executive producer. I came on as a writer the previous season.

It's strange that Netflix didn't start with the first season. It's especially jarring since the first Netflix episode opens with a recap of the cliffhanger from the end of Season 2.

Below is the two-part season 2 finale if you care.

The cliffhanger scene was tacked on at the end of part 2 after then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong dedicated part of his 1999 National Day Rally speech to the show. That speech cemented PCK as a national icon.
PM Goh said:
If we want to be an education hub, attracting good students from the region, then we must provide a good English-speaking environment, i.e. one where people speak standard English, not Singlish. Our schools must teach standard English, and our children must learn and speak standard English.

Most of our pupils still come from non-English speaking homes. For them, English is really a second language, to be learnt almost like a foreign language, and not their mother tongue. For them to master just one version of English is already quite a challenge. If they get into the habit of speaking Singlish, then later they will either have to unlearn these habits, or learn proper English on top of Singlish. Many pupils will find this too difficult. They may end up unable to speak any language properly, which would be a tragedy.

Gurmit Singh can speak many languages. But Phua Chu Kang speaks only Singlish. If our children learn Singlish from Phua Chu Kang, they will not become as talented as Gurmit Singh.

We learn English in order to communicate with the world. The fact that we use English gives us a big advantage over our competitors. Parents send children to English language schools rather than Chinese, Malay, or Tamil schools, because they hope the children will get jobs and opportunities when they grow up. But to become an engineer, a technician, an accountant or a nurse, you must have standard English, not Singlish.

And then:
One of the problems MOE has getting students to speak standard English is that the students often hear Singlish being spoken around them, including on TV. So they learn wrong ways of speaking.

Teachers complain that their students are picking up catchphrases like: "Don't pray, pray." and using them even in the classroom. The students may think that it is acceptable and even fashionable to speak like Phua Chu Kang. He is on national TV and a likeable, ordinary person. The only character who tries to speak proper English is Phua Chu Kang's sister-in-law Margaret, and she is a snob. Nobody wants to be a snob. So in trying to imitate life, Phua Chu Kang has made the teaching of proper English more difficult.

I asked TCS why Phua Chu Kang's English is so poor. They told me that Phua Chu Kang started off speaking quite good English, but as time passed he forgot what he learnt in school, and his English went from bad to worse.

I therefore asked TCS to try persuading Phua Chu Kang to attend NTUC's BEST classes, to improve his English. TCS replied that they have spoken to Phua Chu Kang, and he has agreed to enrol himself for the next BEST programme, starting in a month's time. If Phua Chu Kang can improve himself, surely so can the rest of us.
Maybe that's why Netflix chose Cast The First Scone as its first episode since it's the episode where Phua Chu Kang talks about completing the BEST programme as the prime minister instructed. So it's quite a landmark episode.

I mean, can you think of another sitcom where the storyline was dictated by the guy running the country?

PCK also got another mention in next year's National Day Rally speech.

PM Goh said in 2000:
We must therefore bring about a culture of lifelong learning. You are never too old to learn. Even if you speak Singlish, you can learn to improve your English. Look at Phua Chu Kang. He attended BEST classes. He is speaking better English already, although still not as good as Gurmit Singh. Whether Phua Chu Kang wishes to improve his English further is up to him. But if he is wise, he should keep on learning, for example, how to use the computer and e-commerce to expand his business.
About two-third way into the production of the third season, I left the show and Mediacorp in 2000 to join the ill-fated TVWorks in the ill-fated SPH Mediaworks start-up.

I would return to Mediacorp a few years later and somehow ended up as executive producer again of the eighth and final season of PCK Pte Ltd because no one else wanted the job.

Actually, if you want to watch all the Phua Chu Kang episodes in the original telecast order, they're available for streaming on Mediacorp's MeWatch streaming platform. Having the show on Netflix is kind of redundant, but I guess more people watch Netflix than MeWatch.

Why you no watch MeWatch?

EARLIER: Educating Phua Chu Kang - and failing