The hit YouTube series "Gameboys" made headlines for amazingly conquering the unprecedented limitations set by the pandemic while also embracing it, and for being the first boys love (BL) series in the Philippines, starting a trend that has already churned out a string of new shows. It’s truly a game-changing show for a number of reasons, but most of all, for making new stars out of its lead actors, Kokoy De Santos and Elijah Canlas.

/ 7 September 2020

There’s absolutely no denying it. The hit YouTube series Gameboys made headlines for conquering the unprecedented limitations set by the pandemic while also embracing it, and for being the first boys love (BL) series in the Philippines, starting a trend that has already churned out a string of new shows. It’s truly a game-changing show for a number of reasons, but most of all, for making new stars out of its lead actors, Kokoy De Santos and Elijah Canlas.

In Gameboys, De Santos and Canlas charmed audiences as Gavreel and Cairo, boys who found love in each other online. The appeal of the show is its unapologetic reflection of current reality, and De Santos and Canlas played their parts to perfection.

As Gavreel and Cairo, De Santos and Canlas navigated the same grim circumstances that audiences in the real world are in. As actors, they worked around the same challenges, shooting most of their scenes from home and getting directions from the crew, led by director Ivan Andrew Payawal, on one mobile device while a family member acted as camera operator using another. Such a groundbreaking show like Gameboys requires inimitable actors, and the two, both regulars in the indie circuit, more than rose to the occasion.

After a few episodes about the budding romance, Gameboys, written masterfully by Ash Malanum, quickly escalated and explored deeper, darker themes: facing the ugly effects of the pandemic, processing internalized shame, questioning the role of families and friends in issues concerning LGBTQ+ youth. Through it all, De Santos and Canlas delivered performances with the depth, range, and nuance that their roles required–and more.

Already outstanding filmographies

Gameboys introduced De Santos and Canlas to mainstream audiences. The truth, though, is that both actors have been building enviable filmographies for years, starring in important films and working with some of the best directors, like they were preparing for this tipping point.

Both De Santos and Canlas got their start in commercials as young talents. De Santos quickly jumped to the small screen, playing roles in shows like Dyosa, Futbolilits, Maalala Mo Kaya, and many others. He also started doing movies at a young age, but his first major film role is in Kip Oebanda’s directorial debut, Tumbang Preso (2014). He then followed that up with roles in a succession of critically-acclaimed films:  Paul Soriano’s Kid Kulafu (2015), Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful (2016), and Chito Rono’s Signal Rock (2018). Then in 2019, De Santos delivered a star-making performance in Eduardo Roy Jr.’s F#*@bois (2019), where he boldly played the role of an aspiring actor who finds himself and a friend in the middle of a mess that would change their lives forever.

Canlas’s breakthrough film role likewise came in 2019, in Jun Robles Lana’s award-winning Kalel, 15, a harrowing take on the HIV-positive youth in the Philippines. Canlas worked with Eddie Garcia in Kalel, 15, which is the late legend’s very last film, and in interviews, Canlas has said that Garcia’s is the kind of film trajectory he aims to achieve. Judging by the filmography he’s been able to build at such a young age, Canlas is true to his words. His other film credits include Janice O’Hara’s Sundalong Kanin (2014), Ice Idanan’s Sakaling Hindi Makarating (2016), Thop Nazareno’s Edward (2019), Jade Castro’s LSS (2019), and Rae Red’s Babae At Baril (2019).

Future leading men

With such films under their belt, De Santos and Canlas have developed first-rate acting chops, which are in full display in Gameboys. By working with some of the best directors and actors and actresses both veterans and emerging, they have been honing their craft even further. In an interview, Ricky Davao, who starred in F#*@bois with De Santos, called the young star an up-and-coming top dramatic actor.

Meanwhile, Canlas recently won Best Actor at the 17th Asian Film Festival in Italy for Kalel, 15. Even more recently, he was nominated for Best Actor for the same film at the 2020 Urian Awards, arguably the most prestigious award-giving body in the Philippines.

Clearly, while Gameboys has made them online sensations, De Santos and Canlas are foremost actors, who, at a very young age, are at the top of their game.

Massive online following

The two stars’ acting chops are front and center in social chatter about Gameboys, driven by a very active fandom. The community of fans, reactors, and observers anticipate the release of each episode. Every week, these fans produced fan art, theories, and even alternative universe (AU) fan fiction, sending the show to the top of trending lists almost every time a new episode is released.

The on-screen chemistry between De Santos and Canlas inspired #CaiReel (portmanteau of Cairo and Gavreel), the name fans gave the fictional love team. To the delight of fans, this chemistry bled into real life. De Santos and Canlas don’t shy away from calling each other “baby” (their term of endearment in the show), giving birth to #EliKoy (Canlas and De Santos).

Fans religiously tuned in to #EliKoy interviews, of which at some point there were five in a week. In these interviews, De Santos and Canlas answered questions about their experience working in such a unique setup as Gameboys, their insights into the BL genre, and the importance of shining light on issues that are relevant to the LGBTQ+ community, whose lives they represent on screen.

Bright future

In many interviews, De Santos and Canlas also get asked how they deal with their newfound fame, to which they typically respond with humility, explaining that the pandemic has mostly prevented things from sinking in. At the rate things are going, however, it won’t be long before they have to face their new reality head-on.

The IdeaFirst Company, which produces Gameboys, has announced Gameboys The Movie. A spin-off called Pearl Next Door, about the life of the universally loved Gameboys character Pearl, is already in the works, and fans are hoping for a cameo appearance by the boys. There’s also a massive clamor for Season 2, but the production company has not confirmed that’s happening.

In addition, The IdeaFirst Company has signed on TM Tambayan and Bench to sponsor the latter episodes of the show, begging the question of whether an endorsement deal for De Santos and Canlas is in the horizon. The production outfit also collaborated with Silverworks on merchandise that featured the characters. Meanwhile, in recent social media posts, online retail store Shoppee has teased a slew of new endorsers that include the boys.

When asked how they got their Gameboys roles, De Santos and Canlas nonchalantly explain that they didn’t have to audition because they are talents of The IdeaFirst Company. Many think that De Santos and Canlas are lucky for being picked to star in such an innovative and important show as Gameboys.

The truth, however, is that the show, the industry, and we, the audience, are lucky to have found Kokoy De Santos and Elijah Canlas.