Reviews

How Thai Drama ‘Bad Buddy’ Depicts Real Boys And Breaks BL Stereotypes

This Romeo-and-Juliet-esque show uses fun tropes that keep the audience entertained while putting the spotlight on genuine queer experiences. Here — spoiler alert! — are a few major BL tropes that the show cleverly subverts.

Thai Boy Love (BL) dramas have recently taken the world by storm. And while they boast of compelling stories and charming romances, they also promote some harmful tropes and stereotypes about the LGBT community. ‘Bad Buddy’, a romantic comedy drama about two boys whose families despise each other, dismantles them like no other show in the BL world. This Romeo-and-Juliet-esque show uses fun tropes that keep the audience entertained while putting the spotlight on genuine queer experiences. Here — spoiler alert! — are a few major BL tropes that the show cleverly subverts.

Unnecessary Gendered Roles

A lot of BLs force heterosexual norms onto their lead couple with one ‘masculine’ partner (the fighter and more dominant one) and one ‘feminine’ partner (the shy and sensitive one). Our ‘Bad Buddy’ male leads, Pat and Pran, are never forced within these gender roles. It could have been easy to do so. The boisterous and muscular Pat could have easily become the ‘protector’ of the couple. Instead, he wears his heart on his sleeve and sleeps with a stuffed doll. The introverted and quiet Pran could have easily become the more submissive partner. Instead, he is just as sporty, fights just as well and is even more competitive than Pat is.

Pat and Pran are real boys with a canvas of traits and interests that make them who they are. Neither fits in the mould of masculine or feminine because that is not how real gay relationships work. When Pat calls Pran his wife, Pran calls him out and points out how silly it is. He goes on to say that the word boyfriend is special enough for them. Pat apologises and ‘Bad Buddy’ slams shut the book on this prominent BL trope.

Fetishization Of Gay Relationships

There’s nothing wrong with on-screen sex. But its portrayal in BL dramas sways dangerously between representation and fetishization. Overuse of sex scenes with no narrative purpose can lead to a depiction of gay relationships as something to be consumed. In ‘Bad Buddy’, physical intimacy is messy but fun, clumsy but natural. It feels less voyeuristic and more like a peek into a real relationship. The show strays away from unnecessary gendering here as well. Unlike most BLs, there is no ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’. Sex is a fluid, changing thing.

In one of BL’s most harmful tropes, the dominant, ‘masculine’ partner physically forces themselves on the other. It is sexual assault dressed up as the force of love. In ‘Bad Buddy’, Pat asks Pran if he can kiss him, even though they’ve already been dating for a few months.

The show highlights that boys do have sexual desires, but this is just one facet of themselves. What little intimacy they show is emotionally charged and representative of queer men rather than an idealised, glamorous version of it. And you know ‘Bad Buddy’ definitely isn’t shying away from sex when the last dialogue on the show is “Pran, this isn’t a porno!”

Internalised Homophobia

‘Oh I’m not gay, I’m only in love with (insert name).’ A frequently heard line in the world of BL, this dialogue appears in ‘Bad Buddy’ as well. Except it is spoken by Pa, Pat’s sister, as she mockingly calls out what she expected Pat to say. Pat is quick to refute this and further says that he is open to all genders. Pran, too, admits he could like girls someday as well. In less than a minute, ‘Bad Buddy’ depicts the fluidity of sexuality and smashes the original BL trope straight into oblivion.

The Curse of Episode 11

BL dramas love tormenting their audiences with a breakup and time skip towards the end. Come episode 11, everyone was worried about it happening in ‘Bad Buddy’ too. And indeed the show does trick us into thinking they break up. Then comes the reveal. Pat and Pran had secretly continued dating and were now going strong for over four years. No contrived misunderstanding, no forced separation. Unlike other BLs where the leads are at the beginning of their official relationship, ‘Bad Buddy’ gave us the pleasure of seeing Pat and Pran’s long term relationship and how it blooms over time. A truly satisfactory ending.

Lack Of Female Representation

Female characters in BLs are usually used as props for the male character’s development and later simply forgotten about. But ‘Bad Buddy’ shines all the brighter thanks to its women. Ink and Pa are wonderful supporting characters who also have their own independent storylines. They are fully fleshed out and watching their relationship go from friends to lovers is fulfilling. It’s heartfelt, meaningful and despite having lesser screen time, no less important than that of our leading men.

All in all, ‘Bad Buddy’ is a testament to what happens when queer people are involved in the making of queer art. The director, Backaof Noppharnach, is a queer man himself and the result is a show that breaks harmful stereotypes in favour of authentic characters and an even more enjoyable story. He creates a true representation of the LGBT community because he understands them, an empathy that some BL dramas are in dire need of. Does this mean that only queer people should make queer art? Of course not. It just means that those on the outside need to step into queer shoes before telling queer stories.

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I'm a storyteller. I love reading, painting sunset skies, the smell of old books and coffee. I wear mismatched socks, collect key-chains and write stories at 3 in the morning. Social awkwardness is in my blood. People fascinate me. So does murder.
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Rati Pednekar

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