At the first watch, "Proongnee Kor Rak Thur" ("Tomorrow I'll Still Love You") is a typical Thai soap drama, complete with adultery, dirty lies, rape, murder and a psycho-bitch. The story line also involves love across socio-economic classes, which is a favourite Thai theme. All these would have kept the conservative section of Thai society happy, except for one tiny flag-raising element: a subplot portraying a romance between two supporting characters, both of whom happen to be men.
This is not the first time we've seen a same-sex story in a Thai drama. Katoey characters have been the butt of jokes in local shows for decades though a few gay characters have appeared in television supporting roles in the past several years.
Takonkiet "Boy" Viravan, director of "Proongnee", was previously credited with the romance between Tee and Jon in the feel-good production "Rak Paed Pan Kao" ("Miscellaneous Loves") - probably the most popular on-screen gay couple to date.
A closer look at "Proongnee" shows P, played by "O" Anuchit of "The Overture" fame, as a car racer from a wealthy family, while Kong, played by Fluke "The Star", is his middle-class physiotherapist. Their relationship emulates the classic Thai-style courtship where the hero must go to extreme lengths to gain the trust of the playing-hard-to-get heroine. There's no sex involved. Just caring for the other and his family, staring into each other's eyes, occasional hand-holding and brief consoling embraces.
Despite the crazy tumult of heterosexual lust, jealousy and rage around them - or because of it - P and Kong's relationship somehow emerges as the moral underpinning of the whole show. And that's what has put the conservatives up in arms this time around.
A newspaper columnist wrote that the show's portrayal of gay relationships may "normalise such relationships and mislead Thai youths into believing that they are acceptable". It seems, for him, gay characters should continued to be portrayed as psychologically disturbed, violent or weak louts who must be left single, miserable and suicidal to the very end, and that Thai youths should be induced into the art of abusive straight relationships - abundantly on display on TV.
Fortunately, he's not the only voice in town. In some circles, there's quite a P & Kong "fever". Webboards such as Pantip.com are flooded with excited posts about this duo by those who call themselves "followers". Although many are diehard Y girls who would guzzle over any male-male story, the majority are average members of the audience who overlook the gender of the protagonists and see the relationship for what it is - an insufferable tenderness for each other that is love.
However, there's another side to this enthusiasm. Although it is doubtful that we'll see so much as a peck on the cheek between P & Kong, I wonder how many of these fans would remain faithful if the star-crossed lovers were to be shown spending a night together in bed - something freely allowed to onscreen heterosexual couples. As in Tee and Jon's squeaky clean story, P & Kong are destined for a platonic relationship that will never be consummated.
It seems the only same-gender relationships palatable to Thai audiences and the public at large will remain - for the time being - hopelessly idealistic relationships between eunuchs. Tellingly, another recent drama, "Namtarn Mai" ("Burnt Sugar"), featuring gay and bisexual characters in a much racier story line, didn't meet the same level of public approval.
Not that Thai television needs steamy gay sex scenes like those between Ollie and Christian in Germany's "Verbotene Liebe" ("Forbidden Love:). But rather than contrived situational set-ups designed for the tear-jerker effect, a better drama would be to incorporate real-life issues that gay people must face as a couple - more realism, yet full of raw emotion. A good example is the "ER" episode that should a gay man in a coma and his long-term partner unable to authorise a life-and-death decision for him, as he was superceded by his bigoted relatives. It's this kind of substance that brings weight to a show. The romance and the sex are just dramatic icing.