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Reel Asian: ‘Topline’ is a Heartfelt Coming-of-Age Underscored by an Incisive Soundtrack

Topline. Find your Song.

With each of the 10 episodes running for an average of 15 minutes, no moment in Topline is wasted. In this regard, it is the little show that could, weaving together one girl’s coming of age — and coming into her own — with her family’s larger journey of picking up the pieces in the wake of a loved one’s death, all while being set against the backdrop, no less, of Toronto’s music scene. In less capable hands, it’s easy to imagine Topline being an overly corny, overstuffed mess, but under creator Romeo Candido’s direction, it’s a heartfelt debut.

Topline follows a 16-year-old girl living in Scarborough, who, to her family and coworkers at the hospital, is a nursing intern named Tala who is following in her recently deceased mother’s footsteps. To the rest of the world online, however, she is Illisha, a pop superstar living in luxury, whose song “Cotton Candy” recently went viral. Tala receives the opportunity of a lifetime when a renowned music producer invites her to join his team as a topliner (the unsung heroes of the music industry, who are responsible for creating the vocal melodies, harmonies, and lyrics to a premade beat). Though she tries her best to keep her two worlds separate, they inevitably collide.

Cyrena Fiel turns in an effective performance as Tala. She is effervescent and sincere when she needs to be — she’s still a kid, after all — and she more than holds her own in the more emotionally complex moments. To that end, both Nicco Lorenzo Garcia and Martina Ortiz Luis, as Ruben and Gabby (Tala’s father and sister, respectively), deserve commendations for giving us, alongside Fiel, a perfectly imperfect Filipino family, navigating the winding road of grief, loss, and tepid hope.

If Tala and her family are the emotional foundation of Topline, then the music is its real star. Indeed, the soundtrack is a technical achievement from Candido, who composed and produced each of the songs in the show. Even more impressive is the way he threads each musical moment into the overarching story of self-discovery. Which is interesting, considering Candido is making his first foray into showrunning here. Tala’s words are literally Candido’s: a declaration of intent, an assertion of one’s art, and, perhaps most significantly, an introduction to a new era.

Topline is now streaming on CBC Gem.


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