I enjoy a summer romcom just like the next person. You know the ingredients… Boy meets girl… sparks fly… there’s the courtship back and forth which leads to the coupling which leads to the break up which leads to the moment of truth. All wrapped up in a neat little package. Voila! Smiles all around. Well Turkish romcoms have those same ingredients but they add their own flavor. That’s what I thought Bay Yanlis (Mr. Wrong) starring Can Yaman and Ozge Gurel was going to be like. A typical Turkish romcom. I had seen a couple of Turkish summer series before while waiting for my favorite fall shows to start up again. Some, like Erkenci Kus started out strong but when they were extended through the next season and beyond due to their popularity, they lost their way… or rather, they lost their flavor. The thing about romantic comedies is the expectation. What the audience wants from the show. Me, I expect a nice little romance peppered with humorous dialogue and chemistry between the leads. And if I get lucky, I gain a little bit of insight and maybe even learn a lesson. But that would be icing on the cake.
Back to Bay Yanlis, Fox Turkey's summer series that airs on Friday nights…
It’s strikingly modern. As opposed to most Turkish series I’ve seen, the single girl (the heroine) doesn’t live with her parents. In fact, her parents live hours away. But of course, that doesn’t stop them from meddling in her life anyway. And on top of that, the heroine has a live-in boyfriend and she gets rip roaring drunk! This must break all sorts of taboos in Turkey. But that’s not all. The single guy (the hero) not only doesn’t live with his parents but he’s also an unabashed Lothario!
Frankly, at first glance the series could be any Hollywood produced romantic comedy you would see on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Which is why I felt a bit disappointed at first. I started watching Turkish dizis on account of I wanted to escape the over sexed, overly violent Hollywood productions. I love the sense of family and the depiction of Turkish culture in dizis. And yes, I even enjoy watching women who are feminine and men who are masculine in conventional roles. I also appreciate courtship and romance, not hooking up. But just when I was going to switch off the show and move on, something happened.
First and foremost, the show makes me laugh. Besides the fact that the casting is perfect, absolutely perfect, the dialogue often times has me laughing out loud. Kudos to screenwriters Banu Zengin Tak and Asli Zengin, the duo that brought us several of the episodes in Erkenci Kus. There are some similarities in the feverish banter between the leads in both series, but it’s been perfected in Bay Yanlis.
There’s Ozgur Atasoy (Ozgur means free or free spirit) played by the indomitable Can Yaman, a restaurateur who works hard and plays even harder. He doesn’t believe in love and he jumps from woman to woman like he’s stepping on hot stones. Then there’s Ezgi (Ozge Gurel) who only wants to get married but was just dumped for another woman by her live-in boyfriend of three years. To add more salt on the already painful wound, he gets engaged to the other woman after knowing her only 3 months. And here’s where I learned my first lesson about men… or at least Turkish men. If they don’t ask you to marry them in the first three months, they probably never will. That’s what Ozgur tells Ezgi in one of their many hysterical face offs. (This is the second time these two actors have been paired in a Turkish romantic comedy series. The first time, for those interested, was in Dolunay.)
But I digress. Just like most romcoms the heroine has a group of close friends. Ezgi’s friends are Cansu, her cousin who seems a bit older and wise to the ways of the world, and Deniz, an ambitious lawyer who seems to have an animus towards men. We don’t know her backstory yet (there are only 3 episodes so far) but all indications are that she was hurt very badly in a past relationship and now, woe onto any man who crosses her path. And that unlucky (or lucky) man is Ozgur's friend and business partner, Ozan (Serkan Tutuncu from Afili Ask) who unlike his licentious friend, has no clue how to attract a woman.
Three months after her humiliating breakup, Ezgi and Ozgur’s paths cross. They get in the same cab together and neither wants to yield. After that, they can’t help but run into each other… in Ozgur’s restaurant which ends up with him carrying a drunken Ezgi to a hotel, in Ozgur’s building where Ezgi eventually ends up living with her cousin Cansu, and now finally with Ezgi actually getting a job at Ozgur’s restaurant.
The long and short of it is that Ozgur and Ezgi make a deal. He’ll mentor her in the ways of men so that she can entice a handsome doctor (Sarp Can Koroglu) into marrying her before the end of the summer and she’ll go to his sister’s wedding as his girlfriend to get his overzealous mother off his back. His mother, having learned that Ozgur is living too free a life, is determined to find a wife for him at the wedding.
And the fun begins.
Yaman as Ozgur
As Can Divit in Erkenci Kus, Yaman played a sophisticated and intelligent advertising executive, but his role here is much different. Ozgur is a real letch and a true-blue narcissist. And for some unfathomable reason, he likes to dress like a rapper in clothes that look like they should be hanging in some modern art gallery. He probably wouldn’t know a collar if it bit him in the neck. He works out frequently and likes to show off his buff, muscular body (another surprising twist to Turkish series). He teases Ezgi incessantly and can’t seem to be serious for one moment. In short, Ozgur is the stuff of every parent's nightmare. In fact, Ezgi’s friends immediately warn her about him and forbid her getting involved with him. Credit goes to Can Yaman for playing this caricature to the hilt! BUT underneath that ridiculous exterior there are glimmers of refinement and Yaman brilliantly shows that off as well.
So, if you want a romantic comedy, Bay Yanlis fits the bill, especially in the first episode. But as I watched the first three episodes one right after the other, it struck me that there’s more to this comedy than meets the eye. On the surface Ezgi’s dialogue with her friends seems shallow. She’s had several relationships with men who have taken advantage of her kindness and loyalty… and her desperate desire to get married. As an emerging Turkish dizi veteran I’m used to the aspiration of marriage as the pinnacle of success for Turkish women. But interestingly, while this is acknowledged quite emphatically, there is an underlying deeper message. Love yourself. This is actually quite a powerful message because when a person loves herself, truly loves herself, another person’s love is just a natural extension. And even more importantly, when a person loves herself, she is able to reflect that love faithfully to her lover. But loving oneself is not as easy as the words might imply and this, I believe, is what the series strives to address.
Ezgi’s journey to self love includes being rejected by the handsome doctor after showing honest enthusiasm, and learning from her ex that her loyalty and steadfastness rendered her boring. How she uses this information and what if anything she changes about herself will speak volumes about the direction the show will take, and the level to which the series aspires.
Ozgur is a different story. He obviously has no shortcoming when it comes to self-love… or does he? Whether his happy go lucky, narcissistic behavior is the result of some hidden trauma, or whether he is simply a man spoiled by good luck is unclear at the moment. But there is every indication that Ozgur is not as frivolous as he might seem. This theme of self-love also plays out in the secondary character of Cansu played by Fatma Toptas. Cansu is in a long-term relationship with a divorced man who uses his young daughter as an excuse to keep their relationship a secret. While Cansu consoles Ezgi in her time of need, she recognizes her own lack of self-love which keeps her tethered to an unwilling man. Whether she will act on this realization is something else altogether. Quite a heavy theme for a summer romcom, but I'm hooked.
I mentioned the series started out modern and it is.. perhaps to entice the younger demographic and international audiences. But cleverly woven into the fabric of the series are the qualities I have come to know and love in Turkish dizis: respect for family and tradition, loyalty to friends, and sacrifice. As ridiculous as Ozgur is, he deeply respects his mother and adores his younger sister. For her part, Ezgi is a considerate and dutiful daughter. Ezgi and Ozgur's friends are supportive and loyal, and just like every Turkish dizi, they have no understanding of personal space or privacy.
The series has just begun, and there are other secondary characters, Anil Celik (Cey Cey from Erkenci Kus), Sarp Can Koroglu (Bulent from Adini Feriha Koydum) among others who have yet to show their colors. So far, Bay Yanlis's modern plot peppered with Turkish tradition seems like a winning recipe for diverse audiences. This is evidenced by the steady increase in ratings over the past three episodes. I have every reason to believe the next episode's ratings will be even higher.
It would seem that the creators of the series have successfully struck a balance between traditional and modern Turkish culture thereby attracting their own youth as well as not so young western audiences, like me. However, the true test of the series will be whether it sticks to the allotted 20 episodes or extends to multiple seasons. Right now the story is tight and coherent, but Turkish dizis that drag on seem to lose focus and buckle under a web of plot lines. I hope that doesn’t happen to this lovely little summer gem.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN
For earlier reviews on Erkenci Kus and Dolunay, click on the links below: