Updated: May 28
A disheveled detective flying into an interrogation room with a "tesbih" (similar to rosary beads) around his fingers, hitting a detainee across the head and blurting out a series of profanities as he proceeds to interview the hapless suspect, will be abiding images you will have after watching Behzat Ç. If you already know and love Turkish TV dramas, you are halfway to loving Behzat Ç. If you’re also into detective stories, you could then consider yourself a quick and immediate convert to this noir Turkish series of murder and mayhem in Ankara.
Behzat Ç is the lead detective’s name, and he appears in what is broadly, a series that follows a lovable but dysfunctional team of murder investigators set in the city of Ankara. The television series first produced in 2010 – 2013 is based on two noir mysteries by Emrah Serbes. Emrah’s books, Her Temas Iz Bırakır (Every Touch Leaves a Trace), 2006 and Son Hafriyat (The Last Excavation), 2009 were written while this prodigious writer was in his mid-to late-twenties. These noir novels, and a number of scenarios also written by Emrah for Behzat Ç episodes, reveal him to be a writer of insight, humor and wisdom well beyond his age. Only one of his books so far has been translated into English and the rest have been translated for readers in Germany where Serbes is very popular.
Each episode of Behzat Ç (and there are 96 on Netflix, with a total cast of 127) covers a single murder in Ankara. These stories of desperate, degenerate or disappointed people who become murderers or are caught up in them, are told with compassion and care. Not so benevolently handled are the underlying threads of office politics, big government corruption, sleaze and the ultimate survival of Behzat Ç’s inharmonious team at the Homicide Bureau. A unifying thread of love between individuals in the team and others they work with, simultaneously unites and shatters the hard drinking, hard living but dedicated investigators as they pursue murderous perpetrators in the underbelly world of Ankara.
So who are the characters? Ankara and its surrounds play a starring role, competing overtly with Istanbul as visitors from Istanbul in the episodes insult the city and those from Ankara reciprocate. However, the city, bereft of the natural beauty of Istanbul, distinguishes itself as a place where politics is given a significance beyond its worth: and this is where the series triumphs. We get to see how the city works politically as senior police and politicians operate and orchestrate the little man and woman. We also get to see the scenographic realia in Ankara that Turkish TV programs excel in: the insides of homes, the traffic, the Kale Hill, the plain parks, the dingy and upmarket hotel rooms, the night clubs, local cafés, the poor suburbs and wealthy environs where murders are carried out and where bodies are found. There is little that is pretty about Ankara, and less that is pretty about its criminal underworld and its political machinations.
The lead detective, the eponymous Behzat Ç, played or rather ‘lived’ by Erdal Besikcioglu, is stellar in this role. He is the very epitome of all detectives ever: disheveled, divorced, drunk, desperate, drop-dead gorgeous, and dramatically brilliant. Here is the hardened, often violent, smart head of the Homicide Bureau who manages his team with a stern, loving father’s hand; a team comprising Ghost (Inanc Konukcu), Vulture (Berken Sal), Harun (Fatih Artman) and Eda (Seda Bakan), the female detective who runs the office. They are soon joined by two new arrivals to the team, Selim (Hakan Hatipoglu) and Cevdet (Berke Üzrek). The team is endearingly loyal to their leader Behzat Ç, and he to them, as he grumpily supervises them through murder after murder. Ghost has key skills in tracking people invisibly, Vulture, a former medic, is the body guy, picking forensically over corpses and surrounding clues, Eda has special talents in organizing. Harun is the only one who lacks any visible usefulness, although occasionally he shows some insight into the investigations, according to one of my Turkish TV friends. At least once in every episode you feel you want to throttle him; when he’s not eating (usually other people’s food) he is socially inept and immature. You often wonder how he made the deputy leader of the team at all.
Tension is the essence of Behzat Ç when you recognize your anger at Harun – you want to commit murder yourself, but you submit instead to the brilliant portrayal of a frustrating and frustrated team as they pursue at an overarching level, a psychopathic operator, Ercüment Çözer, menacingly acted by Nejat Isler (recently appearing in Cukur), as he manipulates a corrupt system for his own ends. He is a threatening presence, providing the series with viewer uncertainty about whether good will triumph over evil. Engin Öztürk, most recently in The Protector, appears in later episodes as Komiser Emre. Tension is also sustained by the music of the series, which as always in Turkish TV shows, provides dynamic, memorable and haunting accompaniment to the storylines. This is particularly the case with the song ‘Kizim’ by Cem Kismet and Pilli Bebek, and you can take a listen to it here.
At a personal level, the members of the team care for each other even though they do this in stereotypically male ways, and while conversation is very humorous, language is profane and crude, assisted amply by alcohol which plays a major role as the protagonists seek to cope with the horrors of their profession. The series is not for the fainthearted.
The series is also not for those who might not abide the apparent political incorrectness in gender characterizations as Eda is banished to the desk because she is a woman, even though she plays a substantial role in solving crimes and making clever links which ‘the boys’ often fail to see. Perceptive viewers will notice this inverted paradigm, although it irks Eda that she seemingly plays a secondary role. However, a few counterpoint strong female roles are played by the Public Prosecutor, (Canan Erduger) who is outstanding and Behzat’s girlfriend (Ayca Varlier who you may recognize from Gümüs). Similarly, the undertone of violence, alcoholic consumption and swearing would not be tolerable in a modern police force and on occasion you are well aware you are watching men behaving badly, but they are so endearing, and so funny, it feels a crime to stop watching.
An underlying story links all the episodes. At a meta level, Behzat is fighting political corruption. He takes on the top officials without fear, without seeking favors, without relying on friendships, without using brotherly loyalties. He succumbs in the end to love, against his better instincts, winning over his bride only through her ability to see beyond his external blunt, shell to the soft hearted, kind lover underneath. Behzat is also partly undone by the love for his only daughter Berna, played by Hazal Kaya, well known to Turkish drama viewers. Behzat’s love and generosity progressively add to his demise as he extends a helping hand to another young woman, Sule, acted by Ayce Eren who appears in mysterious characterizations throughout the episodes. Behzat’s love for his brother – Sevket (Ege Aydan), who manifests as an alien sibling to Behzat as they are so different – once again brings about his undoing, providing further insight into Behzat’s tortured personal and professional life.
Behzat, entirely disdainful of wealth, power and greed, allows himself one indulgence – (maybe also raki and a red Volkswagen Beetle) – and that is his devotion to football. He follows Genclerbirligi, a choice of team which frames the general political tone of the series. Started by a group of high school students in Ankara in 1923, Genclerbirligi is considered a team supported by Ankara’s leftist elites, intellectuals and students. Understanding the values espoused by Behzat, is key to grasping the political undertones of the series.
Thus, in the name of common people, Behzat Ç is the most politically charged Turkish series I have watched. The Ç, pronounced in Turkish as in Che Guevara, is rumored to be the inspiration for the letter in the title. While it was being screened in Turkey, there was a grass roots campaign to de-legitimize the series which many viewers felt did not meet community standards as it addressed issues such as domestic violence and police corruption. This campaign resulted in fines as well as some considerable alterations to the scripts and the stories, and had a major impact on the actors. The campaign to stop the series took aim at the political doctrines of citizen freedoms depicted in the episodes and the series’ reliance on the hard drinking detective and his crew which challenged societal expectations of the police force at the time.
Two high rating films based on the iconic detective and his team were produced alongside the series, namely, Behzat Ç: Seni Kalbime Gömdüm (2011) and Behzat Ç. Ankara Yaniyor (2013). A follow up series of nine episodes (Season 4) was filmed in 2019, and is shown on BluTV for those who can access that platform. Season 4 is not addressed in this post, but it may be worth pursuing as the series was nominated in 2019 in the Pantene Golden Butterfly Awards for ‘Best Internet Series’ and ‘Best Actor’ (Erdal Besikçioglu).
With a full title of Behzat Ç: Bir Ankara Polisyesi (Behzat C.: An Ankara Detective), Behzat C. is by far the best detective show I have ever watched. If you’re ever feeling murderous, the series is just the viewing to give you some ideas or release some tension. Here is a short trailer, subtitled in English:
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