by Eda Savaseri
As an entertainment medium, television must always adapt to the changing needs of the times and the viewers. I remember after the tumultuous coup attempt on July 15th 2016, in April 2017 not one but three TV shows were launched on television that were military themed. They had great ratings and they played an important role in reassuring the public that the army did, and will, always protect the country from all harm.
From the history of programming, it can be surmised that Turkey loves trends and 2020 television has a new trend, which is very suited to how the year turned out to be. And the theme for 2020 is psychological dramas which, I believe, had a healing effect on everyone watching them, and this trend also came in threes.
Psychological Dramas Blessing Our Screens & Healing Our Souls
As a Turkish native sensitive to our cultural inhibitions, I could not have foretold that the 2020 trend for Turkish television series would be psychological dramas. However, the TV Gods seem way ahead of general perceptions because due to the pandemic, worries about mental health became a pressing social issue.
Perhaps the first series rooted in highlighting mental health issues is 2017’s Istanbullu Gelin, which showcased some realistic therapy sessions, with outstanding acting from both Tibet Saral and Fırat Tanış. The show also supported a much-needed conversation about domestic violence. Before Istanbullu Gelin, people were prejudiced against therapy and as someone who has sought therapy, I remember making a conscious effort to keep it private. Culturally, Turkish people claim to be self-sufficient in dealing with their mental health issues but Istanbullu Gelin played a key role in reshaping some perceptions about the importance of therapy.
Istanbullu Gelin was loosely based on a story written by Gülseren Budayıcıoğlu. The name sounds familiar, right? She is a practicing psychiatrist who is also behind the stories of Kirmizi Oda and Masumlar Apartmani. Both of these television series -launched in September of 2020 and are produced by OGM Pictures. OGM also produces Dogduğun Ev Kaderindir (“DEK” – a series into its second season, having premiered in December 2019), that is also based on a true-life story written by Dr. Budayıcıoğlu. DEK and Kirmizi Oda even had a crossover in episode #13 of DEK, where Zeynep has a therapy session with the Doktor Hanim from Kirmizi Oda. As it started airing before 2020, I will not discuss DEK in this post, but you can read a review of it here.
In addition to public TV, we also got Bir Başkadır (Ethos) on Netflix in November 2020, which has memorable characters and scenes that include therapy sessions. You begin to notice the continuing trend for 2020 and how it focuses on confronting mental health issues while normalizing the concept of therapy. What do we, the viewers, get out of it? My intention here is not to review any of these shows but to explore how each and every one of them contributes to the collective healing we all needed in 2020. For separate reviews you can refer to the links I will provide as I write.
Be a Guest in Group Therapy with Kirmizi Oda
The first psychological drama to bless our screens in 2020 is Kırmızı Oda. In Kirmizi Oda, the therapy scenes are very intimate and almost all patients who come to the clinic have a lot on their plates. Some of the stories are horrifying and sometimes difficult to watch. The show allows us to see not just the patients’ point of view but we are also given insight into the mind of the psychiatrists as well.
My only concern while watching the show is that some of the scenes are not realistic. There are strict rules as to what can be said or done during a therapy session but the show takes creative license. I understand that this is a TV show but it can cause nonviable expectations in someone considering going to therapy. Doktor Hanım (Binnur Kaya) goes beyond her call of duty, such as visiting patients at their homes, hugging, caressing and even crying with them. In keeping with the show’s weekly broadcast schedule coupled with a need for variety of content, healing is also portrayed to be something that takes place a lot quicker than it does in real life. My concern is that this may cause viewers – who are not familiar with therapy – to think that a couple of weeks of therapy is enough to heal or get better.
Other than this slight misgiving, I am an avid fan of the show, which showcases marvelous performances. The concept of welcoming new characters to the show, with interesting plot lines that provoke social discussions, keeps it really fresh and appealing.
It provides a lot of food for thought and invites us to face our prejudices. The show often reminds me of group therapy. When I participated in group therapy, I found it really useful to listen to other people’s problems as they helped me understand some of my own. Kirmizi Oda offers a non-threatening way of bringing a similar feel into our living rooms.
You can read a review of Kırmızı Oda here.
How Many Psychological Conditions Can You Fit in a Turkish Series?
As the second psychological drama to come out in 2020, Masumlar Apartmanı stands on a different ground when compared with Kirmizi Oda and Ethos. First of all, there are no therapy scenes, but we are dealing with a bunch of characters who have psychological disorders. You can find a review of this television series here to learn more about the plot and the characters.
In the original story of Masumlar Apartmanı, which is actually from Budayıcıoğlu’s book called “Madalyonun İçi” (Inside the Locket), there are only 3 sisters who live in an old apartment and the middle sister eventually goes to therapy but in the show so far, none of them have sought help. What makes this show interesting is the love story woven into the lives of two families. The acting is phenomenal and also the art direction is beautiful. From the apartment building to the attention to detail in the house, to the cold and uneasy feeling the flashbacks give, all serve to build the atmosphere perfectly.
Masumlar Apartmanı makes you think a lot about childhood traumas as all characters have scars from childhood. Freud says childhood experiences shape us so it should come as no surprise that many problems we are having as adults have their roots in things we either lived or observed in our childhood.
Masumlar Apartmanı balances drama and laughter masterfully. Just when you feel like you are over-burdened with the dramatic crescendo, they will insert a scene to serve as comic relief. My only criticism is that these comic relief scenes are usually between Safiye (Ezgi Mola) and Gülben (Merve Dizdar), and they are mostly fantasy sequences. Because of this, characters like İnci (Farah Zeynep Abdullah) and Han (Birkan Sokullu) are one-dimensional and I personally cannot relate to them as much as I want to. They are always struggling with the same problems and it becomes repetitive. I hope the writers will give Farah and Birkan more scenes to showcase their range in the following episodes, as they are both very talented actors.
Best Turkish Television Series on Netflix Is (Un)Surprisingly About the Human Condition
The third and last psychological drama of 2020 is Bir Başkadır (Ethos) – written and directed by Berkun Oya, which aired on Netflix in November. Bir Baskadir is quite different from the Turkish television series known internationally. Until now, this artsy and independent style had only taken place on Blu TV and Puhu TV with Masum and Şahsiyet.
Bir Başkadır (you can read a review of the show here) may not be categorized as a psychological drama for many; IMDB lists it as a thriller, which really amused me. The show brought up a lot of political discussion in Turkey. The reason I am including it in the psychological trend of this year is because it does allow a discussion on the human condition and provides a sense of healing to the viewer.
It is a dark, slow and character focused show with a lot of dialogue. For the viewers who are going to be reading subtitles, it can get hard to watch but stay with it as the results are rewarding. The therapy scenes in Bir Başkadır are built to introduce us to the prejudice and the hypocrisy of both psychiatrists on the show, though they are not the only hypocrites. At the beginning we are irritated by their behavior but as their stories unfold we understand where they are coming from.
As the show moves towards its end and Ruhiye revisits her childhood village, as she faces the demons of her past, she starts to heal and as a result everyone around her starts to heal. I loved the final monologue of Peri when she is talking to Meryem but I felt like the writer was talking to all of us saying “if we suppress emotions, they will ruin our relationships and even make us sick. We must let ourselves feel our emotions because they are the bridge that will take us to the knowledge of who we are and what we want. If we don’t allow our emotions and suppress them, eventually we will be sick to the point that we will be physically unable to function properly.”
This is the scene that will always stay with me and it brought to mind the famous saying, ‘True art heals’. It is a beautiful production that perfectly marries soulful, emotional music with the collage of the characters as they realize their feelings. If you are a fan of good acting, this series includes some of the best acting by a seasoned cast who have taken it to on another level than what we expect from Turkish shows. If you are interested in human psychology, this is the show for you.
Why You Should Watch These Psychological Dramas & How They Can Help You
Even if you are someone who never had or needed therapy, the 2020 Turkish dizi trend of psychological dramas has put you in the patient’s seat. They made you reflect on your childhood, make you question your reactions to certain situations, how you are feeling after having had a 7 month period of pandemic between March and September and how you feel about being placed in a time where we have no way of understanding what the future holds. Whether it is the traumas the characters face(d) or seeing them improve their sense of being in front of our eyes, they make us believe we too can and will feel better. It is part of the human experience to suffer from time to time but also part of the resilience that eventually overcome obstacles. They make us notice that we can, and should, ask for help and/or face our demons in order to heal.
I have to say that I deeply appreciate this trend as it was very much what was needed. I do not know if it was already planned prior to the pandemic to launch these shows this year or it was decided upon seeing how people were struggling mentally having had to stay in their homes for months on end. As I said earlier, it remains timely because it is true that the pandemic made us question many things that we ignored when we were not in lockdown. During what we knew of life, we had many distractions that made it easier to ignore our mental health issues.
For intellectuals, television is often considered a harmful device, which dumbed down people and is nothing but a tool to keep them ignorant and uninformed. However, I beg to differ. Every now and then there are gems that can help us, cheer us up and make our lives better. Let us remember that while the television is merely a device, it is the stories that can heal us.
I am appreciative of the current trend of psychological dramas as it opened up a lot of positive discussions and helped the audiences of the Turkish television series’ mentioned above to introspect and search for some answers. I don’t know how many people will go to therapy after these shows, but I know that they will look at themselves and others in a new light and I think that is enough for now. Healing is a powerful word and these shows made us believe that it is possible. No matter what we lived through or we are living right now, this too shall pass and we will get better. I can’t think of a more fitting trend for Turkish television during a pandemic era. Can you?
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Eda Savaseri
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