The New Age of Romantic Comedies
You would be surprised to find out that you can find creativity in the most unexpected places, even in a romantic comedy full of cliches. Some people think that watching the same storyline over and over is boring. I disagree, sometimes in the ordinary or most visited stories you can find creativity flourishing. That is why although I am not a hopeless romantic I do enjoy our Turkish romantic TV shows and you’ll see why you can too (if you aren’t enjoying them already).
To be fair, up until Kiralık Aşk, I wasn’t interested in watching TV shows based on romance and many TV series in different genres also have a parallel love story so there was no need for me to watch a show based only on romance. Alas it was the heat of the summer of 2015 that Kiralık Aşk (KA) aired for the first time and stole my heart. It has a 2 season run with 69 episodes and to this day I still watch small clips when I need a pick me up.
Keep in mind that the romantic comedy genre consists of basically the same things over and over again. When we sit down to watch a rom-com -whether it’s made in Hollywood, Turkey or Korea- we are not looking for something that has never been done before. Georges Polti in his book “36 Dramatic Situations” points this out and lines them up. These same storylines have been around since the ancient times. We are not looking for originality. We are however looking for a different touch each time. We are expecting a little bit of magic that will grab our attention through a familiar plot.
When Kiralık Aşk aired in 2015 I don’t remember social media being used to interact with TV shows as it is today. I also wasn’t familiar with the term “fandom”. KA had a very special touch, the characters were very approachable especially Defne (Elçin Sangu) with her quick temper and redheaded stubbornness. She was also an underdog that’s why we as the audience wanted her to thrive. The villains in this story were not as terrible as they seemed, as the story went on we saw them change and evolve. One of the reasons Sen Çal Kapımı fans are hating the villains in the show so much especially the 2 new additions to the show Babaanne and Balca is because they are presented as pure evil. They are not funny, they really scare the audience which is not something one wants to feel while watching a romance series. The show’s producer Asena Bülbüloğlu called the genre dramedy but such a term doesn’t exist and the hybrid genre is not a success if you look at the ratings. The audience didn’t sign up for it and doesn’t want it, this is so clear.
Erkenci Kuş aired 3 years later and was also a big success just like KA. According to me, it was the first TV show to use social media effectively and really interact with the fandom. Another thing that came out of Erkenci Kuş was Can Yaman’s unstoppable fame, who, to this day is indebted to his character and his character’s styling in Erkenci Kuş. Another innovation was the leading male character, Can Divit, who was the first male character with “zero” toxic masculinity. Most male leads in the beginning of love stories are a bit mean to the female lead because most love stories depend on a “hate turned to love” formula. Can Divit didn’t need to prove his masculinity by being controlling to his staff or being mean to Sanem. We did see him throw some punches later when it was necessary and he looked like he was on steroids but his personality was unlike all Turkish male leads, he was kind, soft spoken, gentle, easy-going. I have to say he was a really good role model, unfortunately Turkish guys found it easier to copy his style rather than his character traits.
As for Demet Özdemir’s character Sanem in Erkenci Kuş, she did a great job in portraying a true dreamer, strong and determined to make her dreams come true. I loved that she was a bit crazy maybe that’s why I detested the fact that they turned her into someone who had to be treated mentally because Can left. Demet gave us one of the most lively and fun characters that we have ever seen in romcoms. I adored her writing in her diary and creating mayhem in the agency.
Erkenci Kuş’s success had to do with the story but also with the way the actors and the screenwriters listened to the fans and showed this in the writing. Can Yaman also used his social media accounts successfully, honored his fans, showed them love and appreciation, Demet did that as well. Most importantly the EK’s social media account was creative and fun and around this time I started noticing the international fandom on Twitter as I speak italian and was pleasantly surprised that because Can Yaman had italian fans (because he speaks italian) they were watching EK as well. As someone who watched both Can and Demet in other projects before EK, I also found that their acting had improved a lot. Again just like KA the villains were drawn well, they had motives, they made us believe they “thought” they were rightful and most of them did learn from their mistakes. I have to admit I hated the storyline when Can took off to the sea and Sanem had to stay in the mental hospital. I completely lost interest in the show after that and only watched clips on Youtube to follow what was going on. Anyways the show had a happy and proper ending and that’s the best we can hope in Turkish TV jungle.
Sen Çal Kapımı started this summer during the pandemic when we all were looking for some kind of escapism. The instant chemistry between Kerem Bürsin and Hande Erçel could be felt through the screen. Every show has its own time and place in time but SÇK had a starting advantage, because of Covid there wasn’t much to see on TV and the stuff on digital platforms gets consumed too fast. So when SÇK started, the viewers had a lot of time on their hands and were watching very closely.
The show’s storyline was not inventive and nobody was expecting it to be. I have to say, I really find Hande Erçel very beautiful and this role is perfect for her. I have watched her in Güneşin Kızları, Aşk Laftan Anlamaz and Halka, I have seen that she has really come a long way as an actress and I have no doubt she will keep getting better.
Before SÇK the only TV show I have watched Kerem Bürsin in is Güneşi Beklerken and I haven’t watched all the episodes. His role in Güneşi Beklerken seemed perfect for him as he spoke Turkish with a strong accent and in that show he was supposed to have studied in the US before coming to this high school. In SÇK he still has some of that accent and maybe he already is but if he’s not, I wish he worked with a speaking coach because he would be offered a lot more roles adapt to his acting abilities. If he doesn’t improve his speaking he will remain type cast all his life (I mean in Turkey not abroad of course as his English is perfect). Anyways I’m happy that in SÇK he really was able to show his range and make the character his own. He is also really easy on the eyes. 😉
SÇK will reach its 25th episode this week and as far as ratings go it started to struggle after the summer ended when the TV channels started putting out new drama shows. The first preventive thing the channel did was to change the airing day which could have been done a lot earlier, before the show started to lose blood. With SÇK I started following the social media accounts as soon as the show started and for each episode I started following reactions from local and international audience on Twitter. As a key account manager working in an ad agency for years until 2019, l have been in charge of monitoring social media activities for my clients. I also see every show as a brand of itself. That is why I think social media management of TV shows is really important. Especially now that the shows have an international fan base as well.
SÇK social media account reached high numbers of following very fast as the show sparked interest immediately. But the star of the show was not the SÇK social media account, it was the MF Yapim account because the production company’s social media is more active. This is very strategic, but I also find it confusing. Why do they divide the audience? Why do they want that and why in the world is the SÇK account especially the Twitter account is being managed by a robot? These are just some of the questions in my head. Monitoring a social media account for a brand is never easy, but with SÇK it looks like it’s a new level of hard. The fandom (both Turkish and international) has reached great numbers (visible from the amount of tweets on the hashtags of the dizi and the lead actors) and what’s interesting is that because the source (SÇK and MF Yapım) can’t keep up with the fandom’s hunger for new content, the fandom has started to create its own content.
Whenever I search the SÇK hashtag (every half an hour these days lol) I find new gifs, photos, photo and video edits, comments,…It is a lot of fun to see this creativity and I really appreciate it. This is one of the reasons I think we are living the new age of romantic comedies. The story continues inside the heads of the fans. They keep producing content, writing fan fiction, giving advice and suggestions to the writers, making demands.
A few years ago, fans were not taken this seriously and in the future they will be taken more and more seriously. The problem is that linear (traditional) TV shows have not yet figured out how profitable this could be. Of course I’m not referring to the type of TV shows like in the Ray Bradbury book Fahrenheit 451 although it’s tempting. (Imagine the TV show going the way you wanted it) What I mean is if production companies found a way to profit from this engagement in different ways other than positive social media analysis reports then it could be the beginning of a new era for linear TV as well. Right now the type of freedom I’m referring to is only available to digital platforms. The problem is that you can’t beat linear TV, it’s in almost in every house and it’s free. Although I read somewhere that Netflix is going to try the linear TV approach in France and will give the option to watch like you’re watching normal TV where they line up the shows for you and you just keep watching. I have to say the idea of this experiment blew my mind! So many conspiracy theories in my head!
If you are like me, and you get obsessed with things that you really like (also like Serkan who finds out everything about a thing that he cares about) you must enjoy the fact that SÇK in this sense is an overflowing fountain. The cast of SÇK has used the power of social media to its fullest. A few years ago the TV stars had a lot of privacy. They shared very little on social media, some of them didn’t even have social media accounts. Nowadays I’m sure that the production companies check all actors’ social media accounts before casting them. This was even mentioned on an episode of the show Menajerimi Ara. 😂
SÇK’s female lead Hande Erçel already had a huge social media following to begin with. She has almost 18 million followers on Instagram which is not something you can buy. It has become very easy to buy followers on Instagram and every now and then I check some actor/actress on social media and when you back to their older posts on their profile you find out that the amount of likes change dramatically from one photo to another and you’re like, “oh I got you. This is when you gained 300.000 followers overnight”. Anyways Hande’s social media growth is completely organic and that’s not easy to achieve.
Having a huge fandom is a big responsibility and I’m not sure the MF Yapım or FOX TV was ready for it. Today the fandom takes initiative to promote the show, wants to be part of the process and in return has some demands. Although most members of the fandom are very positive there are of course toxic people among them (as in each society) and also there are people who are not genuine fans but are only in it because of curiosity or because of its popularity. For the production and the cast it’s hard to differentiate between these people. Again the SÇK social media accounts are very passive, delivering only photos sent to them from the sets and adding captions that makes the fans think they don’t even watch the show. It’s almost 2021, if you want to see how to interact creatively with people who watch TV shows try following Netflix’s social accounts. There’s a lot to learn. This makes me think it’s also a question of budget as the expectation from a social media agency for a TV show used to be quite standard but now a TV show has become something more than a TV show. In the past the fans used to interact only on the day the episode was aired but now the fans wants to be in the know every day.
As I said the cast of SÇK used social media wisely. I don’t know if they are getting any help for managing their social media accounts but Hande and Anıl to begin with are very experienced. Kerem has understood the IG live power (noticeably increased his popularity during the quarantine due to many lives he had with his old-new colleagues) during the pandemic and applied it here. Anıl aside from being an actor is a presenter and first came to fame if I recall correctly thanks to the social media app Vine, he showed how good he was a a comic and really started building a fan base. Other members of the cast proved to be very quick to adapt to this type of content creation and we can say the cast worked hard to contribute to the popularity of the show. When people following other dizis complain about this I’m disappointed in their lack of understanding. This cast proved to be a bunch of people who care and understand each other, who try to bring each other up and it’s beautiful to watch.
You can think of a fandom like a body without a head. As it kept growing there was really no one leading this growth because I guess some of it happened due to the circumstances. The problem with growth is that it isn’t all positive. Now the fandom is claiming a lot of things. They are not happy with the plot, they are constantly worried the show is losing its ratings, they are blaming the writers of the show. They are forcing the production to show more intimate scenes, they are comparing the show to other shows. I have to say sometimes after a fragment it is torture for me to read tweets because people lose their shit over things that are so small. I’m not saying some of the things we have seen so far, after episode 13 to be exact are not alarming. Still the fandom is trying too hard, what happened to the days we just watched and went with things. Those days are gone. Now no one is ever completely happy.
If there aren’t intimate scenes they complain there are no intimate scenes between the leads, if there are, maybe they don’t like the music or it was too short. I am a part of the fandom so I am writing these as self criticism as well, I hope I’m not offending anyone but if I am, listen, we need to grow up and stop caring so much. It must be so hard to write these shows and not knowing how long the show’s gonna last and with having so many to please; fans, production, director etc etc. it must be even harder. I watched Ayşe (the screen writer) being bullied for weeks and now that she left the show I find it hard to watch how sad the fandom is but we brought it upon us. Also bullying actors who are cast as the bad characters, come on, why are you so mean to these people, we are not children, or are we? I think the fandom has forgotten that there are real people producing, acting and working behind the Tv screen. For your 150 minutes viewing pleasure these people are risking their lives so before writing negative things remind yourself of this truth.
There is a very strong screen chemistry between Kerem and Hande and we kind of see it through their instagram lives as well. I will not comment whether they’re an item or not, they make a nice screen couple and if I were a producer I would put them in a movie in a heartbeat. However if you watched the movie Mutluluk Zamanı that was a remake of the Hollywood movie Hitch with Elçin and Barış, you would know that, just because a TV couple is very popular, it doesn’t mean people will go and see their movie in the theater. I hope for Kerem and Hande they will find a good digital movie or series, I would love to see them in something with more action. Kerem would be great in an action movie and Hande looks great in just about anything. I’m thinking of something like Speed or Romancing the Stone, what do you think? Would you like to see them in an action packed romance, wouldn’t that be refreshing?
This has turned into a novel but I have to get one last thing off my chest. The rating issue. Just the other day I read a comment in English saying the Turkish people have no taste for not watching SÇK. It must be very hard to grasp our rating system, it’s pretty shitty. But there are a lot of factors that play into the rating of a show and taste is not really one of them. SÇK ratings are not going well because all the reasons the fandom is complaining are reasons people would not want to keep watching it. The show is not consistent, the characters are not consistent, the show’s target audience is actually a small demographic (the rivals appeal to a bigger demographic). Everyone keeps applauding the first 12 episodes for a reason, because the plot was interesting, the characters were interesting. What has the show become? They even changed the writers for 2 complete episodes, then brought back the old ones only for them to announce they’re leaving.
What can be done? The main goal always is to bring the leads back together, we all watch a romcom to see them end up together right? The contrasts and angst can be created from other sources, instead of trying to tear the leading couple apart (and introducing new characters one after another who will try to tear them apart), the writers can challenge them with new clients and projects, Eda having school problems, Serkan having holding client problems and they can work together to solve these problems. There are so many ways to create angst but Ayşe wasn’t creative with it I have to say. The side stories are left incomplete and the audience is left confused and then that story that was initiated is put aside or forgotten. What happened to Fifi and Erdem why did you tease us? How did Aydan get over Alptekin so fast ( and also the way they wrapped up the phobia thing in 2 minutes??), Pırıl’s father why was that scene only 1 minute? Why don’t we know anything about Seyfi? He is a very important character but we know nothing about him. The fact that the first 12 episodes were good doesn’t justify the bad writing we had after that. The writers were bullied and I think it was a terrible thing but I hoped and wished that the production would do something about it and they didn’t do the right thing. Or maybe at this point there is nothing to be done. Each rom-com runs its course and we shouldn’t expect perfectionism. People learn by making mistakes.
Let’s wrap it up. The new age of romantic comedies on Turkish television is still repetitive and cliched but we love it nonetheless. It’s familiar, warm and cozy like an old blanket you rediscover when the weather gets cold. Let’s say these shows are a blanket for our souls. Whether it’s SÇK or another dizi, there’s nothing like getting extra content on your favorite TV show, stalking the actors and finding out bts moments on their ig stories. Yes there’s still elevator scenes, they still kiss in the first episode, the female lead has a fashion show moment every now and then, they still get in the shower to wash their faces, they lose their memory, there is tons of misunderstanding. They also share magical moments with references from music, mythology, literature and art. For me in this new age I am blessed by the internet where I discover new people sharing their love creatively like Dizzy for Dizi podcast which I discovered very late and binged on, and Mh-Musings who writes the best analysis of each episode and makes me see things I’ve never even noticed.
I’m not sure how long the SÇK will hang on, I keep my hopes up because you never know, the new writers might be just be what the show needed. I have seen TV shows who have been revived and returned from the dead. SÇK is not dead it’s just losing blood. But even if it ends, it will leave a sweet legacy just as KA and EK. It will leave us with many sweet moments. In a time we were afraid for our lives, SÇK showed us that even the image of love can be healing. I am forever grateful to the creators, writers, cast and crew for doing everything they could and I hope that although we do complain it’s still more than enough and we love them.
I’m wishing you a year full of love, for yourself, for others and for those who need it most. Happy new year and here’s to the new age of romantic comedies. 🥂