One kiss in the dark Changed our fates forever. The softest touch, An intoxication of our senses, That haunt our every breath That suffocate our every thought. All my bridges have been burned, All my armor has been lowered. The blood in my veins, The throbbing of my heart, And every path I take Lead to you.
There is only you
And, always, you.
– mh © 2019
The recently concluded 51-episode romantic comedy series, Erkencis Kus (“Early Bird”), has left an indelible mark on the hearts of its global fandom. With lead roles played by the gorgeous, comedic Demet Ozdemir (in the role of Sanem Aydin) and the handsome, physically transformed and reinvented Can Yaman (in the role of Can Divit), Erkenci Kus tells an epic, fairy tale love story between two contrasting people faced with a journey to find their paths towards each other amidst many trials and tribulations.
Sanem is the “Early Bird”, a young woman who is quirky, bubbly, full of energy. She is gifted with an unfettered imagination coupled with a purity of heart that draws people to her like a moth to flame. She grew up in a boisterous neighborhood, governed and regulated by conservative social values and the waggling tongues of the salacious gossip mongers; a society where her mother reigns supreme. With an elder sister Leyla (Oznur Serceler), theirs is a happy family with Nihat (Berat Yenilmez) as their soft-hearted father and the neighborhood grocer, and Mevkibe (Ozlem Tokaslan) as their fierce, dominating mother who has a heart of gold but controls her home and her family with an iron fist.
To avoid her mother’s wrath, Sanem indulges in white lies to wiggle out of sticky situations, a habit that follows her into her forays into the real world. While her straight-laced, practical sister has a steady job at an ad agency, Sanem is happy to while her time away at her father’s shop. She’s an aspiring author who has never left the alleys of her tiny neighborhood (“mahalle”), but in her imagination, her world is far wider as she dreams of someday finding her way to the Galapagos Islands. With an ultimatum from her mother to find a real job or else be married to the neighborhood idiot who has desired Sanem since childhood, Sanem takes a job as an office assistant at Leyla’s firm, Fikri Harika.
Fikri Harika is founded and run by Aziz Divit (Ahmet Somers), with his heir apparent being his younger son, Emre Divit (Birand Tunca), who runs Finance at the firm. Can Divit (Can Yaman) is Aziz’s elder son, a world-renowned photographer who travels to all corners of the world in search of a story. Rugged, sporty, worldly and an outdoors man, Can is a free spirit and a loner, who has never lost his heart to a woman, even though he is clearly a desirable catch and many women want him. He is a man of rigid principles, who seems unable to settle for anything less than the absolute truth. His mannerisms embody that of an Albatross, a strong specimen known for its steadfastness and monogamous mating practices, but who is also a bird that is the ancient symbol of a psychological burden to one who wears it around their neck.
Can is the more charismatic, flamboyant and creative of the two brothers. He stays far away from the affairs of the agency, but his father Aziz implores him to be present at the company’s 40th anniversary event, being held at the Grand Pera Emek Sahnesi Opera House in Istanbul. In a case of mistaken identity, it is at this event that Can and Sanem have their first encounter, locked in a passionate kiss in a dark room where neither one has any idea who the other is. In fact, Can was to meet someone else and believed that he was kissing that woman, until he knew he wasn’t. Sanem expected to meet a company friend in this room and was taken off guard by this man who grabbed her so suddenly and kissed her with such passion.
After this unexpected, magical kiss, both left to join the event, stunned by what had happened.
Sanem only knew that this mysterious man was wearing a tuxedo and a pair of formal black dress shoes.
Can was left with the smell of her unique perfume, an intoxicating scent of her own creation that left him mesmerized.
At the end of the event, Can learns his father is very ill and has to travel abroad for treatment. Under these circumstances, when Aziz wishes to entrust the agency to Can, he cannot turn down his father who was the only parent Can knew and loved as he was growing up. His mother had separated from his father years earlier when Can was young, abandoning Can and leaving with his young brother Emre, an infant at the time. Reluctantly, Can takes the helm of the agency that is mired in financial problems with suspicions of espionage.
Emre is enraged at having been passed over by his father to head the agency. Soon in the story, it is revealed that it is Emre himself who had been leaking information to his girlfriend at a competing agency. When Can takes on the leadership, Emre’s jealousy and anger leads him to recruit the naive and unsuspecting Sanem to sabotage Can’s efforts. Emre paints Can as the evil king (“Kotu Kral”) who wants to destroy the agency for his personal gain, when in truth it is Emre himself who is playing that role.
As Sanem’s path keeps intersecting with Can’s, who figures out by the end of episode 1 that Sanem was the girl he had kissed, they gravitate towards each other in spite of what they perceive of the other. Sanem, who has never been in a relationship before, is inexplicably drawn to Can. Their magnetism towards each other is told so beautifully through poetic storytelling, that it is no wonder Erkenci Kus soared to the top of the charts within the first few episodes.
The rest of the series takes the viewer on the journey CaNem (as the fandom likes to call them) will take, both as individuals and as a pair, trying to merge their lives into one.
Without providing too many spoilers here, I want to simply share the broader themes of the appeal for Erkenci Kus (“EK”) to me.
The central love story between the two lovebirds, each with a layered family history that contributes to their multi-dimensional personalities, hit various roadblocks in their relationship – mired in lies, betrayals, mistrust and family interferences. Even though the twists and turns, peppered with some redundant scenes with side characters, are customary in a Turkish dizi where each episode runs for 2.25 hours, the underlying comedy and love plots had perceptiveness and were reactive to audience feedback as the weeks went on. Throughout the ups and downs of their relationship, there was never any doubt about how deeply the characters of Can and Sanem loved each other even if, at times, they were too stubborn or too inexperienced to understand the intensity of their feelings or the consequences of their actions. Theirs felt like a relationship that had it all – romance, sensuality, comedy and spirituality, with realism as an ever-present backdrop.
For many fans the physical beauty of both Can Yaman and Demet Ozdemir was the main attraction for the show, followed by the characters they brought to life. For me, it was the opposite. Both their eyes spoke volumes about their characters, their hopes, aspirations and despair. I was very taken with the discipline and talent they both brought to their craft to recreate the personas of Can Divit and Sanem Aydin on screen, every week for more than a year with very few breaks in between. To me, the fact that these characters were being portrayed by such beautiful people felt like an added bonus.
As an everyday girl with small neighborhood roots, Sanem’s personal struggles and mishaps are felt by millions of us who are also on a journey of self-discovery and self-exploration as life unfolds before us. As an abandoned child, Can’s fight or flight syndrome is also well understood even as we sympathize with the heartbreak that comes along with a fear of being hurt. The interplay of their justified decisions, their improvised reactions and culmination of their shared experiences were often portrayed so naturally, it was easy to forget this was only a TV show.
As they journey through the hills and valleys of their love, I could not help but think of Mevlana Rumi and his wise words when it comes to love. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” In spite of the fact that the ratings for the show eventually fell to the point of forcing a conclusion by episode 51, I felt that for the discerning viewer, the production team gave it their all to capture a meaningful journey between the two lovebirds so that their final happy ending would feel real and everlasting.
Hidden under the veneer of (sometimes slapstick) comedy, the spiritual nature of their love story resonated deeply with many of the show’s ardent fans. Both Can (Yaman) and Demet poured their hearts into their characters, creating mannerisms and personas that made one believe in their love for each other, leading to an on-screen chemistry that is rare in any show from any corner of the world. The deep longing and desire with which they look at each other is so palpable that the sensuality of their relationship jumps off the screen, in spite of the production’s adherence to the strict guidelines about love scenes set by RTUK (Turkey’s equivalent of the US Federal Communications Commission). For many fans, they had far too many near kisses and near misses, but there were still plenty to please the audience. As an example, here is a clip from Episode 21, that is one of the most romantic, sensual scenes I have seen on any TV.
The parent child dynamic of when a parent needs to let go and allow the children to make their own mistakes is reminiscent of Kahlil Gibran’s words, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” I felt this was a prevalent theme throughout the show. Many of Sanem’s adult decisions were defined by her sense of responsibility and respect towards her parents. Cloaked in comedy, the viewer is shown time and again how such misguided expectations and rules can bring heartbreak in a child’s life.
Comic characters such as CeyCey (played BRILLIANTLY by Anil Celik), Muzzo (popular comedian Cihan Ercan) and Deren (the ever beautiful Tugce Kumral), including the reformed Emre and softened Leyla, provided a brilliant supporting cast, whose roles were substantive, and most times very well done.
It is a visually pleasing and aesthetically gorgeous production in the able hands of director Cagri Bayrak. The soundtrack and sound mixing were also very well done, capturing playful, fresh and modern tunes, perhaps reflective of Cagri’s fascination with contemporary Turkish music. The styling of the characters also set some new social trends. In particular, the styling of Can Divit by Asli Parlak was such a great fit to his character, that Can Yaman collaborated with several clothing brands in promoting their lines. I enjoy watching out for these nuances because they are indicative of the care to details from the production team, which always contributes to the quality of the production itself.
For those of us watching the show live, we became so vested in the story and the characters, that we analyzed each episode with a critical eye, perhaps perceiving many things that someone binge-watching at a later time might miss. For example, writers for the show changed multiple times. Episodes 1 – 17, 39 – 47 were written by the poetic Ayse Kutlu, who has almost a mythical style to her storytelling, and I would argue that she set the spiritual tone of the love story that so many came to embrace. She incorporated a lot of nuance into her dialogues and details into a scene, that sings to the soul. However, she also often compromised on a fast pace in favor of depth of an idea. She left a lot in between the lines and one had to work hard to understand the varied expressions and dialogue to fully appreciate the intensity of a scene.
Episodes 18 – 38 were led by Asli Zengin, who is known for being able to extend a show. But, I felt she simply could not capture the essence of their love story as beautifully as Ayse could. Asli had a far more literal interpretation of the characters. The flow of the scenarios and the comedy were both choppy, and the characters lost a lot of the layers in their characterizations from the earlier episodes. Nevertheless, she did create a few of the most memorable scenarios for the series.
By episode 47, the producers must have known that the end was near, bringing in Fethi Kantarci and Barkin Senuren, who are really best known for their comedy writing. Even though the fandom would have preferred more time in exploring the celebration of Can and Sanem’s love during these last episodes, in retrospect they were well-made episodes, with some great comedy sequences and a beautiful conclusion. As I said earlier, sad though the fandom is to have lost the opportunity to watch this brilliant cast in this show, I believe most were very happy with the effort the entire production team put into creating a complete product that will stay with us for years to come.
This was my first experience watching a Turkish show while it was airing live in Turkey. When it was airing on Saturdays, I would join fellow English-speaking fans from all over the world to watch the show live on YouTube, with a translator watching with us who provided translations of some of the key scenes. The laughter we shared, the tears we shed together and the friendships we forged during these sessions is a unique experience that I will cherish for a long time. And, this post today would not have been possible without the ready help from this global fandom, who shared their knowledge, photos, and video clips to help make this review a rich experience for all. The following video has been shared with me by a fan out of Russia, who created a beautiful compilation of the social media hashtags for each of the episodes as released by the production team:
As the fans leveraged the strength of social media to connect with each other, I was equally fascinated with the use of modern technology in creating such an engaged fandom with the production team and the cast leveraging social media to the hilt as well, setting records in trending hashtags. The elusive question, “Are Can and Demet a couple in real life?” set the fandom ablaze, making them more vested in watching the amazing chemistry on reel life.
Over the last 2-3 years, having been a part of several Facebook groups for Turkish series, I can attest that the EK fandom was one of the most engaged English-speaking fandoms for a foreign show, with multiple groups having thousands of members, across 100+ countries. I often wondered what brought this diverse group of people together, in a virtual space, where most of them seemed to have a harmonious relationship with each other.
As I was writing my last long post on the Erkenci Kus – For English Speakers Facebook group page, I realized that the only answer is: LOVE. In our search for love and to be loved, the story that the EK team brought to life spoke to our hearts in a way few other shows have done. I can only thank Can Yaman and Demet Ozdemir, two young, incredibly talented, hardworking actors, for creating this kind of magic on screen. I hope they realize how many hours of joy they have brought to thousands of people, many of whom are broken, wounded, fractured by the weight that life has placed upon them. They nourished our souls for those few hours, making dreamers out of us and letting us believe in the power of true love. So much so, that I felt “once the heart has been touched by magic, anything less will leave the soul hollow”. I wonder if I will find another show that will affect me as deeply as Erkenci Kus.
© North America TEN and mh