We never considered ourselves to be “wild and crazy” during our younger days, but we did spend a fair amount of time listening to live music in crowded clubs where you stood cheek-to-cheek with other fans. We do miss those days, and the thrill of discovering new music with like-minded friends and strangers, but we have no desire to re-live them. But some people do; a new Netflix series from Turkey explores one man’s extreme mid-life crisis.
Opening Shot: As we see scenery from a lake, we fade in on a man looking forlornly into the middle distance while standing at an airport gate.
The Gist: Oktay Uysal (Öner Erkan) is a 44-year-old architect in Istanbul, and he finds himself standing at the airport, alone, panicked that the flight he’s getting on is being socked in by a thick fog. He comes to his senses and runs out of the airport and back to his family’s apartment; he sneaks back into bed after paying the guard off to erase his leaving on the security footage.
He seems to have a successful life in Istanbul; wife, two kids, well-paying job, huge apartment with great skyline views, etc. But he was at the airport to run away. He even takes the note he wrote his wife Nil (Songül Öden) and puts it in a book so he can use it later. Nil is wearing a mask after a procedure on her face; Teenage son Ege (Umut Yesildag) is the usual brooding sort; ten-year-old daughter Ece (Nilay Yeral) has been caught stealing field trip money from her teacher’s desk. To say that the Uysals are dysfunctional would be an understatement. He tends to scream silently in his car to ease the ennui.
He goes into work the next day, the fog still enveloping Istanbul. His company’s new client, Berhudar (Haluk Bilginer), who won a bid to build a new prison, dismisses everyone but Otkay, and tells him he wants to build the biggest, most advanced prison in Europe.
Otkay finds out why Nil wanted to do the procedure after the mask comes off; she wants to go out and get a job, and prospective employers have found that she was too old for the jobs she wanted. After a tense family dinner at home, Otkay has a panic attack that sends him to the emergency room.
He has to go to Ankara to drive his father Olcay (Ugur Yücel) to Istanbul to stay with his family; Olcay is lobbying to move there permanently, especially since Otkay’s mother died. Olcay is, as usual, rough on his son, calling him soft and less than manly. In his childhood bedroom, Otay finds some remnants of his old life, like a Sex Pistols patch and a cassette of punk music that he hid under a hutch.
He decides to go to his old haunt, a bar named Fevri. He runs into an old friend, who bought the bar a decade ago in an effort to get back to some sort of happiness. After his friend shows Otkay some bathroom graffiti that Otkay wrote 30 years ago, which leads him to finally let loose with his dismay over where his life has gone.
After a night of punk-related revelry with his friend, Otkay decides to regularly visit Ankara’s punk scene, donning a studded leather jacket, lots of chains and a necklace, and a pink mohawk pasted to his bald head.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There aren’t too many double-life shows out there. Maybe this would be Hannah Montana if Miley Cyrus was a brooding middle-aged man in an extreme midlife crisis.
Our Take: Wild Abandon (Original title: Uysallar) is supposed to be a dramedy. But there wasn’t a lot in the first episode that was funny. There were some things in the episode that were supposed to be funny, but they just don’t land. For instance, a co-worker of Otkay comes into his office panicked that he tweeted something while blackout drunk. Berhudar does some goofy role-playing with Otkay to demonstrate what kind of prison he wants. But none of that stuff lands.
What we’re left with in the show, created by Hakan Gunday, is a sullen man who regrets every life choice he made as an adult and go back to his teenage years, when he was a punk and life was great. It’s a bit of a shallow characterization; marriage and children dragging down peoples hopes and dreams is a theme that we’ve seen explored to better effect in shows like Married and Breeders, and even there the negativity gets toxic after awhile.
What we don’t understand is why, if Otkay wants to go back to his teenage punk roots, he has to dress up like he likely did 30 years ago, complete with fake mohawk. Why not just go to punk clubs and listen to the music he loves? The costume he puts together is pretty ridiculous and we’re not sure what purpose it serves except to make him look silly; a gag where he politely hands his ID to a cop that stops him on the street is another joke that falls flat.
The gist of the series isn’t going to just be about Otkay’s double life, though; it turns out that every member of the Usayal family has their own secrets, which will be interesting to explore. If there’s going to be any comedy in Wild Abandon, it’s going to come from that bit of subterfuge, where everyone tries their hardest not to get found out. But even there, it can get mired in details, like the book Otkay hid his note to his wife in. We couldn’t keep track of it, so the impact of it being lost didn’t really hit us. If the rest of the series is that subtle, it’s in trouble.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: After one of his punk escapades in Ankara, Otkay comes home to his whole family sitting in the living room. “We’ve been waiting for you,” says Nil.
Sleeper Star: Songül Öden is sufficiently annoying as Nil, and we’d like to see what double life she’s leading that leads her being so nasty to Otkay.
Most Pilot-y Line: There’s a motion sensor light gag during the scene where Nil confronts Otkay about why she got her procedure. So during a serious argument, we see the lights go off and the two of them waving their hands to turn it on. It seems like a distraction more than anything else.
Our Call: SKIP IT. While there are moments in Wild Abandon where you kind of, sort of get where the show is going, it’s hard to get into the story, mainly because we can’t envision Otkay as a mohawk-wearing punk.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.