Gibi: Comedy under Pressure

I just watched and finished season 1 of Gibi which seems to have been enough of a success for them to quickly put out a second season. It’s a Turkish dark comedy show that you can watch online on Exxen. I already wrote it’s a bit like Seinfeld but with a very dark undercurrent.

How dark? Let’s look at the next bit from an episode (S01E10 @ 16:30) where Yılmaz and İlkkan are accused of having caused the death of an old man. They are getting ready to host the deceased’s relatives at a restaurant and participate in the wake.

Yilmaz and Ilkkan having a conversation

Did you hear anything from Ethem?

Ethem?

Lately never…

Man, look, they wrote something in fact. Hold on. Somehow we weren’t able to call the guy. (Sigh. Wails.)

Don’t.

His aunt has killed herself. Ethem’s. It was written this morning. I just saw it.

Which aunt?

His older aunt.

I don’t know many other situational comedy shows that do something like this. It has no relation to the story and serves only to set the mood. Interspersing another death that’s just brushed off in an episode that’s already about death demonstrates how little a human life is worth. People die randomly and it’s received with a wail and a shrug.

They will most likely go to the funeral just like they did in a previous episode (S01E04) where Ersoy’s grandmother was eaten by an Erasmus cannibal.

Overarching Theme

Zooming out a bit, the real theme of this first season of Gibi has been pressure, pressure of all kinds: peer pressure, family obligations, social and societal pressure.

  • Kokariç: Press ganging into opening a kebab shop and invest in all kinds of goods
  • Wadding: Pressure from friends and the environment to conform to current fashion norms
  • Nu Model: Pressure from the extended family not to pose nude at the art academy enforced by force of violence
  • The Cannibal Coming with Erasmus: Pressure from friends to mourn and be visibly sad
  • Wrong Mentor: Pressure by a spiritual guide to follow a very strict regimen
  • Dark Force: Collective hysteria around bad things happening
  • Second Way: Pressure of belonging
  • Whitewash: Pressure by the house painter to go all the way
  • Renewal of Break Up: Pressure generated by magician
  • Blood Money: Pressure to make amends for somebody unrelated dying
  • Bathroom: Pressure to bathe and spend time with a couple of seniors
  • Discovery of the Horse: Proto-societal pressure between members of an outcast paleolithic group

Anybody who’s ever been to Turkey knows that the entire country is built on this kind of pressure, also known as genuine interest, shame, concern or emotional blackmail. It’s omnipresent and the only way to escape it is to exit.

As If

I’ve discovered a hilarious new Turkish comedy show called “Gibi” (translated to As If). The episodes revolve around a group of friends who get embroiled in absurdist situations and have very nasty but eloquent arguments with each other.

To me this gives off a very Seinfeld-like feeling with nasty people living in a nasty city talking about nasty things with each other. Not the touchy feely stuff that you see in normal sitcoms. You don’t really quite get why these people hang out with each other but they do.

Below is the first episode in its entirety on YouTube where both main characters find themselves pressured to open a kebab shop. The rest of the series on Exxen has passable English subs for anybody who would be interested.

I’m always a sucker for performances where people argue/fight with each other. The more fierce and physical the better. Carnage is an old favourite of mine and the fight scene I witnessed in ‘Langs de Grote Weg’ remains with me as one of the highlights of visiting Frascati.

I’ve watched a couple more episodes and I think I can say that the theme of the show is the weird social conformities that people in Turkey impose on each other. Hell is other people, especially over there.

Exxen

To be able to watch the full series I took a month’s subscription to Exxen. This seems to be one of a bunch of bespoke streaming platforms. Another one I was aware of through social media has been Gain (a self-described ‘next generation content platform’).

The Exxen website is kinda broken and the boss of the site has been quoted saying ‘they are competing with Netflix.’ That may be right, but Netflix is probably not competing with them. Still, with the 80M people living in Turkey, the substantial diaspora as well as people from other countries who consider Turkish culture and media to be aspirational (a lot more of those out there than you would think living in Europe), they probably can get by.

One weird déja-vu has been seeing many of the Turkish social media stars that I used to listen to on Clubhouse (Chaby, Enis, Zeynep) make an appearance in weird and zany television formats exclusive to the platform. Most amazingly, those formats are also pretty professionally executed with high production values.

Bir Başkadır (Ethos) Character Network Chart

The character relations turned into a bit of a tangle so I fired up Miro and quickly charted them out. In the end it wasn’t that complicated but the worlds of Meryem and Peri are very clearly separate.

There are lots of movies where a cast of characters roams a town and occasionally intersects in a couple of dramatic moments. What comes to mind for me most immediately is Amores Perros. Of course a Netflix serial doesn’t hit the cinematic height or dramatic depth of that movie despite having more runtime to play with. What it does manage is to set a mood for the weird tangled up modern Turkey.

The most interesting and dramatic events in Bir Başkadır happen on the road (Mesude’s death under the bridge, the family dance off on the way to the village). Along with some of the commuting sequences and the continuous questions of what bus stops where and how to get somewhere in time, that is an essential part of Istanbul. The city is so vast and spread out that people are always underway, an apt metaphor for character development—interrupted or otherwise—if ever there was one.

“The privilege I have – how? No, genuinely, how?”

Well, I say, in terms of wealth, class, education – that kind of privilege, in knowing how to decode the rules in certain spaces. As a caveat, I add that both of us have privilege, and it’s not a criticism; I was simply curious to know what she thought. Things take an awkward turn.

“Well no, because, no… ” There is a very long and tense pause, before she insists that, actually, there is little difference between her experience and that of her co-star John Boyega, who grew up in south London to British Nigerian immigrant parents. “John grew up on a council estate in Peckham and I think me and him are similar enough that… no… Also, I went to a boarding school for performing arts, which was different.”

Daisy Ridley has no idea that she is privileged.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/dec/07/daisy-ridley-jj-abrams-star-wars-a-religion