In screenwriting, how you create the leading protagonists is very important. Those actors have to carry the majority of the show, so you better give them good material to begin with. Often, it’s necessary to throw in some major challenges for those characters to overcome.
Kalp Atişi was a perfect example. It was a Turkish medical drama that ran between 2017 and 2018. Its English-language counterparts would be “ER” in the United States and “Casualty” in the U.K. (Sorry, Aussies, you’re on your own here.)
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)
Kalp Atişi begins with lead character Eylül Erdem (skillfully played by actress Öykü Karayel) in 2006. Eylül is a sullen, defiant teenager from Istanbul who is constantly getting kicked out of schools.
Granted, she has some reason for being the way she is; she hasn’t had the best home life. Her mom deliberately OD’d on sleeping pills out of despair and her dad Vedat had an affair with another woman (Nesrim) and married her (and the most polite term I can use for that one is “pit viper” — Devrim Atmaca has crafted a character that you really, seriously love to hate). Vedat also has a temper. (!)
Vedat gets fed up with the trouble that Eylül constantly causes and dumps her at her grandmother’s house in Marmaris, a port city south of Istanbul. However, that turns out to be a good thing.
In Marmaris, she meets two people who will change her life: sweet-natured Esma (principal’s daughter who becomes her best friend, played by Bürcü Turunz) and teacher Ali Asaf (Gökhan Alkan).
Ali Asaf and Eylül initially meet when he catches her shoplifting a CD from the local market and confronts her. Later, she starts at the school and he initially doesn’t want her in his human biology class, but is persuaded to reconsider when Esma’s dad says that Eylül has a genius-level IQ of 146.
Ali and Eylül are definitely attracted to each other, but he’s 30 and she’s somewhere between 17 or 19. The man’s got ethics.
Eylül is inspired to become a doctor after seeing Ali help a pregnant woman. It’s hard work for her; she’s a good student but it’s not so easy to get a medical degree. Due to the actions of a jealous classmate, Ali ends up leaving the school and going to work abroad.
Fast-forward 11 years later to 2017. Eylül has turned her life around and started a job as a neurosurgeon at a hospital in Istanbul. She lives with Esma, who has a cafe near the hospital.
Eylül goes up to the hospital’s helipad with others to take in a new patient. Ali gets off the helicopter, sees Eylül and stops cold. Then, he walks over to her and asks two of the greatest questions I’ve ever heard a male lead ask a female lead (I had to laugh — see the video at 1:12. I’m not telling!). Afterward, Ali walks away with a slight smile on his face. Eylül is left standing on the helipad with a “What the HECK was THAT??!!” look on her face.
Eylül is still feisty (she whups five Mafia strongmen on her first day). She’s a great character who is a lot like Nora Roberts’ Eve Dallas — smart, strong, capable. Ali is similar to Roarke; he’s her rock and is smart and steady.
The show is well written and well acted. There is plenty in this show to keep viewers interested.
There are cases that range from comic to strange to heartbreaking, the interactions between male/female characters, the reappearance of Eylul’s sister, an attempted bombing, several hostage incidents, a dad’s betrayal (not Eylül’s), two Machiavellian hospital administrators, Ali’s kidnapping on his wedding night (now that’s just rude), Eylül being framed for Ali’s kidnapping (even ruder), a diabolical half-brother and a sniper attack by a mentally ill patient. (Seriously, workman’s comp at this hospital must be through the roof.)
For comic relief, there are also some intern doctors. Most of the guys at the hospital are in love with Eylül. Even a couple of the Mafia guys come back to try to impress her (which mostly inspires eye rolls from Eylül).
One thing I really liked about this show was its character development. The two-hour format of many Turkish shows allow Vedat’s character to be further explored, for example. Although nothing excuses his abuse, viewers see him regret what he did and try to make up for it. Vedat even comes through a couple of times when his daughters need him the most.
One of the characters, older doctor Selin Can (Fatih Dönmez), looked familiar. I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before but then it struck me: he looks like American actor Gary Cole. They were born 19 years apart but look enough alike to be twins.
I also like the relationship between Eylül and Ali. I have never seen a strong female character so terrified of falling in love and being vulnerable. Eylül doesn’t want to end up like her mom. Luckily, Ali is very patient with her. As he sensibly points out, “You’re not your mother and I’m not your father.”
They have to go through a lot. Near the end of the series, I was saying to the writers, “Oh, COME ON! Will you let these two have some happiness already??!!”
It’s almost comic seeing other pretty females try to mess with the relationship between Eylül and Ali. The guy’s been crazy about this girl for 11 years; it’s not likely he’s giving up now.
The show also has some very good one-liners, again due to the screenwriters. As Eylül points out to a rival, Ali’s ex-wife, “I left him, too. But he didn’t leave ME.” (I cheered at that one.)
I have to rank Öykü Karayel and Gökhan Alkan third on my list of Actors with Great Smiles. Sorry, Alkan bey and Karayel hanim, you lost out to Christopher Gorham (#1) and Cameron Diaz (#2).
(Readers: Note that I have both men and women on this list. I am an equal-opportunity smile appreciator.)
If you like medical dramas and feel like seeing something that’s different, this show is definitely worth watching on YouTube. It wasn’t easy to find a version with English subtitles — I watched all 28 episodes on Facebook but not all of the scenes were translated (Grrrr).
And then I discovered that YouTube has an auto-translate feature for shows with closed captioning. I wish I’d discovered that before watching all 28 episodes — now I have to go back because I know I missed some pivotal scenes.
Ah, well. Please click the play button and then click on the “Watch on YouTube” link to enjoy it. (Video credit: Flowersite, YouTube)