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Latest rip-off on Turkish TV relocates 'Gossip Girl' to Istanbul

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/13/2010 12:00:00 AM | EMRAH GÜLER

The latest in a line of rip-offs from American TV, the recent teenage drama 'Küçük Sırlar' (Little Lies), takes the spoiled rich kids from 'Gossip Girl,' changes their names and puts them in Istanbul. Its cardboard characters, flat directing and mediocre storylines show that imitation is not always a form of flattery

Blair Waldorf might be the bitchiest, most spoiled teenage character on TV, but she also has devoured every classic American movie, can reprise every word of dialogue Audrey Hepburn ever said onscreen and can compare Edith Wharton’s New York to Carrie Bradshaw’s in the blink of an eye. The spoiled Manhattanite brats of “Gossip Girl” have generations of money and culture on their side.

Compare this to the Turkish version of “Gossip Girl,” the recent TV phenomenon “Küçük Sırlar” (Little Secrets), which puts Istanbul’s spoiled brats onscreen. Take Ayşegül, the Turkish equivalent to Blair’s character. She seems to have the depth of a bathtub. It seems pretty obvious she probably hasn’t read a single book in her life, not even the “Twilight” series. Her movie range wouldn’t go beyond a Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy.

Ayşegül is one of the half-dozen high school students who have been promoted as some of the richest children in Istanbul. If the “Gossip Girl” kids and their parents are Manhattan’s elite, the characters of “Küçük Sırlar” are supposed to be Istanbul’s. But the problem is these characters are hardly elite in any sense of the word. They are simply rich; some of them filthy rich. The money seems to be very new money. We don’t know the background of the families, but we know they worship money and judge everyone accordingly.

[HH] A blatant mix and match

Turkish TV has been known for its blatant rip-offs in the past. “Doktorlar” (Doctors), for instance, was a word-by-word remake of “Grey’s Anatomy,” with ingenious changes such as making the Asian-American character Christina a Kurdish woman and changing Bailey’s nickname, “Nazi,” to “Gestapo.”

In “Küçük Sırlar,” the mix and match goes like this: Su is Serena, tall, blonde and popular. But not with a haunted past of partying like her American counterpart; this is Turkey, after all. Serena’s brother was in a hospital for depression, and Su’s brother was in a hospital for drug problems. The manipulative brunette Ayşegül is Blair. Chuck, the devious bastard with no moral boundaries, becomes Çet (a never-before-seen shortened version of Çetin, to sound similar to Chuck). The mother of one of the characters, Arzu, is a famous fashion designer – reprising the disconnected and problematic relationship between Blair and her mother, Eleanor, in the first season of “Gossip Girl.”

If you’re going to show how rich your characters are and the kind of extravagant lifestyle they lead, the best way to do it is through comparison. In “Gossip Girl,” it is the middle-class siblings Dan and little Jenny who show us the trappings of big money. In “Küçük Sırlar,” they become Demir and little Meriç. Similar to Dan and Jenny, Demir stands tall, unfazed by all the extravagance surrounding him, while Meriç longs to be a poor little rich girl. Demir even wears the same gray sleeveless shirt Dan wears to bed.

[HH] Istanbul is no New York in ‘Küçük Sırlar’

New York is a central location in “Gossip Girl.” The Upper East Side, the urban habitat of the main characters; Brooklyn, home to the Humphreys; and the rest of Manhattan are shot like a travelogue throughout the series. In “Küçük Sırlar,” the city is Istanbul, but the scenes are totally stripped of its spirit. The locations are selected haphazardly throughout the city, without any meticulous planning of locations or distances. People in the show seem to walk from one end of Istanbul to the other in a couple of minutes.

Nearly all of the characters use iPhones; they refer to Facebook as “Face,” swap their fathers’ latest-model expensive cars and tell each other, “Style can only be bought with money.” And when the parents find out that their children have swapped their cars or tampered with their safes, they get angry because their offspring have acted amateurishly by being caught. Sparing one or two, generously, all of the characters are outdated clichés with no voice of their own, blurting sentences that are supposed to be clever, like, “If you are going to hell, let the Devil be your guide.”

The two-hour episodes feature so many scandals, imbroglios and cheap games that they make the plots in “Dynasty” look subtle. The characters are not young people with character flaws or weaknesses; they are simply evil incarnate or its victims.

With the boom in TV series in recent years, there are tens of shows on each channel. There can’t be enough writers, directors, actors and crew members in Turkey for the plethora of two-hour weekly episodes. Even if there was, it would be impossible to finish an episode each week without sacrificing quality. Most of the time, the result is empty characters, flat directing, trite dialogue and filler scenes. And “Küçük Sırlar” is the latest among these, making its original look like a true Hollywood classic.

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