Dark and sinister, heavy-handed direction undermines the drama in Avlu: The Yard, making it feel more like Bad Girls than Orange is the New Black
I am endlessly fascinated by prison dramas. Growing up, both of my parents and my uncle worked in prisons and any TV shows that featured prison were pretty rigorously evaluated for their accuracy (my dad still rates Porridge as the best TV show ever made on the subject). I haven’t asked any of my family to put themselves through the ordeal of watching Avlu: The Yard (Netflix). I suspect that if the inaccuracies didn’t infuriate them to the point of committing a crime, the boredom might.
An accident following an act of domestic self-defense finds a wealthy woman from Istanbul sent to prison where she finds herself a fish out of water in unfamiliar and very unpleasant surroundings. She is forced to adapt to this harsh new reality and find her feet quickly in the unforgiving and sinister Turkish prison system.
Kinetic direction leans heavily on lots of quick cuts to reinforce how disorientating the experience is for Deniz. Coupled with the dark and gritty tone it largely feels as though the team behind this were aiming for a David Fincher-esque thriller. Sadly though, this is no Fight Club. The use of music is heavy-handed. Every incident featuring even a hint of drama is overlaid with an overwrought music cue as if to say THIS IS THE DRAMATIC BIT. This has the curious effect of undermining the dramatic moments and in some cases rendering them completely inert.
Every prison drama cliché is brought out here: the one sympathetic prison officer, the typical first night in jail trauma, the inmate hierarchy. No doubt, many of these tropes exist because they reflect the reality of time inside, but one gets the impression that in this case the writers got their inspiration from watching twin marathons of Orange is the New Black followed by Bad Girls. The fact that Avlu: The Yard falls somewhere in the gap between these two giants of the women’s prison genre is at the heart of its problems. It is too gritty to be light entertainment but overwrought to the point of feeling like a soap opera, never quite managing to strike a consistent tone.
Although part 1 of Avlu: The Yard has just landed on Netflix today, in Turkey this show is already in its 3rd season, which suggests that it has at least found an audience in its own domestic market. I don’t see it becoming a breakout hit here however, mostly because it’s a bit crap.