Love 101 delivers somewhat standard teenage drama that’ll satisfy genre fans, but the attendant controversy remains the most noteworthy thing about it.
This review of Love 101 (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
Coming from the deeply and often dangerously conservative nation of Turkey, the big dramatic question surrounding Ahmet Kat?ks?z’s new teen drama Love 101 is whether one of its characters is gay. This, you understand, would be a particularly big deal, the idea of rebellious 90s high-schoolers not entirely conforming to the “national and spiritual values” of Turkish society being… a surprise, I guess? Since this is a spoiler-free review I’m not going to tell you either way — but it’s as good a reason as any to keep watching a show which provides reliable genre entertainment with a surprising amount of character depth across eight 40-odd-minute episodes.
That isn’t to say that Love 101 does anything revolutionary, obviously, unless you count trying to upset a national homophobic equilibrium (for what it’s worth, the Turkish wing of Netflix offered a “fake news” statement on the matter that would read as cowardly whether the show contains a gay character or otherwise.) The plot of off-the-rails high-schoolers facing expulsion who try to set their compassionate teacher Miss Burcu (Pinar Deniz) up with basketball coach Kemal (Kaan Urgancioglu) is a standard one, designed mostly to allow for the usual beats of romantic comedy and coming-of-age drama.
The students at the centre of this plot, Eda (Alina Boz), Osman (Selahattin Pasali), Sinan (Mert Yazicioglu) and Kerem (Kubilay Aka), do a decent enough job of bringing to life a script by Meriç Acemi and Destan Sedolli that is familiar if tinged with enough period and cultural detail to feel slightly fresh for Western audiences. That having been said, the idea of students causing havoc and only bonding with a sympathetic authority figure is a played-out one, though the strict faculty is apparently less of a villain for Love 101 than the possibility of progressivism.
Details aside, the controversy surrounding this show is more important than anything else, since it represents both the power of storytelling to challenge outdated national cultural attitudes and an opportunity for Netflix, never usually shy of controversy, to make a moral point. It doesn’t really matter if Love 101 contains no gay characters or a hundred — the attention garnered by the palaver is enough to get the conversation going, which is a win in itself for right-minded folk who think it’s a shame that homosexuality should be a source of outrage in the first place.
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