Netflix Original Love 101 is back for a second and final season. [Photo: Netflix]
By Darcel Anastasia Al Anthony
If you are no stranger to Turkish television, better known as dizi, then you should know that such dramas are filled with an abundance of coffee and tea, potent romance, heightened tension, and most notably — over the top acting.
Love 101 does not fall short of this.
What makes the Netflix Original series shine compared to other Turkish programmes, however, is its depiction of grim real-life situations dealt with by youths instead of the usual lofty lifestyle and love triangle tropes.
Also known by its Turkish title, Aşk 101, the series debuted on Netflix in April 2020 and received worldwide critical acclaim for how it handled the diverse coming-of-age storylines and for its aesthetic cinematography.
Directed by Ahmet Katıksız, Love 101 navigates through relationships and self-discovery. Similar to The Breakfast Club, the teen comedy-drama set in 1998 centres around five seemingly unlike yet equally mischievous teenagers who form a strong camaraderie with one another – depressed Sinan (Mert Yazıcıoğlu), temperamental Kerem (Kubilay Aka), stoic Eda (Alina Boz), street-smart Osman (Selahattin Paşalı), and kind-hearted Işık (İpek Filiz Yazıcı).
Located in the bustling city of Istanbul, the premise of the series is promising.
In the first season, everyone but school prefect Işık is in fear of being expelled due to their constant misbehaviour in school, and the only teacher who protects them, Burcu (Pınar Deniz), has to transfer to another school district. As Turkish laws allow teachers the autonomy to choose where to work if they are married, the group then decides to selfishly scheme for Burcu to fall in love with new sports teacher Kemal (Kaan Urgancıoğlu) to stop the transfer.
This proves to be a challenge as the group is sceptical of love, and Burcu and Kemal are worlds apart. The first season ends with a cliff-hanger set in the future, leaving viewers to wonder what the troublemakers’ futures hold.
Now, this cult-favourite is back with its second and final season, released on 30 Sept 2021, despite production being delayed when Aka, Boz, and Yazıcı tested positive for Covid-19 the year prior.
Though watching the first season will provide a better understanding of the characters personalities and set context for their character development, it is not a must to do so to understand the plot of the second season. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to start with the first season as it sets the tone of the story.
Similar to its predecessor, the second season is an emotional rollercoaster ride filled with memorable moments and fervent romance. It also features a new addition to the formidable group: soft-spoken transfer student Elif (Ece Yüksel) who faces immense pressure from her wealthy parents to solely focus on playing the piano. The season also takes viewers beyond Istanbul, featuring the natural beauty and small town charms of other Turkish locales.
The final season begins with Burca and Kemal parting ways after the former confesses that she cannot forget how their relationship had been set up — yet surprisingly, the group has their expulsion from season one revoked. However, Işık is still eventually expelled from school after dropping a bucket of red paint on the school’s headmaster, and the group of friends spends the season scheming ways to reinstate Işık.
Through the dynamic landscape, the viewers are further exposed to the highs and lows of Turkish culture. There is Kerem, who is constantly insulted by his famous father, and Eda, whose dream to become a graphic designer is not taken seriously by her parents who would rather marry her off for money. Neglected by his divorced parents, Sinan lives with his senile grandfather and abuses alcohol to cope with the pain. Işık, breaking free from her stereotypical goody-two-shoes role in the first season, still feels restrained and lost in life.
It was rumoured in season one that Osman was initially a gay character, which could have been why the character’s scenes were cut, as homosexuality is still a controversial topic in Turkey — with some Turkish politicians even calling the series “homosexual propaganda”.
Fortunately, season two makes up for the lack of limelight on the fan-favourite, hazelnut-addicted, witty character in the earlier season by dedicating more screen time to his budding relationship with transfer student Elif. Their loving relationship has its ups and downs but will definitely leave a smile, reminding us of our first loves and coming up with antics of trying to gain our crush’s attention.
However, the first season still shines more in terms of character development, storylines, and soundtracks when compared to the second season, which was lacklustre for me.
Personally, I am not a fan of how Elif had more screen-time than other characters whilst not having a substantial role in the series. Initially, I thought that since she put a smile on Osman’s face, I could put up with her.
I grew incessantly annoyed throughout the season as the storylines I was more intrigued by — such as Kerems and Eda’s — were rushed through as their much deserved screen-time was used to feature Elif. With that said, I appreciate how the writers used her character to teach viewers how to handle stress and to love yourself more.
Season two deserves praise for the way it handles sensitive issues with tact, such as the lack of familial support some students receive. Most notably when Sinan’s depression worsened, which remained unnoticed by his parents who abandoned him after a death in the family. He experiences suicidal thoughts and spends most of the season living in his school warehouse.
Watching Sinan push everyone away from him pulled at my heartstrings. He felt like a burden to those who cared for him and he did not want to worry them. I could empathise and relate to this portrayal as I know many people who do the same with their loved ones during their own sets of trials and tribulations. Raved teen dramas like Elite and Riverdale rarely tackle such issues and, if they do, it would be an ephemeral and unrealistic sub-plot.
Like in the title, love is the star of the series. Each character initially struggles with opening up and forming genuine relations with people, be it romantically or platonically. Over the season, they developed personal growth and learnt to care for not only others, but for themselves as well. Like what Burcu told Eda, the only person who can save you is yourself. Self-love will definitely help you kickstart anything in life successfully.
Watching the ending was a bittersweet yet puzzling moment for me, bringing me on a verge of tears, which rarely happens. I was disappointed with what broke the group up as it contradicted everything they spoke of throughout the series. However, seeing the reunions of some characters in the final season was definitely heartfelt. I had the urge to hug Burcu and Kemal across my screen during their final scene together. Although not completely satisfied, the ending definitely brought me the closure I needed.
Overall, I would give the second season a rating of 3.5/5. Unlike the previous season, the plot felt forced sometimes and there were scenes that did not make sense. Characters made impulsive ultimatums which confused me. Nevertheless, what won me over was the profound bond each person has with one another, regardless if they are a teacher or a student. Like what Işık learns, having sincere relationships matters more than having good grades.
This series has shown me a whole new meaning to friendships – when in a state of despair, all you need is just chilled beer and breath-taking scenery to admire while you frolic around with your best pals. After all, these people are the ones saving you from your darkest demons and calling you family. For this alone, I recommend Love 101 to anyone who is in a dark phase of their life or who simply wants a new exciting show to get hooked on.
True love does exist and oftentimes, they come in the form of friendships when we least expect it. This is why I tell anyone who would dare listen to my endless rambles that Love 101 is more than your average dizi, it is truly a gem to cherish.
As they say in Turkish, hoşça kal (bye)!