Sure, you could settle in for another rewatch of The Sopranos. Or you could use your TV time to venture beyond borders, into new Netflix territories, and take in the Turkish hitman caper 50M² instead. Our hero is Gölge, translated by the subtitles as Shadow. For viewers of a certain vintage, that name will instantly conjure the mental image of Ulrika Jonsson and John Fashanu surrounded by preening Gladiators in blue leotards. Not such a random association, perhaps, since 50M2 shares with the classic ITV show a macho tone that is tongue-in-cheek but – make no mistake about it – still tough enough to see off all comers with a giant cotton bud.
This Shadow (played by Engin Öztürk, Turkey’s answer to Tom Hardy), prefers to work with a handgun. He is the surrogate son and most trusted henchman of the Istanbul crime boss Servet Nadir (Kürsat Alniaçik), a man whose shiny bald head and luxuriant moustache would set him apart in any other setting. In the Istanbul underworld, however, this look is very much de rigueur. Nadir’s patronage allows Shadow to live in a swish bachelor pad in a fancy part of town (Beşiktaş? Perhaps Arnavutköy?), where he drowns his sorrows with only the finest single malts, swigged straight from the bottle.
There is a lot of swigging, because Shadow’s origins are a sorrowful mystery, even to him. The only clue he has to his parentage is a good-looking couple in a black-and-white photograph. Since Nadir strongly dissuades any further investigation, a rift opens between them. This results in a shootout and a case of mistaken identity, which allows Shadow to assume yet another false name and begin hiding out from his old associates in a small commercial neighbourhood called Güzelce. The series’ title refers to the dimensions of his new digs in the backroom of a tailor shop. It is quite the downsize from that penthouse with Bosphorus views.
Just as Shadow’s living quarters shrink, though, his social circle expands. In Güzelce, he is quickly taken under the wing of a local mukhtar, a good-natured, busybody type who happens to be called, um, Mukhtar (Cengiz Bozkurt). What is a mukhtar, you ask? A local government position or title dating back to the Ottoman empire – see, we are expanding our horizons already.
Mukhtar has a pretty, sassy daughter called Dilara (beauty-queen-turned-Instagram-star Aybüke Pusat) who runs the local patisserie, a profession shared by roughly 87% of the romantic heroines in Netflix Original dramas. Güzelce is also home to the full complement of quirky shopkeepers, strong-willed aunties, smart-aleck teens and – most importantly – a predatory property-developer-cum-loan-shark, whose insatiable desire to accumulate wealth represents a threat to the economic security and cultural continuity of the neighbourhood.
Thus the stage is set for a familiar fish-out-of-water yarn with a crime-drama twist. Like Frank (Steven Van Zandt) in Lilyhammer or Joel (Rob Morrow) in Northern Exposure before him, Shadow isn’t much interested in the local problems of these law-abiding squares at first. He is just passing through. Gradually, though, their simple hospitality and (relatively) wholesome values begin to make an impression. It is predictable and cliched stuff, but enjoyably so, because Shadow is good company. He is the kind of slightly out-of-shape action antihero who doesn’t always acquit himself with perfect panache in a fight, but usually has a nicely self-deprecating quip to smooth over the slip-up.
He shares some qualities with the protagonists of subtler shows, such as Barry (Bill Hader in Los Angeles) or Mr Inbetween (Scott Ryan in Melbourne), but Shadow doesn’t kill quite enough people, nor operate with enough ruthless efficiency, to qualify for the “hitman” title. With its lighter comic tone, 50M² is less interested in unpacking the psychology of a professionally violent loner and more interested in how community can forge identity – and whether Shadow will ever prove himself worthy of Dilara’s dainty baklava.
He has never had a family before – can the shopkeepers’ association of Güzelce fill that void? As Shadow lays it out for the benefit of a recently acquired rival: “Yes, this place is a dump and I am not anyone’s hero.” But, on the other hand: “Mukhtar opened his home to me. He tucked me in. And I slept without nightmares after a very long time.” So perhaps the sensation of being an adult orphan getting tucked into bed by a kindly man you met only hours earlier is not entirely unlike that of watching 50M²: surprising, but still rather cosy.