Stream or skip? +2023

Imagine if the world were suffering from a communications pandemic with infected people running around talking nonsense. How quickly would society collapse? A new Netflix series from Turkey is set in a world like this, eight years after such a strange pandemic.

HOT SKULL: Stream or skip?

opening shot: A man opens a box of microcassettes and then takes his temperature.

The essentials: For the past eight years, a global epidemic has been affecting the way people communicate. Referred to as ARDS, the main symptom is that those infected talk nonsense; they are called “gossipers.” The virus is spread through this Jabber; If someone who doesn’t babble is exposed to a babbler’s speech, that person too can become infected, which is why people wear noise-cancelling headphones on the streets of Istanbul. An organization called the Anti-Epidemic Institution (AEI) has wielded power by creating safe zones and enforcing curfews.

Murat Siyavuş (Osman Sonant) is somehow immune to the Jabber virus. When he’s exposed – he tests himself by listening to jabber tapes – his head’s temperature rises while the rest of him stays normal. He also has seizures, hallucinations, and other dizzying symptoms. But he never talks.

He hid in his mother Emel’s (Tilbe Saran) apartment; On an errand trip, he sees a young woman (Hazal Subaşı) reading a book in a bus shelter, and the two communicate through written notes. It gives him hope, much like the flower he sees growing through the asphalt.

When his mother sends him back to get soap, he encounters a chatterbox at the store, causing a lockdown. He gives his headphones to a child trapped inside with him, and he manages to escape and staggers home, his head spinning with hallucinations.

After the incident, Anton Kadir Tarakçı (Şevket Çoruh), one of AEI’s top investigators, wants to know who the person who gave away his headphones was. He knows about Murat, who was a linguist at a government agency that researched the virus; When the facility caught fire, he’s the only one who didn’t die or get the gossip, and he’s missing. When the headphones are traced back to Murat, however, his bosses don’t want to hear about it.

There is now evidence that Özgür Çağlar (Özgür Emre Yıldırım), one of the main researchers at this institution, is actually alive. Murat knows that Özgür is the only one who can stop this epidemic, so he somehow infiltrates the AEI HQ to see if he can find out more – erasing his file in the process.

hot skull
Photo: Netflix

What shows will it remind you of? The gritty, dystopian feel of hot skull (original title: Sicak Kafa) is very Living Dead– esk.

Our opinion: Written and directed by Mert Baykal, based on the novel of the same name, hot skull takes place in a world that appears to have no sun. In the version of Istanbul pictured here, it’s relentlessly gray and dingy, with nothing but grimy projects and industrial buildings in Murat’s universe. The security zones may be secure, but they are patrolled and closely monitored by armed AEI officers. Everyone wears headphones and is more or less walking around in their own bubble.

Of course, what we’ve described isn’t all that different from life as we know it now, where it seems like everyone’s walking around with their head in their phone or wearing earbuds blaring music or podcasts that bring us help shut out the outside world. We could imagine that being hinted at here, with a soup of COVID and a mix of masking fears. Given Murat’s extensive voice over the first ten minutes of the episode, in which he explains exactly what this epidemic is about, the show definitely begins to transport us to a world we don’t want to be in.

But Murat represents hope, as we see when he looks back to the beginning of the pandemic, when he and his then-girlfriend still had hope that their team, led by Özgür, could defeat this virus. He still has no idea why he’s immune, and the visions in his head sometimes take over his thought process, but at a certain point in the first episode he goes from feeling sorry for himself to thinking that he really needs to see if Özgür is still alive is alive.

It’s that hope we see when he looks at the woman at the abandoned bus stop or the flower poking through the concrete that will carry this series. We’re not in the mood for watching eight episodes of people talking nonsense in the middle of a police state, so Murat tries to finally find a cure, while Anton hunts down the only person who’s proven immune to this virus, becomes for all the grimness, at least give viewers something to root for.

gender and skin: none.

farewell shot: As he walks down the hall to his mother’s apartment, he sees a red pine air freshener in her window, indicating AEI is inside. He takes a step forward, then changes his mind and turns around.

sleeping star: Hazal Subaşı plays Şule, the woman reading a book at the bus stop. Her ethereal presence will likely be one of the things that will motivate Murat in his quest for a cure.

Most pilot line: Anton is standing in a booth at the AEI headquarters and is asked to show that he is not a chatterbox. Tired of being asked to talk over and over again, he says, “If you don’t open the door, I’ll shove the keyboard down your throat.” Alright!

Our appeal: Stream it. hot skull has just enough bright spots to pierce the gray of the first episode.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he doesn’t fool himself: He’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

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