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What to Watch This Weekend: A Surreal Family Comedy

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The Turkish series “A Round of Applause” (in Turkish, with subtitles, or dubbed) is a vivid, imaginative depiction of family neuroses. The concept of sublimated despair is a pillar of contemporary television, but the show’s surrealism is fresh and surprising — made even more so by the sense of creeping sameness of so many other shows right now.

“Applause,” on Netflix, follows Zeynep (Aslihan Gurbuz), her husband, Mehmet (Fatih Artman), and her son, Metin (played at various ages by Rezdar Tastan, Eyup Mert Ilkis and Cihat Suvarioglu), though the show begins before his conception. First, Zeynep and Mehmet have some friends over for dinner, but the guests’ behavior becomes stranger and more childlike during the visit — they’re too scared to sleep in their own bed during a thunderstorm, they say. They behave petulantly at the breakfast table and eventually go so far as to call Zeynep and Mehmet “mom” and “dad.” The show’s surrealism gains momentum from there, and the warped perspective becomes more central — more grotesque, more exciting, funnier — as the show goes on.

When we meet Metin, he’s in utero, portrayed as grown man, bearded and smoking and ranting like a political prisoner. He has already absorbed all of his mother’s unhappiness, he wails, yanking on a massive umbilical cord for emphasis. He lacks purpose; he feels oppressed; he doesn’t want to be born, not yet at least, not until he’s ready. Metin’s mournful skepticism of life itself plays out through his hyper-articulate childhood and adrift adulthood, first as a boy whose playground girlfriend dumps him for being “suffocating,” then as a 13-year-old who writes his mother a rap called “The Funeral of Meaning on Earth,” and later as a grandiose, depressed DJ. On the one hand, this despondence has been with Metin since before he even existed. On the other, it is nurtured throughout his life by his mother’s blind praise and his father’s emotional detachment.

There are six half-hour episodes of “Applause,” and they left me in a glorious daze, both delighted by its absurdist humor and fascinated by its dreamlike vision of anxiety and alienation. The show is an unflattering portrait, but it’s not a caricature; its exaggerations become truer than true, more like a myth than a joke.

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