Ma Yesh b’Telivisia? (Which of course means “what’s on TV?”)
TV programming might seem a stretch for an issue of Israel Matters, but of course, here we are talking about what’s on Israeli TV. There was a time when there was only a single channel in Israel, and it was multipurpose – news followed by entertainment at night, kid shows in the morning, game shows and special features in the afternoon followed by an hour of Arabic and all of ten minutes of news in English, along with religious programming very early in the morning and late at night. But those days are gone, and Israelis have countless channels of their own to surf, not to mention international channels from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as some American channels and lots of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.
One thing is for sure, Israelis still like to watch the news. You’ll find 20-somethings as well as their parents and grandparents tuning in to catch the daily news. It used to be that the solitary newscast was a way of jump-starting conversation since everyone in the country saw the same “facts.” These days, just like here in America, one can find news presentations from different channels with different spins, which makes it harder rather than easier for people with different views to speak rationally about their differences.
Israelis also love humor, which runs from slapstick silly to extremely clever to no-holds-barred sarcasm. Eretz Nehederet (literally “wonderful country”) is the go-to political carve-up, and let us tell you, nobody skewers their leaders (whether military, political, or religious) like this show. Some people think of it as the Israeli Saturday Night Live, but we find it much edgier.
There are of course all the of specialty programs – cooking shows, do-it-your-self shows, and even Kochav Nolad (“a star is born”), which you can think of as the Israeli version of American Idol. Indeed, winners of Kochav Nolad have gone on to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest and become celebrities in Israel and abroad. Our 8-year old grand-niece’s favorite show is a game show called “Cake or Fake” (the show’s title is in English) where the contestants must figure out if the object in front of them (perhaps an iPad, a toaster or a
chainsaw, for example) is the real object or an expertly decorated cake. It’s surprisingly difficult to determine!
And now… you too can watch a variety of Israeli TV shows from here – and on demand! In the past few years, there has been a surge in the production and export of Israeli television series to the rest of the world. Netflix, Apple TV and other streaming services have some of the most popular Israeli TV series for you! Although the shows are in Hebrew, all of them have the option to add English subtitles, so you’ll know exactly what’s happening at every moment (and you might even learn some Hebrew at the same time)!
Since we have come to an end of our “Eat Like an Israeli” recipes (a regular segment of Israeli Matters), it now seems like it would be fun to help you “Watch TV like an Israeli!”
To get you started, here are reviews of two “action/thriller” Israeli series you don’t want to miss. So, make yourself comfy and get started watching Israeli TV shows! And you can even eat like an Israeli while doing it – Israelis love popcorn too!
• Fauda (seasons 1 – 3 available on Netflix with season 4 expected later this year)
Given the reality of Israel’s security situation, it is inevitable that many TV shows (and movies) focus on espionage and counterterrorism. Within this genre, however, Fauda (which means chaos in Arabic) is in its own league. The focus of the series is an elite Israeli counterterror squad of mistaravim, agents who are disguised as Arabs. Undercover operations have a long history in Israel, with the IDF’s Duvedevan (cherry in Hebrew) unit the best known. Mistaravim units exist for the
purpose of infiltrating and interdicting terror cells before they can attack. While Fauda is organized around a particular counterterrorism squad, the series is by no means a simple recounting of operation after operation. The show delves into the lives of the Israeli commandos and Hamas terrorists alike, with special reference to the human cost this cat-and-mouse game of terrorism and counterterrorism exacts from innocent bystanders on both sides. The show is unique in exploring the opposite sides of the same story. The main Israeli protagonist, Doron Kabilio, is portrayed as a man truly damaged from all that has happened in his life, both from what he has seen (and physically suffered) while serving but also in his private life. Palestinian characters are also portrayed multidimensionally, including the head of Palestinian internal security (who often cooperates with Israel), local Hamas leaders, but also doctors, nurses, shopkeepers, students, and housewives. While the series is packed full of action and suspense (and the action scenes are impressively realistic), there are multiple human substories of both Israelis and Palestinians that are explored with empathy but without sugar coating. This is not a show that simply leaves one rooting for the good guys to beat the bad guys. It is much more complex than that, and sometimes forces you to ask if there are any good guys at all. It is worth mentioning that Fauda is not only watched by Israelis; the show has become quite popular in the Arab world as well. Part of this is surely due to authenticity of the overall production– for example, the dialog switches back and forth between Hebrew and Arabic, while the background portrayal of life in Palestinian towns and in Israel – the homes, markets, mosques, and even traffic – is very familiar to those who have spent time there. Fauda is probably Israel’s most-watched TV series to date, and if you have yet to see it, join the crowd! This show scores 5 out of 5 on the official Israel Matters Thrill-o-meter!
• Tehran (Seasons 1 and 2 on Apple TV)
Tehran presents a completely different security-themed series. Unlike Fauda where all the action happens close to home (assuming home is Israel), as suggested by title, Tehran is a spy thriller that takes place in Iran’s capital city. The main Israeli character is Tamar, a Mossad agent who specializes in computer hacking. She has been sent to Tehran to hack into and disable Iran’s air defense system to enable a stealth Israeli air attack on a nuclear power plant. The show has a lot in common with Kiefer Sutherland’s “24” – remember Jack Bauer anyone? – in that there are rapid fire real-time predicaments Tamar must navigate with potentially fatal consequences from a single wrong move. But Tamar has her own nemesis, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard investigator Faraz. Loyal to (though poorly treated by) his country, and also devoted to his sick wife, Faraz is to Tamar as Javert is to Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. The chess match between Tamar and Faraz (though at times it is more like a 100-yard dash) is at the heart of this story. While Tamar is perhaps the less-surprising character – she has the beauty and brains of a stereotypical Mossad agent – Faraz is the great surprise of this show. Faithful to Iran, and a skilled investigator who takes pride in his tradecraft, Faraz nonetheless thinks lowly of Iran’s leadership and yearns for freedom from repression. Along the way, viewers will learn much about daily life in Tehran, the conflict between religious extremists and young visionaries, the palatial lifestyle of Iranian elites contrasted with ordinary Tehranis, and in Season 2 witness Glenn Close as an established Iranian psychoanalyst who is also a longstanding embedded Israeli agent! Who would have though – Cruella de Vil takes Tehran! No puppy is safe! Seriously though, Tehran is expertly produced and very entertaining. We don’t do Rotten Tomatoes here at Israel Matters, but we will award this show a full Five Falafels!!