By Jessica Halfin for Israel21c
It’s not a coincidence that over the last 10 years, it’s been Israel of all places that has sold the rights for many an American television remake such as the wildly successful Homeland (Showtime), Traffic Light (Fox), and In Treatment (HBO).
Rumour has it that many more deals are in the works for series from Israel’s top TV echelon to get picked up by US networks — for example, Euphoria set to premier on HBO later this year produced by rap superstar Drake.
Plus, popular streaming sites have begun including original Israeli series on their platforms, blessing audiences with the gift of Israeli entertainment in spoken Hebrew with English subtitles. Ladies and gentlemen, we are now in an era where Israeli shows can be enjoyed in their entirety (a rare treat from a country where second seasons can take years to follow the first) in their original form, any time of the day or night, from virtually anywhere.
While there are many more shows that we wish could be uploaded to these platforms like, yesterday — Malkot (Queens), a mafia thriller starring a predominantly female cast, and Autonomies, Israel’s answer to The Handmaid’s Tale, to name two — this modern setup is already a godsend for all those addicted to thrillers like the ever-popular Fauda, and also lighthearted rom-com Hebrew shows like Srugim.
This is a list of Israeli original series, in Hebrew with English subtitles, that you’ve got to settle in and binge watch ASAP, if only to see how the same Israeli A-listers manage to morph into the different characters they play across series. Welcome to Israel.
When Heroes Fly
A new realistic and gripping thriller series released in May 2018, When Heroes Fly is the story of IDF comrades who fought together in the 2006 Second Lebanon War as they reunite to travel to Colombia in search of Yaeli (played by pop singer and actress Ninet Tayeb), the sister of one friend, and the past lover of another, who was thought to have died there in a mysterious manner nine years prior. Familiar faces in this Netflix featured series that won ‘best international series’ at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival are Michael Aloni of Shtisel (see #4 ), and Tomer Capon of Fauda (see #2).
Fauda shines a different light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A fast-paced and cigarette-laden look in the world of Israeli Shin Bet agents entrenched in a cat-and-mouse game of West Bank terror operatives. Often times finding themselves enmeshed a little too deeply, the wildly popular Fauda (‘chaos’ in Arabic) shines a light for better or for worse on lesser-seen elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from both sides, and in a most gripping way.
With a testosterone-emblazoned cast that’s a who’s who of Israel’s most popular players of recent years, this high-action thriller, now on Netflix, contains just as much Arabic as Hebrew, and thankfully the English subtitles you’ll need to follow along.
Starring Michael Aloni as Akiva Shtisel, the artist misfit son of a prominent ultra-Orthodox family, and rising star Neta Riskin as his sister Giti who is stuck in a difficult marriage raising six children, Shtisel is a window into the world of ultra-Orthodox Jewry in Israel, examining the feelings, thoughts and everyday realities of those who have been born into world of profound spirituality, rules and roles that they are meant to dutifully fulfill.
A fascinating and thought-provoking fictitious tale of a real-life closed off community, this series — which has now had its two seasons picked up by Netflix — is thoroughly interesting and poignant to watch.
Avoda Aravit (Arab Labor)
With a title meaning a job that is not done properly, the mainly Arab-Israeli cast is in on the joke in Avoda Aravit. The critically acclaimed comedy series about a prominent Arab family who moves to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, and the struggle between fitting in and maintaining their identity that follows, bridges a gap between Jews and Arabs by creating dialogue on uncomfortable (and most often hilarious) subject matter à la Curb Your Enthusiasm.
On the air since 2008, it is currently in its fourth season and still going strong following the success of the show’s precious multiple wins from the Israeli Television Academy, including awards for best director, best comedy series, and best script in 2012 and 2013.
A series about friendships and that illusive search for love, with the little caveat of navigating the strict world of modern Orthodox Jerusalemites, Srugim (the word for crocheted yarmulkes) follows a group of best friends who also happen to be misfits, each in their own respect, and inadept at finding their match in a world where marriage is the most important thing. Like an Israeli version of Friends, but without the cheesy laugh-track, this series is a reminder of how important pals (and venting, and coffee dates) can be.
Mossad 101 (HaMidrasha)
Featuring a superstar ensemble cast of Israeli actors, Mossad 101 is a fictional story showing the process of recruitment and training of Mossad operatives, as well as the recruits’ personal entanglements with each other and their loved ones, in a way that shows the humanity behind the covert institution’s stern reputation. Dramatic, but not taking itself too seriously, this two-season series is currently available in 40-minute episodes on Netflix.
A mini-series brought to the small screen by writer-director Tamar Marom, available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Mekimi brings Noa Yaron-Dayan’s bestselling book of the same name to life, through well-known Israeli actress Yael Poliakov (nominated for best actress in a drama series in 2014), and Danny Niv, otherwise known as the musical performer ‘Muki.’
It is the autobiographical story of a young couple living in 1990s Tel Aviv — one a successful radio and TV star, and one a film student — who get turned on to Hasidic Judaism during a trip to the Sinai Peninsula. The ensuing journey shows them sharing the twists and turns that only such a dramatic life change can provide.
The Baker and the Beauty (L’hiot Ita)
A 2013 Israeli comedy-drama remade in Russia, Holland, and currently being developed in an American version for ABC, The Baker and the Beauty’s two Israeli seasons are now available to watch on Amazon Prime. A story of an unlikely couple — one a simple man working in his family’s pita bakery, and one an attractive celebrity — their chance meeting and subsequent relationship faces many challenges, including the many people who’d like to see them apart. Hilariously funny and light-hearted, with high-quality cinematography and talented acting, The Baker and the Beauty is an easy watch.
False Flag (Kfulim)
The relentless twists, turns and surfacing secrets of False Flag — a series about five seemingly normal Israeli citizens thought responsible for the kidnapping of a high-profile member of the Iranian government — will keep you on the edge of the seat, and make turning off your Hulu nearly impossible. The 2015 eight-episode series based on a similar real-life incident was created by Maria Feldman and Amit Cohen, and stars an ensemble cast including well-known actor Ishai Golan (who also stars in Hostages (see #10) and stunning model, actress and singer Ania Bukstein.
The Israeli show behind the award-winning Homeland series, Hostages aired in Israeli in 2010, not long before Claire Danes stepped up to play a CIA agent in the American version (winning multiple Golden Globes and Emmys in the process). Available on Netflix and Hulu, the original Hostages struck a chord with Israeli viewers as it first aired when kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was still being held captive.
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