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(photo credit: Yes Television)
ONCE IN A LIFETIME - ***
YES Television. Airs Sunday through Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on YES 5. Hebrew title: Pa'am Bahayim. In Hebrew and Arabic with Hebrew subtitles.
With Yael Bar-Zohar, Karin Magrizo, Kobi Oz, Kobi Arieli, Moshik Afia, Shlomi Saranga, Assi Dayan, Lior Dayan and Yael Goldman
Yael Bar-Zohar, the fashion model-turned-actress, may be the closest thing Israel has to its own Marilyn Monroe. A bottle blonde with a smile so warm it could defrost the Alps, Bar-Zohar has been both blessed and cursed - though mostly blessed - with the kind of curves normally associated with cartoon characters. She's neither classically beautiful nor endowed with a runway model's exotic features, but there's just about no one who can match her sex appeal. To the detriment of her acting ambitions, most people are satisfied just to watch her exist.
She's asked to do a good deal more than that, however, in Once in a Lifetime, the enjoyable YES 5 "docu-drama" that started its sophomore season Sunday night. An occasionally thoughtful hodge-podge of artificial "reality" challenges, the series features Bar-Zohar and a squad of her fellow celebrities muddling through situations far removed from their normal lifestyles.
Bar-Zohar, for her part, was shipped to Africa, where, in contrast to current celebrity fashion, the former Fox model didn't adopt even a single poverty-stricken child. Instead, the one-time Ramat Aviv Gimmel star spent two weeks living in a tiny village in rural Ethiopia, joined for the journey by fellow TV personality Karin Magrizo. The 26-year-old Bar-Zohar has already been widely quoted on how much she enjoyed her African adventure, but it's nevertheless fun wondering what the future holds in store as the immaculately groomed actress performs her final yoga exercises and prepares for her flight to the Third World.
The show's other storylines have the potential to be equally engaging, with producers modifying segments' tone and editing to add humor or tension when necessary. The most politically relevant of the show's subplots is its most serious, with haredi journalist Kobi Arieli joining Teapacks lead singer Kobi Oz for a two-week stay in Barta'a, an Arab-Israeli village barely a stone's throw from Jenin.
The presence of guests from Barta'a at an advance screening of Once in a Lifetime last week suggests things couldn't have gone too disastrously for Oz, Arieli and their hosts; still, it's hard not to wonder where things are headed while watching Once in a Lifetime's early episodes, as Arieli and his future hosts express some pretty hostile views about each other before meeting. Arieli's secular Jewish partner provides a bit of nuance and contrast: despite inspecting Kassam rocket damage in his native Sderot before the journey, the easygoing Oz seems well-prepared to serve as a buffer, laughing away some of the tension when he sees his outspoken companion will be sleeping beneath a framed portrait of a smiling Yasser Arafat.
The summer's war broke out while Oz and Arieli were filming their portion of the show, and in a decision sure to add interest and tension to the series, the two men stayed in their adopted Galilee home to complete the project.
The show's other storylines are frivolous in comparison, but retain a sense of wit and satire nevertheless. Mizrahi singers Moshik Afia and Shlomi Saranga play the series' uncultured boors with obvious pleasure, and would qualify hands-down as the show's most over-the-top figures if not for their hosts - an opera-singing, science-obsessed Ashkenazi family whose patriarch is a high-strung professor at the Haifa Technion.
Elsewhere on the series, acclaimed actor Assi Dayan is joined by son Lior for two weeks at a New Age spa, where the chain-smoking duo are expected to give up alcohol and cigarettes in exchange for meditation and celery shakes. The subtext here can get a little uncomfortable - it's impossible not to wonder whether substances harder than tobacco are involved, and the specter of a father passing destructive addictions on to his son is simply sad - but the show's creators exercise a minimally redeeming bit of taste in portraying the Dayans' experience as a clash between big city excess and the warped pseudo-ascetism of life at the spa.
Once in a Lifetime's final storyline is its weakest, with boringly wholesome TV host Yael Goldman ("I don't drink, smoke or flirt") going to live with the family of alleged crime boss Yaacov Alperon in Ra'anana. But though the situations are all contrived, several of the series' subsections succeed in exposing the disparate universes that exist within Israel and between Israelis. Some of the encounters might have been better had they lasted longer - at the very least, I'd like to see what Bar-Zohar looks like after more than two weeks without a touch-up on her blonde locks - but even in its current form, the show offers enough conflict, humor and drama to make Once in a Lifetime a nightly routine.