Downtown Ashdod

‘Blue Natalie,’ which brings to light the serious issue of trafficking of women for prostitution, floats into its second season.

Drama show Blue Natalie, began its second season on oct. 13 (photo credit: courtesy)
Drama show Blue Natalie, began its second season on oct. 13
(photo credit: courtesy)
Blue Natalie, a show on YES drama that began its second season on October 13 at 10 p.m. (and also runs on YES VOD), brings to light one of the ugliest sides of Israeli life: the trafficking of women for prostitution. The problem is so pervasive, that there can’t only be a handful of deviant criminals involved in it. All kinds of Israelis have become traffickers, and Blue Natalie dramatizes how an ordinary family in Ashdod becomes part of this violent, brutal business.
In many ways, this is a fine example of the creators of a television series using real-life news stories, particularly ones that have not been dramatized like this before. And it’s laudatory that Avner Berhneimer and Gai Sidis, the show’s creators, have chosen to draw attention to the issue of trafficking. But the question remains: Is it good TV? The answer is yes, but there’s room for improvement. The first season showed how Gadi (Zvika Hadar, most recently seen in the film Hunting Elephants), a family man with all-toofamiliar money problems, gets involved in the party-boat business with his brother-in-law, Yoni (Yiftach Klein, who played the title role in the film Policeman), who is struggling with drug addiction. Gadi thinks the boat will host a few parties with strippers, but the Russian and Israeli bad guys Yoni is involved with bring a full-blown trafficking operation on board.
Roi Assaf (who starred in the movie God’s Neighbors) is Asher, an especially manipulative and amoral trafficker who wears a black kippa but enjoys forcing the girls into sex with him on a regular basis. Some of the girls, notably the angelic-looking Yulia (Alona Yiv), think they have come to Israel to care for the elderly.
Gadi is upset when he learns the truth, but the money is too good to give up, and the bad guys are too threatening. His wife (Dafna Dekel, whom parents may recognize from the HOP show for toddlers Dafna ve’Dudi-doo) loves spending the money he brings in and doesn’t ask too many questions about where it’s coming from. While Gadi struggled with his moral qualms in Season 1, things got even worse when a prostitute died from a botched abortion and Gadi helped dispose of her body.
Gadi is an ambiguous figure, falling for and helping Yulia, all the while buying himself back into his family’s good graces with cold cash. Toward the end of the first season, it all began to unravel, and it was clear that Gadi, the least criminally skilled, would end up in deeper trouble with the police than the others.
That’s the basic situation when Season 2 opens. Gadi’s wife has learned more than she wanted to know about what was going on and has thrown him out of the house. He is living on his boat, while Yoni is finishing up rehab and goes around making amends. But meanwhile in the Sinai, the traffickers are bringing in a new group of women and get into a shootout with rival traffickers.
The plot complications add action and suspense, but again raise the question: Other than the trafficked women, who are we rooting for here? Gadi may be a nice guy and all that, but he did wrap a woman’s body in a carpet and throw her off his boat. He may have helped Yulia, but he took the money she and other women earned.
Thinking about this led me to an odd conclusion: While I can feel sympathy for American characters who have done terrible things, like the antiheroes on The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Dexter, I find it much harder to excuse the criminal actions of an Israeli. Perhaps it’s because the Israeli characters could be my neighbors; I’m not likely to rub elbows with a Jersey wise guy or a New Mexico meth dealer. But because I take the Israeli characters more seriously (read into that what you will), I can’t cut them any slack.
Perhaps the bigger problem is the show’s perspective. The focus is on the evil and slightly less evil guys, and it doesn’t leave you with anyone to care about. The trafficked women are too helpless to evoke anything more than pity, and there are no heroes in the police department or anywhere else in this tainted universe of Blue Natalie.