Conflict in the Israeli classroom and farewell to Betty White - TV in Israel

Now that the pandemic is predicted to surge again, many will be looking to forget that grim reality with escapist fare, and there is lots of it.

 ‘ZERO HOUR’ – spot on in its depiction of many details of the Israeli educational system. (photo credit: Boaz Yehonatan Yaakov/Kan)
‘ZERO HOUR’ – spot on in its depiction of many details of the Israeli educational system.
(photo credit: Boaz Yehonatan Yaakov/Kan)

Zero Hour, the new Kan 11 show premieres on January 10 on Monday nights at 9:15 p.m. and will be available on the Kan website. It will likely make you glad you are not in high school anymore. While many Israeli series have explored aspects of life here that foreign audiences tend to find exotic, such as counterterrorist agents in the series Fauda and the ultra-Orthodox community in the series Shtisel, everyday political conflicts among Israelis have rarely been dramatically explored. In adult society, many Israelis only discuss politics with those they know well, since, to quote Grace Paley, “I don’t argue when there’s real disagreement.” Of course, this is not the case in high school and Zero Hour explores the way the dynamics of the classroom and the pressures of social media intensify disagreements and push people to extremes in ways that may make you squirm.

Zero Hour gets going when Amir (Doron Ben-David, best known as Steve on Fauda), a recently divorced teacher trying to juggle joint custody with his ex-wife (Alma Zack), gets into a conflict with Lian (Maya Landsman), a rebellious student in his class. She has gotten upset with another teacher, who only cared about her grammar and not what she had to say, and Amir tells her she will be taken seriously in his class. He listens to her, but doesn’t like what he hears. She talks about how she and her friends were harassed by a group of Arabs at a public pool and her solution to deny all Arabs entry to public places. Their argument gets heated and devolves into personal insults, so he is already on thin ice when a stressful incident inspires him to go on a politically charged rant that is filmed by a student. He got angry when a recent graduate of the school, now visiting for an information day about the army, gave Lian her rifle to pose with and he made Lian return the weapon immediately, possibly preventing a deadly accident, but the circumstances do not interest anyone. All that matters is that his rant has been posted on social media. The situation escalates when the video clip draws national attention, and the teacher and student are invited to face off against each other on a national talk show, a situation guaranteed to escalate the incident.

Ben-David and Landsman are both very good in their roles and the series provides a slice of very unhappy life, showing the strained relationships among the families of those concerned. It wasn’t always clear what we are meant to make of their sparring, which often seems to be driven more by anger and emotion than political passion. Amir often acts unprofessionally, especially when he calls her a zero as a human being and mentions her weight during their argument. The series seems to be spot on in its depiction of many details of the Israeli educational system, especially the way image and perception have become all-important to administrators and the extreme hostility that often exists between teachers and students, which can make for depressing viewing at times. While this may sound quintessentially Israeli, I can see it being remade in the US with a liberal teacher and a student who supports Trump.

AARON SORKIN’S latest movie, Being the Ricardos, which just became available on Amazon Prime, brought to mind an episode of his beloved television show, The West Wing, when the speechwriters "forgot to bring the funny" to the draft of the president’s address for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Being the Ricardos is entertaining, well written and well acted, as is virtually all of Sorkin’s work, such as  A Few Good Men, The West Wing and The Trial of the Chicago Seven. But it suffers mightily from the fact that he forgot to bring the funny.

 ‘BEING THE RICARDOS’ – entertaining, well written and well acted, but Aaron Sorkin forgot to bring the funny. (credit: Glen Wilson/Amazon Content Services LLC) ‘BEING THE RICARDOS’ – entertaining, well written and well acted, but Aaron Sorkin forgot to bring the funny. (credit: Glen Wilson/Amazon Content Services LLC)

I understand that he has said in many interviews that Being the Ricardos, which is about comedian and television star Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her husband, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem), is not a comedy and, as many movies have made clear, some of the funniest comedians live decidedly unfunny lives. I am not suggesting that this movie, which follows the couple through a very turbulent week when their show I Love Lucy was a huge hit, should be a laugh riot. Much of the movie is devoted to Ball supposedly demonstrating her comic genius by agonizing over minute details of a scene. It may very well be true that the actress made her comedy work through devotion to seemingly insignificant details, but all this meticulousness would be interesting and illuminating if we could – at least once – see Ball being funny. The few moments we see Kidman as Lucy doing her version of cutting loose, we get snippets that will register as amusing only to those who remember Ball’s comic genius. Viewers who don’t know her work will just have to take in on faith that she was hilarious. I’m guessing that Sorkin kept things so serious because Kidman is not capable of the kind of uninhibited silliness that made Ball what she was. Kidman is good at delivering the zingers in the script when she is sparring with Arnaz or the suits from the network, but those were not the kind of lines that were ever part of I Love Lucy. While Kidman looks great and her face moves a little more than it did a few years ago, she still has a creepily smooth complexion that is especially distracting if you know she is in her mid-fifties, which makes her a strange choice to play a comic known for her rubber-faced expressions. Bardem fares better, projecting Arnaz’s charm without imitating him. For minutes on end, I forgot this was Bardem playing Arnaz, but I could never forget that Kidman was playing Ball.

The supporting cast is very good, especially Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, who played Ethel on I Love Lucy, and scene-stealing J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz.

The plot revolves around a week in which Ball is accused of being a Communist after her testimony in front of the House Un-American Affairs Committee is leaked to the press and taken out of context; Arnaz’s philandering makes tabloid headlines; and she and Arnaz inform the network she is pregnant and demand her character on the show be portrayed as being pregnant. In reality, all these incidents did not take place in the same week, but Sorkin structures the movie this way to heighten drama and it mostly works. However, the complaint from The West Wing about forgetting to bring the funny is truly valid here. We are only partially interested in Lucy and Desi because of their turbulent marriage, and their struggles as a woman and a Latino immigrant to control their show and production company. The real reason anyone knows or cares about them today is because of Ball’s comic talent, which is wholly absent from Being the Ricardos, which is a pity.

BETTY WHITE, who passed away at the age of 99 last week, was always a comic delight. She was best known for her roles in The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (where she played acid-tongued Sue Ann Nivens, the host of a show called The Happy Homemaker) and yes Docu is featuring two documentaries about her on January 17. The first documentary, Trailblazers: The Golden Girls, is a look at that show and the second, Betty White: The First Lady of Television, focuses exclusively on White. They will also be available on yes VOD. You can find full episodes of The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (White joined the cast in the fourth season) on YouTube.

Now that the pandemic is predicted to surge again, many will be looking to forget that grim reality with escapist fare, and there is lots of it. While Emily in Paris, the Netflix series by Sex and the City creator Darren Star, may sound too superficial to hold your interest, you might want to give it a chance.  It is about an American marketing executive who goes to Paris, learns to begrudgingly appreciate the Gallic penchant for spending whole weekends without working and gets involved in a love triangle involving her best Parisian friend and a gorgeous French chef. The City of Light is featured in dazzlingly beautiful cinematography. In a nod to Sex and the City, almost every outfit Emily wears is over-the-top, colorful, fashion forward eye candy. If you are interested in fashion and the characters annoy you, you might want to watch it with the sound off.