Television and the Israeli spy drama: Is it entertainment?

I want to be entertained by my television, not further disquieted. Life right now is disquieting enough as is.

 Young Israeli actress Niv Sultan takes the lead role in Tehran, playing Tamar Rabinyan, a Mossad computer hacker-agent (photo credit: COURTESY KAN 11)
Young Israeli actress Niv Sultan takes the lead role in Tehran, playing Tamar Rabinyan, a Mossad computer hacker-agent
(photo credit: COURTESY KAN 11)
KAN’s new television hit, Tehran, is a riveting drama.
The acting in this compelling story of an Israeli spy in the Iranian capital is excellent, the dialogue is good in three different languages, and the pace is frenetic. It’s a nail-biter that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Exactly the reason why it’s the last thing I need to watch at night. I don’t need to be biting my nails or sitting at the edge of my seat at the end of the day. I’m like that throughout the day. At the end of the day, I need to be calm and relaxed so I can fall asleep.
With a sense that so much is becoming unhinged around us, with modern life as we know it upended by a pandemic, with America becoming unglued before our very eyes, do I really need to go to bed fretting about whether a fictional Israeli spy is going to get out of the Islamic Republic alive?
I want to be entertained by my television, not further disquieted. Life right now is disquieting enough as is.
And there is something else about this particular show, and some other popular Israeli television programs, that doesn’t work for me: they hit too close to home.
No, I don’t have to worry about a Farsi-speaking daughter in the Mossad dodging the Iranian police. But I do have children who – at least before the coronavirus – used to like to travel to the East, and were more than willing to do so on cheap airlines flying out of Jordan, rather than the more expensive ones departing from Tel Aviv.
It scared the hell out of me, their flying from Tel Aviv to Bangkok via Amman and Doha. Go know. What if they have to make an emergency landing in Tehran?
But go tell that to the kids.
“Abba, what are the chances of that happening?”
“Abba, you’re being ridiculous!”
“Abba, it’s half the price, do you want to pay the difference?”
And then, in the first five minutes of Tehran, what does the show depict? Two nice Israeli backpackers – male and female – trying to save a few shekels on a trip to India by going to Amman for a flight to New Delhi when, lo and behold, the plane has engine trouble and is forced to make an emergency landing in Tehran. And then, once there, they are obviously taken into custody, interrogated, etc.
In other words, my absolute worst nightmare.
That’s entertainment? That’s what I need to watch?
I want to watch something that will take my mind off my worries, not compound them. I want to watch something that will allow me to escape my concerns, not feed them.
OR TAKE Fauda, that other wildly popular Israeli show, to which Tehran is being compared.
To this day I have not seen a single episode. Not because I have anything against the writers or actors, nor because I don’t want to stay up to date with Israeli pop culture and know what all the folks are talking about. No, it’s not that at all. It’s just that I don’t want to see what Fauda is depicting.
I don’t want to watch Israeli soldiers arresting terrorist suspects in Palestinian towns. I don’t want to see what they go through or how they operate. Why? Because over the last decade – until my youngest son got out of the army in March – at least one of my three sons during that period was doing stuff that I imagined was not completely dissimilar to some of what is being depicted in that show.
I survived the years of my three sons in the army by putting the dangers they faced out of my mind. That’s how I coped.
And then comes Fauda, and it puts it all right there on the screen in living color, bigger than life. I didn’t need the dangers they were facing realistically dramatized for me while they were in active service, nor do I need to see it now when they are only in the reserves
At a ceremony a few years back for The Youngest after he finished a grueling, 16-month training course to join a very serious unit, a short dramatization of the type of activities that unit was involved in was screened.
“Why are they showing this to us?” I asked The Wife incredulously, with one eye closed. “Are they nuts?”
“They just want to make you proud,” she explained, also with one eye closed.
“Proud? How about sick with anxiety?”
ANOTHER POPULAR show in this same category of shows not necessary for me to watch is The Spy, the Netflix miniseries by an Israeli director about Eli Cohen.
I watched the first two episodes, but then stopped. Like Tehran, it too was well-written and compelling and well acted. But I know how the story of the Israeli spy who made it to the top echelons in Syria in the 1960s ends, and it does not end well. Why do I want to watch something that I know will make me sad, especially when I’m aware of the story? It’s not as if I’ll be learning something completely new.
During the recent corona-induced lockdown I spent more time than usual watching television. With nowhere to go, and no one coming over to visit, there was just much more time to do so. And what I realized is that when I watch the small screen I want to be entertained, and my idea of entertainment is not a program that makes me feel more depressed or worse afterward than when I sat down to view it.
I don’t want to see violence; I don’t want anything so suspenseful I can’t wait until it’s over; I don’t want horror movies; I don’t want shows laced with what would have been called soft porn when I was a kid.
I want something fun to watch that makes me feel good, doesn’t insult my intelligence, offend my sensibilities, or leave me feeling guilty for flirting away precious time on utter tripe.
But, really, how many reruns of The Wonder Years can one man watch?