My mother loves Israeli TV.
She got hooked after her first visit here in 2012. Since then, she devours anything in Hebrew (with English subtitles) and she looks to me, her son in the Holy Land, for advice.
She’s not squeamish, so she can handle the violence of Fauda, and she loves a good romance, making the Baker and the Beauty a top pick.
With those criteria in mind, here are my top Israeli TV picks for mom.
- Fauda. Israel’s breakout hit on Netflix, Fauda tells the ongoing story of Israeli counterterrorism agents who operate (mostly) incognito in the West Bank, Gaza and, in its coming fourth season, Europe. It’s gripping and well-acted with cliffhangers every few minutes.
- Hit and Run. Starring Fauda’s Lior Raz, this Netflix-funded thriller set in Tel Aviv and New York was canceled despite a gripping first season finale cliffhanger. We enjoyed it even knowing the mysteries wouldn’t be resolved. Raz plays a tour guide trying to get to the bottom of who killed his American-born wife.
- Tehran. With a similar vibe to Fauda and Hit and Run, Tehran stars Niv Sultan as a crack programmer and Mossad agent who is sent to Iran to sabotage the country’s defense systems. Sultan naturally runs into problems... and romance. The twists and turns will have you looking forward to season two, coming May 2022.
- False Flag. Based on the real-life headlines where the Mossad allegedly stole the identity of several Israeli-British citizens in order to take out a Hamas terrorist in Dubai, False Flag shifts the story to the kidnapping of the Iranian minister of defense in Moscow. AppleTV+ just released an American version, dubbed Suspicion.
- Yellow Peppers and On the Spectrum. These two Israeli shows revolve around three individuals on the autism spectrum looking for love. (Please note: This is not the same as the Netflix reality series, Love on the Spectrum.) I’ve never been able to find either series with English subtitles. However, Jason Katims, who memorably created the character of Max Braverman for the TV series, Parenthood, has remade On the Spectrum as As We See It. Yellow Peppers was relocated from Israel’s Negev desert to Britain’s Lake District and renamed The A Word.
- Prisoners of War. This is the Israeli series that spawned US mega hit Homeland. But don’t be fooled: The two are very different and it’s worth watching both, which involve prisoners who return from years-long captivity and are suspected of being double agents. Homeland is more action-packed than Prisoners of War, which delves deep into the Israeli psyche.
- Kathmandu. A loosely based dramatization of Nepal’s first Chabad emissaries, Chezki and Chani Lifshitz, Kathmandu is notable both for its exotic Himalayan locations and the appearance of a young Gal Gadot. We watched this after our own trip to Nepal and loved it.
- The Good Cop and Kupat Rashit. The original version of The Good Cop (not the American remake) is a supremely silly show that will keep you in stitches if you can get past the over-the-top racist, sexist and misogynist situations that take place at a small-town Israel police station.
- Kupat Rashit (Checkout! in English). This is the Israeli equivalent of the American series, Superstore, but with situations that will be uproariously familiar to anyone who has ever shopped in a local supermarket.
- Our Boys. I didn’t want to watch this at first as I thought it would be too triggering. A mini-series that starts with the real-life kidnapping and killing of Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel in 2014, the program focuses most of its 10 episodes on the revenge murder of East Jerusalem teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It evolves into a smart procedural that shows how the police ultimately cracked the case.
- Valley of Tears. Also on the “Do I really want to watch a show about war and death?” list, this drama about the carnage of the Yom Kippur War was certainly devastating although it is ultimately more about the characters’ humanity than any fighting. Still, there’s no way to sanitize the 1973 war that took the lives of 2,656 Israelis.
- Autonomies. I bought a subscription to streaming service Topic just to watch this show, which imagines an alternate reality where Jerusalem secedes from the State of Israel, creating an all-Orthodox autonomous region with borders and passport control. When a young girl is discovered to have been switched at birth, conflict ensues.
- Other shows about Orthodox Jews. Fascination with “the other” is part of what turned Shtisel into a surprise Netflix hit. Shtisel is joined by Mekimi, a five-part drama based on the real-life transformation of TV personality Noa Yaron-Dayan into a haredi woman; Srugim, Eliezer “Laizy” Shapiro’s three-season exploration of the lives of national religious singles in Jerusalem; Kipat Barzel, a drama about an ultra-Orthodox combat unit; and Shababnikim, a comedy about rebellious yeshiva students in Jerusalem.
- American remakes of Israeli shows. False Flag was just one of a string of Israeli TV hits that have been remade recently. Also included: The Baker and the Beauty (skip the remake and watch the original on Amazon Prime); Hostages (ditto, the original is far superior); When Heroes Fly (to be called Echo 3 when it is released later this year in the US); Euphoria; Your Honor; and In Treatment.
- I watch a lot of TV (and even more during the pandemic) but I haven’t seen everything. Still on my list: Losing Alice, The Girl from Oslo, Black Space, Chazarot (Rehearsals), A Touch Away, Embezzlement, Asylum City, Mossad 101 and Stockholm.
The only question is who will get to these first – me or my mom? ■
The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com