It is impossible not to have a certain reaction while standing at the entrance to the school where the Israeli comedy series "The Most Beautiful Years" is being shot. True, this is an abandoned school in Azur that was rented for the filming, and production people are running around feverishly moving decidedly non-pedagogic props from place to place - but it is a sensation familiar to just about anyone who had a less than great experience at school. What one could refer to as a shudder.
The producers of the new show, which airs tonight on the Channel 2 franchise Reshet, were aiming for this precise feeling. This wild and rather extreme comedy, whose name is not a reference to nostalgic adventures but is rather pure sarcasm, takes place over the course of a delusional year in the high school from hell.
It opens with the vice principal and coordinator of one of the grade levels at the high school (Keren Mor ) being taken for questioning regarding crimes she allegedly committed while on the job. Her recollections of the year, which she relates during her questioning, are the setting for the show. In addition, there is a collection of video cassettes left behind by the school principal (Gidi Gov ) for his secretary (Orna Banai ) so that he can continue to run the school - even though he is dead.
But apart from the screenplay, which apparently does not tolerate censorship, and an impressive array of actors (in addition to the three cited, Maayan Blum, Ori Pfeffer and others are part of the cast ), the show also excels in its unconventional structure and convoluted plot.
Much like high school itself, this project also lasted three agonizing years, say creators Yaron Nisky and Doron Tzur, who also collaborated on the breakthrough animated sitcom, "M.K. 22." Working together with them was Danny Karpel, a veteran of the acclaimed "Platfus" series. On the set, sitting on a bench overlooking the entrance to the school, they are looking a little tired, perhaps because so much time has passed since this whole endeavor got under way.
Says Tzur: "Three years ago, Reshet wanted a show about a school, actually one with comedy skits about a school, and we started developing it. It was a variation on 'Ktzarim' [a show featuring skits that aired on Reshet] with the setting of a school, not a real series by any definition. Two years ago, we did a pilot that wasn't particularly successful and then went back to work. The result, after many changes, was a comic drama series with 15 episodes."
Karpel: "We wanted to take it to a deeper place and happily for us we got the okay in terms of the direction we wanted."
So this apparently is the first time that a school is not being depicted in a sentimental way, but as it is really is: "Yuck, school."
Tzur: "'Yuck, school,' is precisely the feeling we are trying to convey. And exactly why we called it 'The Most Beautiful Years.' There is nothing more sarcastic than that."
Nisky: "In school they also tell students that one day they will look back on and miss these years because they are the most beautiful and carefree. Yeah, right." Tzur: "There is no more awful experience than school. Maybe the army, but school in Israel is sort of preparation for the army ..."
Now as you watch the results, do you feel a sense of poetic justice?
Tzur: "It's not a poetic justice. Revenge is not corrective and it doesn't really give those years back to you. It's just fun."
And are there biographical elements in the characters?
Nisky: "There are basic traits of real people that we knew, but each of the characters is crazy and complex and that didn't really exist."
The result is a nutty and complex comedy, loaded with slapstick and extreme characters - and very different from other series.
"We haven't yet filmed a scene where we didn't utter at the end 'unbelievable'!" relates Orna Banai. "It verges on animation, except it's with people. Everything is very extreme and the characters have something dark, even rotten, about them."
Nisky explains that he, Karpel and Tzur included references to different films that they grew up on. For example, the scene they are working on: Four teachers are walking down the corridor (a generic sort of hall, recognizable to any high-school graduate ). This is a "power walk," loaded with confidence. The wind is blowing through their hair, while in the background one hears Simple Minds' "You Forget About Me, Don" - a song that is familiar from the 1985 teen flick "The Breakfast Club." With the serious expressions on the so-called teachers' faces and their walk timed to the music, the people behind the camera make an effort to stifle their laughs.
One of these teachers, Gila, is played by Banai, who says: "Gila is a woman who lives alone and has been a secretary for over 20 years, a devoted school employee who has no life. She worships the principal, Mr. Weinberg, who is tyrannical and and mean to everyone, and most of all to her. He is also a little dead, but that's a marginal shortcoming that hinders him only slightly from continuing to run the school."
You are three known and experienced actors on the set. What was the dynamic among you like?
Banai: "This is the first time we are working together. There is a small number of people who can be considered 'classic' actors, whom I grew up on and Gidi is one of them. To me, and I think to the others as well, he is a legend. As a child, I really liked his music and his acting; he exudes magic and working with him on a daily basis is fantastic. Luckily for me, I get a little less excited now, because when I get excited, it's not good. Keren is a very talented actress. It gets to a point where we laugh a lot on the set. There are other actors, many of them, but most of my scenes are with Gidi and Keren, and that's not a bad place at all to be in."
"Mostly it's very enjoyable to work with this cast," says actor Maayan Blum, who plays the literature teacher and completely coincidentally happens to be illiterate. "It's an encounter with your childhood and teenage heroes."
Does working on such a set in such a place bring back memories of school?
Blum: "These are places that have a very specific aesthetic. All schools look alike, more or less, and that's pretty frightening. For me, when I read the script, I saw one big, critical statement here about the education system. It begins with the name of the series, because there is nothing beautiful about this place. Everything is ridiculous and mocking. That's how it is when you are a student and don't get it, and that's the way it is in the series. My character, I think, illustrates this nicely."