It was Friday afternoon, December 22, Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater. The launching of the second season of “Fauda” – what The New York Times has called “the latest gritty, naturalistic thriller turned out by the Israeli TV industry.”
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The entrance to the national theater was overflowing with disposable cups of cheap kava, Balkan sandwiches that had seen better days, a strong showing of paparazzi, and “Fauda” star and writer Lior Raz.
Even dancer Rona-Lee Shimon, who stole the show momentarily in a gold dress with a daring neckline, couldn’t divert attention from Raz. Meanwhile, among the many fruitless conversations with ex-generals Ehud Barak and Yoav Galant who came to pay their respects, onlookers gathered outside, stuck to the glass walls peering in.
One figure stood out. His mane of black hair, perfectly tailored suit and colorful kerchief around his neck made him impossible to ignore. Even the onlookers weren’t sure whether he was linked to the event or there by chance.
An hour later the mystery was solved: The man in the suit was Firas Nassar. His face starts filling the screen in the second season’s first scene, as if he were trying to make it perfectly clear: He’s Israel’s next Arab star.
Nassar, it turns out, has replaced Hisham Suliman (who played Abu Ahmad in the first season) as the arch-scoundrel of the season, which began Sunday on the Yes satellite channel. It’s obvious that Nassar, like his predecessor, provides a double dose of charm, charisma and power, which will make him popular with viewers despite his evil intentions.
This isn’t the first time Nassar has penetrated the skin of a Hamas member. He has done so in the political satire “In the Tunnel,” a play that brings together an Israeli soldier and a Hamas militant in a tunnel closing in on them.
At the end of the play, which began its run at the beginning of the year at the Gesher Theater, the audience has to decide what will happen in the end. Will there be light at the end of the tunnel, or will darkness win out?
At the first performance the audience chose the second option. Nassar told Haaretz he wasn’t willing to call the character a terrorist” – he preferred “Hamas fighter.” The play is still running, but Nassar remains little known, and he vehemently refuses to be interviewed regarding his new role.
The next bad guy
The changes in the role of the bad guy haven’t changed the fact that “Fauda” is a phenomenon of nature, a television event of the dimensions of “Zaguri Imperia,” “Asfur,” and “Ramzor” (“Traffic Light”), which was watched by people from all walks of Israeli life.
Still, “Fauda,” which was first aired in 2015 and premiered on Netflix in December 2016, is totally different from the three huge successes that preceded it.
Why is “Fauda” such a favorite of The New York Times? To a great extent the answer lies in the question itself.
“Fauda” (“chaos” in Arabic) jumped head first into the bleeding pool of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and survived to tell the story. It did so with the effectiveness reserved for American dramas, but retained a local grittiness that attracted even people who have never visited the Middle East.
A television series must not be a political pamphlet. The moment it is, it dooms itself to extinction. That’s precisely why the first season of “Fauda” was such a great success. It told the story of Israel while giving a face and pulse to the people who walk its streets. You could identify with the protagonists even when they chose to blow themselves up and take dozens of civilians with them.
We have to hope that in its second season, “Fauda” will maintain the courage that was central to it, and won’t turn into another pseudo-American series about evil terrorists and smart Jews who try to stop them.
The reality, as writers Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz are also aware, is more complex.