Very much like J. Alfred Prufrock, (he of “The Love Song of” by T.S. Eliot, 1915), I also grow old, but for obvious reasons (aka baldness), I cannot “part my hair behind,” although I “dare to eat a peach.” My age is relevant here, because when I was about to buy my first new car (after a series of secondhand duds), I was worried and asked a friend who seemed in the know about matters motorized to tell me which cars were good, and which less so. He answered – this was in the ‘90s, not when Ford produced his black Model T – that “they don’t make bad cars anymore.”
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Some cars, though, are better than others, and some are suited to one’s needs more than others, and basically the same goes for TV series: They don’t make bad TV series anymore. OK, I’ll rephrase that: Most of them are mediocre, fulfilling their basic purpose of transporting the passenger (or the viewer) from point A to point B, be it on the road or in time. By now there is enough experience and know-how to go around, and more than enough formulas to follow, so functional (and functioning) TV series (and cars) have proliferated all over the world, and work according to the same principles everywhere and in any language.
That is why I wish to stray from the road I’ve been following hitherto in this column (with, being me, some exceptions), and write about a new TV series that was created, produced, and is showing in Israel, in Hebrew (on HOT 3, Monday-Wednesday, at 20:15, three episodes a week). It is called “Metumtemet,” which means dumb, but the one-syllable English word does not even come close to connoting the richness of meaning of the four-syllable Hebrew one – a derogatory term that contains a modicum of endearment. Also, the Hebrew denotes clearly that the “dumb” person of the title is a female.
Before explaining further why I am writing about a series that is not in English and has no subtitles (a big mistake – huge), let me tell you a bit more about it. The heroine of “Metumtemet” is an aspiring, but as yet mostly perspiring, actress named Shiri Azugi, a native of the southern Israeli town of Be’er Sheva, (our version of that vast “nowhere” of the geographical, social and cultural “periphery”) who is trying to make it. She auditions (and fails); disguised as a huge yellow bird, she entertains children at parties; temps as a barista in the limping catering business of a gay friend; gets high as often as she can; and is very much in love with her much more successful actor boyfriend.
All that does not a TV series make (or break), but there is more to Shiri, or rather less. Her main problem as an actress turns out to be that she is 30 but looks 17. To make it even quirkier, on a good day she even looks sweet 16 (and never been kissed) but her language would make a sailor blush (wow, that old saw dates me). More than that, she behaves as though sex is a trivial matter, to have and enjoy, but also to use, if the need arises, for various functional purposes. But underneath there is a deep-seated vulnerability, and even childish innocence. It is as though provocative, “sluttish” behavior is an armor that guards something that makes her tick, and trick.
Things hit their stride pretty soon after the opening scene, an emotionally charged audition for a part in a play about love and loss. There is a prestigious high school whose charming young principal (played by Muki) is trying to be a friend to his students. One of them is a granddaughter of a High Court Justice. Under the influence of a blue drug called Ecstasy, she announces that she has had a wild love affair with the same principal, and then promptly falls into a coma. The police are brought in because of the possibility of sexual abuse (the principal vehemently denies the charges) and drug trafficking in the school has to be investigated. I’ll spare you the details so as not to spoil your viewing pleasure, and save myself the trouble of explaining them. The premise of the series is that Shiri goes undercover as a high school student to help the police (and mainly her boyfriend, although he pushes her away) get to the bottom of it all. This makes her relive her own nightmarish high school years in the small town out there, which still haunt her.
New and intriguing
There have been undercover cops in schools in TV series worldwide, but mostly as teachers, not students. In a way, the premise of ”Metumtemet” – and hence its originality – is the reverse of that formative moment on “Inside Amy Schumer” in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Amy Schumer satirize the ageism and sexism practiced by men against women in movies and TV by celebrating Julia’s “last fuckable day.” I’m sure the new and intriguing concept of a heroine whose “fuckability” has not yet begun will soon be exported and follow other Israeli series that were remade abroad (“In Treatment,” “Homeland,” et al.). Bear in mind that this is just the premise of the series; on top of that there is a tortuous plot and some subplots, and an array of characters, well developed and acted (judging by the first five episodes).
Last but not least is the series creator, chief scriptwriter, showrunner and actress in the leading role: they all merge in the diminutive figure of Bat Chen Sabag, 30. She is a native of Be’er Sheva who left drama school in the same predicament with which she has endowed the heroine of “Metumtemet.” I saw her onstage as Alice in “Closer” (the part Natalie Portman created on screen) and marveled at the waif-like vulnerability that masked a sort of emotional resilience. But I did wonder to what extent her looks would typecast her forever. It seems she was well aware of that pitfall and decided to do something about it. She envisioned a series in which her looks would be the essential thing, and managed to get it produced with her as the star and chief writer. All 50 episodes are to be screened over two seasons. That is how you make lemonade out of the lemons nature gave you, and boy (and girl), does it taste refreshing.