When news broke last week that Netflix had canceled its Israeli-U.S. coproduction “Hit & Run” after just one season, it was impossible not to imagine star Lior Raz marching into the streaming giant’s gleaming offices, grabbing some executive by the lapels and demanding answers.
Watching the thriller earlier this summer, it was clear that Raz’s character, Segev Azulay, was the most hands-on man in New York other than former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Just like his “Fauda” character Doron Kavillio before him, Azulay was only too happy to let his fists do the talking for him – with the “grab by lapels” move his standard form of introduction to anyone holding information he might potentially need.
Netflix is, of course, only slightly less secretive than the Mossad when it comes to revealing its inner workings, but it would be fascinating to know the reasoning behind its decision to ax the show, conceived by Raz and Avi Issacharoff, after a mere nine episodes. Sure, cancellation is the fate that befalls all shows eventually (other recent Netflix victims include “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me,” “The Duchess,” “The Irregulars” and “Jupiter’s Legacy”). But the open-ended conclusion to season 1 of “Hit & Run,” even though it would have been easy to wrap things up neatly, emphasized that its creatives were hoping to revisit the show’s characters for at least one more season.
We can assume that the show was deemed to have failed commercially. Netflix must have an algorithm for such things, taking into account the cost of the show and amount of engagement with it – including how many people watched it and how many of those persevered through every episode.
But the more interesting question for me is whether Netflix thought “Hit & Run” failed creatively – and what that means for the service’s future efforts to create more content with the likes of Raz and Issacharoff, and Israeli producers, writers and directors in general?
Local niche hits
“Hit & Run” was the No. 1 show in Israel for pretty much all of August. But much like McDonald’s is not in the business of producing artisanal burgers for bespoke U.S. markets, Netflix is not in the business of producing niche local hits. While it’s not afraid to pour its millions into productions all around the world (Nigeria being the latest to come online with films and shows), it also needs those series to connect with its global audience of some 210 million subscribers – and that’s never been easier with the dubbed versions of all its shows.
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More than a third of those subscribers are based in the United States and Canada alone, so it’s not hard to imagine that any show failing to “crack” America would have to perform remarkably well elsewhere to justify a recommission.
The first sign for me that “Hit & Run” would struggle to repeat the word-of-mouth success of “Fauda,” which prompted Netflix to roll out the red carpet for Raz and Issacharoff in the first place, came on its day of release, August 6.
My – very unofficial – way of gauging interest in a show is to see how many torrents of it are available to download on the various illegal sites offering such services. In the case of “Hit & Run,” there were only a handful, probably on a par with shows with “Engineering” in the title.
That lack of apparent interest wasn’t helped by Netflix’s decision to release the show with little fanfare, the release date being announced just a short while before the show itself dropped. It was impossible to avoid the sense that undercover agents have had more attention lavished on them than “Hit & Run” in the lead-up to its release.
Then there were the reviews. Or, to be more precise, then there were the lack of them. Few outlets opted to cover the show, meaning it was impossible to gauge any interest in the thriller – and as Oscar Wilde could tell you, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
And though the user scores I saw online for the show were highly positive – users on the TV Line website gave “Hit & Run” an impressive “A-” score, and it has a 7.1 average rating on IMDB from 6,400 users – that never translated into making it a word-of-mouth success. And while that 7.1 IMDB rating sounds impressive, especially in relation to some other recent releases such as, say, Apple TV+’s “Mr. Corman” (6.3 from 2,300 users) or Netflix’s own “On the Verge” (6.5 from 1,500 users), it pales by comparison to the 8.2 rating for “Fauda” from 23,000 users.
I genuinely loved “Hit & Run,” flaws and all – even if it did tip viewers off about my favorite beach in Tel Aviv. But there weren’t many other reviewers enthusing about it, or indeed even deigning to cover it: Only two reviews are listed on Metacritic, seven on Rotten Tomatoes (including my unabashed rave) and 17 on IMDB – which seems to have a policy of only linking to “One man and his blog” outlets you have never heard of, such as Digital Mafia Talkies and Paul Levinson’s Infinite Regress.
The most interesting review came from Daniel Fienberg in The Hollywood Reporter, who noted that “whatever momentum ‘Hit & Run’ builds in the early episodes – and it builds a tremendous amount – basically dissipates due to increasingly dumb narrative developments.”
That comment highlighted the biggest challenge “Hit & Run” faced: how to stand out when it left Israel’s shores in episode 3 and relocated the action to New York. For me, the show was always on its strongest ground when it embraced its Israeliness – either the scenes set in Tel Aviv, especially those involving Segev’s pregnant cop cousin, or those between Raz’s character and his Israeli buddy Ron (played by Gal Toren) as they ran around the streets of New York.
Where it fared less well was in those generic Manhattan scenes, particularly those set at New York Magazine – which, it should be noted, did not bother to review the show despite receiving the most coverage a media outlet has probably received on-screen since The Boston Globe in “Spotlight.”
I think if there’s one big lesson to be learned from the show’s commercial “failure,” it’s that global audiences are always hankering after something fresh, something exotic – and New York is definitely not the place to find that.
Even American shows are recognizing that: Small-town Pennsylvania is as much the star of “Mare of Easttown” as Kate Winslet, while “Your Honor” (a remake of the Israeli show of the same name) is set in New Orleans – and unlike “Hit & Run,” that Bryan Cranston show has been recommissioned for a second season.
I also think that despite the show’s ultimately short run, “Hit & Run” also served to confirm Lior Raz’s status as one of the world’s most unlikely action heroes. He’s never going to win praise for his acting range – but neither did Sylvester Stallone or Jason Statham, and they’ve done all right over the years. Raz is a compelling, brooding presence, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what he does next – including season 4 of “Fauda,” which will reportedly take the one-man rage machine and drop him into Western Europe.
“Hit & Run” was in many ways a test case for Israeli television: Could it export its popular sabra brand and produce a hit Netflix original show? Despite the apparent answer to that question being “No,” I’m sure the streaming site won’t be abandoning the country at the first hint of failure. After all, failure is as much an in-built part of television as autocues and reality TV scandals.
That failure – and I use that word reluctantly, given the huge achievement it was to get the show made in the first place – also means that all eyes are now on season 2 of “Tehran” on Apple TV+, which has already brought in a big gun in the shape of Glenn Close, as the Israeli espionage thriller looks to build on the success of season 1 (even though Fienberg’s critical words about “Hit & Run” could also have applied equally to “Tehran”).
One thing I’m certain of, though, is that we absolutely haven’t seen the last of Lior Raz grabbing lapels on our screens.