Bluewashing? New Israeli Cop Series Shows a Jerusalem You’ve Seen Before

‘Jerusalem’ struggles to tell a big story on a small budget, and arrives at a very bad time, while HBO’s ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is worth some of yours

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A promo shot for the Hot thriller "Jerusalem."
A promo shot for the Hot thriller "Jerusalem." Credit: Ohad Romano / Hot
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

Finally some good news for Israelis and Palestinians: You no longer live in the Middle East.

While this may come as news to many Israelis, Palestinians and cartographers, I keep seeing the region described in the media as “West Asia” – presumably brought to you by the same person who tried to make “fetch” happen, and in a bid to banish all those negative connotations of Mideast wars, terrorism and human rights abuses.

If nothing else, it is the surest sign yet that it’s actually Jewish real estate agents who really control the media.

Personally, I will always regard this region as a series of munitions factories run by pyromaniacs, but maybe that’s just me. After nearly 15 years living in Tel Aviv – or Ramat Vegan, as I prefer to call it – I’m readying to end my tour of duty and return to Britain next year (when England will presumably be known as Sunlit Uplands).

West Asia sure is an intense place to live: Baltimore with sand, hummus and a high-tech sector, where the old press adage that “if it bleeds, it leads” goes without saying because every major story involves bloodshed on one side or another.

Old City, old problems

Frankly, Israeli television isn’t helping me relax one little bit right now – and I’m not even talking about the perma-bleak news.

Last week we had season 2 of “Tehran,” in which a potentially existential battle between Israel and Iran is presented as entertainment. And the worst thing is that it works: It’s a finely calibrated, hugely entertaining thriller, complete with a star turn by Glenn “The Closer” Close, as I wrote last week.

And now we have the new Hot thriller “Jerusalem,” set in the Old City – aka the backdrop for every single live report ever filed by a foreign TV crew and sparring ground for the three glamor religions (with apologies to Buddhism) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. If there is a God, He/She clearly has a great sense of humor for sticking all three together in this ever-smoldering square mile of faith and bad faith.

With an opening scene featuring an Arab man sitting on a toilet that suddenly collapses into the bowels of the Old City – I shit you not – “Jerusalem” has decided that what we all need just weeks after the tensions caused by the overlapping holidays of Ramadan, Passover and Easter is a thriller about two religious holidays (one Jewish, the other Muslim) overlapping and threatening to send the City of Gold into meltdown. Again.

'Jerusalem' trailer (Hebrew)

I’m not actually in a position to say whether the show is any good or not, since I watched it with one of my kids providing a running translation – when oh when are we going to get those translating Babel Fish “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” promised us?

All I can tell you is that the local Hebrew media was rather disdainful of the 10-part series, criticizing it for being a cliché-driven portrayal of an already overexposed place. And to these eyes it looked as subtle as a Lauren Boebert speech on gun control.

The fact the show’s two stars, Doron Ben-David and Rotem Sela, are rarely off Israeli screens (the “Fauda” star was already in this year’s big local hit, “Zero Hour”; the latter is in the upcoming, very enjoyable comedy “Bloody Murray”) adds to the sense of familiarity.

Clichés ticked off are the endless references to maintaining the “religious status quo” in the Old City and talk of the importance of the police defusing escalating tensions – which at least demonstrates that this is a work of fiction, since the Jerusalem police seem to specialize in hosing gasoline on already raging fires. They’re basically “Police Academy” with an NC-17 rating.

Indeed, even though some of the cops in “Jerusalem” are portrayed as corrupt (taking bribes and drugs) as they get the job done, there’s still a sense of “bluewashing” here, given the appalling scenes of police brutality we witnessed in the capital last week and also during last year’s Ramadan holiday.

Rotem Sela and Doron Ben-David in the Hot series "Jerusalem."Credit: HOT

Screenwriter David Akerman reportedly wrote “Jerusalem” a decade ago, and was forced to scale it back over the years to satisfy budget restraints (the series certainly looks rather threadbare when compared to “Tehran” with its deep-pocketed American backers). That’s a shame, because if you’re going to do a show about such a sprawling, tough subject as the religious fiefdoms operating in the Old City’s four quarters, you need your ambitions backed, not curtailed.

Mind you, it’s not just Israel where budgets are tight: I’m still in shock after discovering that renowned U.S. director Michael Mann is this summer belatedly releasing a sequel to his 1995 classic “Heat” in novel form, imaginatively titled “Heat 2.”

Akerman has another series in the works, “Samurai,” about an Israeli prime minister’s security team facing a moral dilemma when their boss wants to go to war with Iran, potentially killing countless thousands on the home front. So yes, more “escapist” fun for us West Asians to look forward to.

Going by the book

If we accept that Israeli TV drama is often drawn from the front pages – “Fauda” being the prime example, with season 4 arriving later this year – what about elsewhere? What can the rest of the world offer to take our minds off current events in West Asia, Ukraine, etc.?

Well, there’s a fair chance that if you’ve been watching any of the big shows of recent months, you’ll be familiar with the storyline or characters in advance because it’s an “IP series.”

“IP” here stands for Intellectual Property – meaning that the series is derived from something that already exists and is trademarked/copyrighted. Ben Affleck made waves last year after saying he didn’t want to do IP movies anymore “where you have this sort of built-in audience,” which is another way of saying you’re thinking of retiring given the state of the entertainment scene right now on both big and small screens.

Rose Leslie and Theo James in "The Time Traveler's Wife."Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO

The Disney+ channel, which arrives in Israel next month, is all about the IP. How many “Star Wars” spin-off series can one company make? A lot more than you might think – by my reckoning, we’re about a year away from a Jar Jar Binks standalone series. (Mesa scared.)

Apple TV+, Netflix and Amazon Prime aren’t far behind, although their source material is often books rather than movie or comic-book franchises. “Reacher,” “The Wheel of Time” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” are all Prime Video shows; “Pieces of Her,” “Anatomy of a Scandal” and “The Lincoln Lawyer” are Netflix’s three highest-profile recent shows (while “Bridgerton” is adapted from the novels of Julia Quinn). Apple TV+, meanwhile, has given us adaptations of “The Essex Serpent,” “Shining Girls,” “Slow Horses” and “Pachinko” in the past two months alone.

Is it merely a coincidence that the most stunningly original show of the year to date is Apple’s “Severance,” or that last year’s were Netflix’s “Squid Game,” Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” and HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” – none of which had any IP?

Even HBO is not immune to the IP trend. Its fun basketball series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” is based on the nonfiction book “Showtime” by Jeff Pearlman; “Westworld” – inspired by the Michael Crichton film – returns for its fourth season next month; and the upcoming “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon” is based on George R.R. Martin’s doorstop novels.

Perhaps the oddest thing about “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” though, is that it’s on HBO at all. Based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger, this is very much a mainstream love story, albeit with a metaphysical twist – the type we’re more used to seeing on mainstream channels rather than the edgier-than-thou HBO.

Yet whether it’s on-brand for HBO or not, I’m thoroughly enjoying this melodrama portraying perhaps the ultimate long-distance relationship: between a time-traveling librarian – and that’s not a phrase you write every day – and his artist wife in modern-day America.

Theo James, right, and Jason David as older and younger versions of Henry, in HBO's "The Time Traveler's Wife."Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO

British writer Steven Moffat, who previously gave us the game-changing “Sherlock” and the toecurling rather than bloodcurdling “Dracula,” has faithfully adapted Niffenegger’s novel, but added some typically smart badinage between the two leads: fellow Brits Theo James and Rose Leslie as Henry and Clare, respectively.

“I’ve always liked stories that are told out of sequence,” Moffat told Britain’s Radio Times recently, which is just as well as he’s got a doozy of a storyline for that here. I’ve watched half of the six episodes so far, but have opted to watch the rest weekly because there’s a repetitive nature to the show that binge viewing doesn’t do any favors. Ironically, it seems that the thing this show needs to be enjoyed at its fullest is time.

Lots of critics seem to be sniffy about the series – and I totally see how it might be seen as a creepy tale about grooming – but I was rather charmed by it.

There’s a lovely chemistry between the two leads, and the use of time travel allows us to see Henry not as single person but a series of characters reflecting his journey through life: the scared 8-year-old reckoning with his curse (time travel is “not a superpower, it’s a disability – it’s what’s wrong with me,” he laments early on); the 28-year-old womanizing “asshole,” as Clare describes him; the more mature 30-something who is now married to Clare.

Well, when he’s not vanishing into a pile of clothes and being dropped somewhere else in his time line, butt naked and feeling nauseous (not a sensation devotees of the male form will presumably share when they witness James’ spectacular arrivals back or forward in time).

As well as being witty and poignant, this is also a moving study of loss and a celebration of love overcoming all, no matter the odds. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is definitely worth a few hours of yours.

“Jerusalem” is on Hot 3 on Thursdays at 8:15 P.M. and also Hot VOD and Next TV. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is on Hot HBO on Mondays at 10 P.M., and the same day on Hot VOD, Yes VOD, Next TV, Sting TV and Cellcom tv.

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