Ten Israeli TV Shows to Binge After ‘Shtisel’
Perhaps no show has taken the Jewish (and non-Jewish) world by storm more than Shtisel. Set in the haredi neighborhood of Geula, Jerusalem, the drama follows the Shtisel family, mourning over the recent loss of their matriarch, as they struggle with loss and love. While the stories of the show are not unique to TV—complicated father-son relationships, imperfect marriages—the setting of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood adds multiple layers of idiosyncrasy to its universal stories.
This idea of setting relatable stories in unrelatable worlds with people we have never seen on TV before is just one reason why a large crop of Israeli TV shows continues to gain popularity in the United States. They bring a new perspective to age-old problems, issues and experiences that the average viewer can easily understand.
So, with Shtisel sadly lasting only two seasons (although a third season has been announced and Amazon is developing its own version based in Brooklyn, New York), here is a list of some of the other great Israeli imports to try out.
Before the Jewish world became obsessed with Shtisel, there was Srugim, a timely and, at times, controversial drama about five religious-zionists living in Israel. Considered to be the Modern Orthodox equivalent of Friends, the dramedy became very popular among the Modern Orthodox American community and American critics, tackling many of the topics and issues that millennial Jews—Israeli and American—deal with today, including sex, feminism, homosexuality and living a religious life in a secular society. However, despite its critical and ratings success, the creators decided to discontinue the series after three seasons. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.)
Prisoners of War (Hatufim)
This psychological thriller begins with the return of two Israeli soldiers, along with the remains of one other, following their 17 years in captivity. While the two work to reintegrate back into society, a military psychiatrist discovers that their stories don’t match up, leading to a full-scale investigation to uncover the truth of what really happened behind enemy lines. The series received critical acclaim and was adapted into the Emmy-winning drama Homeland. (Available to stream on Hulu.)
I couldn’t help but laugh while watching the trailer for this series, and not because it is a comedy. This intense drama about Mossad recruits is just that—intense. With unironic taglines like “pure action to the extreme,” it’s hard to take this series seriously. Still, expect some tense drama and explosive action that is bound to satisfy our inner human need to see things go boom. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
When Heroes Fly
Based on the novel of the same name by Amir Gutfreund, this thriller finds four IDF veterans of the 2006 Lebanon War traveling to Columbia to save a friend believed to be long dead. Winner of the Best Series at the 2018 Canneseries Festival and created by Omri Givon, the show explores how the IDF breaks down barriers between religious sects and classes, leading to bonds that last a lifetime. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
Before When Heroes Fly, Omri Givon made a name for himself with Hostages. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who American audiences may recognize from the Marvel series Daredevil and the DC comics film Man of Steel, stars as a brilliant surgeon who is forced by a mysterious group to kill the prime minister in surgery or risk her family’s death. The series was well received by critics and audiences alike, and an American counterpart of the same name starring Toni Collette (Hereditary) and Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story) aired on CBS for one season back in 2013. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
Beauty and the Baker
This romantic comedy tells the tumultuous love story between a simple baker and an international supermodel. Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli was originally tagged for the lead role, but pulled out before production began, leading to the casting of Rotem Sela. The show has received critical acclaim for its comedic approach to Israeli ethnic divisions—specifically Ashkenazi and Yemenite communities—and an American adaptation is set to premiere on ABC in the spring of 2020. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.)
This Israeli import about an undercover IDF unit’s fight against terrorism garnered international acclaim after being released on Netflix. However, it has also received criticism by those who claim it is biased in favor of Israel when it comes to its representation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Addressing the criticism in an article in The Atlantic, co-creator Avi Issacharoff said that “I would say that a major theme in Fauda is the occupation…We’ve seen terrible things that the Israeli side is doing during the show, and for some reason they’ve been missed.” He continued, “We started as an Israeli show that was meant to be seen by Israeli audiences. If a Palestinian would have written the show, it would have been written differently. But at the end of the day, we are not Palestinians.” (Available to stream on Netflix.)
The Good Cop (HaShoter HaTov)
One of the few comedies on the list, The Good Cop follows a rugged cop who moves back in with his criminal family after his girlfriend cheats on him. While not as charming or brisk as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s worth a viewing if you are looking for something that does not involve a terror attack or an international conspiracy. (Available to stream on Netflix.)
If you are looking for a tense nailbiter, look no further than False Flag. Five ordinary Israeli citizens are thrown into the world of international espionage after they wake up one morning and discover that they have been implicated in the kidnapping of a high ranking Iranian official. Facing pressure from the media, police and their families, we soon discover that perhaps they are not as innocent as they seem. The series was praised by Israeli audiences and purchased by Fox, leading to its broadcast in 127 countries. (Available to stream on Hulu.)
Yet to be released, this controversial drama is already making headlines, with pro-Israel organizations such as CAMERA raising concerns about its depiction of Israeli society. The ten-part limited series chronicles the 2014 kidnapping and murder of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah by Hamas operatives, and the subsequent revenge murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, all contributing to the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict (Operation Protective Edge). The drama will explore the fallout of the explosive events, showing how each side responds to grief and tragedy. With its sensitive subject matter, the series is bound to make an appearance on your newsfeed, and it is definitely worth an initial look. (Premieres August 12, at 9 p.m. on HBO.)