First in a series, TV for Our Times
We are living in a “golden age of television,” or so television critics repeatedly tell us. As the genesis of this golden age, the program that set the gold standard as it were, these critics invariably point to “The Sopranos,” the “edgy” drama about a mob boss who “whacks” his rivals and takes his attendant anxieties to a psychiatrist, which after its premiere 20 years ago became appointment TV for millions. Since then, “edgy” has become the dominant motif, while “normal,” not so much. Which is why, in these not-normal times presided over by an amoral president and his attendant sleaze, I do not watch much scripted TV, preferring instead news, documentaries, the English Premier Soccer League, and, for relief from today’s anti-heroic fare, Turner Classic Movies.
But in and among the super-abundance of TV programming today, there are singular offerings to be found that, like a strobe-light, illuminate, with superb filmmaking and quality acting, the particular force-fields that mark the early 21st century. This series will feature programs with protagonists who, if not the heroes of old, break out of the anti-heroic mold of pathology and ennui, to, at the least, endure, and at their best, contend. Two such offerings, aired recently, follow. (Spoilers also follow, but they should not detract from the overall viewing experience.)
“OUR BOYS” (HBO)
This probing and moving mini-series takes on the most intractable of subjects: the Israeli-Palestinian divide, now of many decades’ duration, and the gulf between the two tribes so rarely breached. Based on an actual event in 2014 that led to war in Gaza — the murder of a Palestinian boy who was targeted, hunted down, and burned to death by a group of Israeli boys, in revenge for the killing of three Israeli boys by Hamas militants — “Our Boys” focuses on the revenge act taken by the Israeli boys and on the tough self-investigation undertaken by Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet, once it confirms the unsettling evidence that “Our killers are Jews.”
In every scene, we see how blinding the hatred between the sides is — and how rare it is for someone even to step into the other realm. Simon, the lead Shin Bet investigator, once it is determined that the chief suspects are boys from an ultra-Orthodox clan, infiltrates the clan and ultimately gets enough evidence to arrest. For this betrayal, he is disowned by his own ultra-Orthodox brother…