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Ramadan 2018 TV: What to watch and what to drop
 
 

This year’s Ramadan TV season is underway, and there are expectations that series may be subjected to censorship, as per statements released in early May by the Supreme Media Regulatory Council, threatening to enact fines on works that include content the committee deems to be contradictory to societal values. Following the episodes is likely to give us some idea about the margin of freedom currently allowed for TV productions, and whether the state is indeed seeking to expand its control over art under the banner of protecting public morals.

The first episodes aired this season also highlight the absence of some big names in Ramadan drama, like Ahmed Mekky (Al-Kabeer [The Great, 2010–2015] and Khalsana be-Shyaka [End It Well, 2017]), and Donia Samir Ghanem, who has presented a few comedic treats over the past few years, (Nelly and Sherihan (2016) and Fil La La Land [In La La Land, 2017]), and Youssef al-Sherif, who has become hugely popular among youth with a thirst for action productions with American industry standards (Al-Qaisar [The Caesar, 2016] and Kafr Delhab, 2017). Also notably absent are screenwriters Tamer Habib (Grand Hotel, 2016 and La Totfea al-Shams [The Sun Will  Never Set, 2017]) and Mohamed Amin Rady (Neeran Sadeeqa [Friendly Fire, 2013] and Al-Saba’ Wasaya [The Seven Commandments, 2014]) and directors Kamla Abu Zekry (Zaat (2013), Segn al-Nisa [Women’s Prison, 2014] and Wahat al-Ghoroub [Sunset Oasis, 2017]) and Tamer Mohsen (Taht al-Saytara [Under Control, 2015] and Haza al-Masaa [This Evening, 2017]).

A lackluster season, perhaps the least exciting in years, it still evokes some curiosity. The dominant trend this Ramadan is mystery, action and suspense, preferably in the vein of fighting terrorism. It seems as if everyone is following the same manual. In almost every series is an officer, and in almost every pilot episode a murder. Gone is the element of social drama that made a gradual comeback in past years, and the comedy is mired in mediocrity.

Mada Masr watched the first few episodes of 28 series, to bring you our recommendations of what to watch and what to drop.

Awalem Khafiyya (Hidden Worlds)

CBC, CBC Drama, SBC and available on YouTube

Adel Imam’s recent break with scriptwriter Youssef Moaty gave many of his fans cause for optimism, as Moaty’s type of comedy was, many felt, the main reason the 78-year-old megastar — who is affectionately referred to by fans as Al-Zaeem (the boss) — has been turning in less than stellar performances in recent years.

In this series, Imam returns to politics as Helal Kamel, an editor in chief investigating a mysterious case of homicide committed years ago. Besides the murder story, the nature of the newspaper his character heads is quite interesting: it is an oppositional publication that owes its popularity to articles penned by “The Boss,” aka Kamel, although excerpts of his articles, heard throughout the show, do not appear to justify this burgeoning popularity. Somewhat predictably, we’re looking at an extremely naïve portrayal of journalism and of political opposition.

It’s striking, however, that a television series fronted by one of Egypt’s biggest stars points out government corruption and clearly names the National Security Agency as a complicit party. Although this critique is offset by a mode of acculturation fairly common in Ramadan series: “So now we’re throwing Gamal Hamdan’s The Character of Egypt on the floor like this?” Imam asks in one scene, when his grandson (who symbolizes “the future”) uses the famous book — pages torn out and strewn across the floor — to balance the legs of a table.

In expert fashion, Imam uses his portrayal of a grandfather — with all the romanticism associated with it — to make up for the role’s lack of a comedic element. With the exception of the usual mannerisms he still can’t do without, like slapping other actors’ faces or wrists and lifting his eyebrows in bewilderment at their stupidity, playing a grandfather embittered by his children’s lack of care imbues him with some level of dramatic depth.

Do we recommend it? If you’re interested in exploring the representation of political machinations in Egyptian drama, and if, in spite of everything, you still want to watch Adel Imam.

Kalabsh 2 (Cuffs 2)

Al Hayah, Al Hayah Mosalsalat, MBC 4 and available on YouTube

After it was crowned the number one ahwa television series last year, producer Tamer Morsi bought out the rights to Kalabsh (Cuffs) from its original company, Verde, for his production house Synergy. The second season is still helmed by director Peter Mimi, who as well as the first Cuffs brought us the series Al-Abb al-Rawhi (The Godfather), and is currently directing a much-anticipated feature by Al-Sobky Film Productions: Harb Karmouz (Karmouz Wars).

We resume the story of officer Selim al-Ansary (Amir Karara), who became a folk hero last year as he embarked on a revenge odyssey targeting the militants who killed his wife and sister and caused his mother’s paralysis. This time, however, he enters a new level of rogue territory, as he deals with transnational militant groups and national security files.

Cuffs 2 is an attempt to create a hero fit for a post-June 30 world, in a manner reminiscent of the wave of films released after the 1952 revolution, which featured police officers as virtuous protagonists. But this officer is not the justice-loving idealist who only fears God, nor the quiet charming type like Ali in Rodda Qalby (My Heart is Returned, 1958). Rather, Ansary is a ballsy officer with blood so hot it boils, and an urgent need to get things done that often compels him to bypass the cold bureaucracy of standard legal procedures. He is the hero who’s come to right the ship, in whom the people can find a savior. He is not a modest officer, either, as he displays some clear traits of all the “beys” and “excellencies” we’re all familiar with, but these are carefully meted out. And his indiscretions when dealing with “criminals” make his character sexier and more cinematic.

When Ansary is transferred to the administrative authority of Al-Aqrab prison, his life is turned upside down, but he continues to side with the weak and clips the feathers of those who act important on account of their status in the outside world. In one scene, a prisoner with dual nationality doesn’t show Ansary due respect, lecturing him on human rights and threatening him with the international organizations he’ll appeal to against him. Ansary roughs him up, and we soon discover that the prisoner is an Israeli spy. Suddenly we understand the wisdom behind his violence, for he is acting out of patriotism, and we are ashamed for having doubted his integrity.

With the exception of the show’s recurring action scenes, the focus is on the human side of the hero, and the destruction of his family life for the sake of the nation. Ansary’s brother-in-law, a fellow officer, says: “I never imagined I would lose the girl I love because I do my job faithfully. I want to live like a regular person, a teacher maybe, or an accountant, with nobody calling me ‘basha’ or ‘bey.’”

Cuffs 2 comes with a new cast, including Haitham Ahmed Zaky, who gets a new type of role: gang broker for terrorist groups, complete with the shaved head and beard "mafia style" look, which appears in more than one series this year.

The effort exerted in the show’s execution is manifest in its shiny, obviously expensive visual style, and the directing perfectly compiles the model ingredients of a well-made Egyptian drama. There are no surprises in the screenplay or elsewhere, for it follows a tried and tested recipe.

Do we recommend it? Only if you possess enough curiosity to see how Amir Karara went from green-eyed pretty boy to prototype muscleman who ignites the fantasies of both men and women. Or, if you feel a need — for some incomprehensible reason — to hear the words “basha”  and “bey” uttered a countless number of times. Also, if you want to familiarize yourself with Mimi, the up-and-coming darling of commercial cinema, or to watch a series rife with dramatic tricks and cliches, successful enough to rival “The Legend” Mohamed Ramadan in his 2018 Ramadan series, Nisr al-Saeed (Eagle of the South).

Raheem

CBC, CBC Drama, ON E, ON Drama, Hawas TV, ART Hekayat and available on YouTube

The trailer for the series Raheem (Merciful) ends with the words: “Raheem is returning, and he won’t show any mercy.” Starring Yasser Galal, it promises a story of revenge in the same vein as last year’s Zell al-Raees (The President’s Shadow), also starring Galal. Here, too, he plays a powerful, wealthy businessman.

The series opens with Raheem’s plans to smuggle billions of dollars and gold out of Egypt on the day former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, but following a failed attempt to escape arrest on allegations of corruption, he is imprisoned. He is released in 2018 before completing his full sentence for reasons that are not revealed to the viewer, although Lieutenant Ahmed (Ehab Fahmy), a National Security Agency officer and Raheem’s main adversary, is likely behind the decision.

Raheem soon finds out that his partners, whom he had showered with generous gestures before his imprisonment, benefited financially from his absence, and that those closest to him let him down. His ex-fiancee Dalia (Nour) became engaged to one of his partners, while neither his sister nor his best friend and right-hand man Helmy (Mohamed Riad) provided shelter to his father (Hassan Hosny), who ended up on the street.

Many of them attempt to convince Raheem that a misunderstanding has occurred, expressing  joy at the news of his release (which comes as a surprise to them all, despite the difficulty of releasing one of the most notorious businessmen of the Mubarak era without causing a media uproar). He responds with the calm patience of a man with a plan, the first part of which involves locating his brother Hesham, who, by the looks of the first few episodes, seems like he’ll have an important role in the upcoming events.

Do we recommend it? If you’re enamored with revenge stories and Indian films, you’ll enjoy Raheem, as both the directorial style and the dramatic arc closely resemble those of mainstream Bollywood cinema. But if you’re looking for something a bit more serious, you might find the characters and events one-dimensional and over-the-top, especially Raheem’s sense of certainty about the success of his quest for revenge.

Abu Omar al-Masry

ON E, ON Drama, MBC, Hawas TV and available on YouTube

Scriptwriter Mariam Naoum, one of the big names in Ramadan drama (Zaat, Women’s Prison, and Sunset Oasis), joins this year’s trend toward action series and takes on the theme of the moment: terrorism and extremism. Here, though, it’s not really the show’s dramatic core. Abu Omar al-Masry is an adaptation of two novels by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere: The Killing of Fakhreddine (2009) and Abu Omar al-Masry (2010).

Fakhreddine is a young lawyer with leftist inclinations who hails from the Giza neighborhood of Bein al-Sarayat and attempts to use his work in service of the working class. The series starts with Fakhr murdering the emir of an Islamist group that he used to belong to, saving his son (Omar) from the organization’s grasp and escaping with him. During their journey home, he reveals his past to his son through a series of flashbacks, unveiling how he arrived at the present moment.  

Visually striking, and making exceptional use of lighting and coloring, the show’s plot offers quite a few twists and some decent layering. It is set in the 1990s, a fact accurately reflected in the dialogue, costumes and set design, enhancing its visual appeal. Other elements will also guarantee a large viewership: a bestselling thriller, box-office star Ahmed Ezz, and a director whose first film release, Horoub Edterary (Necessary Escape, 2017), was a major hit: Ahmed Khaled Moussa.

Do we recommend it? If you’re a fan of Mariam Naoum’s recent work, this is an opportunity to watch her experiment outside of her comfort zone, and in a well-executed and fairly exciting series. But you might be a bit disappointed, because Naoum — usually noted for the freshness and realism of her scripts — returns with made-for-TV dialogue dripping with platitudes: “The story is that we, me, you, Ahmed, Mohamed, the workers, people, people, people, we’re all animals, yes, yes, we’re animals.” You will also get to see Fathy Abdel Wahab shine in his best version yet of Samir Spot.

Kheffet Yadd (Sleight of Hand)

MBC Masr and available on Shahid

Having become a permanent fixture in almost every comedy series produced over the past few years, and a good luck charm for their producers, Bayoumi Fouad finally takes center stage in his first leading role. In this farce, Fouad plays Lieutenant Colonel Khaled Abaza, who keeps falling into mishaps while on the job. He’s joined on screen by Ayten Amer, Mohamed Tharwat and Mohamed Salama. The first episodes fail to make a connection between any of the characters — a skit-like element overwhelms the storylines without revealing any relationship between them.

Do we recommend it? Frankly, this writer was unable to make it past the first few episodes. It’s dominated by wisecracks and punchlines. Not recommended for anyone over the age of 12.

Ayoub

Al Hayah, Al Hayah Mosalsalat, Amman TV, Rotana Khalijiya, Alfa OSN and available on YouTube

This is Egyptian melodrama done by the book. Ayoub (Moustafa Shaaban) is an underprivileged young man who never got a university degree and works three jobs to support his family: mom (Ahlam al-Gueretly), sister (Ayten Amer) and wife (Merihan Hassan). He goes into debt trying to cover the expenses of his sister’s wedding and ends up in jail for bounced cheques, causing his mother to die of heartbreak. Events continue to escalate.

The series relies heavily on themes and characters from bygone eras of Egyptian cinema and television: a quest for revenge is the central plotline, and debt and the death of a parent are the driving forces for events. In a drama inspired by real events, Ayoub gives Moustafa Shaaban his most serious role to date and it is one of the best performances he has delivered in years. The series is directed by Ahmed Saleh (Harb Atalia, 2005, and Al-Dealer [The Dealer, 2010]).

Do we recommend it? If you’re looking for heavy melodrama — a tearjerker, to be precise — then Ayoub is highly appropriate. Despite the intense and fast-paced nature of the show's plot line, however, developments have remained rather predictable thus far. The challenge is whether the director can keep the show watchable rather than falling into tedium after the first third.

Rasayel (Messages)

ON E, ON Drama, MBC 4, Alfa OSN and available on YouTube

Mai Ezzeddine takes on the eerie and weird as her character, Hala, navigates recurring scenes structured with a clairvoyant dream logic and director Ibrahim Fakhr’s sometimes awkward attempts at surrealist aesthetics.

Hala is a strong-willed, middle-class woman who financially supports her father, siblings and their partners, often at the expense of caring for her own husband and son. She’s a pious woman trying to do it all — succeed in a demanding corporate job and be a family mediator, mother, wife and best friend — but at the end of the first episode it all comes crashing down when her car collides into Sameh (Ahmed Hatem). When she wakes up three days later, her dreams take on a more ominous tone.

Before the accident, Hala had foreseen the death of her friend’s mother in a dream. At her funeral, she is hit by the realization that while she’s never been in their house before, she can describe every nook and cranny of it from her dream. Her young son is also experiencing visions, foreseeing his mother in hospital, and this leads to a sort of dream entanglement with his mom. When Hala’s husband, Tarek (Khaled Selim), seeks advice, a psychiatrist suggests that the boy is exhibiting signs of motherly neglect. Meanwhile Hala attempts to chase the clues found in her dreams, eventually going back to the hospital where she finds Sameh — the man in her dreams — still in a coma.  

It’s too soon to tell if there is some anti-feminist message here, one possibly about women who go beyond their socially prescribed domestic duties and find success at work. Through the storyline about Sameh, son of a business tycoon and politician, we get a sense that the show might be commenting on the corruption of big businessmen and their involvement in politics. In any case, let’s hope it doesn’t end the way Ghada Abdel Razeq’s Oedipus-complex laced series, Al-Kaboos (The Nightmare) did in 2015. That show, in and of itself, was a true nightmare.  

Do we recommend it? If you’re into dream logic and the eerie and bizarre, this show might be right up your alley.

Laanet Karma (Karma's Curse)

Al-Nahar, Al-Nahar Drama, Al-Qahira wal Nas, Ten, Nile Drama, Mehwar TV, Sada al-Balad Drama and available on YouTube

Flamboyant outfits that accentuate certain body parts, a constant duck face, and almost non-existent acting skills have come to be cornerstones of Lebanese performer Haifa Wahbe’s on-screen productions. It just remains unclear why veteran realist director Khairy Beshara decided to be a part of this.

Watching Karma’s Curse — a Haifa-centered show in which she is the queen of everything and is in control of every situation — is painful. But there is some comic value in the horrific acting, the barely-cooked plot twists, and Shaabi singer Mahmoud al-Laithy’s remarkable facial reactions to pretty much any development.

Karma (Haifa) leads a crime ring that performs elaborate cons on businessmen. After they trick Egyptian-German businessman Omar (Egyptian-Austrian actor Fares Rahouma, whose performance is even more over the top than Haifa’s, if possible) into buying a fake Mahmoud Said painting for US$2 million and a love story unfolds between Omar and Karma, he sets out for revenge.

Do we recommend it? If you’re looking for the sort of kitsch that only Ramadan television can offer, then go for Karma’s Curse, but if you’re on the lookout for an actual television production to watch, drop this one.

Ard al-Nifaq (Land of Hypocrisy)

SBC, Amman TV, Alfa OSN

Comedy series Ard al-Nifaq (Land of Hypocrisy) has a lot to live up to. Based on a novel of the same title by Youssef al-Sibai, Ard al-Nifaq was also made into a film in 1968 by comedy icon Fateen Abdel Wahab, starring two other comedic icons in their own right: Fouad al-Mohandes and Shwikar.

In the show, comedy superstar Mohamed Heneidy is a government worker fed up with his life and society. He meets a man who gives him pills that change his personality and help him cope with the decay around him. The writer, Ahmed Abdalla, has written various successful comedies in the last couple of decades, such as Al-Nazer (The Principal, 2000) and Al-Limby (2002).

Ard al-Nifaq caused quite a stir before it was aired due to the inclusion of media personality and writer Ibrahim Eissa as one of its main characters. This prompted protest from Saudi Arabian broadcasters, due to Eissa's critical positions toward the kingdom, which led to producer Gamal al-Adl replacing Eissa with veteran TV actor Sami Maghawry in the version of the show broadcast in Saudi.

But despite all it has going for it, the series just isn’t that funny or clever. To be fair, there are funny moments throughout the first few episodes, but most consist of slapstick and easy gags, not to mention the misogynist scenes and comments that we have come to expect from mainstream comedy. Another issue is the unconvincing set, along with music that doesn’t fit the scenes.

Do we recommend it? Watch it if you can’t handle too much drama and want something light, but limit your expectations of the comedy in this comedy.

Roba Roumy (Quarter of Roumy)

Al Hayah, Al Hayah Mosalsalat, MBC 4

Newcomers Mohamed Salam and Mostafa Khater (who played the Samir Ghanem sisters’ love interests in the 2016 hit comedy series Nelly and Sherihan) are among the most promising up-and-coming comedians on the scene. Generally, when it comes to comedy, a lot of the comic value comes from the writers, but both Salam and Khater have an understated manner of delivery that makes everything a whole lot funnier. Unfortunately the script in Roba Roumy doesn’t help them deliver.

The actors play brothers Omar and Nour al-Sherif, whose father (Bayoumi Fouad), upon hearing of an unexcavated tomb at his Antiquities Ministry job, decides — against his principles — to steal some artifacts, with his sons’ help, in order to secure their futures. A curse is then placed on him that turns him into several different creatures (consecutively), and the sons embark on a quest to lift the curse.

We’re quite a few episodes into Roba Roumy, there’s still no hook into the show or its characters, despite some funny moments here and there. Each episode feels like it’s being purposely stretched to fit with Ramadan’s 30-episode recipe (a not uncommon problem).

Do we recommend it? Watch it if you can find the patience to hold out for those rare moments of comic relief. Otherwise, re-watch Nelly and Sherihan on YouTube.

Nisr al-Saeed (Eagle of the South)

DMC, DMC Drama, Dubai TV, Amman TV, Alfa OSN and available on YouTube

A series led by Mohamed Ramadan in the role of “benevolent dictator” has become an annual rite of passage for Ramadan TV. Nisr al-Saeed (Eagle of the South) differs little from its predecessors: Only a few episodes in, and Ramadan has already appeared as three separate characters, with the help of some painfully fake facial hair and the presumption of an indulgent viewership.

The series begins by introducing viewers to an influential family in 1996 in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena. The patriarch, Salih al-Qinawy (Ramadan), is a pious, just and widely respected community leader. We watch his son, Zein (also Ramadan), grow up harboring great admiration for his father while aspiring to become a police officer.

In the show, Zein’s cousin similarly aspires to become an Armed Forces officer and defies both his parents in pursuit of this career. Enter long scenic montages of an idyllic Upper Egypt, interspersed with dialogue glorifying their career choices and unexplained panoramic shots of Egypt’s Police Academy. Suffice to say that subtlety is not Eagle of the South’s strong suit (the show’s principal villain is called Hitler).

Where director Yasser Samy fails to offer viewers nuance or finesse, writer Mohamed Abdel Moaty does add some flair and humor to the interpersonal relationships. Bar these sparse moments of charm, however, Eagle of the South offers little by way of genuine entertainment, as it falls into many of the age-old traps that contemporary Ramadan series are increasingly seeking to avoid: over-exaggerated dramatic effects, bad acting and low production quality.

What Eagle of the South does provide, however, is a portrayal of state-community dynamics in Upper Egypt, as the plot features several instances of contested authority between police and local community leaders, accentuated by a fierce intercommunal power struggle that appears likely to erupt into a full-blown conflict later in the show.

Do we recommend it? It is curious how Mohamed Ramadan's popularity as a staple figure on Egypt's television scene seems to increase every year and, truth be told, Eagle of the South offers the answer to this conundrum. He excels at the character that propelled him to stardom: macho patriarch with an endearing, if at times excessive, benevolence. But the sheer volume of eye-roll-worthy moments of clearly state-sponsored discourse are not worth the trouble of seeing Ramadan reiterate the same role he's inhabited several times before.

 

Foa al-Sihab (Above the Clouds)

ON E, ON Drama, ART Hekayat and available on YouTube

2013 marked the beginning of actor Hani Salama’s foray into Ramadan TV, with the Al-Adl written, directed and produced Al-Daiya (The Preacher). Judging by that show’s sub-par quality, it seemed likely that the same year would also mark the end of his TV career. But no. It’s 2018 and Salama is starring in his own show for the fourth time, Foa al-Sihab (Above the Clouds), a weird, violent mess of interwoven storylines and contradictory messages.

Mundo (Salama) is a young Egyptian in a Moscow prison (Russia is a trend this Ramadan), and we come to understand that he’s in trouble with some mafiosos headed by a Jewish Arab named Yousi Mezrahi. It is a strange choice, and direct comparisons between Jews and Muslims recur in the dialogue of the first few episodes. The show also features a strong sense of nostalgia for an idealized, bygone era of pan-Arabism. In one scene Mundo gazes with longing and gratitude at a portrait of Gamal Abdel Nasser, as another Arab character laments: “He was a father to all of us.”

The series begins with an overly choreographed fight scene on a frosty prison rooftop between Mundo and another inmate, setting the tone for what’s to follow: a series of long, bombastic action sequences with intrusively suspenseful music, swift camera pans and slow-motion effects that evoke the elaborate music videos of the early 2000s, during the golden age of Melody TV.

Following his escape from prison, unscathed, Mundo flees to France and embarks on a series of adventures that take place in parallel with the trials and tribulations of his family back home in the old Giza neighborhood of Nazlet al-Semman: a pothead father (veteran comedian Ibrahim Nasr in an impressive performance, the show’s only redeeming element), a magic-practicing aunt (Afaf Shoeib) and two siblings, Samaka (Mirna Noureddine) and Kareeka (Tony Maher). The story also follows another set of characters in Budapest: Mundo’s other sister, the devout Wafaa (Mona Abdel Ghani), her alcoholic husband (Ihab Fahmy) and her conflicted teenage daughter (Yasmine).

We transition from one setting to another through edits that show no consideration for pacing or structure, while the acting is exaggerated and a sentimental nai-heavy soundtrack makes some scenes feel endless. But Above the Clouds biggest problem is its screenplay. It is not satisfied with being an action-packed piece of entertainment; the writers also fill it with big, direct statements, particularly about religion, and the intentions behind such interjections are unclear.

Almost every time Wafaa ventures out of her home in Budapest, she is subjected to racist behavior and ridiculed for wearing the hijab, which is followed by heavy-handed conversations about Islam and contradictions between east and west. Later, in a bizarre turn of events, her daughter is whipped 80 times for drinking alcohol, in what constitutes one of the most horrific — yet also highly unconvincing — scenes ever seen on Egyptian TV. The show is rife with violence, some of it exceptionally disturbing.

Do we recommend it? Unless you miss the sappy pan-Arab bits in Hammam fi Amsterdam (Hammam in Amsterdam, 1999), minus the comedy, then no. This writer is compelled to check out a couple more episodes to watch the teenager seek revenge, but it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to get through much more of it.  

Qanoun Omar (Omar’s Laws)

MBC Masr and available on Shahid

Omar (singer-for-some-reason-turned-actor Hamada Helal) is a mechanical engineer and ex-boxer who manages a car repair workshop, trying to make enough money to care for his sick mother. When his boss’s wife, Sara (Fatma Nasser), attempts to seduce him and he rejects her, she tells her husband that he came onto her and the couple devise a plot to get rid of him.

As a result, Omar is handed an unjust prison sentence, and what started as a light show with some sad attempts at comedy (courtesy of Helal, Haggag Abdel Azim as his uncle and Mostafa Abu Srie as his best friend), becomes part prison drama, as Omar makes allies and enemies in his cell and struggles to figure out who put him behind bars, all the while worrying about his mother’s deteriorating health.

The series is filled with the usual clichés: a brave, idealistic young man fighting corruption in the workplace and getting punished for it, a dupe boss with an unfaithful wife and melodramatic courtroom scenes that turn into wailing marathons. Some performances — particularly that of Iman al-Assi as the boss’s spoiled, arrogant daughter — are so bad and so irritatingly confident that they are cringeworthy.

Do we recommend it? No. It’s hard to tell why this show exists. Although not as outrageous as some TV shows this season, nor as sinfully boring as others, Omar’s Laws is utterly predictable and unimaginative.

Layali Eugenie (Eugenie Nights)

CBC, CBC Drama, Dubai TV and available on YouTube

At first glance, Layaly Eugenie (Eugenie Nights), in which a series of unfortunate events leads Dhafer L’Abidine’s character Dr. Farid to fall in love with Kariman, or Karima, portrayed by Amina Khalil, against all odds, appears to be yet another romantic period piece. It is, and it isn’t.

Eugenie Nights goes a step beyond exploiting the on-screen duo’s aesthetic appeal to present a poignant, touching story through complex character constructions that are portrayed with surprising skill. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and high production values make for a truly immersive viewing experience. And it’s hard not to indulge in the will-they-won’t-they nature of Farid and Karima’s on-screen relationship.

Set in mid-1940s Port Said, Eugenie Nights opens with two plot lines that swiftly converge within the first few episodes. We meet Dr. Farid and his wife, Aida (Lebanese actress Carmen Bsaibes), and come to learn that the cold, awkward nature of their relationship is because Aida is Farid’s brother’s widow. Farid married her after his brother died, so that their infant daughter would not grow up fatherless, a common social practice in Egypt at the time. Farid thus frequents a local cabaret called Eugenie, a place that plays a prominent role in the show’s narrative.

We are also introduced to the story of Kariman and Ismail (Khaled Kamal), an upper-class couple who also have an infant daughter and share a turbulent, unsettling relationship.

From observations made by the show’s supporting characters, the bruises on Kariman’s body and the timid, apprehensive way she conducts herself around Ismail, we soon gather that her husband is both physically and emotionally abusive. One of the show’s strengths is Kamal’s striking portrayal of the violence of traditional masculinity, caught up in a crisis of jealousy and insecurity. His overpowering presence is riveting, especially when set against Khalil’s subdued uneasiness. Following an argument, Kariman runs away and settles in downtown Port Said, where she encounters Dr. Farid and the Eugenie cabaret.

So far, Eugenie Nights has a number of positive features. Through Kariman, viewers are offered a rare representation of domestic abuse that is both sensitive and jarring — the effects of Kariman’s relationship with Ismail are palpable throughout Khalil’s performance, long after her escape. Portrayals of working-class women Neamat (Intisar) and Galila (Asmaa Abu al-Yazeed) provide a welcome respite from the show’s largely upper-class bubble — it’s clear that writers Ingy al-Qasim and Samaa Abdel Khaleq sought to avoid the customary inclusion of one-dimensional, poorer characters in the form of “the help,” instead presenting strong, complicated and dynamic women who also offer some much-needed comic relief.

Do we recommend it? Yes. Although L’Abidine’s often unconvincing performance leaves much to be desired in terms of depth, he is joined by a stellar cast of veterans and newcomers who together create an intriguing representation of 1940s Port Said that manages to strike a balance between the harrowing and the whimsical.

Mamnoua al-Iqtirab aw al-Tasweer (Off Limits)

MBC Masr, LBC, Rotana Khalijiya and available on Shahid

Zeina plays Camillia Mansour, a movie star accused of murdering her husband, Ahmed al-Wardani (Fathy Abdel Wahab) and her best friend, fellow actor Mohra (Nesreen Amin). The show starts with a group of young men and women on a night excursion in a felucca, who come across the two bodies lying in a pool of blood on the terrace of a houseboat on the Nile. They frantically call the police, and a classic murder mystery begins to unfold.

Through the police's interrogation of Camillia, we are taken to the early days of her career in flashbacks that make up most of each episode’s 30-something minutes. We see how she initially came to meet Ahmed and Mohra in the shabby downtown hotel where she lived upon moving to Cairo to pursue acting and are introduced to a host of colourful secondary characters, including compassionate middle-aged hotel manager Azhar (Safwa) and Hend (Mai al-Qadi), the sex worker who becomes Camillia’s friend and business manager.

Despite an inevitable curiosity as to the killer’s actual identity, the series doesn’t really offer much suspense, particularly because, a few episodes in, we still haven’t developed much empathy for the protagonist, so we’re not really invested. Camillia is written with no real nuance or sensitivity, and Zeina’s performance offers none.

Do we recommend it? Perhaps. It is interesting that Camillia is an unreliable narrator, an element that always offers a bit of intrigue. If the next episodes add some depth to Camillia’s character, we may actually begin to care about her fate.

Al-Siham al-Mariqa (The Stray Arrows)

Abu Dhabi TV, Abu Dhabi Drama and available on YouTube

This is the second Ramadan drama envisioned by the preacher, or “researcher,” as he refers to himself, Moez Massoud. After producing the pro-Interior Ministry, anti-Muslim Brotherhood series Khatawat al-Shaytan (The Devil’s Steps, 2013), Massoud returns now with the same writing team (Mohamed, Khaled and Sherine Diab), this time fighting the the evils of the Islamic State’s brand of Islam.

Unlike most of this year’s titles depicting militants, The Stray Arrows cuts to the chase: it depicts the everyday life in an Islamic State-controlled city. Sherif Salama plays the head of training operations, and the emir’s right-hand man. Speaking in his usual Cairene accent, he makes no effort to personify this particular character.

The series opens with the militant group taking hostages, among them journalist Sherif, (Hany Adel) and a Christian woman , Mariam (Sherry Adel) who is captured with her son, and the initiation of new recruits as they become subject to the law of the land.  

The Diabs seem caught between two conflicting desires. On the one hand, they appear set to offer a new treatment that humanizes terrorists to a certain extent, striving to stray away from their traditionally hyperbolic, somewhat animalistic, representations in similar works. On the other hand, the writers also seem to be guided by a desire to defend the civilized face of Islam. In the process, the series ends up becoming a sad version of the mediocre and commercially unsuccessful film Endama Yaqaa al-Insan fi Mostanqaa Afkaroh fa Yantahy behe al-Amr ila Mahzala (When Man Falls into the Swamps of His Thoughts and Ends up with a Farce, 2017) by Shady Ali, in which events mainly transpire in a town ruled by the Islamic State and then meander into comedy.

In The Stray Arrows, one of the hostages, a foreign architect, is forcibly married off, becoming a fourth wife. And although she was on the verge of collapsing with anguish upon her capture, when she grows angry and refuses to have sex with her “husband,” it is purely because she is jealous of the other wives. The show includes more similarly problematic portrayals of family life, as well as sad attempts at humor that eventually make it devolve into a simplistic parody of moderate Islam vs extremist Islam.

One of the most unfortunate element of The Stray Arrows is its score, distressing not only in its mediocrity, but also in its feeble attempts to charge the listener with as many shallow emotions as possible in a limited timeframe.

Do we recommend it? Proceed at your own risk. The shallow, silly, lazy, borderline inane treatment of such a pressing topic may raise your blood pressure.

Ladayna Aqwalon Okhra (We Have Other Statements)

Saudi 1, Alfa OSN

This show was among several removed from the programing schedule of Egyptian channels this Ramadan (along with Land of Hypocrisy starring Mohamed Heneidy, Aho Dah Elli Sar (So It Goes) starring Ruby, Ahmed Dawood and Mohamed Farrag, and Baraka starring Amr Saad). Its problems, however, do not end here.

Iconic Egyptian actor Yousra steers clear of the populist drama she presented last year, Al-Hesab Yegmaa (An Unfinished Business Binds Us), and returns once more to an upper-class character in this psychological drama in the form of a mystery thriller. She seems keen to replicate the success of Foa Mostawa al-Shobohat (Above All Suspicion), which she starred in two Ramadans ago, working with the same screenwriters to recreate a similar feel and similar characters. The series feels like a mishmash of its predecessor, where each actor takes on the same or similar roles.

Ahmed Hatem and Naglaa Badr add absolutely nothing to their characters—it almost feels as though they’re playing a version of themselves—while Latifa Fahmy reprises her previous role as the difficult, domineering mother-in-law. Sherine Reda is the only one who deviates, her role this year resembling Yosra’s previous one: the two-faced media personality who puts on a noble and kind face for the cameras and society.

Here, Yousra plays a bereaved mother and former judge who loses her son and needs therapy and sedatives to help her cope. One night, on her way to attend her daughter’s wedding, she hits a young man with her car and rushes him to the hospital for treatment. She returns to check on him after the wedding party ends, and is shocked to find the hospital denying the existence of a body, signalling the start of her adventure to unravel the mystery.

But despite the similarities between this show and Above All Suspicion, there is an obvious difference in the space afforded to different threads of the story. The 2016 show included multiple plotlines, which were explored in considerable depth, but the drama in We Have Other Statements is comparatively poor.

Do we recommend it? It’s not terrible, especially in comparison to the other works on offer this year, but it’s still quite bland and tasteless. It is hard to find one good reason to continue watching it. Even Yousra’s performance is not at the same level of Above All Suspicion, where she portrayed a complex, multidimensional character. Here, she seems rather flat.

Amr Waqea (De Facto)

DMC, DMC Drama, Al Qahira wal Nas, Channel 1 (Egyptian TV), Ten, Sada al-Balad, Sada al-Balad Drama, Nile Drama, Mehwar TV, Hawas TV, ART Hekayat and available on YouTube

This show takes home the 2018 prize for most idealized portrayal of police officers as heroes. There are many contenders, of course, but this one’s commitment to the agenda elevates it above the rest. Amr Waqea (De Facto) is straight out of the same catalog as parts one and two of Cuffs, as it zooms in on the private life and grave sacrifices officers make for the sake of the nation. Or, more accurately, how officers put their family life on the line in service of their jobs and national duties.  

The first couple of episodes are almost a carbon copy of Cuffs. The protagonist faces personal loss, both on the job and at home, and his wife threatens to leave him, unable to handle the pressures of his stressful life. The difference here is that Officer Hamza (Karim Fahmy), the series’ protagonist, is not quite as epic as Selim al-Ansary. He confides to his friend Omar that he wishes he could lead a normal life in which he goes home at the same time every day, and feels secure with his family.

In the beginning of the show, a series of terrorist operations take place and a militants-affiliated website publishes news of an assassination and a bombing before the crime actually takes place. In the first scene of the series, we follow a discussion between two officers regarding the website publishing these news, as they wonder how — even though the government had blocked it — it still keeps operating.

Criticism of the media’s role is manifest in De Facto, and like how in Cuffs we follow the rash journalist who doubts Selim Basha’s integrity, here we have the harried TV presenter of an important talk show criticizing the Interior Ministry’s sluggishness. As viewers, we are meant to recognize her stupidity, of course, as she obviously has no idea what goes on behind the scenes.

Do we recommend it? Life is too short to watch this show.

Tayea

CBC, CBC Drama, On E, Channel 1 (Egyptian TV) and available on YouTube

Of all the series released this year, Tayea provokes the most questions about its own positionality.

Watching Tayea, one feel as though the Diabs, who wrote the series, wanted to create an action series that could catch up with other productions, so they went through their old notebooks and decided to reproduce the film Al-Gazeera (The Island, 2007), Mohamed’s first cinematic hit as a screenwriter. This time, however, veteran director Sherif Arafa isn’t there to add his particular brand of spice.

With this show, director Amr Salama launches his television career with a series that features themes popular in the 90s. The action takes place outside of Cairo and beyond contemporary social reckonings, and therefore in a relatively safe, problem-free zone. This is particularly important given that the story tackles two issues that aren't really controversial anymore: blood feuds, and dealing in antiquities — worked into an “enlightened,” nationalistic narrative, of course.

Tayea is a banal work. Like most of the Diabs’ projects, it tries, and fails, to strike a balance between a number of conflicting sides, but ends up looking more confused than nuanced. Upper Egypt, where the series takes place, is represented in a typically cliché fashion (with the exception of the prison scenes, where the prison looks too clean and orderly to be realistic). There’s nothing new here. It’s the same Upper Egypt that was presented in Al-Daw al-Shared (The Stray Light, 1998) and countless other shows, which makes us wonder, why watch Tayea when you can easily find Theab al-Gabal (Wolves of the Mountain, 1992) on YouTube?

The characters are very one-dimensional. Amr Youssef plays the noble, idealistic titular character, and it’s a role to which he adds nothing. Tayea opposes blood feuds because he is an educated man, and the drama develops in the usual vein of good versus evil.

The script strains to offset the series with plenty of thrills and chills, so the protagonist comes face to face with death more than once in the same episode, and the screenplay goes around in circles. As for the dialogue, it appears to be a continuous reiteration of the same couple of phrases, repeated every two minutes as though we’re in a classroom reliant on rote learning. The director, however, manages to achieve a minimum level of cohesion, and succeeds in utilizing  some of the actors like Amr Abdel Gelil, who plays the role Harby, an antiquities dealer who is Tayea’s arch-rival.
Do we recommend it? If you’re a fan of Ahmed Dash and Amr Abdel Gelil, perhaps you may be able to stand it, up to a point.

Azmy and Ashgan

Al-Nahar, Al-Nahar Drama, Dubai TV and available on YouTube

This is the newest family series to be presented by the Samir Ghanem clan. Amy Samir Ghanem plays the role of Ashgan, and her husband, Hassan al-Raddad, plays the role of Azmy. Samir Ghanem himself, meanwhile, plays the role of Fayek, the uncle who raised Ashgan. From the very beginning, the series plays with puns on the characters’ names, just like in the series Nelly and Sherihan starring Amy and Donia Samir Ghanem, it appropriates the character names of Kamal Abu Raya and Fifi Abdou in the series Taer al-Hobb (Love Bird, 2005), infamous for its unintentionally comedic love scenes. The series also appropriates elements of the plot of American film Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

In the beginning of the show, Azmy and Ashgan are depicted as a traditional middle class couple. Azmy works at a gym, and Ashgan works at a beauty parlour. We soon discover that they’re both seasoned con artists when they separately try rob the same bank on the same day, with each of them consequently finding out the truth about the other. They agree to repent in order to raise their son with “halal money,” but they fail to keep up with the rising cost of living and the demands of loan sharks, and soon go back to their conning.

Azmy heads a gang with the usual formula depicted in Egyptian films and TV series. He is assisted by a couple consisting of Atta, a stupid, minor-league thief, and Fifi, a sexy con artist (or at least that’s how we’re intended to see her). Most of the humorous incidents between them rely on Azmy’s impatience with Atta’s stupidity, and Fifi’s frustration with her husband’s diminutive size, as he attempts to defend his wounded masculinity from time to time, giving rise to a very repetitive type of comedy.

On the other hand, Ashgan and her uncle form a small gang engaged in conning activities. Azmy relies on presenting a somewhat caricaturish character in Ashgan, who displays her class aspirations through constantly pronouncing  English words in a laughable way. Samir Ghanem, meanwhile, relies on delivering low-key puns, which occasionally force a smile out of you if only because of the sense of familiarity established between the old time comedian and an audience that has come to expect a certain brand of humor from him.

The two gangs eventually collaborate on con jobs, giving rise to some semi-funny situations that rely on the tension between the two female characters, the male rivalry between Atta and Fayek over Fifi and Azmy’s attempts to keep this chaotic situation under control.

Do we recommend it? The answer to this depends on your ability to stomach comedic replication. To its credit, the series does not promise to offer anything new in the way of comedy, but rather relies on repetitive humor. If you were able to get past the first two episodes without giving up on it, this could be an indicator of your ability to watch the whole thing.

Dedd Mag-houl (Against the Unknown)

Al Hayah, Al Hayah Mosalsalat, Dubai TV, Alfa OSN and available on YouTube

Ghada Abdel Razek’s offering this year falls under a category we’ve decided to use this season in our evaluation of Ramadan series: the “not even trying” category. While there are many potential causes of a TV series going wrong, there is a special place reserved for series that are completely at peace with simply being a vessel for a popular star to have a place in the Ramadan lineup, and draw in audiences by virtue of their presence alone. Accordingly, the show does not try to present anything new, and is not even too concerned with details in the first place.

Nada (Abdel Razeq) is an engineer who works hard at her lucrative job and enjoys a luxurious life with her husband the lawyer, and their two daughters. In the beginning of the series the main conflict is between Nada and Maya (Rogina), the current wife of Nada’s ex husband (Ahmed Said Abdel Ghany) and the father of her teenage daughter, which makes the latter the prime suspect when Nada’s daughter is murdered.

The series has a simplistic dramatic arc that swings from dramatic excess to ignoring any dramatic build up at all, with complete obliviousness towards key incidents, as if they never even happened. This is very apparent in the sequence which plays out after the daughter is murdered. First we see the mother, Nada, in the hospital with a heart arrest. Right after that, we see her at the burial, with no visible difference except for slightly lighter makeup.

As  for the murdered girl’s father, he returns from his daughter’s burial to find Maya waiting for him in a red dress, and they have a fight because he’s suspicious of her. He doesn’t seem to be very perturbed, he just tells her he’s tired, and not up for fighting. As for Rogina, it seems like  directors keep asking her to do the same role over and over again ever since her exceptional talent for screaming and glaring became apparent in many works she presented over the past couple of years. Rogina plays the villain in the most cartoonish, pure and consistent sense, to the extent that she barges in on her three or four-year-old son, after he accidentally reveals one of her atrocities, grabs him by the scruff of the neck, and screams at him: “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you, no one can save you from me!”

Do we recommend it? If you want to watch the series for its own sake, there’s really no reason to do so. If you want to watch it only for the sake of Ghada Abdel Razeq, her turn here as an ultra serious engineer is not conducive to the “feisty” performance that usually attracts people to her work, even when it’s tacky. We say pass.

Malika

Al Hayah, Al Hayah Mosalsalat, Al Nahar, Al Nahar Drama, Abu Dhabi TV, ART Hekayat and available on YouTube

Every year, producer Tamer Morsy’s Synergy Productions makes a show that portrays the struggle of the Egyptian authorities with the global forces of terror, an embodiment of the conspiracy theories propagated by the state. This year’s offering is Malika.

The terrorism arc in the show is almost identical to those portrayed in other TV series previously produced by the same company, including The Caesar: terrorists in the show who proclaim their  own evil desires to destroy the world, and a foreigner who uses Egyptians as pawns in their terrorist plot. Here, this foreigner is a character copied from espionage novels: a female spy who constantly reinvents her appearance, name and passport and uses her “feminine charm” to disarm her accomplices.

This plot is interlaced with another, more intimate storyline in which Dina al-Sherbiny plays Malika/Aya, a girl who survives a terrorist bombing targeting the wedding of the prosecutor general’s daughter. She discovers that her identity got mixed up with that of her cousin who died in the attack, after the doctors reconstructed her face using that of her late cousin, as her own features were distorted in the incident. Despite the unrealistic nature of these details, we found  Malika/Aya’s struggle with her identity to be very intriguing, making us want to see how it will develop.

Do we recommend it? Watch it on Youtube, not on TV, so that you can follow the human story of Aya/Malika and skip the scenes depicting the state’s struggle with terrorism.

Ikhtifaa (Disappearance)

DMC, DMC Drama, SBC, Amman TV, Alfa OSN and available on YouTube

Sherif Afify (Hisham Selim) is a writer who disappears for two years. During the first year, he is in a deep coma. In the second, however, he isolates himself in order to continue working on an old project. It was this project that initially caused the attempt on his life, which failed to kill him, but left him comatose.  When he regains consciousness, he finds that his wife, Farida al-Menshawy (Nelly Karim), has left the country. He perceives this as abandonment, although she says this move was out of desperation.

After Sherif announces in a press conference that he is still working on the project, a novel that shares the series’ name, Ikhtifaa (Disappearance), he notices he is being surveilled, and then he disappears, again.

The show then begins to move from scenes in the present to scenes in the novel, which follows three real characters in the 60s: Nassima Somelian (also played by Nelly Karim), her husband Nader al-Refaai (Mohamed Alaa), who later disappears, and businessman Soliman Abdel Dayem (Mohamed Mamdouh), who Afify believes killed Nader in order to have Nassima all for himself. So far, it appears that the novel, where Afify makes that accusation clear, is the reason behind the attempted murder of Sherif Afify, and his renewed disappearance.

Soliman Abdel Dayem appears in two periods of his life. In the novel, he is a rookie businessman who has just moved to the Zamalek neighborhood, into the flat neighboring Nassima and Nader. In the present, meanwhile, he is a big businessman with lots of companies, including an electronics company called Nassima.

The modern day Soliman actually seems quite intriguing, and more than just a murderer with a penchant for stealing lovers. He owns a company that spies on its potential customers, finds out their interests, their weaknesses, their personal information and conducts trials to ensure the accuracy of its data.

The first few episodes of the series include a lot of twists between Soliman’s obsession with data, the secret behind Nader’s disappearance, Soliman’s fascination with Nassima, and the assumed kidnapping of Sherif.

Do we recommend it? If you’re a fan of multiple and mysterious storylines and want to watch some exceptional acting performances, stay tuned.

Al-Weseyya (The Will)

CBC, CBC Drama, Abu Dhabi TV, Abu Dhabi Drama, ART Hekayat and available on YouTube

This show depicts the struggles of Ibbo (Akram Hosny) as he tries to execute the complicated will left behind by his father (Bayoumi Fouad).

The will is composed of a video recording interspersed with advertisements for Ibbo Products, the confectionery company the father founded and left to his only son. Should Ibbo fail to execute the will, he stands to lose the company carrying his name, in addition to associated assets, which his father has also tied to the will’s execution.

The will also connects the fates of Ibbo and Sameh, or Semsem (Ahmed Amin), Ibbo’s childhood friend. It is a friendship with a twist, though, as Amin is the son of the housekeeper who raised Ibbo, which complicates the relationship between the two comedians in the show.

In therapy, Semsem relays this complex: he feels that Ibbo stole his mother’s affection. Semsem also had to perform some tasks on behalf of the child his mother was caring for, like taking his exams for him, or taking the blame for mistakes he made, and so on, until he finds himself obliged to execute the will side by side with Ibbo, in order to receive a sum of LE1 million, a condition included in the will.  

The duo undertake a turbulent journey, with the hope of executing the will and receiving their deferred inheritance. This may be a good time to reveal the contents of the will: when Ibbo’s father founded his factory, the only available land was occupied by an orphanage. In order to build his foundation, he demolished the orphanage, and left the kids on the streets. After his death, and through his will, the man tries to atone for this crime. He asks his son to fix his mistake and make it up to the orphaned kids, who are now grownups. And so Ibbo and Semsem’s journey to locate the orphans begins, as they try to make it up to them, or—to be more precise—make their dreams come true, in accordance with the will.

Do we recommend it for the rest of Ramadan? Yes. Of course it is difficult to present a serious summary of this farcical work, but it relies on a steady flow of jokes and comebacks between two comedians in fine possession of their tools, which makes for some entertaining viewing.

Sokk ala Ikhwatak (Lock Your Siblings In)

MBC Masr and available on Shahid

This work is the second collaboration between Wael Ihsan as director, Ali Rabie in the lead role, and Karim Fahmy as writer after Hassan wa Boloz (Hassan and Boloz, 2016).

Sokk Ala Ikhwatak (Lock Your Siblings In) belongs to the type of comedy that was popular in the early 2000s and is reminiscent of Mohamed Heniedy’s work during that period, as well as some of his later works, such as Ramadan Mabrouk Abuel Alamein Hamouda (2008), by the same director. If Rabie had some of Heneidy’s charisma and intelligence, however, and if we weren’t in an entirely different era now, perhaps this show could’ve found similar success.

Saada Sayed Sweilam is a young man from Upper Egypt who finds out that his long-lost father is a prominent businessman living in Cairo. He moves to the capital to find him, and also to escape his fellow villagers who chase him down after he appears on a Facebook live video saying some very inappropriate things, in a prank someone pulls on him.

In Cairo, Sayed Sweilam (Salah Abdallah) is happy to learn he has a son and starts to instruct him on how to become a sophisticated young man, worthy of his father's high social standing. The series relies heavily on classical comedy, turning away from all the comedic ingenuity we’ve recently witnessed on TV. It relies on all the cliched gags related to the theme of the naïve villager who has just arrived in the city and the situations that arise when rich and poor, urban and rural, conservative and “liberal” behaviors collide.

Although it is a crude line of comedy that has often been overused, the show is surprisingly better than expected, especially with the charming onscreen presence of Sabry Fawaz, who plays Sherif, Sayed’s right-hand man. Perhaps the biggest problem is Rabie himself, who doesn’t bother to bring any special flavor to the character, but rather relies on the tired technique of exaggeration, which he overuses to the utmost. Or, perhaps, the problem is with the writing, which doesn’t give the character any depth.

Do we recommend it for the rest of Ramadan? This depends on how generous you’re willing to be.

Al-Rehla (The Journey)

DMC, DMC Drama, Nile Drama, Channel 1 (Egyptian TV), ART Hekayat and available on YouTube

In this psychological thriller, director Hossam Ali uses the most successful element of his 2017 Ramadan series, 30 Yom (30 Days) — an evil, mentally unstable character played by Bassel Khayat who goes to great lengths to hurt others — as his starting point, but adds more dimensions to it, ups the dose, and adds in some other roles.

Kimmy (Hanan Motawea) is a fashion designer based in Lebanon, who discovers that she has late stage breast cancer. Adam (Waleed Fawaz) finds out about his wife Sarah’s (Mai Selim) recent infidelity on their wedding day. Osama (Khayat) is a toxicology professor at a Lebanese university who obviously suffers from some form of mental illness, manifest in his overzealous love for his wife Rania (Riham Abdel Ghafour), who he has kept locked up in a Lebanese mountain home with their two children for years. When Rania manages to escape from Lebanon and return to Egypt, Osama goes after her and tries to find her.

The details of Kimmy, Adam and Sarah’s lives are portrayed in relatively simple and direct terms, which gives the impression that their roles are only there to supplement the main conflict, which is essentially Osama’s.

Up to this point, the storylines are still separate, and the characters are only united on the return flight from Lebanon to Egypt, which Rania and her daughter are aboard. Adam and Sarah are on it, after he confronts her about her affair, as is Kimmy, after learning about her breast cancer diagnosis.

Do we recommend it? If you’re a fan of mystery and multi-layered stories, the odds of The Journey being worth watching are worth the risk.

Bel Hagm al-Aaely (Family Size)

DMC, DMC Drama, SBC, Alfa OSN and available on YouTube

Yehia al-Fakharany returns to the Ramadan season after his absence last year with this new series that hones in on family bonds, in a simpler, more artistic manner than his previous work Wannous (2016), which approached the same topic with a moralizing, metaphysical treatment that was a bit too preachy and contrived.

Bel Hagm al-Aaely (Family Size) revolves around a father begging for his children’s affection, after they each go their separate ways, leaving him behind. They only reach out to him when they need money, and his wife (Mervat Amin) plays a role in keeping them from him. She never forgave him for going after his dream: quitting his prestigious diplomatic career to work as a cook in his own hotel at the Red Sea resort town of Marsa Alam.

Occupied with appearances and social status, his wife refuses to transition from Ambassador's Wife to cook's wife and he decides to leave her and his four children behind in pursuit of this new career path.

Despite the traditional storyline, the dramatic treatment is fresh, and the sequence of events is exciting enough to make you unable to predict how things will turn out, with the different tricks Fakharany resorts to in order to rebuild his relationship with his children.

The series sets out to examine familial relationships and struggles, but completely fails to account for the social or economic aspects that shape them and makes a complete break from any wider social context in which the events take place. The characters all live in villas or fancy apartments and resorts and they all lead luxurious lives, even if they do run into some financial hiccups from time to time, which seems to conform to the general direction for Ramadan drama this year.

Do we recommend it? If you’re a fan of social drama, and you’re looking for something entertaining with no complex sociopolitical undertones to tune into, you’ll enjoy Family Size.

30 Leila wa Leila (31 Nights)

Al-Nahar, Al-Nahar Drama, Ten, Sada al-Balad, Sada al-Balad Drama, Mehwar TV, Dream TV and available on YouTube

A parody of the theme of One Thousand and One Nights in a contemporary, populist setting. Despite the comedic potential of such a theme, this isn’t realized in this series. The screenplay is extremely corny, with unbearably dull performances by Saad al-Soghayar and Shaimaa Seif and a very low production value. You can imagine how bad it is when the most frequent comment left by YouTube viewers on more than one episode is: “Such a lame series.”

Do we recommend it? Obviously not.

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