A quiet Tel Aviv suburb is rocked by a gruesome murder in this compelling Israeli series about the fault lines between friends and family.
Tony Morris

15 Sep 2017 - 9:55 AM  UPDATED 4 Oct 2017 - 4:52 PM

Mama’s Angel begins in a well-off Tel Aviv suburb right before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For prison therapist Yael Tamir (Sharon Shtark), her video-game loving ex-military husband Eithan (Yehezkel Lazarov) and their two children, it’s just another stressful day; for Ethiopian nursery worker Nigist Emanuel (Tehilla Yashayauh) things are stressful too, with her eighteen year-old son Rafa (Yoni Meles) about to head off to Europe for art school after skipping out on his compulsory military service. But these are just regular dramas in a regular suburb; it’s what’s to come that will change their lives forever.

The next morning, the body of Yael’s son Kfir is found half-hidden under a monument to Air Force heroes in a parkland at the top of a hill. It’s an out-of-the-way spot, but Eithan remembers catching Rafa vandalising it a few days earlier. The vandalism is a minor offense (it hasn’t even been cleaned off the monument yet), but it places him at the scene of the crime. For Eithan and a growing group of others, that’s enough to make this outcast the number one suspect.

The crime that kicks off this Israeli series is fairly straightforward and keen-eyed viewers will already be spotting lines of inquiry. Is finding him by the monument holding a can of spray paint really going to be enough to convict Rafa of murder? What happened to the medal Kfir was always wearing? Is there a connection between this crime and Yael’s latest patient, a man who killed his own children? And with the investigation getting off on a less than professional foot, how much vital evidence is being swept under the rug?

The murder investigation unfolds with a steady rate of twists and turns, but it’s the lives of the people caught up in this horrible event that becomes the real focus of this series. Some of them are locals who live near Yael’s family, like Dina Schneider (Lirit Balaban) - a mother obsessed with protecting and caring for her mentally challenged son Amnon (Tom Hagi). The night of the murder he was missing; his mother is convinced he must have seen something that scared him, but will she let him become part of the investigation when she doesn’t know how deeply he was involved?

Others are drawn into the situation, like CSI expert Naama Sadeh (Vered Feldman), who’s called in by cop Benny Mandelovitz (Eyal Rozales) to take charge of the forensics side of things. She’s got her own problems, having just gone through surgery following a breast cancer scare, and the last thing she needs is an investigation running off the rails. But it looks like that’s exactly what she’s being handed, with a mishandled corpse and everyone seemingly focused on putting the wrong man on trial.

It’s definitely a slow burn series; the first episode is almost entirely taken up with establishing the lives of the characters, with the crime not occurring until the very end. But as fans of this kind of crime drama know, it’s the setting and not the crime that makes the story so engaging. This well-off suburban street feels like the kind of place people move to when they want to escape the harsh realities of life; what’s revealed instead is that this is a place where everybody knows each other’s business and are very quick to judge, for good or ill.

It’s that blurred line between public and private that makes Mama’s Angel so interesting. When Yael all but drags her weeping husband through the street back to their house while the neighbours watch in silence, it feels like more of a violation than the brief glimpse of their son’s body up on the hill. Sobbing parents are nothing new in crime dramas, but the public nature of it that really drives it home.

Creator Keren Weissman has said that she wanted to focus on motherhood and its burdens in this series and she’s certainly achieved that. Much of the drama comes from the way motherhood expands the ways a person can suffer – having your child killed is almost unbearable, but what then of the mother whose child is accused of the crime? Grief runs throughout this series as the characters suffer losses on almost every level, not always with any clear source or meaning. At times it feels like Naama’s surgery sums everything up; sometimes when you go through pain and trauma the best you can hope for is that life somehow goes on.

Mama's Angel is streaming now via SBS On Demand:

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