The winner of the Israeli Television Academy Award for Best Drama in 2020 Manayek joins the ranks of internationally loved and lauded Israeli dramas, many of which have been reinterpreted by US TV producers to critical and commercial success.
Indeed, some of the most award-winning and long-running TV series of the past decade have been adaptations of Israeli dramas, including In Treatment, Euphoria and Homeland.
The US shows are rightfully celebrated for showcasing top actors, tight scripts, and sometimes confronting questions of faith, ethics and government abuses of power. The original series are superior though, on all occasions. The stories, characters and landscape are borne of a place and culture that are so deeply steeped in conflict (historic and present day), multi-generational traumas, Orthodox and secular society, Jewish people from various other countries and a high level of immigration within a geographically small environment.
The exceptional writing and the combination of the personal and the political reflects daily life in Israel. Manayek (a derogatory, slang term for ‘policeman’ in Hebrew) is another phenomenal example of tight scripting and beautiful cinematography and music. It is fleshed out with flawed but relatable characters, each imbued with a deep humanity and sense of loyalty – whoever or whatever the object of their affection is.
Izzy Bachar is a veteran police investigator, with an eye to retirement. When a young hitman is arrested for killing a state witness, Bachar becomes unwittingly involved in a labyrinthine affair in which high-ranking police officers, criminal networks and politicians are operating in secret. His loyalty to the force and to his former partner and best friend, Barak Harel, is suddenly in question.
Director Alon Zingman also directed the highly praised (and Israeli Television Academy Award Winner) Shtisel and creator, Roy Iddan, was celebrated for Kfula. Shalom Assayag as Izzy, Amos Tamam as Barak and Liraz Chamami (Tal Ben Harush) are all stars of Israeli TV with credits on Kfula, The Spy and Mossad 101 respectively.
What makes Manayek and Israeli drama so ripe for adaptation? Ultimately, it is the quality of the scripts, which fearlessly and – sometimes controversially – scrutinise Israel and Israelis without a sentimental, rose-tinted lens. The plots are an apex of political, spiritual and personal dilemmas, which are at the core of daily life in Israel, and the Middle East more generally.
The ordinariness of multicultural interaction, conflict and the transient presence of peace cannot be understood by those who haven’t lived in a historic and present-day war zone. Israel is a place where many foreigners and expats have made a home, sometimes by choice and sometimes through government intervention. In such a small geographical area, the stories of survival and making new lives, coexisting with conflicting beliefs and values, and the role of government, police and military feed into the stories being told on the big and small screens.
SBS has some must-watch Israeli dramas available at SBS On Demand at present, including two seasons of False Flag. The game of cat-and-mouse between police, Mossad, Palestinian authorities and the seemingly suburban, everyday Israeli citizens caught up in a major crime and terrorism investigation keeps viewers guessing all the way to the final minute. And beyond. Who knew what, and when? Who was manipulating who? It’s impossible to look away for a second when watching this series. Catch it now, because it is being adapted into a US series entitled Suspicion, starring Uma Thurman.
Will Manayek be next?
It’s likely. Would grizzled, conflicted Izzy be played by Brian Cox, or Tommy Lee Jones? Will it be called Intrigue and relocated to Detroit? It’s possible, and that’s enough reason to watch the superior original series, a justified award-winner.
Manayek is now streaming at SBS On Demand.