Ramadan TV 2020: What’s worth tolerating this year?
 
 

Nothing can stand in the way of the Ramadan TV season —not even the biggest pandemic humanity has seen in 100 years. The world can collapse, but we won’t get a break from Ramez Galal torturing his guests or Amir Karara in the role of an officer. 

Despite the fact that we’ve seen a large influx of users on streaming platforms such as Netflix, and that audiences are growing more and more exposed to high-quality international shows, with all the social media wars we’ve witnessed over the endings of series such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, people still turn to Ramadan television. We spend our time in intense discussions around Youssef al-Sherif’s latest antics; and whether Mohamed Ramadan resembles late actor Ahmed Zaki.

The country has been under curfew for almost two months now, and many have been working from home, but not the Ramadan television crews; it seems Ramadan series were exempted from global plans to “flatten the curve.”

This year’s shows carry some nostalgia for pre-corona times. We see people hugging comfortably. We see a world where 2020 is just like 2019, 2018 or even 2001. We see that life can go on normally and that things simply won’t change. Tamer Morsi will continue to curate what we watch according to what is state-approved and what is not. This curated selection allows certain types of productions: soap operas, romantic dramas, thrillers, crime dramas and practical joke shows. The stifling cultural atmosphere makes the task of creating something that stands out that much harder. 

Our avid readers would probably know that we’ve stopped taking Ramadan productions seriously since last year. However, we decided to continue our annual tradition of co-writing this piece, partly because we have fun doing it, not to mention its archival value; but mostly because Ramadan series have come to resemble social gatherings with extended members of the family — something you just have to engage with during this month, no matter how much you don’t want to.

This year, due to the generally embarrassing quality of what’s on offer, we are not writing this piece with the intention of recommending certain shows so much as we tried to determine which series have the basics that make them just barely watchable. So if we tell you to drop something, you’d better take that seriously. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Bi 100 Wesh (100 Faces)

Bi 100 Wesh is one of the few series this Ramadan season that’s not produced by Tamer Morsi’s Synergy. Produced by industry giants El-Adl Group, the series comes as the fifth collaboration between director Kamla Abu Zekry and actress Nelly Karim after the critically acclaimed television series Zaat (2013) and Segn al-Nesa (Women’s Prison, 2014) and films Yom lil Setat (A Day for Women, 2017) and Wahed Sefr (One-Nil, 2009). 

In this comedy, the director — usually associated with heavy dramas and social commentary — experiments with a new genre. The series starts with a scene where Sokkar (Karim) is preparing for a con. Strutting down the street in a stylish coat and red wig, to distance herself from her less economically privileged roots, she enters a jewelry store. Meanwhile, Omar (Asser Yassin) is at the store fixing his mother’s necklace. She tries on a bracelet and exclaims “Magnifique!” in poorly pronounced French, which Omar takes notice of, prompting him to doubt her social background. After she leaves the store he follows her out, watching her hail a taxi to an old, impoverished neighborhood, thus confirming his theory. Later, Omar cons Sukkar when she comes back to the jewelry store in an elaborate con to steal the bracelet, by pretending to be a cop. We later learn that Omar himself is a con artist, tricking old men by pretending to be a woman with the use of voice-altering software, and later blackmailing them for money. 

Abu Zekry paints the two worlds, the neighborhood of Zamalek and that of Bab al-Louq, with equal prowess. We see the narrative of contradictions calmly through the details she juxtaposes: Omar’s room and Sokkar’s room, Omar and his friend meeting in a Zamalek bar with foreign music playing in the background with Sokkar and her friends meeting in front of the street food cart to the backdrop of popular Egyptian music. However, we find that it is precisely that apparent social class contradiction between Omar and Sokkar that brings them together; he cons to maintain his social standing — paying his expensive club membership, etc. — while she cons to elevate her own, aspiring to commute using Uber instead of microbuses. 

Watch or drop?
Watch! The series has a captivating story that is so far expertly weaved.

Forsa Tanya (Second Chance)

Maybe it’s not a good idea to wait until your ex gets brain damage to try to get back with them, but then again Ramadan TV isn’t meant to be a point of reference.

This show is a marvelous concoction of poisonous relationships. Everyone seems to display stalkerish behaviors and is constantly plotting how to force people into loving them. We’re already waiting for the next reluctant marriage or the next shouting match that ends in a spur-of-the-moment divorce. 

When she sees her fiancé, Ziad (Ahmed Magdy) at a café with Riham (Aiten Amer) after he’s just told her he’s in a work meeting, Malak (Yasmine Sabry) calls off their wedding. Heartbroken, Magdy resorts to marrying Riham, who, upon finding out about the breakup, just follows him around until he agrees to marry her and go to Dubai.

On the day of their wedding, Malak crashes her car and wakes up with amnesia. A year later Ziad returns from Dubai after divorcing Riham so he can reconnect with her. But not only has she lost her memory of Ziad, but the doctors also warn her family that if she remembers him, she might die from a mental breakdown! But Ziad doesn’t care, he is willing to do anything for … a second chance. 

People devolve into shouting matches over the tiniest things. By the fifth episode, there were already two suicide attempts spurned by bad breakups. But all this overstated toxicity can be entertaining.

Of course, in terms of construction, the series is a disaster. Episodes don’t really end or begin; they just seem to cut into whatever is happening. All episodes so far have been stuffed with needless slow-motion montages topped with sad violin music. And given the size of the show’s budget, the creators could at least have made sure the sound doesn’t seem like it was recorded on an old Nokia. 

Watch or Drop?

We would not recommend this show to anyone looking for something serious, but at the same, we might actually continue watching. It will be off-putting for many but treat it as a comedy and you’ll find it’s perfect for a trashy binge.

Al-Ikhtiar (The Choice)

From the opening credits we find out that this series is produced by Tamer Morsi’s Synergy, in collaboration with the Egyptian Defense Ministry’s Morale Affairs Department. Accordingly, this is not an ordinary series, but actually a thirty-episode piece of state propaganda. This was further confirmed after the first few episodes of the series, which tells the story of the late colonel Ahmed al-Mansy who was killed in an attack on a military checkpoint in Rafah, North Sinai, and through it showing the state narrative of the events of the year that previous Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was in power, the June 30th protests and the sit-in at Rabaa square.

According to a post by Dar al-Iftaa, which made writing this review more difficult, the series encapsulates the kind of art that “helps us connect with our emotions, refines our behavior and elevates our soul.”

In the second episode we see how things were during the year Morsi was in power — electricity cuts and long lines at gas stations, for instance — to remind us of how good we have it now, of course. This is accompanied by the usual simplified narrative, where Muslim Brotherhood loyalists are convinced that this is all a conspiracy devised by the state, while their opponents from all different walks of life are frustrated and making fun of their blunders in power.

The link between the Muslim Brotherhood rule over Egypt and organized militias in North Sinai is constantly drawn in the first few episodes, where the creators play on the contrast between Colonel Mansy (Amir Karara) and the defected officer Hesham al-Ashmawy (Ahmad al-Awadi). The development of both characters in the series is one dimensional, free of any nuance. Mansy starts off as a Major in the Armed forces and is portrayed as a helpful and popular guy, and Karara plays him pretty much the same way he played police officer Selim al-Ansary in Kalabsh (Cuffs). In contrast, we see Hesham as the grouchy terrorist who was raised by fundamentalists, and even though he joins the army, we’re not told why he eventually deserted. 

Watch or drop?

The series adequately portrays the attacks on the military checkpoints in Sinai and the military’s counter-attacks as well. If you can get over the propaganda in-between, perhaps watch for the documentary value. 

Leabet al-Nesian (The Game of Forgetfulness)

As soon as the opening credits — scored by Amr Diab, the husband of the show’s star, Dina al-Sherbini — end, we are confronted with Roqaia al-Sirafy (Sherbini) screaming at the top of her lungs, lying on her back on her way to the delivery room to give birth.

In the next scene, Roqaia comes to — in full makeup and glossy, wavy hair — capturing what we love about Egyptian series: how the actresses’ look is never impacted by what the character is going through, be it a disease, a traumatic experience, or a surgery. The actresses are also always playing roles at least a decade their junior, if not more. In one scene, unaffected by childbirth Sherbini — 28 years old in the series — holds her newborn, who has supposedly just come out of her womb, and yet the baby looks at least a few months old. But these are merely details that add comic value to what is seemingly intended as a melodrama. 

A few scenes later, Roqaia comes to once more, with her salon-styled wavy hair but less makeup, and a psychiatrist, Bahira (Engy al-Moqadem) tells her she has been in a coma for six months. This scene represents an example of absurdity at its best: A young doctor enters the room with the hospital chief asking his patient who has just come out of a coma about her blood pressure, to which she responds, “It’s fine, but I have a headache,” and he finally says: “That’s natural.” Surely there is a more accurate way to check blood pressure than a conversation?

Then a police detective enters the room and tells Roqaia that he’d been waiting for this moment for four months: “I’m here about the incident, ma’am,” he says to which the psychiatrist responds: “She’s not ready for questioning at this moment. She has just come out of a coma and can’t remember anything from the past six years.” Apparently all the psychiatrist needed to diagnose the patient was one piece of information the latter relayed (that she thinks she had her baby the day before). From what the inspector says we figure out what happened: Four months before, Roqaia’s husband had caught her with another man, lawyer Khaled Wahdan (Ahmed Dawood), so he killed him, after which she in turn killed her husband then jumped out the window, and that’s how she entered into the coma.  

While the events of the series make no sense so far, its rhythm is anything but boring, especially with Amr Diab’s music, which always comes up whenever any of the characters has a flashback. What seems suspicious, though, is the relationship between Roqaia and her psychiatrist, who reveals to Roqaia that she has been her patient for three years. However, that really doesn’t justify the consistent hugging and head petting between them. One of the most important rules of psychiatry is not to get emotionally involved or become friends with a patient, and therefore physical contact is definitely frowned upon. Only time will tell whether there is more to this relationship, or if it’s just another misrepresentation of psychiatrists in Egyptian drama. 

Watch or drop?
You can continue following this show if you’re interested in watching actors stare into space for 15 minutes of the episode’s 45-minute runtime (including eight minutes worth of opening and end credits). 

Valentino

Valentino (Adel Imam) owns an international school. He runs the administrative and financial side while his wife Afaf (Dalal Abdelaziz) runs the academic side. They have three children: one with hyperthymesia; a teacher who loves philosophy; and a daughter who dreams of traveling to another planet. Valentino also has a nephew who works at the school (portrayed as a loser), while Hadi al-Gayar plays a competing businessman. 

We still don’t get what the main storyline is, however. The show seems like a random combination of loose threads that may or may not lead somewhere. Since it’s Adel Imam, we thought it was safe to assume this would be a comedy, but the truth is we can’t even find enough humor to follow the story. The jokes are sparse and predictable. The sound effects meant to make you laugh won’t either. All we’re left with are scenes that feel forced, begging the viewer to laugh. For example, after Valentino’s nephew harasses a colleague at school, he approaches her with a bouquet of flowers and a card that says: “I’m sorry I harassed you.” Adel Imam himself doesn’t appear much in the series, only in a few scenes where he uses the same body language and facial expressions he’s relied on for decades.

Watch or drop?
Do we really need to spell it out? 

Al-Nehaya (The End)

The year is 2120, Earth is suffering an energy crisis, and corporations have as much power as nation-states. The aptly named “Energy Co” has rules against using unauthorized energy cubes. Education is also illegal unless it’s approved by “Education Co.”

Years before our story takes place, the United States has fallen apart into gang-run territories which allowed Arabs to unite and take back Jerusalem (something which has already caught the attention of the Israeli foreign minister).

 Our hero, Zein (Youssef al-Sharif), has discovered a way to create 10 times the energy a normal “AC cube” can. He also secretly teaches orphans how to read. Both of these things cause Energy Co to go after him. He must find a way to solve the energy crisis all while avoiding the authorities.

In parallel to this, Sabah (Sahar al-Sayagh), who works with Zein’s pregnant wife at “Green Co.” (the corporation in charge of food supplies) and was once infatuated with him, decides to fashion together a Zein-shaped love robot to have as her husband.

Increasingly Ramadan TV has relied on the Egyptianization of foreign scripts, but The End lets us take a peek at how we might imagine an Egyptian future to play out, and although many of its tropes have been cobbled together from other sci-fi films or dystopian novels — you can see hints of Blade Runner and 1984 — it still retains a sense of originality, especially with its ambitious alternate history.

The special effects are for the most part better than expected, but someone could’ve let them know that less is often more. A lot of the clever semi-philosophical questions around android consciousness and corporation-states could have been made just as well without all the CGI.  

Perhaps due to the perceived unfamiliarity of Egyptian audiences with sci-fi tropes, the creators seem to rely heavily on exposition, which is never-ending and always awkwardly placed (no one goes on to explain quick historical details behind the war that killed their mother when introducing themselves).

Watch or Drop?

The End’s only disappointments are that it promises too much. It is overstuffed with more backstory and plotlines than it can dish out at a comfortable speed. But all that is minor and can be forgiven, as it has already managed to construct a few interesting plot twists and we are excited to see what narrative acrobatics they will use to tie everything together.

Lamma Konna Soghayareen (When We Were Young)

This series stirred controversy even before it was aired. After its promotional material was published, actor Khaled al-Nabawy published a statement complaining that his placement on the poster behind actress Riham Haggag was unfitting to his career and achievements. 

Written by Ayman Salama, the man behind Ghada Abdel Razek’s iconic series Maa Sabq al-Israr (Premeditated, 2012) and Hekayet Hayah (Hayah’s Story, 2013), notorious at the time for its outrageous interiors and the unforgettable glass garage inside the villa. Salama also wrote the film Banat Thanawy (High School Girls), which was released last year. He generally writes complex stories of mystery and suspense, and When We Were Young is no exception to this rule. 

After they graduate from the American University in Cairo, our main characters — a group of friends: Dina (Reham Hagag), Noha (Nesreen Amin), Wael (Karim Qassem), Yehia (Mahmoud Hegazy) and Hassan (Nabile Eissa) — work for a big advertising agency owned by their university professor Selim Mansour (Mahmoud Hemeida). The group look up to Selim as a mentor, father figure and friend who hangs out with them, meddles in their lives and solves their problems.

Most of the characters are from the same socio-economic class except for Noha who met Dina by coincidence when they were still in high school. The drama unfolds swiftly after Noha is killed in a mysterious crime and public prosecutor Hazem (Hany Adel) takes over her case. The crime leads us to find out about a lot of illegal activities that were happening behind closed doors and truths come out about the other main characters.

Mahmoud Hemeida portrays his character calmly and confidently. He is the cool professor, a gentleman with a sense of humor, a chess player. But at the same time, he is a man who does questionable things behind the prestigious facade of his company. Khaled al-Nabawy plays Yassin, Hassan’s brother, the ex-cop and current lawyer who is reliant on his intelligence and the experience he acquired in the police force, and his performance is on-point. Nessrine Ameen is also exceptional in her role as Noha. 

Watch or drop?

If you enjoy crime dramas with storylines that aren’t overly complicated, then watch this. We are hoping the swift rhythm stays the same, with more space for character development. 

Al-Brince 

This is the quranic story of Youssef and his siblings — or rather, Radwan al-Brince and his siblings.

Actor Mohamed Ramadan returns to work with director Mohamed Samy who was behind his biggest Ramadan hit, Al-Ostoora (The Legend, 2016). That said, al-Brince is nothing like Al-Ostoora, because, believe it or not, the latter came at a time where freedom of expression was, well, more tolerated. It was a time where there wasn’t as much state control over television drama production, which gave Ramadan more space to cross some red lines. Al-Brince, on the other hand, crosses no such lines: Ramadan seems to have learned his lesson. His character in Al-Brince is more humane than the “bad example” he used to play before. Still, we are facing a classic Ramadanian revenge story (and “Ramadanian” here is in reference to Mohamed Ramadan, not the current.)

The story follows Radwan, the son of Hamed who owns a mechanic’s shop and has seven children, of which Radwan is the youngest. He is also his father’s favorite, which he says openly, for he is the one who inherits his father’s trade and is the kindest to him. The setting is the classical Egyptian alley, with all that it entails: the traditional coffee place (ahwa), the street fights that the neighbors watch, and the constant struggles over the virtues of traditional values and chivalry. The cliches are not void of the stereotypical representations of women too, of course: the belly dancer, the seasoned mealema (coffee shop boss) and the girl-next-door.

In the opening scene, Radwan rips his passport to show his father he would never emigrate without his approval. And as is the tradition every Ramadan, his father dies and he buries him by the third episode, and that’s where the story takes off. We discover that his father left all the inheritance to him alone, and instructed him not to give his siblings their share until they fix their lives. Each of the siblings has his own story: the eldest, Abdel Mohsen, angered his father by marrying a belly-dancer, while Fathy (Ahmed Zaher), Yasser (Mohamed Alaa) and Raafat — the husband of their mean sister Abeer (Rehab al-Gamal) — are all drug dealers working through the facade of a pharmacy. Finally there are the two youngest kids: Adel (Ahmed Dash) lives far away from the family and is addicted to cocaine, while the young and innocent Nora is an engineering student and is the only other child allowed her inheritance. 

Of course, the siblings all turn against Radwan and start plotting against him. They get the perfect — and very original (not) — idea of getting rid of him during the father’s funeral, just as the sheikh starts to recite none other than the Chapter (Surah) of Youssef from the Quran. 

Al-Brince and Al-Ostoora intersect in the richness of their characters and their narrative momentum. The most compelling storyline here is that of Ola (Nour), the love of Radwan’s life, and that of Fathy’s secret second wife and drug trade partner Fadwa (Rogina), who tries very hard to leave a mark with her performance. We can safely say she’s succeeded — that is, if success is measured by the number of screenshots we’ve taken of her facial expressions because they honestly serve as perfect meme material. 

We were pleasantly surprised by some secondary performances, such as Edward’s, who plays a role that is somewhat new to his repertoire, that of a broken, spineless man who is constantly flirting with women but is generally harmless. We also felt the same about Mohamed Alaa’s performance, who plays the role of the silent, cunning brother with seamless accuracy. 

Watch or drop?
You can take a look if you miss the cliche of the Egyptian alley, or if you’re looking to expand your collection of memes. 

Wi Neheb Tany Leih? (Falling in Love, Again?)

This series is a  collection of intertwining stories of romantic relationships, with a sprinkle of light comedy. Ghalia (Yasmine Abdel Aziz), an interior designer from Cairo, spent years trying to make her emotionally absent advertising director husband Abdallah (Sherif Mounir) happy. That is, until he realized he was not marriage material and that he simply wants to live life commitment-free, so they divorce. 

Ghalia starts putting her life in order. She moves back in with her mother, Aisha (Sawsan Badr) and her grandmother, Hadia (Laila Ezz al-Arab) who both despise men on account of their “deceitful nature.” As Aisha attempts to deter her daughter from being involved in any new relationship, businessman Mourad al-Seoufi (Karim Fahmy) falls in love with Ghalia at first sight.

On the other hand, we follow Abdalla, who gets lonely and starts a macho competition with Mohannad (Mamdouh al-Shennawi) to woo a woman, while his assistant Merna (Samar Morsi) continues to have a desperate crush on him without him noticing.

The comedic relief we mentioned mainly manifests in the roles of Badria Tolba as Ashgar, Aisha’s friend, and Eman al-Sayed as al-Anesa Raeaa (Miss Wow), the domestic worker at the family house. We also see Yasmine Abdel Aziz’s attempt to flex her comedic muscles every once in a while — with her famous eyebrow raise, for instance — and it’s actually kind of endearing. 

There is nothing out of the ordinary here. We can see the macho competition between Abdalla and Mohannad developing. We can also expect that Abdalla, a narcissist, will try to keep Mourad away from his ex-wife. It also seems that Mourad will find some competition inside his father’s company, represented in his cousin’s desire to sideline him, which will make his father doubt his ability even more than he does.

Watch or drop?

This series doesn’t offer anything beyond what meets the eye. Each character reacts exactly how you would expect, with no complications or surprises. So if you want to watch an average series that demands as little as possible from you as a viewer, we encourage you to go ahead. 

Wanesny (Keep Me Company)

In the first work to come out of the “Script Khana” writing workshop, under the supervision of Tamer Farag, comes a new production starring a young cast including Mahmoud al-Laithy, Passant Shawky and other actors who are known for their work on SNL’s Arabic version. 

Hayman, Ayman, Farah, Sara and Tara have developed an app called “Wanesny” with the aim of helping lonely people. Each episode a new character appears when they try to use the app and we get to follow the weird encounters they have, such as ending up with a hitman or an organ trafficking group.

Wanesny is reminiscent of Egyptian sitcoms, which were a hit for a while but then stopped being produced, such as Tamer wi Shawkia (Tamer and Shawkia), Shabab Online (Youth Online), and Ragel wi Set Setat (A Man and Six Women). It also bears some resemblance to comedy series from the 1980s and 1990s, such as Saken Osady (My Neighbour) and Howa wa Heya (Him and Her), among others. These shows were all light comedies with episodes that are both part of a single structure but also work as standalone stories. 

The series is quite funny in its attempts to poke fun at taboos and cliches in other Egyptian series and the episode titles satirize famous films. It has a progressive feel to it, however, it falls into some of the same dramatic and moral cliches, with some touches of classism and cheap slapstick comedy.

Watch or drop?
It’s a nice watch if you don’t take it too seriously. The premise is interesting and it could be worth checking out since it’s a collective, collaborative work and the episodes can be watched separately, so you don’t have to see the series in its entirety if you’re not that invested.

Al-Fetewa (The Vigilante)

It seems that actor Yasser Galal insists on appearing in parts that highlight the hours he spends at the gym. But despite Galal’s weak performance this year as Hassan al-Gebali, the vigilante who triumphs the poor, Al-Fetewa actually has been a pretty decent watch so far. That is if we ignore actor Ahmed Salah Hosni’s exaggerated frown and the great lengths he goes to in order to roughen his voice as Azmy, the son of the current neighborhood fetewa*

The series is set in 1808 in the historic neighborhood of Gammaleya in Cairo. Hassan is the son of one of the previous righteous fetewas of the neighborhood, and he is driven to intervene to protect the weak when the son of the current fetewa, Azmy abuses his power in the community. He roams the street in a mask every night after Azmy’s thugs make their rounds, forcibly collecting money from the residents, and he steals it from them and returns it to the people. A local Robin Hood, if you will.

The story further develops when Leil (May Omar), Azmy’s sister is kidnapped by mercenaries hired by her ex-husband, who has issues with Hassan. Our hero ends up saving her, in his mask, and she, of course, falls in love with him.

The series contains multiple subplots that are seamlessly woven together with the main storyline. It is remarkably engaging, despite the performances of its lead actors, particularly Galal and Omar, with their stiff facial expressions and their modern dialect which totally doesn’t suit the story’s timeframe, and of course Salah Hosny’s voice. However, the supporting cast has so far delivered excellent performances. We’re giving a special mention to actress Naglaa Badr’s intensely whitened teeth, which seem to take over any scene she is part of.

Watch or drop?
If you can endure the sub-par performances by the main actors, then by all means watch.

*In Egyptian heritage, a fetewa is an informal leader of a neighborhood, traditionally a protector of the weak, but recurrent abuses of power have led to the word being used to describe thugs or bullies, imposing their authority over residents of a certain area by force.

Regalet el-Beit (Men of the House)

We won’t be exaggerating if we said this is one of the dumbest “comedies” we’ve seen in our lives. Honestly, we barely got through two episodes. 

Timon (Ahmed Fahmy) and Pumbaa (Akram Hosni) — get the joke? — are relatives living together in the same villa along with Pumbaa’s mother, Farah (Aarfa Abdel Rassoul), Timon’s father, Am Eid (Bayoumy Fouad) and his grandfather (Lotfy Labib), as well as Tahany or “Tuna” (Weezo), Pumbaa’s wife, and their two children, Ahd and Shukr.

There’s no plot. There isn’t even a premise; just a series of endless humorless jokes centered on Timon and Pumbaa’s stupidity and their refusal to work (despite being the “men of the house’’). Every episode has a different story, so you only need to watch one to get a sense of where the show is headed — nowhere, of course. 

Watch or Drop?

If you value your time at all, drop it now. 

Layalina 80 (Nights in 1980)

The name of this series is one of this season’s mysteries. We don’t know why the creators chose to set the show in the 1980s. Was it because the director wanted to try out the 16mm and analog effect filters? Or was it just a desire for a nostalgia trip; to have a series with references to Wimpy and the release of Mohamed Mounir’s album Shababeek? Or perhaps because the fashion trends of the 1980s are making a comeback? We really don’t know.

Hesham (Iyad Nassar) has just returned from the Arab Gulf on vacation. His relationship with his wife, Mariam (Ghada Adel), is tense. His brother, Galal (Khaled al-Sawy), has partially lost his memory after his wife Nahed (Norhan) died in an accident; he still sees and talks to her. Naturally, Hesham is constantly worried about his brother. Although it seems like just another show with the same old tropes, it’s ripe with melodrama: in the first episode alone, a car accident leaves Gamila blind, while the taxi driver, Rady (Mohamed Gamal), loses a leg, and Galal’s house catches on fire.

The families of Gamila and Rady meet in the hospital, after the accident. Galal is attracted to Roqaya (Sabreen), Rady’s mother. On the other hand, Galal’s daughter is married to Mortada (Mohamed Ali Rezk), a greedy and abusive man who plans to take a second wife because his first (Galal’s daughter) has just given birth to a girl: a major disappointment for him. 

It seems the makers of the show wanted to draw a portrait of the Egyptian family in the 1980s, a few years into the open-door economic policies, but so far they haven’t been successful. Newsflash: merely featuring a character who immigrates to work in the oil-rich Arab Gulf, another who’s a greedy capitalist, and yet another who is arrested on account of their Islamist inclinations does not make your script a dissection of Egypt in the 1980s. Nor does starting the first episode with the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat. 

The problem is the previously mentioned details are not integrated within the show’s plot. They play no role in the drama; rather, they feel forced and are pretty much inconsequential. The show’s failure to capture what the 1980s were like in Cairo becomes particularly clear when compared to 2013’s Zaat, another show portraying the same era, based on the novel by Sonallah Ibrahim and directed by Kamla Abu Zekry and Khairy Beshara.

There are some decent performances, however, especially Sabreen and Sawy’s. Ghada Adel’s performance, meanwhile, is scattered and one-dimensional, while Iyad Nassar plays it safe in the role of Hesham — no surprises there.

Watch or Drop?

We’re still curious why the show’s called Layalina 80. Perhaps there’s a surprise in store for us?

Sultanat al-Moez (The Sultana of Al-Moez) 

As expected, this series is named after the character played by Ghada Abdel Razek, the show’s protagonist. Sultana is a strong woman who gets her way in a world of men; who wears full makeup at all times regardless of the scene; and with whom every single male character in the series is in love. We’ve seen Abdel Razek play the same role over and over before.

The series starts with a hazy car chase. The armed men in one car kill most of the men in the other one (who are all African) and their car explodes. A man (Mohamed Shahin) is arrested but we don’t know the significance of the scene until the end of the second episode. Scene transitions are fast and abrupt as if we’re watching two different shows. We end up on Moez Street in Old Cairo. Talk show host Amr al-Laithy is speaking to Salam, who he describes as a “poor people’s lawyer.” But Salam tells him that his older sister, Sultana, takes all the credit. Sultana sells fried liver on the street, her father’s profession; she left law school to care for her younger siblings.

Then, Sultana and her brother discover that the man who lives on the ground floor of their house is digging for antiquities. They scold him, but then discover that the antiquities smuggling gang has kidnapped their younger brother. The tone of the series changes. Sultana, her brother Salam and some friends turn into a private investigation team. What follows is a series of overacted scenes, full of Ghada Abdel Razek insulting men and taking the lead in the rescue of the kidnapped boy. The gang, of course, gets arrested.

Up to this point, we were under the impression that the series is about Sultana’s adventures in catching bad guys. But the tone changes again after Naeem (Mahmoud Abdel Moghny) meets Sultana. She offers to help his brother, who’s wrongfully accused in illegal smuggling and the murder of immigrants. Now we realize the point of the first scene; and almost feel the director smiling triumphantly. 

Salam helps acquit Naeem’s brother. The two families grow close to each other. Surprise! Naeem asks Sultana, who’s actually into him, for marriage.

But things are never that simple. In a plot twist, Naeem, his brother and sister and an unknown person appear in a dark, smokey room; evil laughter could almost be heard. We realize that Naeem masterminded the incident with the immigrants; and that he’s also in the business of smuggling antiquities. The evil plan is to get close to Sultana’s family to be able to dig for antiquities in Moez Street.

The series is generally dull albeit sometimes funny because of Ghada Abdel Razek’s over-the-top performance. It’s also dotted with silly mistakes: for example, the officer’s testimony on the immigrant case puts the car chase in a desert area in Sinai, while the actual chase we saw was on a green, agricultural road.

Watch or drop?

We were barely able to sit through the first five episodes. But if you’re interested to see how Sultana will know the truth about Naeem and teach him a lesson, then you should watch it. Good luck.

Shahed Ayan (Eye-witness)

A new crime thriller series where we find out in the opening scene that police officer Omar (Hassan al-Raddad) is on a mission to arrest an arms smuggler in Jordan. While the arrest takes place, the smuggler warns Omar that his arrest won’t be easy for him. At the same time, Omar’s journalist wife, Nada (Hana Shiha), is kidnapped.

The kidnappers made it seem like Nada was killed by placing a burnt body at the scene. Only Omar figures out that she wasn’t killed, and with the help of his friend Rageh (Walid Fawaz), a lawyer, he sets out on a quest to uncover who is behind the crime. Actress Basma plays the role of Laila, Nada’s sister, who is looking after her daughter Khadiga while she’s disappeared and is being stalked and harassed by her ex-husband.

The series is full of details and threads that are not clear yet, which promises more suspense and interesting events. Generally, most performances are of good quality except for Raddad himself who hasn’t shown any genuine emotion in his performance until now. 

Watch or drop?
The series is relatively watchable and shows promise to get better despite it being the first series by its writer Ahmed Magdy. Its director Mohamed Hamaqy also has an impressive repertoire, as he was assistant director and executive director in previous Ramadan series Afrah al-Qobba (Wedding Song, 2016) and Bidoun Zekr Asmaa (No Names Mentioned, 2013), as well as critically acclaimed films Harag w Marag (Chaos, Disorder, 2012) and Fi Shaqet Masr al-Gadida (In the Heliopolis Flat, 2007). So in short, if you’re into crime thrillers, keep watching.

Omar & Diab

Idiocy meets overacting. We’re meant to review every show after watching six episodes, but in the case of Omar & Diab, that was extremely difficult. One episode was more than enough. 

The series stars comedians Mostafa Khater and Ali Rabie and is directed by Moataz El-Touny, who has produced successful comedies before — but not this time. In fact, calling it a TV series would be an exaggeration. A more accurate description would be: a series of videos amassing large quantities of unfunny and obnoxious performances. It’s not amusing, nor does it have any value whatsoever; not even to mindlessly kill time.

Watch or drop?
If you’re already watching this series, maybe finish what you’ve started if you feel like it. If you’re thinking about starting it, however, please don’t.

Kheyanet Ahd (Betrayal of the Covenant)

Covenant in Arabic is Ahd, which is also the name of the show’s protagonist, played by Yosra. Wink wink. Ahd, of course, is the epitome of good, while all others are pure evil; there’s no middle ground. Tired Egyptian drama at its best.

It’s a family tale. Ahd has two half-siblings: Farah (Hala Shiha) and Marwan (Khaled Sarhan); the two want to get revenge on Ahd’s mother by sabotaging their sister’s life. Ahd, on the other hand, has been nothing but supportive to them. She equipped Farah’s medical clinic and gave Marwan a cheque for LE300,000 — that’s the kind of casual gifts she gives them.  

The series is visually grating in terms of lighting and cinematography, and the actors themselves. There’s an explosion of botox. Viewers may struggle to recognize some of the well-known faces in the show, among them Joumana Mourad, Hala Shiha and Abeer Sabry. Yosra, thankfully, spared us that pain.

Watch or drop?

It could be a good way to waste 30 minutes in lockdown.

Gamea Salem (Salem’s Pack)

The show has three separate plot lines that aren’t connected until the third episode.  Zeina (Mariam Fouad) is a young, famous heart surgeon. She lives with her adopted mother (Dalal Abdel Aziz) and gets high on prescription painkillers, which gives her flashes of her distant childhood. Younes (Mohamed Shahin) is a house painter in a poor neighborhood who survives by robbing the apartments he paints. Youssef (Mohamed Adel), meanwhile, is a young Azhari scholar living in Alexandria who’s just lost the only father figure he’s ever known, so he decides to search for his biological family. The story follows these three siblings — each unaware of the existence of the other two — who were separated when the house they were living in with their parents collapsed, and how life brings them back together decades later. 

Needless to say, Zeina is hardly believable as a heart surgeon (there aren’t really female surgeons in Egypt), especially when she goes to the hospital dressed in shiny pants and tiger-print suits. The show is full of all the usual features of an Egyptian drama: the dialogue is full of cliches; the music is melodramatic and almost completely reliant on string instruments, and the acting is exaggerated. 

The biggest problem, however — as expected — is the screenplay. The series alternates between the world of medicine, business and petty crime; but we can’t help but feel that the show makers don’t really know any of these worlds, portraying them in flat, often laughable stereotypes.

Watch or Drop?

A part of us wants to see how Mariam will react when she finds out she has two brothers, and how the story will bring them together, but it’s probably not worth the effort. 

Sokkar Zeyada (Too Sweet)

Finally,  the “Star of the People,” Nadia al-Gendy, and “Egypt’s Number One Star,” Nabila Ebaid, appear in one show, together. The two were box office sensations in the 80s and the 90s, fiercely competing for the throne of female stardom in Egyptian cinema. Fans flocked to movie theaters to watch them, even though they often played strong, capable women, which usually irks the average Egyptian viewer. No female actor has reached their level of stardom since.

The makers of the show clearly aimed to capitalize on the real-life rivalry between the two iconic actresses in a comedic framework. What else would a show starring these two be about, after all?  

Esmat (Gendy) and Karima (Ebaid) are each conned into buying the same villa. The courts will take years to resolve their dispute so they decide to live together in the villa meanwhile, and that’s where the majority of the show is filmed. Esmat is accompanied by her friend, Hala Fakher (Gameela), and Karima by her assistant, Weezo — the latter’s sole purpose in the show is to be the butt of tasteless jokes mocking her weight. 

Unexpectedly, both leading women deliver a light, likable performance, especially Gendy, who at some point makes fun of her famous torture scene in Mohema fi Tal Abeeb (Mission in Tel Aviv, 1992). Another pleasant surprise in the show is veteran theatre actor Samiha Ayoub, who’s still able to dominate any scene she’s in. Hala Fakher, however, is stuck in the exaggerated comedy zone. As viewers, however, we implicitly acknowledge that the biggest value this show offers is nostalgia to our childhood or teen years, and so we happily accept loopholes in the script.

Seeing Gendy and Ebaid together in a work of comedy is refreshing. But unfortunately, the comic style of director Ehsan is dated and unwitty; a style that stopped being funny after 2011. He depends on tired cliches, silly practical jokes, and, in certain instances, men slapping women across the face (ha, ha). Ultimately, we believe the two actresses and the chemistry between them could’ve been utilized in a much better way.

Watch or drop?
If you’re part of the generation who witnessed Nadia al-Gendy and Nabila Ebaid in their prime, you could watch it out of curiosity. But if you’re oblivious to what we’re saying (i.e., a lot younger than the people writing this piece), it’s probably not worth it.

El Qamar Akher el Donia (The Moon, The End of the World) 

This is a family drama that starts with a big punch: the disappearance of the matriarch of a family whose financial and romantic woes the show is all about. We see her in the first episode only for long enough to know that she insists on giving out bread to the neighborhood poor, who are in fact quite well-put-together men and women selling various items on the street. She goes out on one of these generous walks and does not return, and we meet the rest of her family as they deal with the news of her disappearance. One son, Galal( Amro Abed), is an office worker and Uber driver who is married to the slightly hostile and strangely captivating  Magdiya (Tharaa Gobail), who we have yet to see outside of the house. There is also a daughter, Dalal (yes, Galal and Dalal), played by Bushra, who has just returned from an unspecified place “abroad” where she lives with her extraordinarily well-cast husband Khaled (Hisham Ismail) — a sort of annoying uncle type who seems to coast brashly through his unhappy marriage as though that is the expected lot of middle-class life — and their two children. 

The second son, Ahmed, (Momen Nour), is an entirely unconvincing grumpy schoolteacher who we are supposed to believe dragged his wife, played by Sandi, to an inferior standard of living. I suspect, based on a scene in which he insists on teaching the students outdoors and the number of times that Sandi has asked him, “Do you remember our dreams?” that we are meant to believe he is a sort of repressed artist. But Nour’s performance, which consists almost entirely of frowning, has left me unsure and uninterested. The couple’s supposed poverty is also hard to believe when their apartment is furnished with what appear to be separate Ikea beds for their children and is indistinguishable from the rest of their social peers besides being slightly smaller. 

As we discover all this, the family members are surprisingly un-preoccupied with searching for their mother, save for a scene of Abed in a tidy police station, and the standard shots of Bushra looking out of a window for an unduly long time, smelling her mother’s nightgown, etc. The plot moves by jumping from one sudden hook to the next, some of which seem to be entirely unnecessary to the story (the bus crash in the second episode, for example). The show stumbles the most when it attempts to be funny; none of the performances have enough rhythm with one another for this (besides, perhaps, is Magdiya and Abed), and the writing just isn’t strong enough. Mercifully, there is a genuine onscreen tension between Abed and his long-lost love Feryal who reappears, after years of absence, IN HIS UBER, and is played by Hoda El Etreby. 

Watch or drop?

We may keep watching just to find out what happens with Galal and Feryal, and what Magdiya will do when she finds out about their history.

Etnein fil Sandouk (Two in a Box)

Hamdy al-Merghany and Mohamed Osama, two comedians from Masrah Masr, finally get their own show, supported by veterans like Salah Abdallah, Intisar, Haggag Abdel Azim and Bayoumy Fouad (who seems to act in every single show from the past few years).

Merghany and Osama play Zika and Shoaa; two brothers who work as garbage collectors. The first episode opens on their truck, with the words “Two good garbagemen” printed on it  — a fair summary of what the show is about. 

The two men enter different well-off houses in Cairo throughout the episodes, facing situations that are somehow amusing, but not necessarily funny. They return home every day to their father, el-Doaky (Salah Abdallah), who’s running against Baghdady (Haggag Abdel Azim) to be in charge of the garbage collectors’ neighborhood. The competition between the two men is affecting Shoaa’s marriage plans with Nonna, Baghdady’s daughter. 

The series’ tired humor is apparent from the first episode. It seems the show’s writer couldn’t bother to find new jokes — or any jokes at all. In one scene he references the name of Amr Warda, the soccer player implicated in a sexual harassment scandal, to comically show the protagonist’s masculinity: “I can play alone, like Amr Warda.”

The show relies on the traditional portrayal of the garbageman; he doesn’t like his job, society looks down on him, and he wants to be something else. The two garbage men try to break out of their situation: Zika by acting and Shoaa by signing. 

In the upcoming episodes, Bayoumy Fouad will be introduced as “Abdo Mamado,” the dictator of the state of Zambeezi who lived in Cairo while he was an ambassador. His appearance will carry a big surprise for Shoaa and Zika. 

Watch or drop?

If you’re a generally patient, tolerant person with nothing else to do, you can watch until the two brothers go to Morocco — a trip you can’t go on yourself given the circumstances.

https://youtu.be/8PyG4j869iI 

Hob Omry (Love of My Life)

The series starts with the voice of Sara (Sahar al-Sayegh) and Eissa (Haitham Shaker) telling the story of how they fell in love as young neighbors, then through school then college. The story is filled with cliches such as “My father died so he became my father” and “My mother died so Sara became my mother,” with excessively romantic music in the background. 

Eissa applies for a job and due to a series of unfortunate events he doesn’t get it, which leads him to work as an Uber driver until he could find a steady job. On one of his trips, he saves Maha (Amany Kamal) from some thugs that were hired by her ex-husband’s son in a ridiculous scene where he is barely hit and yet ends up with several bruises on his face and a splint on his arm in the next scene.

As a thank you to Eissa, Maha hires him in her company which she inherited from her ex. Despite Sara’s initial refusal that he take the job on account of her jealousy, she eventually agrees and he does. 

For some reason only the show’s creators know, all three female leads fall in love with Eissa: Sara, Maha and Menna, who was present in his earlier job interview (the one in which he was rejected). In one extremely cliche scene he enters Menna’s office to deliver papers from his current job while she’s holding his CV and looking lovingly at his photo. So cute.

Eissa continues his relationship with his fiancee Sahar despite her insane jealousy, which drives her to really old-school antics such as insisting he find her a job at his current company so she can be near him. Her jealousy is forcibly used for comedic purposes. But that’s not the only thing that’s forced; so are the characters’ relationships to each other. For example, Menna’s fiance is the same prosecutor who questioned Eissa after the incident with Maha. Wait, we’re not done: the prosecutor’s father is in love with Menna’s mother and Eissa’s father is in love with Sara’s mother. We’re serious.

In general, the series does not surprise. The script is ridiculously naive and filled with unnecessary scenes, and there are no understandable motives for many of the characters’ actions.

Watch or drop?
If you are interested to find out who among the three female leads will win the grand prize — Eissa’s love, that is — or if for some reason you want to see Haitham Shaker make lovey-dovey eyes at all of them, go ahead. Otherwise, drop it.

El Leaba (The Game) 

Ever since Mazo slapped Waseem on their first day of school, they have been competing against each other and keeping score. Faking their deaths to get back at each other or marrying into the same family out of spite. Waseem and Mazo, played by Sheko and Maged respectively, will go to any lengths to see the other one lose. 

All this ends when a gag goes too far and they are forced to end their game. Years later, the pair receive mysterious packages with smartphones that give them instructions to an entirely new game to play against each other, with increasingly larger sums of money as a reward. The premise itself doesn’t promise much other than a string of unrelated gags, which normally does the trick and should let them comfortably coast through the Ramadan season.

Yes, expectations were low but somehow they’ve managed to muck it up. A joke can last two whole ad breaks, which in some cases can siphon 30 minutes of your life. There is a general lack of content. Given the freedom the creators had with the open format of the show it’s all the more disappointing; most scenes seem like they were made up on the spot. The “jokes” are drawn out for as long as they can be, just to make sure the viewer knows how they’re meant to react.

The comedic elements of most scenes seem to come from purposefully bad English punctuated by Mai Kassab’s shrieks or whoever else is around to shout. If we’re lucky, a character will look into the camera and make a silly face. 

Whatever cognitive decline we may be experiencing during social distancing will not be helped by The Game. Sheko and Maged have seen better days.

Watch or drop?

If you must watch it, then there’s no need to keep track of every single episode, the gags will explain themselves, over and over again.

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Adham al-Shaer 
Hadeer El-Mahdawy 
Karoline Kamel 
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Mohamed Ashraf Abu Emaira 
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Salah El Oweidy 
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Yasmin El-Rifae 
Yasmine Zohdi 
 

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