It s difficult to determine when exactly the holy month of Ramadan became synonymous with the biggest productions of Egyptian television. The limited, yet exceptionally satisfying, TV oeuvre of the past offered programs such as the musical riddles of Nelly and Sherihan, different adaptations of “One Thousand and One Nights, the best TV serials of the year and a host of some of the most memorable Egyptian TV ads.
With dozens of Arabic satellite channels, viewers are faced with an astonishing number of dramas, sitcoms, talk shows and even oddball Egyptian animations.
This year, the number of serials broadcast on those stations reached the staggering number of 35, fronted by the most bankable Egyptian stars.
While Egyptian TV still suffers from mediocrity and insipid writing, some quite remarkable dramas and programs airing this year are bringing hope back to viewers.
The best of Ramadan’s talk shows is “El Mane’ Wel Mamnou (The Forbidder and the Forbidden). Presenter Lamis El Hadidi has managed to confront an eclectic group of guests including Ahmed Marawan, Fathy Sorour, Naguib Sawiris and Magdy Yacoub with stern inquiries that make this program the edgiest, most daring of the crop.
“Forbidden is no different from the numerous talk shows cramming the airwaves, but it’s definitely refreshing to watch El Hadidi grill high-caliber guests with her take-no-prisoners attitude.
Actor Hussein Fahmy’s “El Nas Wa Ana (The People and I) returns for the second year with pressing topics like sexual harassment and women’s right to divorce (khol’). The ordinary guests featured on the show and significance of the debated topics are the main reason behind the show’s success, even though it is starting to lose steam.
“El Sha’a (The Apartment) is this year’s most innovative entertainment program. Actress Hind Sabry sits in the control room, interviewing movie stars who sit alone in an almost bare apartment. She doesn’t meet the guests until the end of the episode.
But the strength of each episode depends on the guests. While it’s amusing to watch actor Mahmoud Hemeida describe “The Godfather as “one of the greatest romantic films in history, the majority of the other interviews are too tepid to articulate anything remotely entertaining.
Comedies are turning into an endangered species on TV. Long comedic serials have been replaced by the short sitcoms from stars like Ahmed El Feshawy and Ashraf Abdel Baky.
El Feshawy’s second season of “Tamer & Shawkeya has lost all the inventiveness and sparkling quirkiness that made the sitcom a big hit last year. Abdel Baky’s “Ragel We Set Setat (A Man and Six Women), on the other hand, is a tasteless, exceedingly bland show that’s simply not funny.
Serials are a mixed bag, which, in essence, is a major improvement over the generally poor state besieging dramas of the past few years.
Leading the pack with miles ahead is “King Farouk. Produced by the Saudi MBC channel, the epic presents a lavish production about the turbulent life of Egypt’s last monarch. Taim Al-Hassan is a force of nature as Farouk; a king whose legacy is still shrouded by scandals and mysteries.
“Farouk is the first Egyptian TV drama in years to have a distinctive, almost cinematic, look. Spaces in particular have been employed skillfully to convey specific moods and communicate the emotional twisters of the characters in a manner unseen before in Egypt.
The biggest surprise of the year is “Qadeyat Ra’i A’am (A Public Opinion Case) starring Youssra. The serial – revolving around three women seeking justice after being raped – was preceded with sizable hype concerning its controversial subject matter, which intensified in the second episode with the now famous rape scene.
Despite the publicity, few had low expectations in another serial where Youssra plays Mother Theresa. Surprisingly, “Case turned out to be a pretty decent drama. Some situations are over-exaggerated and the drama is heading towards a predictable resolution. Yet the characters remain engaging and director Mohammed Azizeya suffuses his story with a vibe and pace full of suspense.
Nour El Sherif’s “El Daly is the best among the handful of dramas, depicting the life of Saad El Daly, housing minister and business tycoon under Sadat and featuring a return to form for the veteran actor. El Sherif plays Saad El Daly, a shifty cabinet minister and entrepreneur who survives an assassination attempt that kills his son. El Daly embarks on a long vengeance escapade that reveals hidden details of his mysterious past.
“El Daly is the darkest, most brooding serial of the year. Set primarily in the 70s, the serial is a character-driven drama of a man with questionable ethical code living in an age of conspiracies, confusion and unrest. Kudos to the director for paying attention to the smallest details like the haircuts and customes that defined the atheistic aura of that era.
There’s no bigger disappointment this year than Omar Sharif’s first TV serial “Hanan we Haneen (Nostalgia). The legendary star returns to Egyptian drama after a stunning streak of international works, in a lame, superfluous story about a businessman returning to a fairytale-like Alexandria after living in the US for several decades.
Clichés and mounds of overreacting performers outline “Nostalgia; an atypical America-bashing drama where everyone, including Mexican cab drivers, speaks Arabic in a society rules by money. How original!
The creative slump of Mohammed Sobhy continues with “Ragol Ghany, Fakeer Gedan (A Rich, Very Poor Man) about a former billionaire attempting to rebuild an empire lost by greed
This is Sobhy’s latest in a long line of semi-comedies about the importance of small communities and social responsibly.
There was a time when Sobhy brilliantly blended his refined comedy with social, philosophical and political subtext in a subtle approach that enriched his works. The comedy has gone without a trace, leaving behind blunt, irrelevant messages with a jumbled vision.
Elsewhere, Yehia El Fakharany also dabbles with comedy this year in the shape of “Yetrabba fi Ezzo (May He Be Raised in Prosperity) about a spoilt, irresponsible 60-year-old toy shop owner, to mixed results.
Nadia El-Guindi plays the blame game on Israel and the US in “Man Atlak Al Rasas Ala Hind Allam (Who Shot Hind Allam?), a thriller focusing on the kidnap of Egyptian nuclear scientists. Meanwhile, Salah El Saadani discusses the thorny issue of Egyptian war prisoners in the lukewarm, static “Noktet Nezam (A Point of Order).
It’s doubtful that any of the serials that failed to leave an impression on viewers so far this month will rebound back. One can only hope that the few good ones won’t be ruined with conventional half-baked endings that have become an unfortunate hallmark of Egyptian drama.