My first memories of Ramadan have always been closely associated with TV. Looking at my ancient video collection, I discovered taped episodes of Rahmy’s hugely popular children’s series “Bogy and Tamtam along with the finale of “One Thousand and One Nights starring Laila Elwy and Farouk El Feshawy.
That particular season of “Bogy and Tamtam, which aired in the late 80s, was quite memorable. The plot was kind of an amalgam between Egyptian TV comedies of the 70s and “E.T. , with a giant silver elephant called Falafelo replacing Steven Spielberg’s little alien.
I still believe that season was the best of the long-running puppet series. The story was not spectacularly original and Rahmy’s beloved puppets haven’t aged well. Yet the idiosyncratic characters were highly distinctive, the spirit was quintessentially Egyptian and the comforting warmth and humor in every episode embodied the Ramadan spirit.
“One Thousand and One Nights, on the other hand, soared high into the skies of fantasy and folklore. My recollections of that season are vague; I do vividly remember though the campy villain Al Ashkeef, a Gorilla-like beast with red eyes, which scared the bejesus out of me for 30 days. I later saw Sherihan’s earlier version of the series, which contained a fair share of dark moments.
The “Fawazeer (Riddles) of both Sherihan and Nelly were the antidote to “Nights. Jubilant, colorful and endlessly imaginative, the “Riddles were a grand celebration of dance and music that not only showcased the peerless talents of the two stars, but transformed the medium into a playground for director Fahmi Abdel Hamid’s imagination to roam.
Writing these words, I realize how nostalgic I am for these days. Back then, there were only two television channels to choose from, but somehow, they were enough. The quality of programs was near impeccable. The entire family, young and old, were glued to the television set for the entire duration of Ramadan. There was always something for everyone.
Then things went terribly wrong, and the rest is history. The invasion of advertisements, film stars and the opening of Gulf and Egyptian satellite channels led to an unprecedented escalation in production costs and the demand for more programs. However, bigger did not mean better.
Content was dumbed down, formulas reigned supreme and viewership shrank year on year. Last Ramadan, this consistent trend was interrupted by a number of slightly original programs and drams, which gave weary Egyptian viewers a glimmer of hope.
Alas, it was all too good to be true.
The larger part of the Ramadan TV crop this year – to put it bluntly – is nothing more than pure garbage, which highlights the acute decline of Egyptian TV.
For some inexplicable reason, celebrity talk shows have become Ramadan fixtures. Not only are the majority of this year’s programs eerily similar, they’re also equally trivial.
Topping the list is “Raya & Skeena, presented by actresses Hala Fakher and the ever-present Ghada Abdel Razek. The two starlets assume the role of the notorious 30s serial killers to ask actors such as Jumana Mourad, Ramez Galal, May Ezz Eldin and Talaat Zakria humorless questions that are supposed to illicit laughter, along with general trivia they never answer correctly.
Following her successful one-on-one show “El Mane’ Wel Mamnoo’ last year, TV presenter Lamis El Hadidy is back with “El-Ekhteyar El-Saab (The Tough Choice) to ask a combination of controversial artists, politicians and businessmen the same exact questions, only with less inspiration and more insipidity.
Presenter Dina Ramez decided to shamelessly copy El Hadidy in “El-Kamin (The Trap) with the addition of the world’s most dim-witted panel. “The Trap is in fact much more predictable than “Choice. All questions, without exception, center on bad artistic choices the guest stars have made or, as in case of Ola Ghanem, Saad El-Soghayar and Khaled Youssef, their controversial provoking antics.
“The Trap gets my vote as 2008’s worst talk show. Essentially, the program feels like a big moral court, set up by a group of nobodies who are vain enough to actually believe they’re ethically superior to their guests.
Elsewhere, “Korsi El-Mozee’ (The Presenter’s Chair) sees music and film stars interviewing their favorite presenters; another idea that may have looked good on paper but doesn’t work in reality. Then there’s Ezzat Abou Ouf’s “Wezara Matamet (An Unfinished Ministry), but the least that could be said about that program is for the better.
The biggest disappointment of the lot is “Al Tagroba (The Experiment). Egyptian and Arab stars choose a different profession to take on for an entire day or try their hands at a new sport or hobby.
The challenges put for the likes of Mahmoud Saad, pretending to be a garbage collector, Ahmed El Feshaway, working in Burger King, or Hassan Hosni, driving a tok-tok, are not serious or grave enough to engage the viewers. Instead, they appear like a group of whiney kids undermining in the process the great pains workers of these professions are forced to endure every day.
And seriously, who the hell wants to watch Hind Sabry sandboarding, Ramez Galal sky-diving or Dorra diving alongside sharks?
This year’s sitcoms are tragic. The unexpected success of “Tamer and Shawkeya a couple of years back came after a few failed attempts to introduce the format to Egyptian viewers, most famously through the appalling “Shabab Online (Teens Online).
“Tamer and Shawkeya opened the door widely for new sitcoms to emerge. And voila, Egyptian producers found themselves, once again, venturing in a new medium they have little clue how to deal with.
“Tamer & Shawkeya, starring Ahmed El Feshawy and May Kassab, took a major blow with the loss of Ahmed Meky, the main attraction in the previous two seasons. The new season remains as unfunny and timid as the past ones, relying on cameos by hot film stars such as Ahmed El Sakka, Karim Abdel Aziz and Menna Shalaby to fill the gap Meky left. Predictably, it fails.
The fourth season of “Ragel We Sit Sitat (A Man and Six Women) follows the footsteps of “Tamer and Shawkeya by employing various stars to inject some fresh blood into the stale series. However, the stars are not as hot as the aforementioned three, featuring Mervat Amin and Maged El Kidwany.
Jokes are forced, plotlines are muddled and Ashraf Abdel Baky tries way too hard to revamp a formula that is already tired in its second year.
Next week: New sitcoms, dramas and the TV market.