Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, shine up your lanterns, empty your fridge for the yameesh and get ready to waste countless hours in front of your TV sets.
Yes, Ramadan is finally upon us, a month when traditional festivities sweep every corner of the nation, when the kilos pile up and cholesterol levels skyrocket, when the most of the country abandon everything and enjoy the lethargy of watching non-stop television.
Like every year, terrestrial and satellite TV are offering a humongous number of dramas, sitcoms, talk shows, game shows and every type of shows that have been devised since the invention of television.
What’s exceptional this year is that the cash-flow machine that rapidly expanded over the past few years in the most profitable TV season of the year has stopped pumping money, coming under the heat from the ongoing global economic crisis. According to reports, the majority of Arab TV stations have purchased Egyptian programming at a much lower cost than expected, considerably reducing the number of presentations on offer this year, or refrained from acquiring several programs altogether.
Soap operas producers are the biggest causality of the current economic crises. The majority resorted to Egyptian TV channels who acquired most of this year’s high-profile programs at prices that barely covered the production costs in many cases. Coupled with the escalating fees of the stars and rising production costs, few producers would be lucky to make any profit this year.
The mounting production costs pushed several producers to shift their attention to sitcoms, which are much cheaper to make than dramas.
Nine new sitcoms are debuting this season, including “Beet El-‘Eila (Family House) directed by revered DOP Mohsen Ahmed and starring Hala Fakher, Shereen and Lebanese TV host Razan.
There’s also “6 Midan El-Tahrir (6 Tahrir Square) starring Hussein El-Imam, Caroline Khalil and Intisar and directed by “One-Zero’s Kamla Abu Zekry in her first foray in television. “Haramet Ya Baba (Won’t Do It Again, Pa) is directed by Ahmed Saleh, also making his directorial TV debut, and stars Hassan Hosni, Hanaa El-Shorbagy and Amr Ramzy.
After a long absence from the small screen, washed-up comedian Mohamed Negm returns with “Yassin Fi Mostashfa El-Maganin (Yassin in the Asylum) directed by Mohamed Donia. Director Hussein Zayed presents “Hussein & Tahseen starring Ahmed Rateb. Pop singers Rico and Adel El-Far team up for “Naeem fi Naeem (Naeem in Paradise).
The most high-profiled sitcom of the new batch is “Fo’sh, directed by Ahmed Samir and starring Ahmed Rizk and Lotfy Labib. Rizk plays the titular character, an overweight thug attempting to rehabilitate. “Fo’sh is based on an idea by “Teer Enta’s Ahmed Mekki.
Three old sitcoms are returning this year. Ahmed El-Fishawy and Mai Kassab are back with the fourth season of Egypt’s favorite odd couple “Tamer & Shawkeya. Ashraf Abdel Baki reunites with his six women in “Ragel We Set Setat (A Man and Six Women), directed by Assad Fouladkar. The three physicians of “El-Eyada (The Clinic), Bassma, Edward and Khaled Sarhan, are back for more wacky adventures in the second season of Amr Arafa’s directed series.
Apart from a handful of amusing moments in “The Clinic, last year’s sitcoms failed to deliver. If you decide try to your luck this year, then watch at your own risk. Just be ready for a merciless bombardment of ads popping up literally every two minutes.
A large set of “trick shows are presented this year, including the mandatory Candid Camera, a second season of “Helhom Belhom and several others. After being duped every year for the past decade and a half, you’d think the stars would finally learn their lesson. Apparently, they haven’t.
Comedy is also represented in the more traditional form of one-hour series. Heading this small company is “Esabet Baba We Mama (The Pa and Ma Gang) – based on Ted Kotcheff’s classic “Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) – starring comedy star Hany Ramzy and Nicole Saba.
After a successive series of flops, veteran comedian Mohamed Sobhy returns with the sixth season of the massively popular 90s hit (Yawmeyat Wanis (Wanis’ Dailies). The new season deals with the title character’s relationship with his grandsons after the death of his wife, played in previous seasons by the late Soaad Nasr.
Comedy aside, the big draw, as in every year, is the much-hyped dramas. New serials by Ramadan regulars Youssra, Yehia El-Fakharany, Nour El-Sherif, Hussein Fahmy, Hesham Selim and many others have been heavily promoted in recent months.
A no-show this year, the Mother Theresa of Egyptian drama, Samira Ahmed, hands over the mantle to Youssra, who stars in Tamer “Sleepless Nights Habib’s scribed “Khas Gedan (Highly Private) alongside Youssra El-Lozy, Hanaa Shiha and Inji Ali.
Youssra plays a psychiatrist attempting to help her patients while mending her fractured relationship with her husband and daughter.
El-Fakharany portrays, for the second year in a row, yet another morally conflicted character in “Ibn El-Arandaly (El-Arandaly’s Son). El-Fakharany plays a Machiavellian lawyer forced to reevaluate his life after experiencing a familial tragedy.
Fahmy stars in two serials this month, the most notable of which is Ra’afat El-Meehy’s adaptation of Khairy Shalby’s best-selling novel “Wekalet Attiya. Set in a pre-1952 Cairo, the series centers on the relationship between the Muslim and Coptic denizens of the old Cairo neighborhood.
El-Sherif is also appearing in two series. “Hagar El-Rahaya is about a popular mayor in Upper Egypt who finds out that his four sons are conspiring to rob him of his position and wealth. “Matkhafoosh (Don’t Fear) centers on a prominent TV presenter who finds himself in the middle of ruthless media campaign organized by Israeli media for condemning last December’s Gaza massacre.
Film stars Ahmed Ezz, Mohamed Ragab, Khaled Abol Naga and Menna Shalaby are trusted to inject new blood to the rather standardized programming.
Ezz stars in the melodrama “Al-Adham alongside Lebanese film star Cyrine Abdel Nour and Salah Abdallah. The series centers on a rich businessman who marries his maid in secret. Their son (Ezz), whom he refuses to acknowledge, fights his father to obtain his rights. In later episodes, the series delves into the contentious subject of illegal immigration.
Ragab stars in the historical epic “Adham El-Sharkawy, directed by Syrian director Bassel El-Khateeb and co-stars Lebanese diva Dolly Shahin. Set in early 20th century rural Egypt, Ragab plays the iconic folk hero who returns from Cairo to his small village to fight feudalism and liberate his people.
Three more biopics will be broadcasted this Ramadan. Ashraf Abdel Baky stars in the star-studded “Yabo Dehka Ginan (The Man with the Golden Smile), a star-studded labor of love about the life and times of legendary Egyptian comedian Ismail Yassin. Samir Ghanem, Ahmed Bedir and Rania Farid Shawky co-star.
Newcomer Safaa Soltan plays Leila Mourad in “Kalby Dalili (My Heart’s is My Alibi) the first biopic about the late legendary singer. Menna Shalaby teams up with Hisham Selim in the spy thriller “Harb El-Gawasis (Spy War), directed by veteran filmmaker Nader Galal. Based on a true story, Shalaby plays a college student who discovers that her fiancé is spying for the Israeli intelligence.
Khaled Abol Naga stars alongside Leila Elwi in “Magnoun Leila (Leili and Magnoun). Abol Naga plays a recent widower trying to return back to life with the help of his psychiatrist (Elwi).
Among the other serials expected to make a big splash this season are “Hodo’ Nesby (Relative Calmness). Nelly Karim and Amira Fathy are Egyptian journalists trapped in an Iraqi hotel with other Arab journalists at the beginning of the American invasion of Iraq.
Khaled Saleh plays a blind conman who claims to have supernatural powers in “Tager El-Saada (The Happiness Merchant) starring Nashwa Mostafa and directed by Atef Bishay.
There are many, many other serials scheduled to
be broadcasted in the coming 30 days, including new works from Mervat Amin, Mamdouh Abdel Alim, Sabreen, Salah El-Saadany, Ilham Shahin, Somia El-Khashab and Nabila Abeed, to name a few.
Flip through the serials in the first week. If you don’t find anything to your liking, you can always tune into “30 Rock and “Entourage reruns. At least you know exactly what you’re getting.