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This is the original Israeli show on which “Homeland” is based. Matter of fact, both shows were developed in parallel based on the concept by Gideon Raff, and this allows for very interesting insights into audience expectations, production conditions and some more. While I mostly like Homeland (despite being occasionally frustrated by the script’s random yoyo play with the motivations and goals of its lead character, played by Damien Lewis), it is nothing compared to this intense drama around two Israeli prisoners of war who return back home in the course of a prisoners exchange 16 years after being captured.

Hatufim seems to have a clearer focus and structure, it seems to know where it’s going, something many US shows with their annual fight for renewal lack. The first of the currently two seasons (a third one is in development) focuses on the spectacular fact that prisoners held and abused for such a long time finally make it home, and on the emotions this stirs in the country, in the families and in the secret service. Uri’s and Nimrode’s return is not easy, they are not used to being with their families anymore, and these families have changed, of course. People have died, have found new spouses, have hardened in the fight for the return of their loved ones. Children that had hardly been born at the time of the abduction are now grown up and expected to accept and even love family members they never met. Any hope that you can just return and continue your live 16 years after all bonds have been suddenly severed are shattered within a few moments and days. With this focus on a whole society and the affected individuals struggling with their new situation, the show creates a dense drama about trust and love, family and fear, and about fighting your own demons.

But Hatufim is not mere social drama, there is also suspicion lurking about what has been going on during the captivity, what happened to the third captive, whose remains return only in a body bag. There are several secret service departments that seem to have their own motivations, there is more knowledge around that is revealed, and something seems to build up towards an escalation.

The second seasons shifts the focus dramatically by introducing a new set of characters that had been highly relevant to the first season without us knowing, it adds the other side of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and by doing so steps onto slightly more conventional polit-thriller track. But it does so on its own terms, refusing the temptation to confuse spectacle and explosions with drama, but instead insisting on the characters’ own struggles to cope with the emerging truths to be the real object of interest. While the thriller plays out, it does so in a calm and human way, there are no superheroes to be found, but people who develop, who face worries, doubts and weakness. Maybe this is most visible in the lack of a lead investigator (the excessively intelligent, dedicated and ill Claire Danes Character in “Homeland”). There are many people contributing to pushing the story ahead, and while Mossad psychologist Haim may be the calm centre of our attention, he is nowhere near in control of anything happening on either side of the fence.

To me, populating this show with credibly flawed characters is what makes Hatufim stand out against other shows that are going for the more straightforward show effects. It is not without deficits, especially when it gives in to the temptation of providing some spectacle and thrill it becomes evident that this is not the strength of the production team. But despite this, there is so much of great drama that it outweighs these moments of slightly clumsy action.

Looking forward to Season 3, and I very much hope that they do not stretch it indefinitely.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoners_of_War_(TV_series) (Spoilers)

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