Though simplistic in its portrayal of social grievances, this was a far cry from typical state television propaganda, which is largely devoid of self-criticism, especially on the war front.
|Screen shot from Wiladi Min El Khasiri|
Unexpected soul searching also crept into the script of “Sanoud Baad Kalil” (We will Return Shortly), which follows the life of a divided Syrian family taking refuge in Lebanon. Listening to the evening news with despair, the father bemoans the loss of old Damascus, “where we lived so well” as the son nods in agreement.
|Screen shot from Sanoud Baad Kalil|
Of course the wide disconnect between life on and off screen is a hallmark of Arab production, not limited to the Syrian industry. Plots often revolve around a wealthy– if not obscenely rich– family with a palatial home as the main set.
|Zionist Syrian Jewish character plots in screenshot from Ya Mal El Sham.|
Mal El Sham ends with the loss of Palestine and the demise of a certain Arab revolutionary spirit, a metaphor fit for the societal dissolution that looms before Syria and much of the region today. This somber tone is echoed throughout this season’s productions, a natural reflection of the turmoil perhaps, but made all the worse by wholly unrealistic portrayals and medieval defamatory tales.
|The ever-present “Hara” or neighborhood, a set used in multiple Syrian soap operas. Shot from Ya Mal El Sham.|
In spite of all this, productions are prolific, with major Arab channels typically purchasing upwards of four shows each during the holy month alone. One would think quality could be improved if resources were pooled into fewer products. The subtle improvements and surprises this year prove that talent does exist, but often seems to be stretched too thin to keep audiences begging for more.
For those that are accustomed to other languages, low budget productions can make Arab television feel like a chore to watch. And for those who are not, it is simply the only option and an easy excuse for Arab media corporations to continue producing average quality output.