Life & Culture

Manayek review: Top Israeli noir with cops and karaoke

With its taut, realistic dialogue and organically-developing plot, this award-winning series is a cut above your average crime fare


AllFour | ★★★★★

Seems like there’s a new genre in TV town; Israeli Noir. Well, not that new. Manayek, brought over to these shores with little fanfare as part of Channel 4’s Walter Presents strand, originally came out in Israel in 2020. It hoovered up all the local awards that year, and in Israel a second series has already come and gone.

Which is great news, because it means there’s another ten episodes already waiting after you’ve devoured this lot.

Which I expect you’ll do as, like its Nordic forebears, Manayek has managed to crack the code that differentiates itself from the lesser police procedural fare that typically dominates the genre.

The title is Hebrew slang for rats, or cops, our lead being both, an internal investigator. We meet Izzy Bachar on the cusp of retirement, forced upon him as his department is being fully replaced by civilians.

After a police officer is caught red-handed assassinating a criminal, Izzy’s loyalties are tested as his former partner and one of his closest friends is implicated in running a crime syndicate. So far, business as usual.

Now I’m going to tell you what puts this in the premier league. Israeli shows have massively upped their production quality in the last decade, so that everything here feels authentic and on point, with time taken to add subtle artistic flavour.

The shadows are grimy, the halogen conference rooms impersonally oppressive. With the grey skies and wind you certainly wouldn’t guess you were in the Middle East.

Yet in the Middle East we most certainly are, and for diaspora Jews there’s a pleasure seeing an unapologetic Jewish society at work, with all its good and bad.

Jewish songs are sung at karaoke, and a criminal wears a comically large Star of David — only to be trumped by a more thuggish criminal with an even larger star tattooed on the back of his neck.

Yet the only clunky element remains that jewellery, with taut, realistic dialogue grounding a plot that organically spreads its tentacles outwards from elements expertly placed during the opening episode.

A wife working for a rival. An old case unfairly dismissed. A hostile civilian boss. Looming redundancy, in both senses. Every which way, Izzy is in the crosshairs.

Carrying that burden is actor Shalom Assayag, and boy does he make you experience every ounce of pressure, when merely standing up is a hassle. Even his face, with its perpetual hangdog expression, gets in on the action.

Shalom is the show’s secret weapon, a performer from the less-is-more school of drama, making him endlessly watchable as you try to decipher what’s going on within.

It feels like everyone’s bringing their A-game to this, but a star is a star, and all the actors shine a little brighter in the reflection of his quiet charisma.

It’s a lovely feeling discovering a great new TV show. It’s an even lovelier feeling getting to share it. Kudos to Channel 4 for bringing Manayek to a wider audience. Now spread the word.

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