Life & Culture

Tehran TV review: A rehash of previous shows, sometimes even a rehash of itself, with a plot more thready than a spiderweb

Slick thriller series is largely unfathomable but never dull and does have a lot going for it


AppleTV | ★★★✩✩

If you haven’t yet watched the first season of Apple TV+ thriller drama Tehran then stop reading this right now! Actually… wait a sec… no, come back. Doh, how are you supposed to know if it’s worth your time playing catch-up?

The problem is, it’s got a plot more thready than a spiderweb. And the second series makes absolutely no concessions to any Johnny-come-latelys tuning in to check out the first Israeli show to win Best Drama at the International Emmys. They don’t even help the rest of us with an obligatory memory jogging “previously on”. Instead, beautiful Mossad agent Tamar, played by the equally beautiful Niv Sultan, just gets straight back into the running, hiding and being hunted around the titular city. Forget avoiding spoilers, you’re going to be confused anyway, so you might as well stick about.

Adding to the discombobulation is the sensation of déjà vu that I remember from the first time around. Strong female spy protagonist terribly disguised in a headscarf... could this be Homeland? Endless episodic twists and turns at a relentless pace... maybe 24? Wait a sec. Brilliant young woman infiltrating Tehran’s ruling class to sabotage the nuclear programme? It’s superlative French masterpiece The Bureau! And alas, like when I stand next to my wife’s ex, one of the two doesn’t come out as well.

If you can close your eyes though and forget the competition, (as my wife does), Tehran does have a lot going for it. There’s solid acting from a mostly authentic Iranian cast, particularly Shaun Toub as the dogged Faraz. This season they’ve also used some of that Apple dosh to up the star quota, adding the iconic Glenn Close as a Farsi-speaking undercover Mossad agent. Her first regular TV gig since she destroyed in Damages, as she ages she seems to get more substantial, and it’s always a pleasure to see her working that particular combination of vulnerable strength.

A bigger budget also helps provide everything with a slick sheen, and although filmed in Greece, back alleys and corridors of power alike are dressed with the detail necessary to make believe we’re in Iran. As such, and with a cross selection of characters, it feels like a lot of effort has gone into providing us with a broader and somewhat insightful perspective of Persian society. The same too with the individual players in the spy game, as the costs to psyche and loved ones are explored, before we inevitably get back to more running down dimly lit hallways.

The main thing that distinguishes the series is the unique geo-political dynamic between Israel and Iran. Any light shone on why some consider the proxy-conflict an existential struggle, is enlightening to the uninitiated. But so much of the rest is a rehash. A rehash of previous shows, sometimes even a rehash of itself. If you’re totally new to the programme and the genre then sure, you’ll probably be happy together. If you’re already involved though? Well, it’s like I’m constantly telling my wife, “let’s try and make the best out of it”.

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