Ever since Israeli television drama Hatufim (Prisoners of War) became an international hit in 2009 and its US adaptation, Homeland, an even bigger hit, Western networks have been plundering Israeli television in the hopes of discovering the new Hatufim.
Now a new show, False Flag, is attracting similar buzz, unsurprising given it’s the brainchild of producer Maria Feldman, who worked on Homeland, and stars Ishai Golan, who played one of the lead characters, Uri Zach, in Hatufim. False Flag, which was quickly snapped up by Fox for broadcast across 127 territories (the first episode aired in the UK last week) as well as a US adaptation, is about five apparently ordinary Israelis who wake up one morning to find themselves on the news accused of kidnapping the Iranian defence minister.
The story, explains Feldman, is based on the real life assassination of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai seven years ago, allegedly by a group of Mossad agents using international passports belonging to unwitting Israeli citizens with dual nationalities.
The idea for the show, she says, came from a discussion with her husband in which they analysed the success of Hatufim, which attracted huge attention in Israel before the first episode had even aired. Hatufim’s secret ingredient, the couple concluded, was the “combination of ordinary people… and something very big and international,” which quickly became the premise for False Flag. In Israel, Feldman points out, “everybody is a soldier, so it could happen to anybody”.
Ishai Golan, who plays chemist and family man Ben Rephael, in the series, agrees. “For us Israelis, this kind of reality is not far-fetched,” he says. “[The military] is such a dominant factor within our culture, for better and for worse.” That military culture, combined with what Golan calls “Jewish chutzpah and our creativity” has seen Israeli television make its mark across the world in recent years, especially in Hollywood. “I think it’s because good stories and interesting characters have no borders,” says Feldman. “And I think the reality of Israel gives us a lot of inspiration, unfortunately.”
Despite the international appetite for Israeli shows, Feldman says while writing and making the series, “we were thinking only about the Israeli audience; the characters are very Israeli. The issues they’re dealing with are very Israeli and we were very happy and surprised when it was sold all over the world.”
That said, it’s perhaps no surprise that Western audiences are so hooked on output from the country, given they are now facing many of the same existential threats Israel has grappled with for years.
Feldman, who was born in Turkmenistan to Ukrainian parents and moved to Israel at 17, says her own identity issues are very much at the heart of the show.
“Are you Israeli? Are you not Israeli? Are you a Mossad agent,” she explains. “Who are you? Are you what you say who you are or not? This whole thing with identity attracts me a lot.”
False Flag continues Mondays at 9pm on FOX