What’s initially interesting about Tehran’s appearance this week on Apple TV+ is that it’s not really an Apple production. The show was acquired by Apple just one week before it’s premiere in Israel, back in June. Apple is looking to expand its international content, and they must have seen this as an easy win. It’s not only increasing Apple TV+’s diversity of storytelling, but it’s also great, binge-able entertainment.
Though not at first. TV+ has the first 3 of 8 episodes available now and will release subsequent ones weekly. However, once it’s all released, this could be a great series to binge over a long weekend if you’re so inclined. As well as the deliberate cliffhangers at the end of each episode, the plot pushes forward at an addictive pace. Often not stopping for breath or quiet character moments. This can be both it’s enormous strength, but sometimes it’s weakness.
I think one important thing to know going in is the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict. It’s a long history and frequently a very complex one. I wouldn’t dare to give my take on who is right or wrong. However, it’s a good idea to know the backstory to this. I had a basic understanding of it going in but had to pause after 5 minutes and get my girlfriend to give me a more in-depth history as it quickly became clear I needed more knowledge before committing to this story.
The show centres around an Israeli intelligence agent Tamar (Niv Sultan, looking distractingly similar to Alicia Vikander) who takes part in an identity swap with a Muslim woman in the Iranian capital Tehran. This will give her access to a computer system she can disable, allowing Israeli jets to bomb a power station, disrupting Iran’s nuclear bomb production.
I won’t spoil any more plot (that’s the initial 20-minute setup) but suffice to say, things don’t go to plan, and she has to come up with her own alternative while the competing intelligence services play cat and mouse with each other and her.
I love these kinds of espionage thrillers. It’s also got a large amount of authentic, actual spy work. There’s no hacking of city CCTVs or shouts of ‘enhance’ on images. They do their job by working out connections between family members, replaying CCTV over and over until they spot something off. Often there is a lot of gut instinct. This makes it engaging and believable, even if the actual scale of the Israeli mission is underplayed (if successful this would be a significant incident with global repercussions, right?!) Though, minus points for falling into the trap of entirely unrealistic computer ‘hacking’.
A lot of people have compared this to Homeland, and it certainly has a lot of parallels, but I saw several influences from the great John le Cárre’s work. There probably isn’t a higher compliment, but they seem to have learned some from the patient spy work that occurs in his novels.
scenes are often filled with claustrophobia and heavy on slow, suggestive looks.
The show was filmed in Athens, and director Daniel Syrkin makes excellent use of locations and pacing to increase the tension. Scenes are often filled with claustrophobia and heavy on slow, suggestive looks. It’s utterly enthralling in the first two episodes which almost run together in real-time. This, however, exposes a slight weakness in the show. With the ongoing tension and forward-moving plot, there’s not a lot of time for real character development.
Tamar has previous connections to Iran, but we’re not given much insight into her full motivations for being involved. Head of the Revolutionary Guards, Faraz (Little America’s Shaun Toub, excellent here) is given a slightly awkward subplot with his wife undergoing surgery. Still, you find yourself not too bothered by it. No-one else has much else going on, and only a small backstory of Tamar’s family history resonates much.
What’s interesting and also what truly makes the show engaging is its depictions of Tehran as a thriving place with differing views, a reluctance to show Iranians as horrible villains and willingness to show that the Israeli intelligence is as willing to partake in acts of violence as the Iranians. Depicting one side as evil and the other as angels would have been disingenuous and undermined the story. Shades of grey are always the key to great storytelling after all. Beneath all the spying and running there’s something trying to be said about the long history of this conflict, and what it means to different people on both sides. I suspect by the end of the season that will have bubbled to the surface much more.
In episode 3 we are introduced to some anti-establishment rebels with which Tamar seems to see a connection. We’ll see how this plays out but the idea of this turning into a ‘human’ drama with ‘normal people’ isn’t too appealing and doesn’t play to it’s strengths.
Which isn’t to say this spoils the show. It’s just that the thrills and spills of Tamar and the two competing agencies are so engaging that anything else seems like you’re taking your foot off the gas. There lies the contradiction. The thrilling plot makes you wonder what the characters are really about, but the moment it slows on the plot to investigate you wish it went back.
The show is a great addition to Apple TV+; it’s addictive, thrilling and a perfect binge watch. Let’s hope Apple can produce more great shows like these.