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Narjas Zatat

The five best Middle East series to watch on Netflix during lockdown

Here are five shows you have to watch [Netflix]

Date of publication: 21 May, 2020

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With many countries still under lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, being stuck at home can take its toll. Here are some shows to alleviate the boredom.
This summer, both Ramadan and a global pandemic in the form of coronavirus happened at the same time,  sequestering people in their homes in a way that has never been seen before.

As TV production comes to a stop and people are spending much more time than they're used to at home, streaming services have come to be an important way to pass the time.

Between learning a new skill, getting on the road to becoming TikTok famous, and/or becoming a Salt Bae-level chef during quarantine, here are a few Middle East shows you can get stuck into on Netflix, right now.

1. Justice

A landmark drama from the United Arab Emirates, Justice was the first Emirati series run on the SVOD platform.

The series follows an ambitious lawyer, Farah (Fatimah Al Taei) who, after a prestigious education in the US returns home to launch her legal career.
The cast of Justice [Netflix]

Defying family pressure to join the family business, Farah decides to go at it alone as a defence attorney.

The series follows a story-of-the-week-style narrative as well as a story arc that looks at Farah's character development whilst working within Abu Dhabi's legal system.

Oscar-nominated Walter Parks (He Named Me Malala) and Emmy Award-winning producer William Finkelstein (L.A. Law) teamed up to create the 18-episode series, and former HBO Europe programming chief Marc Lorber executive produced the show.

The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department acted as a consultant for the show and provided access to court buildings and real local cases.

Watch the trailer for Justice here.

2. Dollar

If you fancy a drama with a killer script and a familiar Lebanese face, Dollar is definitely one to put on your list.

Starring Lebanese comedian Adel Karam, who first hit the screens back in 2018 in Netflix's first original Arabic stand-up comedy show, this time he returns for a fast-paced Lebanese drama.

Set in Lebanon, Dollar follows the story of an advertising genius Tarek (Karam), who is given the job of coming up with a million-dollar idea to launch a new bank.

Tarek insists on sharing the idea with the CEO – and only the CEO – making the CFO Zeina, played by Algerian-Lebanese actress Amal Bouchoucha, suspicious.

A still from Dollar [Netflix]
Reviewers have called the Lebanese corruption story a "classic caper" in which two opposites – one, a talented, but laid-back Tarek and the other, hardworking Zeina who finds him infuriating - race against time to chase down an elusive dollar bill that could make them rich.

With 15 episodes the series is a hefty one and it was directed by Syrian director Samer Barqawi, who was behind a number of award-winning shows including Half Day and Al Hayba.

The series was produced by Beirut's Cedar Art Production and written by Hisham Hilal.

Talking about his second collaboration with Netflix, the director Samer Berkawi said, “I’m confident that the show will appeal to Netflix’s audiences worldwide.

Read More: Five herbal teas and infusions to beat hunger and fatigue in late Ramadan

“This project is an exciting one, bringing together themes of suspense and drama that showcase Amal Bouchoucha’s onscreen talents, as well as Adel Karam’s versatility beyond the comedy that he is known and loved for.”

Watch the trailer for Dollar here.

3. Grand Hotel/Secret of the Nile

Known as Secret of the Nile on Netflix, and Grand Hotel locally, this series is the first Egyptian show to land on Netflix, and it is good.
The period drama is a hit with viewers [Netflix]

A remake of a Spanish drama series called Gran Hotel and named after a Nancy Drew novel of the same name, the show follows Ali (played by Amr Youssef), who travels to the Grand Hotel in the city of Aswan to search for his missing sister.

Ali gets a job as a waiter and falls in love with the hotelier’s daughter Nazly (Amina Khalil), who helps him uncover the truth about his sister’s disappearance and in the process, the secrets of the hotel.

Set in the 1950s, the series is an aesthetic beauty that was first released in 2016 during Ramadan, when it quickly became a TV hit.

With a whopping 30 episodes at 45 minutes each, this series packs a punch for even the most seasoned binge-watcher.

Interestingly, the show was filmed at the Aswan’s Old Cataract Hotel, and if you’re a fan of Downtown Abbey, you’ll love its much darker, Egyptian half.

4. Al Hayba

We can’t have a list of Middle East dramas to watch without including the Syrian-Lebanese drama Al Hayba.
Al Hayba is a long-running show [Netflix]

Directed by Samer Barqawi, the brain behind Dollar, the series stars Taim Hasan as the principle character, Jabal, and Nadine Nassib Njeim, who plays Alia and the story follows the members of a fictional Lebanese clan Sheikh Al Jabal near the Syrian border.

In a Capulat/Montague-style family feud, the Al Jabals have a historic feud with the Al Said clan in the village of Al Hayba.

The show is not without its share of controversy, with criticisms of perpetuating stereotypes of the city of Baalbek being criminal (disputed by Cedars Art Production).

Of all the shows on this list, Al Hayba will take the longest to get through, with three seasons out, and the first currently available for viewing on the streaming platform.

A fourth is reportedly on the way.

Watch the trailer for Al Hayba here.

5. In the Bosom of a Thorn 
Drama in Kuwait [Netflix]

The final series on this list is a Kuwaiti drama and follows the journey of a woman who was taken from her mother during the invasion of Kuwait when she was a child.

A historic drama set during the events of the Gulf War, the series shows the trials and tribulations of the young woman in her quest to make her way back home.

Starring Laila Abdullah and Khaled Al Buraiki, the series spans across 24 episodes and makes a new addition to Netflix’s Arab-speaking acquisitions.

Narjas Zatat is a journalist at The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter: @Narjas_Zatat

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