For its three season run, I was hooked on the Israeli TV drama Srugim. The program told the tale of four religious (and one formerly religious) young Israelis living in Jerusalem’s singles-centric Old Katamon neighborhood, affectionately known as the “swamp.”
The show won praise from both religious and secular society – the latter were captivated by its realistic portrayals of a “hidden” slice of an Israeli demographic they knew little about, while the former cringed but stayed glued to the tube for the way Srugim touched subjects often painfully close to home, much like thirtysomething did for Yuppie Americans in the late 1980s.
So it was quite a treat to hear the show’s co-creator Laizy Shapira speak about the show this week as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council in Jerusalem. The lecture also coincided with the release of the third and final season of the show on DVD including English subtitles.
Shapira is a charmer – personable, energetic and transparent in the best Israeli way (i.e., open but not too aggressive). It’s not hard to understand how he sold an initially skeptical television network on a show that defied stereotypes and embraced modesty (there’s sex but it’s mostly off screen). Srugim went on to win the top awards for a television drama at Israel’s version of the Emmy’s.
For a die-hard fan like me, some of the best moments of the talk were the insights into character development that only one of the show’s creators could share (warning: if you haven’t finished the show yet, spoilers ahead).
Q: Why did Amir and Yifat have such a tough first year of marriage? A: If you want to see a good marriage, watch your own wedding videos (“hopefully,” Shapira added).
Q: Why did Hodaya and Avri have to get back together, break up, and then only acknowledge their true love in the last scene of show? A: The dramatic tension between the two was all about the religious-secular divide which vanished once Hodaya left religion herself. But the fans (and ultimately the writers) demanded a happy ending.
Q: Why did Ro’i, who struggled with his sexual identity all through season two, have to turn haredi (ultra-Orthodox)? A: That subplot was too tragic to sustain itself indefinitely. The show’s writers decided they needed to resolve it. He either could have come out of the closet entirely or repressed himself by going frum. The latter seemed to give him more peace.
And the most important question: Why is Shapira voluntarily calling it quits, seemingly at the height of the show’s popularity? A: Srugim was all about the journey. Now that many of the characters have found closure, Shapira says “there’s nothing interesting left to tell.”
I’m not so sure about that. When I spoke with him after the presentation, Shapira noted that the writers scrutinized every word in the scripts, to make sure nothing came across as too far out. He then related a personal story.
Just before his own wedding a couple of years back, Shapira got hit in the eye by a hard candy hurled at him in synagogue, resulting in a huge shiner. He covered it up with make up (after all, he is in the business) but was concerned what people would say the next morning when he exited the bridal chamber with his face all black and blue!
That was a plot line that no one would have believed if it was in the show, Shapira joked; the kind of thing he was worried might creep into the scripts if the show edged past its proper expiration date. Maybe. But for 1,000+ members of the Srugim Facebook fan page, it would have been worth another season even full of bloopers like that.
But, hey, how about a spin off show? Look how well it worked for Joey from Friends…