Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Good cop, bad cop

Ramadan television is upon us again and, according to Hani Mustafa, not all of it is bad

Good cop, bad cop
Good cop, bad cop
Al-Ahram Weekly

Dozens of television series compete for viewers’ attention every Ramadan – from 70 at its peak, the number has dropped to approximately 30 across the more popular satellite channels – with only time enough for three or four at the most available to each viewer. The problem is that, while one month of the year has turned into a mega-market for serial drama, almost nothing new is produced for the rest of the year – during which time the Ramadan series are simply replayed. Such tight competition has led producers to focus on the more gripping genres, and suspenseful stories of crime have been paramount not only because they are likely to garner the highest ratings but also because they perform such psychosocial functions as polishing the image of policemen whose performance has been tarnished by reports of torture, violence and corruption. By showing the effort exerted by security personnel to solve crimes and maintain the law – not necessarily portraying policemen as normal, fallible human beings – works modelled on such American series as Law and Order, CSI and Criminal Minds have capitalised on the human hunger for solving mysteries, naturally encouraging empathy for the police and security. 

This year the number of series with main characters from the police has noticably risen, and of those Al-Khuroug (Exit), written by Mohammed Al-Safti and directed by Mohammed Gamal Al-Adl, is a well made and carefully structured example. The effective formula starts with an attractive premise: the series opens with Cairo Investigations officer Omar Farouk (Dhafir Al-Abdin) collecting his belongings at the office after tendering his resignation. Arriving at the office to take over is a newly transferred officer, Nasser Mahmoud (Sherif Salama), whose character evidently differs from that of Omar. Omar is reticent and seems despondent, while Nasser is talkative and keen on his new post. The plotline is immediately set out when the two officers’ head, General Salah (Salah Abdalla) points out that, March being 31 days, Omar cannot stop working for another day, and asks both youner officers to investigate the murder of a man at a gallery. As it turns out the corpse is actually a composite of two half corpses arranged next to each other, making this a double murder. And in true American style, the killer is taunting the police with clues: a poster containing the word “exit” with the drawing of a killer and his victim and the equation 1 x 2 = Zero. In another episode the forensic department discovers a phone number in the mouth of yet another corpse. The screenwriter uses these mysteries in conjunction with other elements to build a credible sense of excitement.

The story seems to progress along five separate tracks: the crime which seems to be a series of cleverly planned revenge killings designed to taunt the police; the disappearance of a doctor and hospital owner named Sabri (Ahmad Kamal), whose wife (Salwa Mohammed Ali) quickly locates him at a mosque where he has taken refuge after a disastrous error in his work, distributing huge handouts to the devout; the story of Shahira (Ola Ghanem), a prostitute who has killed her pimp in self defence and lives with her sister Azza (Rania Mansour), who tries to protect her; the story of a lawyer, Laila (Dorra), recently separated from her husband Mutasim (Tamer Diai), who champions the cause of a woman unjustly convicted of embezzlement because of her work with a wicked businessman; and the story of the journalist Jihan (Enji Abu Zaid) who ends up carrying the two half corpses in her car to the gallery, in this and other ways acting as the killer’s apparently involuntary tool. Flashbacks attempt to connect some of these strands of narrative, with Azza bringing in a relation of hers to Dr Sabri who insists on her paying at the hospital before he will let the patient into the operating theatre. For viewers who have followed closely, the buildup of suspense is effective and eminently enjoyable, but in the context of Ramadan television – with two many other series competing for the viewer’s attention and frequent commercial breaks – the action might be a little too demanding. 

In each episode, a new element of suspense is introduced. One such scene involves the killer sending Jihan a picture of Lady Justice – with a balance in one hand and a sword in the other – except that the sword is broken. Omar’s father is later seen interpreting the broken sword as a criticism of the police, and indicating that they will be the target of the killer’s next act of revenge – which turns out to be correct as General Salah is kidnapped. This prompts Omar to change his position on working for the Interior Ministry, trying to withdraw his resignation, since General Salah is an important figure in his life. But Salah’s assistan General Hafez (Ahmad Abu Dawoud) refuses to let him back into the force and in time Omar himself – while pursuing the killer – ends up pursued by the police. In this as in other respects the director manages to extract the best performances out of his cast. This is especially true of the Tunisian actor Dhafer Al-Abdin in the lead role. Neither he nor Dorra betray the slightest failure to speak Egyptian Arabic in a convincing accent. Likewise Sherif Salama: he masters the character of the officer and conveys the change from naive keenness to measured involvement in an effective way.

Despite an impressive mastery of rhythm, the director does have the tendency to leave a situation and then return to it as if time had stopped in the meantime – an annoying technique more reminscent of The Bold and the Beautiful than any other television drama.

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