The Israeli show ‘Nehama’ offers a look in a world where things are falling apart even with people come together.
by Jeremy Fogelman
This is a review for the debut season of Nehama, which touches on some of the spoilery ideas of the season, but not all of them.
Nehama is a show about a family, with the main figure the father Guy Nehama (Reshef Levi) -- Guy works in a high-paying tech job but he once had a dream of being a stand up comic. And he wasn’t bad either. But he left that world to marry his dream girl Tamar (Liron Vaisman) and have five kids, the eldest two girls, then two boys, and a new baby. It’s a difficult balance of a life, but Tamar helps keep it together.
But it all changes when Tamar dies in an auto accident, and the family begins to fall into disarray. Guy, whose caustic humor and joking delivery worked great to sell tech services, often ends up offending people in normal conversation. He decides that given everything, he needs to become a success like he’d always wanted -- a stand-up. This also introduces Guy’s old friend and rival Asi (Yuval Segal), who is now a very famous comedian and media personality.
Throughout the show, Guy struggles with his jealousy and issues with Asi, as we learn more and more about their complicated past. The kids all have their own crazy problems; the eldest daughter has an affair with her high school teacher, the next one is caught stealing money to support her family, the one after that works in a grocery and hurts his grandfather while illegally driving, and the youngest (other than the baby) nurses a completely unrequited crush on a classmate.
But they are all a mess and varying degrees of depressed, trying to keep their family together despite social workers coming by and threatening to break them apart. One of the helpful people is Guy’s brother Oren (Shalom Michaelswilli), a policeman with his own personal problems, and an arc about the right romantic relationship to pursue -- his wife or his one time mistress.
Another help is Guy’s younger coworker Dana (Gala Kogan), who is frequently described as very beautiful, and seems to be romantically interested -- but Guy is obsessed about his late wife. He wonders about her secrets, and even hires a private detective to see if she had been cheating (the detective is a pretty fun, blunt character who shows up a bunch of times throughout the first season).
Guy is a fairly frustrating character to watch, because he is not a bad person, although he seems misguided and out of control. His need to know what happened to his wife and become the next great comedian directly hurt his family and himself, and it’s hard to know whether you should root for him simply because he’s engaging and deeply hurt.
One of the things that really works with Nehama is the nature of the ensemble, building up backstories and complexities as it all comes together in the finale. The secrets revealed are meaningful and painful at times, but there’s a feeling underlying it all of a family devoted to each other, despite their own protests at it.
Writing a funny character that’s supposed to be funny is a tricky thing, but Nehama pulls this off almost every time, and Reshef Levi is really great in his complex, messed up role. Although his wife dies in the first episode, she keeps showing up in flashbacks throughout the first season, letting us see and understand more about her and giving Liron Vaisman a chance to really shine.
Nehama is a show that really can be very funny one moment and then suddenly swerve into a heartbreaking moment the next. Although it takes place in Israel, it really feels like it could be any random modern city, with only a few little notes if you’re really paying attention to show off the background world. It’s not a political show about the government or any policies, just a random family and their own problems in their own world.
There’s an ongoing tension as you desperately begin to hope simultaneously for Guy to become a huge success so he can save his family, while hoping for the family to keep itself from falling apart until then. From the first moments of dark humor to the final bittersweet resolution, Nehama really works as a great season of TV -- it’s a very strong entry to the foreign “TV genre” that always feels in the world of real.
Nehama is available to stream on Topic with a subscription through Apple TV. Try Topic for one week free!