Captive to the enemy within
Powerful Israeli drama Hatufim, about the emotional turmoil faced by returned soldiers, gave rise to American mega-hit Homeland.
Show of the week
Hatufim: Prisoners of War, Saturday, SBS One, 8.30pm
ONE is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that taps into the arresting concept of the enemy within. Its protagonist is a former prisoner of war with an outsize sense of betrayal whose behaviour arouses the suspicions of an unhinged CIA agent.
The other is a measured family drama that digs deep into the mindsets of prisoners of war and the turmoil they and their families face when they return to civilian life. One has recognisable and accomplished stars and production values equal to a big-budget Hollywood movie. The other has less-saleable attractions: tightly written scripts that subtly lead us from one scene to the next; intriguing moral conundrums about loyalty, suspicion and guilt; and emotionally charged depictions of estranged families and the scars of war.
Hatufim, which translates as ''abductees'', is the Israeli drama upon which Homeland, the electrifying US thriller that has just ended its second season, is modelled. Gideon Raff created, wrote and directed Hatufim and is the executive producer of Homeland. As different as the two shows are, the concept from which they sprouted is very much the same.
But it's the expression of that idea that makes watching one in the shadow of the other all the more rich and rewarding.
Australian audiences now have the opportunity to do so with the debut of Hatufim on Saturday. ''For us, Hatufim and Homeland are the best examples of how to make not a good but an excellent adaptation of a series,'' says Ran Telem, who is vice-president of programming at Keshet Broadcasting, the Israeli network where two seasons of Hatufim were developed and became record-breaking successes.
''That's why the showrunners in both countries did such a good job, analysing exactly what's interesting for an American audience in a POW story and what's interesting for an Israeli audience. I think that's the reason the two series are so different, but also so successful. When you look at the Middle East, it's completely different if you look at it from Washington or Tel Aviv.''
The idea of Homeland was hatched after US producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon read the scripts of Hatufim, remarkably before a single scene had been filmed. ''They took Hatufim apart and took the engine from Hatufim to Homeland and created a whole new series,'' Telem says.
According to Telem, Raff's starting point was the story of a person coming home after many years. That person became several POWs and the story was anchored to their relationships with their families, their captors and an army psychologist who begins to notice anomalies in their accounts of captivity. As the big picture of what happened to Nimrod (Yoram Toledano), Uri (Ishai Golan) and a third soldier, whose remains only are returned, is slowly pieced together, Hatufim raises the question of how long the men's wives and families should wait.
In Homeland, Jessica (Morena Baccarin) has had an affair but returns to Brody (Damian Lewis) when he is reunited with her and their children. In Hatufim, by contrast, Uri's wife has remarried. Nimrod's wife has become a symbol of the war widow, devoting her life to campaigning for his return.
Before Hatufim, the topic of POWs in Israel was taboo, a ''Pandora's box that you don't open'', Telem says.
When promos for the show aired sporting the provocative line ''The boys are coming home'', Keshet's management was uncomfortable, doubly so as it coincided with the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Though the topic wasn't openly discussed, the research into what happens to returned prisoners was overwhelming. ''Most of them find it hard to come back to the family they had,'' Telem says. ''They break out, get divorced, leave home. These are the bigger questions in Hatufim.''
The second season of Hatufim has just finished airing in Israel (SBS will air it at a date to be confirmed). Telem says it is more high-tension thriller than the psychodrama of the first season.
''Something good that happens when you sell a format is you get re-influenced by people who are doing your show. Some of the elements that were strong in Homeland one made their way into Hatufim season two, and for us we loved it. Will we be influenced by Homeland three; I guess we have to wait and see.''
Despite having modest budgets that require multi-episode series to be filmed ''horizontally'' and in full before they air, Israeli TV is on a roll, with numerous drama and comedy formats in development in the US.
''I think something has changed in Israeli writing because of Hatufim,'' Telem says. ''Hatufim was written by Gideon, who spent many years working in the US. As a psychological drama, it takes you from episode to episode; it has cliffhangers in every scene. It's something we've learnt from American writing and then brought into Israel.
''As I read scripts now, I can see the influence that Hatufim and Homeland have on Israeli drama.''