Netflix’s ‘The Spy’ is an Inspired Piece of Television
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Emmy campaign starts now.
In Netflix’s “The Spy,” the comedic actor best known for his over-the-top characters portrays Eli Cohen, the heroic Israeli agent who successfully infiltrated Syria in the 60s under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet. The six-episode miniseries launched on September 6 and is unlike anything the “Borat” star has done before. Baron Cohen, who also executive-produced the series, gives an incredibly compelling performance. While it’s jarring at first to see him in a dramatic role, his subdued and emotional candor quickly makes you forget you’re watching the guy from “The Dictator” try to be serious.
Unfortunately, it takes a while for the show to click. The first three episodes are mediocre spy fare, nothing too special. We need to get through Eli being recruited, his mission explained, and him building his cover to get to the action. There are exciting moments to be sure, like when Syrian officials are suspicious of this friendly businessman who has suddenly appeared in their lives. These scenes are tense but can’t carry an episode. You might be disappointed at first.
Things pick up in the back half of the series when Eli is already deep in his cover. He’s gained the trust and respect of Syrian military leaders, and they’ve offered him an advisory position in the Ministry of Defense. In fact, he’s become so comfortable as “Kamel” that when he gets the rare chance to visit his wife Nadia back in Bat Yam, he finds it hard to separate his two lives. As he rises in rank, he continues to supply Israel with information that will aid them in the Six Day War, but the whole time, you’ll be braced for the tragic ending you know is inevitable.
The supporting cast is what really makes the show work. In particular, Noah Emmerich, trading in his FBI badge from “The Americans” for a role as a Mossad official, gives a great performance as Dan Peleg, who befriends Nadia while Eli is away in Syria for months at a time. (He also puts on a surprisingly convincing Israeli accent!) While the bulk of the series follows Eli infiltrating the Syrian government, scenes back at home are just as important. Eli’s absence takes a toll on Nadia, who is raising their child on her own. She also has growing suspicions about what her husband is really up to — he seems unable to give detailed answers about his time “abroad.” It raises an important question: What is the balance between patriotism and personal responsibility?
For those who have a connection to the story, I highly recommend checking out “The Spy.” It’s all too rare nowadays to find media where the Jewish state is unequivocally the good guy. It’s undeniably cool to see 1960s Israel recreated on screen, from a shopping mall to the Golan Heights. Plus, learning about a Jewish hero? You’ve never had a better excuse for a binge-watch.
Photo Caption: Netflix’s ‘The Spy’ starring Sacha Baron Cohen premiered Sept. 6
Photo Credit: Netflix