‫شوف لي حل

In Treatment is the new, week-nightly, HBO drama based on the Israeli hit, B’tipul. After watching two week’s worth of episodes made available on my soon to be canceled subscription to on-demand premium cable, I can clearly see the Israeli origins of the show. It’s about miserable, tortured, people torturing the audience through the exasperation of therapist, Paul (a nightmare himself during his own Friday night sessions with Gina). Though many of the elements are contrived to bring out “the therapy drama” – such as Laura’s erotic transference – those are the only entertaining parts of the show. Laura is actually well played by Melissa (Wot is My Accent This Week?) George as a sexy, vamping, MD who uses her sessions with Paul to emotionally blackmail him into having sex with her. His code of ethics make him ANTI this, and he’s got to spend sessions dodging unsuitable innuendos. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are killing me. Blair Underwood plays Alex , who does NOT feel a guilty conscience for bombing a schoolhouse in Iraq — is clearly a repressed homosexual who hates his wife because she only farts twice a year and won’t let him drink coffee. And he probably wishes he were white.

Their collective shit stresses me out. I don’t need this from HBO.

This is what I need:

TV7 -11/10 Choufli 7al 3 Episode 29/Partie 1/2
Uploaded by hapsi87

Known as Choufli 7al (“Solve My Problem”), it is a Tunisian sit-com about what happens when a psychiatrist and a psychic share a waiting room. You are not required to be able to read Arabic to be welcomed at my blog, so I direct you to the official show site which is in French. It contains episode summaries and cast photos.

TV7 -29/09 Choufli 7al 3 Episode 17/Partie 1
Uploaded by hapsi87

By the juxtaposition of therapist and psychic, this show demonstrates how therapy is perceived in the Arab world. Obviously, it’s not original to say that therapy is cultural situated even if Freud considered it a universal science. It just doesn’t fly in some cultures. Asians, for example, don’t go to therapy. They work.

On the other hand, there’s a solid, pragmatic, thrust to the show. Whatever solves the problem. It does seem to be a cultural universal that we perceive emotional relief in terms of a service industry. ‘You do the work, and I’ll shell out the cash,’ so to speak. Therapy, psychics, massages, hand jobs are all there to relieve our anxiety and serve the cult of the ego. Honestly, in terms of the relief they bring I’d rate hand jobs first, then massages and psychics; finally, therapy comes in last not because it actually provides much relief, but because you at least get to spend some money on it and blow your wad that way.

This show has lasted five years and only now, after bitching about In Treatment, do my sources (DW, thanks) alert me to its existence. I was trepidatious at first, though, because of a recent experience with the Egyptian film called The Yacoubian Building. That was supposed to be some ‘ground-breaking‘ work which openly treated subjects like terrorism and homosexuality. Unfortunately, these timely, world-historical, topics were just slathered with the usual sauce of Egyptian melodrama; the result was disgusting and offensive — even to me, who, as you know, revels in things offensive. The Yacoubian Building also contained condescension at a Brokeback Mountain level without even the hotness of Heath Ledger playing a stoic, butch, bottom or Ang Lee’s nice nature photography.* It was a painful reminder of how far, in the past thirty years, Egypt has emotionally and intellectually regressed. Sadly, Egyptians have long dominated cultural production in the Middle East; ergo, it’s a regional regression.

All Egyptian film is disgustingly self-indulgent and melodramatic. That is its true generic constraint. I’m sure they would say it’s ‘operatic,’ but it’s actually more music hall. Here are the ingredients:

1) Take some clichés that substitute for sociological analysis.
2) Add some brooding emotion for seriousness.
3) Mix in some casual humor, because we’re not self-conscious like that.
4) Throw in a touch of moralism to battle nihilism.

and blend!

Actually, that describes most American stuff, too. But even without understanding most of what’s going on in the clips I’ve found, Solve My Problem seems to be far superior to other crap from the region: It’s head and shoulders better than the Yacoubian Building or In Treatment/ B’tipul model. I know these aren’t ‘just’ comparisons, but they’re the only recent examples of successful “socially progressive” fare I have from the region.

Solve My Problem could be a huge hit in America if some open-minded producer would be willing to steal and exploit this idea. The episodes are already written, so the writer’s strike is irrelevant. I can see it knocking The Office out of its top-slot and hereby demand that we culturally poach this show, too. If not in the interest of entertaining tee vee, at least in regards to fairness. If we’re going to agonize over mental illness from Israel every night, we should at least lighten up once a week a la the Tunisians.

*I might write an entry later about how Brokeback Mountain was clearly Hollywood’s hugely bitchy revenge against the state of Wyoming for the death of gay, drug-dealer, Matthew Shepard.

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3 Responses to “‫شوف لي حل”

  1. Tucker Stone Says:

    Something tells me that the essay about Matthew Shepard would bring about the return of the Parisian style-dialog circus, where the quiet, engaging literary types might lounge on pillows, proffering ideas of great merit, whilst molesting small boys.

  2. darknessatnoon Says:

    I wish I had been molested… I think I would have liked it.The Matthew Shepard idea came to me once when driving through Wyoming. I thought about Brokeback and wondered why the hell anyone would make a movie about that hellhole state. Then it all clicked… the Gay Mafia! For once, that actually is the right answer.Nothing Parisian, though something might come up after I theorize my bullshit some more.

  3. sammyinsydney Says:

    hey sharif, great posting. i just passed along your info to a few aussies who will love it here. i look forward to the brokeback piece- isn’t it appropriate post mortem? have you heard of a film called “jihad for love” a guy i know made it, just curious what you know.alright, off to read more-sammy

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