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Josh Reviews The Spy

Netflix’s six-episode mini-series The Spy tells the true story of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy in Syria in the 1950’s.  This was one of my favorite series of 2019, but I realized I’d never finished & posted my full review — time to remedy that!

I watched all six episodes of The Spy with my stomach tightly clenched.  The series is a wonderful exercise in sustained tension.  I found it so intense and gripping to watch that I had almost a physical reaction watching the episodes.  I was literally perched on the edge of my seat, with my whole body tense.  This was a very intense experience.  As a result, it was almost a relief when the series arrived at its conclusion.  But that only illustrates how well-crafted this series was.

This is an incredible true story.  Eli Cohen, an Israeli who was born in Egypt, volunteers to serve his country in an extremely dangerous manner: creating a completely false life for himself in Syria.  All six episodes of The Spy were directed and co-written by Gideon Raff.  Max Perry has the other half of that co-writing credit.  (Mr. Raff created the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which was adapted by Showtime and became Homeland.)  The Spy is based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël (The Spy Who Came From Israel), written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.  Eli Cohen’s story was previously depicted in the 1987 film The Impossible Spy.  (My father says it’s a good movie, so I’ll have to check it out!)

The series is very well-paced.  I’m pleased that the show was structured in a way that allowed us to spend time with Eli before he ever begins working for the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency).  We see what drives him to undertake this extraordinarily dangerous mission, one for which he proved to be uniquely well-suited.  This is so critical for our investment in the character.  Once Eli begins his undercover mission, I loved the way the show filled out the details of how Eli slowly built his cover and created a complete second life for himself.  I loved all the little details of his spycraft.

Sacha Baron Cohen is fantastic in the lead role.  I’ve always been impressed with Mr. Cohen’s ability to vanish into a character.  Usually that’s in service of a comedy, though I’ve enjoyed, for example, his supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  That was a drama, though Mr. Cohen still scored several big laughs.  Here, he plays things completely straight as Eli Cohen.  And he’s phenomenal; completely convincing as this character, and compelling to watch go on this journey.

The Americans’ Noah Emmerich … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite TV Series of 2019 — Part Two!

Welcome back! Yesterday I began my list of My Favorite TV Shows of 2019!  Let’s continue:

20. The Imagineering Story I loved every minute of this six-part Disney+ documentary series, exploring the history of Disney’s theme-parks and their rides.  The series was directed by Leslie Iwerks, who is the daughter of Disney Imagineer Don Iwerks and the granddaughter of Ub Iwerks, who co-created Mickey Mouse.  So she knows a bit about Disney!  Yes, of course this is a pro-Disney piece of propaganda.  But it is magnificent, well-earned propaganda!  The series digs deeply into the ins and outs of the different Disney parks and all of the best attractions, from the Pirates of the Caribbean to Star Tours to the Enchanted Tiki Room to Space Mountain to the Tower of Terror to Soarin’ to so many more.  We get to meet many of the talented men and women who helped create these attractions, and we learn many of the secrets of the parks and their history.  This was pure joy for me.  I could have happily watched six hours more.

19. The Spy I watched all six episodes of this magnificent Netflix mini-series with my stomach tightly clenched.  This true story of an Israeli spy in Syria in the 1950’s, directed and co-written by Gideon Raff (with co-writer Max Perry), was intense and gripping.  Sacha Baron Cohen is fantastic, playing things completely straight as Eli Cohen, an Israeli who was born in Egypt who volunteers to serve his country in an extremely dangerous manner: creating a completely false life for himself in Syria.  The Americans’ Noah Emmerich is great as Eli’s Mossad handler Dan Peleg.  The series beautifully captures the look and feel of Israel and Syria in the fifties.  It’s a fantastic achievement and a great exercise in tension and suspense.

18. Silicon Valley I was sad to see this wonderful comedy draw to a close this year!  It went out at the height of its powers, with a final seven-episode season that could stand with the very best of the show.  In this final year, the Pied Piper team finally found success, but that didn’t mean that things were any easier for them.  What an ensemble: Thomas Middleditch, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Amanda Crew, Matt Ross, and more.  Any one of those talents could have head-lined their own show!  I will miss every hapless member of the Pied Piper team.  (Click here for my full review of season six.)

17. Stranger Things Season three of this show was every bit as much fun as the first two.  This loving homage to eighties horror and adventure, and to the books of … [continued]