Heba Bsat (Lebanon) – In her first comedy since “Fares el Ahlam,” Mona Tayeh has returned with one worthy of holding her name as its creator and writer: MTV’s “3arous W 3aris,” continuing her path of an epic comeback (which started with “Wa Achrakat al Chamess”). In a way, “3arous W 3arous” is a revival and, more precisely, an homage to Tayeh’s older, GOLD comedies like “Familia,” “Ghannoujet Bayya,”and “Banet Ameti w Bente w Ana.”
Speaking of “Banet Ameti W Bente Ana,” “3arous W 3arous,” marks a reunion of sorts between Tayeh, Ward el Khal, and Yorgo Chalhoub, and thus raising the expectations of the audience watching the show considering what a huge mark “Banet Ameti” has left in the history of modern Lebanese TV. “3arous W 3aris,” mostly meets such expectations, though.
The series features Nora (Ward el Khal), who runs an office for matching hopeful, compatible romantic (more, specifically, marital) partners. Nasim (Yorgo Chalhoub), on the other hand, is actually a lot of men in our society. He is an expatriate living in the US, where he married and divorced two American women. He’s back home to find a Lebanese wife, who shares his ideals and values, before he returns to the US. At first, Nassim returns to Lebanon to his Lebanese girlfriend, who turns out to be solely interested in how much money he has. So he breaks it off with her. His aunt (Elsi Fernayni), as a result, sets up him up with Nora in the hopes that he might find the wife he can go back to the US with through her office. And then the shenanigans start.
Before the series premiered, Ward el Khal tweeted, “This series is not shallow at all. It’s very serious and deep, ma test2ello fi.” And she was right. In a way, “3arous W 3aris” (directed by Daisy Daccache) is a satire of our pitiful community and how marriage has become almost a business deal. Every person puts certain conditions, certain characteristics they hope to find in their “significant other.” And if the other person doesn’t have such qualities, they simply dismiss them. When Nora shows Samia, Nasim’s aunt, a photo of Nasim’s first conquest, Samia and Zack, his uncle (Fadi Metri), spend a good portion of their time nitpicking her: her nose is large, her eyes are too small, her lips are too flat, etc..“Bas ya reit 3youna akbar shway.. W leik fi 3admi..” And if you take a look at our community, that exaggeration is not very far-off the reality we live in. Yes, getting married today depends on such shallow standards. One of Nora’s clients is a Muslim married man, Abou Samra (Aleco Daoud, who’s basically owning the role of the douchebag) interested in getting married — again. “Ana behe2ele arb3a!” He constantly explains. And he’s solely interested in how that woman, his future third-wife, looks (and what “assets” she might have). When he sees Zoya (another client of Nora’s, played by Carolina De Oliveira, in her debut acting performance), he basically says, “Ma btekhlas!” as he looks her up and down (commenting about her height), “Bade etzawaj hay!”
Mona Tayeh’s dialogue strengthens the show and gives it solid roots. Its easy-flowing. And that’s because it isn’t pretentious. It isn’t preachy. There are never long, poetic monologues about our society or about romance, and that is more refreshing than you can imagine. Sometimes artistry undermines reality when it comes to dialogue and Tayeh has perfect control over that.
However, it appears like Tayeh has committed a misstep when it comes to the resurrection of Adnan from the ruins of “Ghannoujet Baya.” I appreciate how both shows are integrated into one universe: Adnan mentions Sabah, the love of his life from “Ghannoujet Baya” and how they are no longer together. And, actually, the crossover between these two shows enhances the homage to Tayeh’s older shows further. However, his storyline here nulls the effect of his entire journey in the older show. While he was able to get over his fears and actually get together with Sabah, here he is again facing the same journey with Zoya – who is the one who has a crush on him this time. In addition, while his character was funny and endearing back then, here he’s mostly annoying – probably because we’ve already seen all of that before. The character of Adnan is blemishing an otherwise very successful satire. However, this isn’t to say that Saad Hamdan isn’t doing a great job with his role.
The show in part works, though, because of its leads’ chemistry. Whoever cast the series has done a great job, as almost each pair – even those that are not romantic – works so well; each member of it meshes so well with the other. The main, successful pairings, nevertheless, are definitely those of:
a) Ward el Khal and Saad Hamdan (i.e Nora and Adnan). Their scenes are the only Adnan scenes that I not only tolerate but actually quite enjoy. Her quick-witted, humorous snaps at him are comedy GOLD. If the series had revolved solely around their conversations, I wouldn’t really have minded it.
b) Yorgo Chalhoub and Elsi Fernayni (i.e Samia and Nasim). Their natural chemistry – he is her son, after all – brings so much life to the series. I don’t think they’ve acted in such close proximity in a comedic series before and I really don’t understand why. They’ve obviously brought a glimpse of what they have together in real life and that is what makes their relationship on the TV show so damn fun to watch. In episode 4, they share a scene I keep replaying, especially because of the facial expressions and tones they both use.
Samia: “Badak teshrab l ahwe ba3den betroh”
Nasim: “Ma bade et2akhar 3a maw3de.”
Samia: “Kra3a Kare3.”
Nasim: “Behro2 lsene!”
Samia: “Ntora ta tebrod.”
Nasim: “Bet2akhar 3a maw3de!”
c) Fadi Metri and Elsi Fernayni (i.e Zack and Samia). I could watch these two bicker forever. It’s that simple. They’re like an old married couple. But the truth is she keeps resisting his advances with such coquetry and poise at the same time (even though it’s so apparent how much she likes him.) And he keeps trying without success.
d) OF COURSE, Yorgo Chalhoub and Ward el Khal (i.e Nasim and Nora). Do I even have to write this down? When we first saw them in “Banet W Ameti W Ana,” we were hooked. I know I’m not the only one who has watched that series over and over again solely for these two and for their chuckle-worthy interactions. We rooted for Lily and Hekmat with such passion. We’ve watched their romantic scenes while gluing ourselves to the screen. When that show ended, we petitioned fiercely for them to reunite in a comedy again. And they have in this show. And it’s exactly how we wanted it to be. Not all will-they-won’t-they comedies work, especially that this has become an overused trope. But with these two, it does. They make the chase and path towards actually being together a very gripping one. We know they’ll get together, and we don’t mind that we actually know that – because it’s them. And we want to see HOW they get together. There hasn’t been – and there won’t be – a Lebanese TV couple as captivating as this one. And “3arous W 3aris” keeps proving that episode after episode.
The individual performances in the show uplift it, as well. Yorgo Chalhoub is definitely making a comeback with this series. Yes, he’s been in a few TV programs in the last 5 years, but he has sadly disappeared off the map because of the subpar career choices he was making. He’s no longer the STAR he was ten years ago. This, though, is the ideal show for him. And trust me, his name will shine once again in the industry. He’s getting to refresh his comedic chops. And let’s face it, comedy has always been his greatest asset. Remember Abdou W Abdou? And that charm he’s always possessed in the past is showing its head again in this series, and it is quite irresistible. (Just look at that smile.)
Elsi Fernayni returns to TV after her award-winning performance in “Wa Achrakat Al Chamess” with a role I am certain will once again get her multiple awards. Samia, the character she plays, is a germphobe who has sidelined her entire existence because of her fears and her obsession with cleanliness. This character could easily be a caricature, but Fernayni always makes sure she never crosses that line; however, she is also always exceptionally FUNNY. She knows what a satire is, and she knows how it works. And that is a very hard task: being able to make your viewer laugh without making them think you’re silly. I’m basically obsessed with the exclamations she makes when her character feels that the cleanliness of something around her might be threatened; her “Yeuh” is my favorite. (Or how she quickly runs to grab a tray whenever Nasim eats without holding a plate.) And to be quite honest, the classiness and elegance she so effortlessly puts off helps make her character even more believable.
Ward el Khal has always been one of the queens of comedy in Lebanon. And that is because she doesn’t only depend on the comedic lines she has to say. She doesn’t only depend on her facial expressions (much of which make me literally laugh out loud); she utilizes physical comedy in her performances. (I probably have said this before, but it’s worth repeating.) She uses her legs (have you noticed how much she jumps in her scenes?) and arms and any other other body she can use to be humorous, and she pulls it off perfectly. She’s always energetic, hyper, and full of fervor. And for a sitcom, that is exactly what you need from the actress playing the lead. (And whoever is dressing her is also doing a great job; there’s always one piece of clothing in her outfit that perpetuates her character’s sarcastic, fun-loving personality.) Also, we agree she’s a superwoman, right? She’s killing the funny here and then making us cry in “3eshek El Nisa2.” (More on that next week.) That is called range, my friends.
Both Bruno Tabbal and Carolina De Oliveira are making their debut scripted-TV performance in “3arous W 3aris.” And they are growing on me one episode after the other. It’s as if in each episode, they are grasping their characters further and getting a better handle over them as they’re becoming more comfortable with their roles. It’s also pretty interesting how Bruno is actually able to keep up with Ward’s quick, zapping humor. He never seems like the underling when he’s around her and that is impressive. (It’s worth noting that Bruno’s eye-rolling is pretty perfect.)
It is saddening, though, that our industry still uses amateur, not-very-talented actors for small, “unimportant” roles. I wish the dates Nassim is meeting every couple of episodes had more significant talent. Every role matters. And every role affects the show as a whole.
The score, composed by Youssef el Khal, may just be the best score in a Lebanese TV show in about a year. And that is probably because the series is not a drama and thus does not require a grim, depressing score (like the ones that have been and currently are dominating our TV shows). But the joy the score spreads on its own adds even more spirit to a series that already has A LOT of spirit.
“3arous W 3aris” is refreshingly smart while also being refreshingly FUNNY. It is highlighting everything that is wrong with society while also putting a smile on our faces after every episode. And I, for one, need more series like this one. And I truly hope this series keeps its momentum for the rest of its episodes.