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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

TV Series Review

Sacha Baron Cohen’s career is built on an oxymoron: He’s best known for being a fictional reality star.

As the enthusiastically rube-ish Borat Sagdiyev (most famously in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan), he fronted a mockumentary, satirizing American culture through the real people he interviewed on camera. And as the flamboyant Brüno Gehard, he again embraced the mockumentary—skewering fashion, celebrity and his unsuspecting quarry in another “self”-titled film.

While he’s played more traditional characters as well, Baron Cohen’s fame owes itself to his own world of unreal reality. When he’s in character, it’s impossible to pull him out of it. He becomes the man he pretends to be.

Given this outlandish pedigree, it might seem strange to some that Baron Cohen would now play such a somber, understated character in Netflix’s miniseries The Spy. But when you think about what the titular spy did for a living, perhaps nothing could be more natural.

The Man from E.G.Y.P.T.

Eli Cohen is a Jewish Arab—a true Israeli patriot who, despite the everyday prejudices he and his wife suffer, would do anything for his adopted country.

In 1961, his country asks, How much?

Israel, under constant threat of attack from its neighbors, is dealing with a new danger: Syria seems to be planning something new and something big. But what? Israel’s top-notch espionage operation is in the dark. Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, needs someone to infiltrate the notoriously suspicious country and supply Israel with much-desired information.

Eli looks the part. He proved his bravery when he smuggled his family and other Jews out of Egypt. And even though Eli leaves a wife and growing family behind, he’s willing to go.

And so Mossad renames him Kamel Amin Thaabet, creates a backstory for him as a wealthy textile tycoon and sends him off to infiltrate the highest levels of the Syrian government—first in Argentina (where he supposedly made his fortune) and then in Syria itself.

Should Syria learn who Kamel really is, he’ll be summarily tortured and executed. No question about that. But there’s another danger, too. As Eli spends years as Kamel—secretly visiting Israel only rarely—he slips farther and farther into his character.

There’s more than one way to lose your life, Eli finds. You can do it all at once. Or you can lose it bit by bit, day by day, pretending to be someone else.

Get Smart

The Spy is based on a true story, and the real Eli Cohen was an instrumental figure who supplied Israel critical information that came in handy during 1967’s Six-Day War. Cohen didn’t live to see that war begin, though. And Netflix’s The Spy offers a chilling bit of foreshadowing in its opening minutes: Cohen sits in jail, writing his last letter home to his wife. We can see, as he writes, that his fingernails have been pulled off.

Fingernails aside, the miniseries is more restrained than you might expect. The Spy is all about secrets, and the plot drives forward at almost a tense whisper rather than a scream. Struggles are more likely to be verbal than physical—dances of deception rather than flying fists and feet. James Bond may be the world’s most famous spy, but his brand of gadget-brandishing, woman-wooing espionage has no place here.

But when problematic content does make it on screen, it can feel all the more real and, thus, more impactful. Moments of violence and torture can be excruciating to watch. The pilot episode includes both sex and nudity (involving a married couple). And given the parties that the real Eli Cohen threw for Syrian officials have been described as “orgies,” there could be more of the same down the road.

Baron Cohen’s turn toward the serious works on a number of levels, and it is gratifying to see the actor turn away from the outlandish sex, language and offensive behavior that made him a star. But while The Spy may be, in many respects, “better” than some of Baron Cohen’s previous work, it still doesn’t make benefit for families.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Sept. 6, 2019: "The Immigrant"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Sacha Baron Cohen as Eli Cohen/Kamel Amin Thaabet; Hadar Ratzon-Rotem as Nadia Cohen; Yael Eitan as Maya; Noah Emmerich as Dan Peleg; Nassim Si Ahmed as Zaher Ma'azi; Moni Moshonov as Jacob Shimoni; Alona Tal as Julia Schneider; Mourad Zaoui as Benny; Alexander Siddig as Ahmed Suidani

Director

Distributor

Network

Netflix

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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