‘Special Offer’: Egypt’s first cinematic TV series

The small screen welcomed a new arrival this month in the form of director Hadi el-Bagoury’s new TV series ‘Ard Khas (Special Offer). The show follows aspiring actors attempting to secure a foothold in the often treacherous entertainment industry, and has generated quite a buzz due to its glitzy and aggressive marketing campaign.

Five formerly unknown actors play a dentist, a model, a musician, a TV presenter, and a stage actor, all trying to break into the movie business. They audition for an acting workshop, conducted by actor Ezzat Abu Ouf who plays himself, or a version of himself as an acting sage. They are the lucky chosen ones and Abu Ouf insists they sign the “special offer”–a contract granting him exclusive management rights over their budding careers for the next five years. Alongside the obvious drama of the characters trying to work their way out of their day jobs, Abu Ouf and his workshop add a little more intrigue–unreasonable demands will clearly be made down the line, and the unsettling energy that stems from this premise may be the show’s only substantial hook.

Hadi el-Bagoury, an A-list TV commercial and music video director, has been accentuating the glamor of top brands and local divas for the past 15 years. ‘Ard Khas marks his first foray into television, and the supremacy of visual image over content is noticeable. El-Bagoury chose to film the series on 16mm film stock, in order to deliver what the show’s producers are calling “Egypt’s first truly cinematic TV series,” but the directorial approach nonetheless remains firmly rooted in formulaic television themes. The characters, as two-dimensional as the screen that projects them, remain trapped in predictable segments tailored to fit between ad breaks, despite the inordinate use of long shots and snappy editing.

The opening credits, which may perhaps be the show’s most striking aspect, are an early teaser for the show’s potential. Scratchy film stock reveals the lead characters as toddlers in whimsical sequences that border on the soulful. Though this effect is unlikely to hold after the tenth viewing, the show itself simply does not come close to packing that kind of punch. An attempt at earnestness and immediacy only translates into the kind of vague and uneven, and at times downright awkward, juxtaposition of melodrama and humor we’ve come to expect from any local series.

In the show’s press junket, el-Bagoury announced his intention to address the issues and challenges facing rising stars in a field with which he is well acquainted. Limited by the confines of television censorship, it will be interesting to see how deep he delves into the darker side of an industry known for its murky politics. As it stands, the show needs such as edge, as not only do all the lead actors lack charisma, but their storylines lack any substantial jeopardy. Only the dentist has anything of value to lose–his job. The rest can all be safely considered smug middle-class brats unworthy of a second thought.

For now, the series’ saving grace is its shameless use of cameo appearances by real industry heavyweights. Many viewers will be attracted by the thrill of catching a glimpse of the occasional transient manifestation of actress Hind Sabry or director Tarek Al Arian. A second season of the series is no doubt currently in pre-production, and, regardless of the first season’s success, an abundance of B-list actors must be clamoring for some screen time as themselves. God help us all.

‘Ard Khas (Special offer) airs weekly on Abu Dhabi One every Friday at 9PM and on Dream Two every Saturday at 9PM.

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