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El Bernameg: Bassem Youssef's Political Satire on ONTV
The show itself starts with a disclaimer, distancing ONTV from the opinions and statements made by Youssef. So you already know you’re in for a treat.
The crux of the show isn’t his straight-faced humour, charisma and sarcasm, or even in the actual production of the show; the draw is Youssef’s unique take on and dissection of Egyptian politics. It’s difficult not to be charmed and swept away by him, and you’ll soon find yourself thinking in the same playfully sardonic way.
He is by no means a comedian, but his wit and the tongue-in-cheek methods of tackling political issues make them relatable and relevant. There are no jokes or real skits and sketches as such; Youssef’s main aim is to incite more and more political debate. He’s not afraid of confronting the most controversial issues either.
The first episodes of the show have seen Youssef address issues such as the Arab world's silence over the ongoing atrocities in Syria, wanted businessman Hussein Salem, sexual harassment, and the continuing ambiguity of the interim government. Perhaps one of the stellar moments was when Youssef tackled the controversy of Naguib Sawiris, coincidently the owner of ONTV and thereby Youssef’s boss; proving that no one is above his scathing wit.
It isn’t all just witty critique and satire, though. Youssef has featured new books on the show, and has hosted guests ranging from participants in the January 25th revolution to individuals working for the good of local communities. He also featured Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s first female presidential candidate, as well as Essam Sultan and Cairokee. All his interviews stay true to style, and are light and entertaining.
Youssef has a very definite charisma and is obviously a hugely intelligent individual. He often peppers his show with medical knowledge to comic effect.
While the show is a must-see, it is far from your traditional Ramadan viewing. Those looking to escape in the melodrama of soap operas have some forty shows to choose from, and while this show is heavy on political and social issues, it’s a unique and refreshing alternative to the standard talk show formula.
‘El Bernameg’ is shown on ONTV daily at 7:15PM, and is repeated at 2AM, 6AM and 12PM.
He promptly charms the somewhat cynical principal Ms. Vaillancourt (Proulx), who at first is a little hesitant to his slightly mystical presence, and soon takes over the 'broken' classroom. The film’s heart also lies with the two students who were unfortunate enough to discover the body. Alice (Nélisse) is a bright-eyed, straight A student, who deals with her own troubles of an absent parent on daily basis. The tender-looking Simon (Néron) suffers a level of guilt for his teacher's demise and is a problematic student as a result.
The task at hand is one of many challenges for M. Lazhar. Nevertheless, with his own personal suffering set aside, its details slowly unravel throughout the film; he takes the kids under his caring wing and slowly starts guiding them to the truth.
Fellag's interpretation of M. Lazhar is a delightful surprise. Though slightly old-fashioned in his teaching methods, trying to get to grips on a modernised education system, Lazhar is portrayed as loyal and caring. From beginning to end, we are embraced with his warmth and affection. The same can be said for the outstanding performances by both child actors, Alice and Simon. The level of maturity and the profound strength they bring to their roles is nothing short of mesmerising.
While some may argue that originality is dead, no genre is more vulnerable to that notion than comedy, which has always been prevalent in Egyptian Ramadan TV. One only has to look to polarising TV personality and prankster, Ramez Galal.
Appearing for the fifth consecutive time on TV screens during Ramadan, Galal’s latest shenanigans present nothing new – in fact, one could argue that this year’s show, Ramez Wakel El Gaw, is one of the poorest yet; even the opening credits have come to be uniform. A grand orchestral intro makes way for nonsense music with nonsense lyrics. Galal – who lends his vocals to the opening credits – begins each episode in the same way, weaving in some banter at the expense of the celebrity that he’s about to prank.
The concept of the show is that each unsuspecting victim is summoned to a mystery business meeting in Dubai via plane. The prank? It's simple: convince the celebrity in question that the plane is experiencing engine failure and that they are about to die? Tasteless? Maybe. Unfunny? Almost certainly. Galal and co also pepper the celebrity’s ride with smaller, more infantile mini-pranks – serving strange-tasting coffee and spewing unpleasant odours in the plane.
As mentioned, the main prank itself is significantly weaker and cruder than that in previous series. In addition, episodes are shorter, while the show misses the opportunity in making the most of their guests – a sit-down and interview would give the show much more value, for examples. In fairness, however, the disguises and make-up that Galal uses during the pranks isn’t half-bad and there’s a certain guilty pleasure in seeing what he’ll look like in the next episode.
As always, the pay off in a show like this is how the celebrity responds to the revelation of the prank and this series has thus far seen some pretty angry and over-the-top reactions, with one particular episode featuring former belly-dancing star and actress, Lucy, requiring an inordinate amount of bleeping. Galal was even the victim of a pretty firm kicking at the hands of another unimpressed guest.
Galal shows have always received criticism, but viewing figures have always proven the popularity of them; like him or loathe him, people are always talking about him. This year, though, despite Paris Hilton featuring in an upcoming episode, there isn’t as much buzz; this is partly because of the emergence of other Ramadan prank shows, but could Egypt finally be tiring of his antics? Only time will tell.