If you’re a fan of Israeli TV, you’re probably used to protagonists who are gruff and tough, like the elite IDF fighters of Fauda or the hardened characters on Hatufim, the show that inspired Homeland. If you like your Israelis all muscles and stubble and guns, you’re probably not going to like Pini.
The protagonist of an indie comedy that debuted online in 2014, Pini, played by the show’s creator Tomer Barzide, is a happy-go-lucky young Israeli man, the kind of guy you’d expect to find not running on the battlefield but lounging in some trendy café. Fresh out of the army, Pini, who has never been abroad, decides to move to London in the hopes of becoming a celebrity chef like Gordon Ramsay. Before too long, though, he faces the struggles of life across the ocean: Having two faucets instead of one, driving on the left side of the road, and putting up with bland bangers and mash that pale in comparison to his native spicy shakshuka.
The show isn’t about Israel as much as it is about Israelis. Notably absent from the show are the issues that suck up all the air in Israeli media: In Pini’s world, there’s no Bibi, no Hamas, no conflict, and barely a mention of Judaism. Reality, of course, finds a way of seeping in, with hilarious results: When Pini and his friends have Sam, a Syrian immigrant, join their volleyball game, for example, Pini pretends to be Estonian. “If he know I am Israeli,” he tells his roommate Tom, “he send Al-Qaeda to our house. You want Al-Qaeda in our house, Tom?” Sam, on his end, takes a liking to Pini, telling him that he’ll bring along his Estonian friend the following week. A panicked Pini learns a few words of Estonian, only to find out that Sam’s Estonian friend bailed, so Sam brought his Israeli friend instead.
The majority of the dialogue is in English, with the occasional Hebrew and French thrown in for good measure. But the humor is uniquely Israeli, and it mostly comes from the cultural differences Israelis trying to fit into the seemingly byzantine British society face. Pini uses many literal English translations of phrases that exist only in Hebrew: “On the face” (it’s crap), “end of the way” (it’s great), or “what a f**king segment!” (you won’t believe it), and, perhaps most of all, “I’ll show you where the fish pisses from” (I’ll show you.) And, true to the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit, Pini spends his days cultivating elaborate money-making and girl-getting schemes, most of which end in toe-curling helplessness that recalls the cringe-inducing greatness of Curb Your Enthusiasm (Pini even has theme music that sounds a lot like the Larry David masterpiece.)
Far from the stereotypical sabra, Pini is no tan, muscular, strong-and-silent type. He’s clumsy, overly confident, a bit vulgar and a lot lovable. Still, hilariously, his British friends see him as a war hero, a discrepancy played for comic effect but which also recalls the undue reverence with which American Jews often look at their Israeli relatives and friends.
In an era when anything even remotely related to Israel sends partisans into rank-and-file battle formation, it’s a relaxingly feel-good, relatable, and bite-size show to watch. So leave aside the stressful news and enjoy an episode or two over some upside down coffee, pi’a and ‘ummus from Chef Pini’s kitchen.