The opening scenes of Tehran, the new thriller from the Israeli public broadcast corporation Kan 11, tell the story of two Israeli backpackers who decide to take a cheap flight from Jordan on their way to India, and find themselves in trouble when their plane must make an emergency stop in Iran. It is a tight and tense opening, yet it also carries a somewhat unintentional hilarious subtext. An Israeli viewer is likely to giggle at the throwback to the good old days, less than a year ago, when Israelis could actually board an airplane and travel around the world, convinced that the Iranian nuclear program was the biggest threat to their safety. In fact, during the show’s run on Kan 11, reality met fiction when a mysterious explosion occurred in an Iranian facility, attributed to Israel’s secret war against the country’s nuclear program. But few Israelis cared: With no end in sight to the COVID-19 crisis, most of them were worried about other, more immediate problems.Yet Tehran has become a hit among Israeli viewers. Kan 11 broadcasts are not included in Israel’s TV rating metrics, but it is estimated that 15% of Israeli television owners have watched the show, with digital streaming of the show’s episodes reaching around 3 million views. Even before its broadcast, the show made headlines when it was purchased in a multimillion-dollar deal for international broadcast by the Apple TV streaming service. Iranian media added to the hype, publishing angry responses to the show’s production—again, long before it even debuted.What is it about Tehran that generated so much attention? It is not, in any way, an innovative contribution to the genre. Since the early 2010s, Israeli television had its share of political thriller productions, notably Prisoners of War (originally Hatufim, which served as the basis for the American genre drama Homeland), Gordin Cell (directed by Tehran’s Daniel Syrkin) and of course, the international hit Fauda (from Tehran writer Moshe Zonder).The first episode did little to suggest complexity of the kind that Fauda offered, with its presentation of the Israeli-Iranian conflict as an us-versus-them, good-guys-versus-bad-guys affair. The above-mentioned emergency landing in Iran, which opens the episode, turns out to be a cover for the infiltration of a young Iranian-born Israeli hacker Tamar (played by Niv Sultan) into the country as part of a larger plan to launch an attack on its nuclear facilities. As zero hour for the attack approaches, catching Tamar becomes an obsession for Faraz Kamali (Shaun Toub), a high-ranking officer in the Iranian security service. The episode effectively keeps viewers at the edge of their seats with a seemingly endless supply of schemes and cliffhangers. Yet it also feels one-dimensional, portraying the Iranian characters as cartoon villains and the Israelis as cold professionals.Things get more complicated with the following episodes, as Tamar finds herself in over her head and must rely on the help of local allies to complete her mission. It is here that Tehran paints a far more complex picture of Iran for the Israeli audience. Yes, the country is a stronghold of Islamic fundamentalism, and its regime’s supporters get more than enough screen time in the series, but it is also a modern country (the show’s locations were beautifully shot in Greece), where many young people are sick of oppression.Against this backdrop, the determination of the Israeli intelligence operatives plays a grim role: In their quest to fulfill their mission and protect their own, these operatives leave a long trail of lives lost and ruined among Iranian idealists, who are cynically treated by Israeli intelligence as useful idiots. On the other hand, Kamali’s character slowly emerges as the true hero of the show. He is determined to do his job, even when it involves brutal measures, but his love for his country does not blind him to its crimes, nor does he place it above his love for his sick wife, in one of the show’s more tragic subplots.This complex portrayal of Israel’s secret war and warriors makes Tehran a very satisfying viewing experience and makes up for some of the show’s shortcomings. Sultan, like most of the actors playing Israeli characters, has a pleasant enough on-screen presence, but her performance is nothing outstanding, perhaps because the script does not give her much to work with in terms of character development. Too often, the show requires the audience’s suspension of disbelief on a variety of issues—from unlikely espionage tricks to Tamar’s relationship with a young Iranian dissident. For the most part, it’s no worse than in an average Hollywood production of the genre, but viewers will need to be in a forgiving mood before watching the final episode.Viewers should also be warned that this episode ends with a cliffhanger to be resolved in the as-yet-unproduced second season. Despite all these problems, though, the producers of Tehran have come up with a polished, entertaining, and thoughtful show, the perfect getaway for Israeli viewers from current harsh realities to the harsh realities of not so long ago.