Why you should be watching Tehran on Apple TV+
James R | On 27, Sep 2020
How many shows does it take to make a streaming service a hit? For Apple TV+, the answer might be just one more. After Central Park and Ted Lasso have both proven to be surprising delights, Apple TV+ drops its most distinctive TV series to date: spy thriller Tehran.
From the name alone, it’s clear that this miles away from a Ewan McGregor docuseries or prestige US TV drama. The Israeli production hails from Moshe Zonder, one of the co-creators of Fauda, which has become an international hit on Netflix. This has every bit of that show’s suspense and class, cementing the rise of Israeli TV creators on the global stage, something that has been on the cards ever since Prisoners of War was remade into Homeland.
As the CBS show draws to a close, Tehran feels like a real bolt of something new, dropping us into the action with no exposition or context – the backdrop of Iran-Israel tensions is all we need to know to get that things are going to be fraught with risk. Niv Sultan stars as Tamar, a Tehran-born hacker who is also a Mossad agent. Entering the country disguised as a flight attendant, she aims to take down Iran’s nuclear facilities. From the moment we join her on that flight, though, we find that everyone and everything is under scrutiny, and when things go awry, she finds herself being tracked by intelligence services on both sides.
The cast are great, with Sultan delivering a star-making turn as Tamar, who’s resourceful and smart even as she’s frantically finding a way to move forwards with her mission. She learns quickly, something that Zonder’s script uses to drip-feed information to us in quick conversations that never feel like they’re doing any narrative heavy-lifting – one cab ride makes it clear from the brutal backdrop that she’s not in friendly territory.
Shaun Toub is every bit her match as Faraz, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence service, and once he realises something’s afoot, he refuses to let it out of his sight. But it’s testament to Tehran’s intrigue and appeal that things aren’t as black-and-white as that; the more time we spend with the imperious Toub, the more we see snatches of Faraz’s personal life, as he tries to spend time with his wife and make up for his work-focused outlook but is still capable of hitting a suspect if he thinks an investigation calls for it. Navid Negahban is an effective counterpart as as Tamar’s handler, Masoud.
All three are rapidly put on a collision course, but while Tehran’s strength is its razor-sharp pacing, it finds time for nuances and details, humanising each character – the Iran-Israel divide that drives the narrative only opens up the story to explore the human costs of the conflict’s cycle of cruelty, rather than try to be sympathetic to one side or damn the other. A case in point is the dissident Tamar finds herself falling in with, a bond that’s as complicated and messy as they come, much like Tamar’s own dual experience of Iran – on the one hand, her birth country, on the other, a place she can never leave without a forged passport.
Filmed in Athens and backed by a pulsating soundtrack, the whole thing is wrapped up in a feel of authenticity but also the rare opportunity to delve into a world where people speak Hebrew, Farsi or English. More universal than that, though, is the thrill of the chase, the fun of a swift disguise change and the pull from each episode’s end credits to immediately start on the next. In a crowded streaming landscape where shows can often fail to stick out, Tehran is calling card that deserves to put Apple TV+ on the map.
Tehran is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.