“The Girl From Oslo” makes no sense, is detached from plausible reality

by Jonathan Feldstein

People have been talking about a new “hit” Netflix series, “The Girl from Oslo,” with enough positive reviews that we decided to watch it. Having seen it, I’m not sure why anyone is saying anything other than that it’s ridiculous.

Here’s the story on one foot: Pia, a young Norwegian tourist, has been kidnapped by ISIS in Sinai along with an Israeli brother-sister with who she is traveling. ISIS threatens to murder them and tries to negotiate their release for ISIS prisoners, conveniently, in Israel and Norway. Pia’s mother, Alex, immediately flies to Israel as any concerned mother would do, to try to free her daughter, using her no less convenient connections in both Israel and Gaza that she made as part of negotiating the Oslo Accords.

We learn that an Israeli security minister, Arik, is Pia’s biological father, and that Pia has come to Israel to find him. In desperation, Alex employs backstabbing negotiating tactics, playing the Israeli security minister (and father of her child) off the leader of Hamas, and visa versa, completely disregarding the implications of the collateral damage on the lives of the people with whom she’s interfacing, or the consequences in their respective communities. Ultimately, Pia goes free.

It’s one thing to dramatize stories, whether based on reality or not, and another to make up an over reaching and immature story line, along with completely unplausible plots and characters. Did I already say it was ridiculous?

True, in recent years Israel has produced some outstanding dramatic shows from “Shtisel” to “Fauda,” and “Tehran.” Signifying what’s a real hit, the Israeli production company that makes “Fauda” was just sold for millions, and “Fauda’s” fourth season is set to release soon. I really hope “Tehran” will come back soon for a second season interrupted by the pandemic.

Putting high hopes on the wave of genuine Israeli hits, “The Girl from Oslo” is a hybrid Israeli-Norwegian production that just didn’t work. It’s worse than another never thought of hybrid: encrusting a good piece of Norwegian salmon in felafel mix and deep frying, though I suspect that now some will try that.

There are so many things wrong with this series. To me, the most telling as to how detached from reality it is was is a scene in an underground Hamas prison cell. To make the facility look authentically run down, even besieged, one of the walls’ peeling plaster reveals a brick foundation behind it. Anyone trying to produce a series that depicts authenticity in Israel should know that its rare to use brick. Most construction involves poured concrete. Hamas certainly does not import red brick for its underground bunkers and terror tunnels. Exposing red brick walls exposes the writers’ and directors’ complete detachment from reality. And it just gets worse.

Generally, the dialogue is silly, and the acting mediocre. Rather than having meaningful dialogue, too often one character simply interjects a stilted verbal cue to prompt the made-up point the writers are trying to reach. It’s really too bad the local high school drama class was not available. The writing and acting would have been dramatically better than that of this so-called “hit.”

It’s entertaining that on a few instances, some of the characters seem to be magically transported between Jerusalem and Gaza, and Oslo and Jerusalem, in real time, as if they were next door. This gives new meaning to a previous genuine TV hit’s mode of transport, “beam me up Scotty.” Captain Kirk and Spock would be proud.

The key pillar of the “plot” is that Pia ostensibly comes to Israel to find her biological father. She learned that she’s the product of a fling between an Orthodox Jewish man who was part of the Israeli team during the negotiations of the Oslo accords in the ‘90s, and her Norwegian mother who played some undetermined role in these negotiations. Even Spock would see the illogic that in the search for her father, Pia would take a detour to Sinai with an Israeli brother and sister where they are kidnapped by ISIS. Naturally.

Adding to the ridiculousness, there’s simply nothing real about the how the respective spouses of the two lead characters, Arik (Orthodox Israeli Jew) and Alex (Norwegian mother), react after suddenly learning of their spouses’ affair and Oslo love child.

I’m not a terrorist, and I don’t play one on TV, but the fantasy continues in how the wheelchair-bound Hamas leader Bashir responds to two of its members straying to support ISIS, and then coming back to loyalty in Hamas. Typically, Hamas traitors end up lynched or with a bullet in the head. But Bashir is in a forgiving mood. Praise Allah.

It’s also ludicrous that Leila, the wife of a presumably martyred Hamas member, was ever part of the Palestinian Arabs’ negotiating team in Oslo. Hamas was not only not part of that process but rejects it, and the Palestinian Arab leaders of the time would not have selected a Hamas leader’s wife to be in Oslo. But as long as the writers take us down that path, it then makes complete sense for Leila (who notes that she’s lost her faith) to become Hamas leader Bashir’s representative in face-to-face negotiations with Israeli security minister, Arik. If you buy all that, I have a terror tunnel I’d like to sell you.

One cannot help but wonder if the real plot of the series was it meant to be some sort of redemption from the failed Oslo peace process.

I read criticism of the worst part of this series being “the lazy reliance on stereotypes. The ISIS and Hamas figures are flat, sinister and aggressive villains.” Duh. Actually, that’s the only part where there’s any semblance of reality. Anyone who thinks that a whitewashing of ISIS and Hamas as anything other than the extremist Islamic terror groups that they are, is as detached from reality as the decorator of the Hamas prison cell.

What’s really ridiculous is the knee-jerk projection of Gaza being under daily and indiscriminate bombing from Israel, whether as a standard policy or negotiating tactic. That almost every scene in Gaza depicts this is not just absurd, but detached from reality and offensive.

Spoiler alert, “The Girl from Oslo” is not worth the time to watch, unless you like watching multi car accidents taking place. But with the cliffhanger ending the first (and hopefully last) season, depicting the head of Hamas calling Arik on his personal phone, this series should be buried like the dead Israeli captive, in an unmarked desert grave.