Guri Alfi plays Detective Rami Davidi in "Black Space," an Israeli series now streaming on Netflix.
Guri Alfi plays Detective Rami Davidi in "Black Space," an Israeli series now streaming on Netflix.

‘Black Space’: Exploring teenage darkness in Netflix’s latest Israeli series

These days, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the world had problems even before we heard the word “coronavirus.”

But various dramatic series — “13 Reasons Why,” “Euphoria,” “I Am Not Okay With This,” “Cruel Summer” and “Riverdale,” to name just a few — are here to remind us, with stories of fictional teens who might be a danger to themselves or others, even without the real-life toll of a desocialized, over-teched year.

In the tense and well-crafted new Israeli series “Black Space,” the teens of the fictional Moreshet High School are grappling with past trauma, mental illness, secrecy and guilt, along with the regular pressures of adolescence.

The series’ eight episodes, each about 45 minutes long, are available for streaming on Netflix. They are in Hebrew with English subtitles.

When a traumatic event happens in the first episode — a school shooting, preceded by an on-screen warning about the show’s content — it takes someone who looks at things a little differently to understand what has really happened. (Plot spoilers ahead, but if you have watched the trailer, you already know all of this.)

In this kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man, Detective Rami Davidi, is king. Rami, who lost an eye when he was younger, is the only one who can see beyond immediate bias to discern what’s really going on. Parents, police and other students remain unaware — effectively blind — of who the perpetrators are.

The police, in particular, are blinded by their biases, initially holding a group of on-site Arab workers responsible and identifying the violence as political.

Only Rami, himself a graduate of this high school (where he suffered his ocular injury), knows all the dark corners of the building itself, and sees into the dark spaces in the human soul.

Convinced that the attack was perpetrated by students, Rami gets the Arab workers exonerated and refocuses the investigation. His quest to resolve the school shooting is more than just solving a case: it’s as if his own personal trauma can be healed only by identifying the perpetrators of the newer, violent acts.

The eponymous Black Space is an anonymous social network that the students at the school seem to have access to, kind of like a dark web WhatsApp. The police hack the platform and eavesdrop on their conversations but can’t seem to shut it down or track its users. As the series progresses, Rami considers the students’ conflicting, muddled accounts of the event. Many are guilty of bad behavior, but only a few may have premeditated murder.

While some may skip this series because of its subject matter, it is taut and heart-racing, more “Fauda” than “Shtisel” in terms of pacing, and technically excellent. Those who can come to terms with the school shooting as the inciting incident and continue to consume “Black Space” will be rewarded with a complicated and engrossing experience.

Because this is an Israeli show, it must contain at least one actor whom audiences will stare at endlessly, imagining him with a beard and trying to figure out if he was on “Shtisel.” In this case, it’s Itamar, who is played by Yoav Rotman, who played

played Hanina Tonik (the Torah-loving, rabbi-consulting husband of Ruchami, played by Shira Haas).

As Rami, comedy actor Guri Alfi is lower-key, more intense and seemingly physically sturdier than in the role he is better known for, as a loud and hilarious co-host of various Israeli late-night comedy programs. (Alfi most recently came to the U.S. in search of “The New Jew,” a series available only in Israel at the moment. Also, on his 2017 trip to Israel, Conan O’Brien interviewed Alfi in the Sea of Galilee.)

At points, the subtitles are … well, not exactly wrong, but puzzling. Why translate tafsik as “don’t speak” when it really means “stop”? B’kef is translated as “OK” instead of the much more nuanced “happily.” And when one character tells another tamut, which means “die,” the subtitle reads “die, bitch.” So if you’re watching Israeli TV only trying to improve your knowledge of Hebrew, it may be a challenge. But on the upside, you get to learn the Hebrew word for unicorn: chad-keren, literally “one horn.”

“Black Space” keeps us in the dark until the end, with some tense, surprising and suspense-filled moments, all while challenging our assumptions of who people are and the secrets they keep. n

Esther D. Kustanowitz
Esther D. Kustanowitz

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a TV columnist for J. She is based in Los Angeles and has been known to track #TVGoneJewy. Follow her on Twitter @EstherK.