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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Dictators !

Dictators –Series One, -reviewed by Alexander Stark.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about good television coming out of Iraq, after all its neighbour Iran has been a producer of award-winning films for the last decade. But who would have thought that the world debut of Iraqi creative talent in the post-Saddam era would be a sit-com? And what a sit-com!

The writers of “Dictators” seem to have avidly watched and digested the soap operas and situation comedies of America and the UK through years of repression and now their belated response is an eruption of free speech and irreverent humour.

The plot for “Dictators” is genius in itself: a household of four uncouth young men living together, “Young Ones” style in 1990’s Iraq, except that these men all share one unusual profession: they are each identical body-doubles for Saddam Hussein himself.

Current affairs, the invasion of Kuwait, Gulf War One and in the next series Gulf War Two: are all seen to take place casually in the background, as the constantly bored stand-ins watch television and compete and bemoan over who will be next to be given a public engagement role. The four characters, Hassim, Ali, Tariq and Youssef, all wear different outfits about the house, Goodies-style, expressing their wildly differing and ill-matched temperaments: Hassim is hugely patriotic but a bit stupid, Ali is obsessed with the secret police and conspiracy theories, Tariq is effeminate and lazy, lying around the house painting his nails like a supermodel, while Youssef longs to pick up girls but is conflicted over his parents Muslim faith, and more to the point basically shy.

Needless to say, hilarious and excruciating scenarios constantly unfold between these four, like when Hassim is selected to meet Gaddafi (making a special guest star appearance as himself in episode 7), but being too stupid to remember his lines has to take Tariq with him disguised as a woman. Tariq then gets embroiled in a lesbian scenario with one of Gaddafi’s butch female body-guards, leaving Tariq hopelessly exposed as the cameras start rolling. All works out well in the end of course, because Gaddafi is out his face on mescaline and totally bonkers.

Ridiculous schemes to blow up Israel using super-guns get repeated airing, Ali taking on the role of mad inventor among the group, his best shot seeing the four of them landing in The West Bank in light aeroplanes made out of toilet rolls and getting loaves thrown at them by Palestinian women in a bread queue.

The boys get roped into assisting at a biological weapons plant and end up growing extra limbs and heads, one of which looks like Dick Cheney, and spouts right-wing psycho babble.

Youssef, constantly sexually frustrated goes out on an urban babe-pulling mission with Saddam’s sons but is too embarrassed to buy condoms. On the strength of a television story about American troops using them over their gun barrels, he crosses the desert to negotiate and inadvertently brings about a ceasefire, on his knees, weeping, with his shoes off. The cameo role of Robbie Coltrane as General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf (episode 9) at this point, is worth the DVD price alone, and rumours that Jack Nicholson has been contracted to play Donald Rumsfeld in Series Two are appetite-whetting to say the least.

Not since Father Ted, has there been so much fun to be had the expense of figures of dubious authority. Our four Saddams are never less than loveably dumb-assed, but always full of hilariously ill-founded hope, standing up at public gatherings and getting their hats shot off, and trying to score Speed off Chemical Ali.

The theme tune and end-titles are a joy in themselves: the tune from “Neighbours” sung in Arabic with subtitles: Dictators, everybody loves Dictators, with a small misunderstanding, you can meet a sticky end… That’s why Dictators don’t make good friends…

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