Ramadan 2024: The best TV shows, from social sagas to zany cartoons

This year's offerings during the holy month feature memorable dramas and the return of old favourites

Taim Hassan stars in Syrian drama Taj. Photo: MBC
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As we head towards the last 10 days of Ramadan, several programmes have stood out in a packed and fiercely competitive television schedule.

Innovative storytelling, high production and fresh insights into misunderstood communities in the Arab world are some of the common ingredients among the shows that have stood out. With most programmes concluding 30-episode seasons at the end of the holy month, new viewers will have the opportunity to watch in full on associated platforms such as MBC’s Shahid and Abu Dhabi Media Network’s ADtv.

Here are seven of The National staff's picks, arranged in alphabetical order.

Al Boom (Abu Dhabi TV)

This should go down as one of the best Emirati Ramadan dramas of the year. Set in the coastal towns of the Northern Emirates in 1938, the series follows Shahab, who aims to build his tattered reputation as a sea captain after his last voyage results in the loss of a child and precious cargo.

Meanwhile, the British Empire is also on the move. Keen to establish a lucrative trade route to India, a naval base is to be established in the northern emirate, much to the dismay of the local community. Al Boom goes on to show how Shahab grasps the geopolitical opportunity to establish a lucrative maritime trade route between the Gulf and South-east Asia.

Exquisitely shot on location in Ras Al Khaimah, Tunisian screenwriter Emad Al Deen Al Hakim does a fine job of representing life in the tight-knit coastal community. Viewers also learn the important role seafarers played in establishing the UAE’s cosmopolitan society.

Saeed Saeed, arts and culture reporter

Ala Nesbet Moshahda (Shahid)

Staring Salma Abu Deif and Laila Ahmed Zaher, the true story of an Egyptian influencer embroiled in a legal case about the use of her social media accounts is told over 16 episodes. The season has just ended so newcomers are now able to binge-watch the whole drama online.

While the brevity of the programme ensures tension is maintained throughout, Ala Nesbet Moshahda subtly sends a message about the dangers of social media and its ramifications on families and society as a whole.

Faisal Salah, gaming and social media journalist

Badea’s Children (Shahid)

The show revolves around a street beggar named Badea and her children, some of whom were fathered by a wealthy tannery factory owner. Front and centre of the plot is Sukkar, Badea’s only daughter, who is portrayed by Salafa Memar.

Sukkar is a dancer entrenched within the Damascene underworld. The drama unravels as Badea’s children lock horns for the inheritance of the tannery tycoon. There is a heartbreaking element to Badea’s Children, however, especially watching the series as a diaspora Syrian who has not visited the country since the outbreak of the civil war.

The show, as it reaches the midway point, suddenly becomes a barrage of crimes and violence, to the point where it feels gratuitous. Badea’s Children can be a difficult watch, particularly because of the way it unflinchingly delves into the darkness.

Razmig Bedirian, arts and culture reporter

Freej 6 (Shahid)

Back after a hiatus of ten years, the animated Emirati series still crackles with colourful takes on serious topics affecting UAE society.

Created by Mohammed Saeed Harib, the MBC series follows the lives of four elderly women (Umm Khamas, Umm Saeed, Umm Alawi and Umm Saloom) residing in a nondescript neighbourhood of Dubai as they come to terms with the evolution of modern-day society.

The detrimental impact technology can have on the social fabric of UAE communities is a theme in the first batch of episodes. Spreading rumours online to inflame local tensions and falling prey to a financial scam are among the topics tackled.

While more conservative than fellow Emirati animated series Shaabiat Al Cartoon, also airing during Ramadan, Freej 6 remains engaging because of the mirthful banter between the golden girls.

Saeed Saeed, arts and culture reporter

Malaffat Mansiyya (Shahid)

This engaging Kuwaiti murder-mystery series about a retired police office who investigates a suspicious death in a residential building is full of amusing characters.

Characters are revealed and the plot changes in an interesting way. Set somewhere between the late 1980s and early 1990s, the set design and costumes are effective in evoking that era. With a pan-Arab cast and crisp dialogue, the twists and turns come fast.

Faisal Salah, gaming and social media journalist

Khattaf (Abu Dhabi TV)

It may have been six years since Emirati director Ali Mostafa stepped behind the camera, but the time away has clearly served him well. His MMA-inspired series airing nightly during the second half of Ramadan is the most technically impressive work the City of Life and From A to B filmmaker has produced. It follows an Emirati fighter who leaves Abu Dhabi after a string of defeats to rekindle his fighting spirit in the underground combat world of South Asia.

Mohamed Faisal Mostafa, younger brother of the filmmaker, takes on the title role and proves to be a revelation. He builds on his breakout performance in the international Apple TV+ hit Hijack starring opposite Idris Elba to show that he's the leading man that Emirati film and television has been waiting for.

William Mullally, arts and culture editor

Shaabiat Al Cartoon (Sama Dubai)

Back for its 18th season, Shaabiat Al Cartoon tackles social matters in a trademark zany way. The main character is Shambee, a loveable jokester with a keen entrepreneurial spirit whose everyday issues reflect the continuing development of the UAE.

Episode four is an example. Telling a story about a vigilante resembling Shambee in Dubai, it finds an insightful way to tackle the inherent dangers of identity theft. In the sixth episode, set in the Liwa desert, Atooqa illegally boosts her car – in an attempt to win a racing competition – to such an extent it becomes a dangerous menace on the road.

All of this might have come off too preachy if it wasn’t for the winning humour and colourful Emirati colloquialisms dotted throughout.

Saeed Saeed, arts and culture reporter

Taj (Shahid)

The legacy of this show will last well after Ramadan 2024. The series is set in Damascus in the 1940s, during a time of resistance against the French colonial forces. It is now the first Arabic show set in Syria during this time period, but Taj (meaning crown) distinguishes itself with a well-crafted plot and stellar performances.

The show stars Taim Hassan in the lead, titular role of a boxer. He is joined by another heavyweight Syrian actor, Bassam Kousa. The Souq Al Harrir star takes on a complex role that darts between political loyalty and betrayal. Newcomer Faia Younan, meanwhile, is also remarkable in her role as Taj’s wife.

The show heralds a dignified return for Syrian dramas, which had an exalted place in regional television before the civil war began.

Razmig Bedirian, arts and culture reporter

Updated: March 29, 2024, 6:02 PM