REVIEW: ‘Finding Ola’ Season 1 Has Potential

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Finding Ola - But Why Tho

Finding Ola is a Netflix original sequel series to the 2010 Egyptian series I Want to Get Married, which found renewed significant success with Egyptian audiences on Netflix years later. Starring the same protagonist, Ola Abdel-Sabour (Hend Sabry), the series starts off with a crushing event for the housewife and mom of two, as her husband Hisham (Hany Adel) now wants a divorce! But Ola is strong-willed and has a great amount of support behind her, including from her best friend (Nada Musa). her overbearing mother Suhair (Saswan Badr), and daughter Nadia (Yasmina El-Abd). But will she be able to fulfill her newfound ambitions as a newly single mom?

Finding Ola attempts to answer these questions with varying degrees of success in its multiple angles. Sabry is a great lead as Ola, with constant wit and charm as she navigates through her new predicament. We’re her friend in on her inner thoughts as she breaks the fourth wall to let us know the absurdities she must deal with, and Sabri handles these transitions effortlessly. You always want to root for Ola as a viewer, celebrating her wins and feeling for her losses. She, along with other standouts like her mother and Nesrine, make the show compelling to watch as we explore the lives of upper-class Egyptian people.

But the writing doesn’t always work in the service of pushing her story forward. In fact, it often doesn’t seem like we are really on the journey of “Finding Ola.” Almost everything Ola does and reacts to is connected to other characters, most often unwillingly as she has these new circumstances thrust on her. What are some of Ola’s favorite activities? What is she interested in that’s purely for herself? These questions are never fully answered. Even as she starts her new business venture with Nesrine and Montaser (Mahmoud El-Leithy), it doesn’t feel like we know enough about why she wants to do this business besides doing something fun and exciting. It’s through her interactions with her friends and family that we know aspects about her personality, but the drive to know enough about Ola, unfortunately, isn’t there from the writers.

That’s not to say the show isn’t good, only that it frustratingly doesn’t reach its full potential with the strength of its lead character. But the supporting cast is very good and buttresses the show’s lack of strong narrative drive.  Nada Musa is fantastic as Nesrine, constantly supporting, but never blindly supporting, Ola through her emotional struggles and getting her to loosen up and have fun. But we also learn how important their friendship is to Nesrine, who values that sisterhood in a society that prioritizes marital companionship first. Montaser is also a great business partner and friend to Ola and Nesrine, and while an explicit mention of his sexual orientation is never named, it’s not difficult to see him as the show’s queer coded character, as the writing does its best to make it past the censors, and will hopefully be at least somewhat meaningful representation to queer viewers.

The best relationship development Ola has on the show is with her mother Suhair. Badr plays the role beautifully throughout, even when initially the writing for her is one-note as the distressed mother keen on getting Ola back with Hisham. The show has a good sense of Egyptian social dynamics, particularly on marriage, divorce, and how the family (especially parents) interferes into their children’s affairs to maintain cohesive family units. But as the stresses of the story take more of a toll on her and Ola, we get to learn more about why she thinks and does what she does, and feel great empathy for her. Badr is compelling and luminous on-screen and shows that complete and compelling narratives are there for women at any age.

Where the show’s relationship exploration critically falters, unfortunately, is in the relationship with Hisham. (SPOILERS follow in the rest of this paragraph). I’m just going to put it bluntly. He absolutely sucks. And the worse part is the show tries to present nuance and empathy to him and his actions, but it all boils down to that he’s going through a midlife crisis that leads him to want to divorce Ola. He even starts dating someone who’s less than 10 years older than his daughter. At another point, after a disagreement with Ola, he threatens to take custody of their children and leave her out of their lives. It’s a traumatic moment for Ola who comes the next day begging not to lose them, and he quickly relents but doesn’t fully apologize for the trauma of that fear he put her through. It’s all so cursory and frustratingly holds Ola and the show back from truly “Finding Ola.”

But this is still a mostly enjoyable show once you get past those frustrating story moments. There’s still heart from Ola and friends, family, and love interests (explicitly barring Hisham) that pulls it through its more subpar moments. The humor mostly lands, even though it feels like it can go further and bolder. But that’s also where the show falters as a whole. If it were to more intentionally explore the societal dynamics that Ola lives in, then perhaps it could have achieved greater heights.

Finding Ola is an overall good dramedy that unfortunately doesn’t reach all the heights it aims for. With strong performances from Hend Sabri and most of her supporting cast, there’s a heart and humor to the show that will keep audiences entertained. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t always do them, and the show, is the best service to make them the best they can be. But it’s still an enjoyable story overall that has a place to go in a potential Season 2. Let’s just hope in the next round the show can fully live up to its name.

Finding Ola is streaming now on Netflix.


Finding Ola Season 1
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;R

Finding Ola is an overall good dramedy that unfortunately doesn’t reach all the heights it aims for. With strong performances from Hend Sabri and most of her supporting cast, there’s a heart and humor to the show that will keep audiences entertained. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t always do them, and the show, the best service to make them the best they can be. But it’s still an enjoyable story overall that has a place to go in a potential Season 2. Let’s just hope in the next round the show can fully live up to its name.