In Other Words

Insecurity Camera

Homeland and the Israeli show that inspired it aren't the only thrillers that tackle their countries' deepest national security concerns. Here are five other programs that tap into national psyches.

The Spy War | Egypt, 2009


During the month of Ramadan in 2009, Egyptian state television aired a number of patriotically themed television serials, including The Spy War, loosely based on the story of an Egyptian journalist executed along with her fiancé for spying for Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The show’s producer claimed his team enjoyed the "full support of the Egyptian intelligence services," in making the series, which aired toward the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Critics countered that the programs were aimed at distracting the population from problems like high prices and unemployment.

Spooks | Britain, 2002-2011

This internationally popular series, known as MI-5 in the United States, follows an elite team of domestic counterterrorism intelligence agents battling everyone from Muslim extremists to radical Hindu nationalists. Many viewers noted the eerie real-life parallels when a 2005 episode featuring a terrorist attack in central London aired just two months after the city’s deadly July 7 bombings. The episode, filmed prior to the real attack, even included a bomb at King’s Cross station — where one of the actual explosions took place. 

The King 2 Hearts | South Korea, 2012

This imaginative soap opera takes place in an alternate universe where South Korea is ruled by a constitutional monarchy and the crown prince is seduced by a North Korean military officer (though the prince is unaware she’s actually a trained assassin and spy). The real South Korea hasn’t had a monarchy since the 1910 Japanese annexation, but fraternal mistrust and suspicion between Seoul and Pyongyang is certainly quite real.

La Reina del Sur | U.S., Colombia, Spain, 2011

"Queen of the South" is the latest smash narconovela, a burgeoning genre of Latin American soap operas that tell lurid tales of drug cartels, and it’s the first to feature a female crime boss. Most narconovelas, which often lift plotlines from the region’s real-life drug wars, are produced in Colombia. But La Reina del Sur — which tells the story of a young Mexican woman from humble origins who rises to become a global trafficker — was primarily produced by U.S. network Telemundo, along with partners in Colombia and Spain.

Lurk | China, 2009

Chinese television shows tend to avoid contemporary politics, but Lurk, which follows a Communist Party agent who infiltrates the Kuomintang nationalist forces during the Chinese Civil War of the 1940s, gave audiences a taste of espionage. The show was a sensation — China Daily even reported that some bosses instructed employees to watch and learn from the main character’s "wisdom and courage."

Joshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.