“Like infidels through an hourglass, so are the Sands of Passion,” coos the title sequence voice over of this “Al Qaeda soap opera” set somewhere in a very Western stereotyped Middle East, where fathers pressure their sons to become suicide bombers, patients demand kidneys meant for transplant be converted from Judaism to Islam, and men get hot and bothered by bared wrists.
Sands of Passion’s format isn’t so surprising given that soap opera spoofs seem to be something of a mini-trend these days: My Damn Channel’s raunchy Horrible People (“The nine months I spent inside you were like a mucus-y prison! I couldn’t wait to get out!” “And I couldn’t have been more disgusted by your birth if I shit out an eight pound turd!”) and Crackle and Jerry Zucker’s (who produced Airplane! and Naked Gun) National Banana’s absurdist General Elevator (the entire show takes place in one of those giant hospital elevators) are also using the overwrought genre to for comedic purposes.
But Sands, also a Crackle/National Banana product, sets itself apart from its brethren by intrepidly diving into politically incorrect territory.
###While a few Ann Coulters still refer to the Middle East as one big Islamic fundamentalist carnival of Western-hating fanatics, the majority of thinking Americans have tempered their post-9/11 rage with an evenhanded understanding that “No, they’re not all like that.”
Sands of Passion throws this caution to the wind by making virtually all of its Muslim characters repressed, women-demeaning anti-Semites who would, for instance, stop in the middle of performing surgery to heed the call to prayer. It’s the kind of taboo-busting satire that can currently play out only in inexpensive webisodes as opposed to television shows (the now punchless SNL wouldn’t touch this material with a ten foot pole) or most movie screens, exaggerating the backwards elements of Middle Eastern Muslim culture to call them out as the hindrances to liberty that they are.
The soap opera genre makes sense for this mission because of its built-in melodrama and off the wall plot contrivances. Like Horrible People and General Elevator, Sands of Passion features over-overacting and scene-punctuating close-ups (it never fails to have characters pull funny faces during those lugubrious zoom-ins), but it’s in the sometimes-intertwining plotlines – a wife discovers, with the help of the intrusive Taliban, her husband is gay; an American doctor observes the strange practices of a hospital run more on the principles of religion than science; the son of that suicide bomb-obsessed father falls in love with a girl whose love interests have all killed themselves in the name of Allah – that the show falls flat.
It’s not too tasteless to work, it just lacks the sharp writing (one joke that sorta hits: “I bet it looks great,” says Mustafah to burkah-concealed Sophera, who’s just gotten her hair done) and goofy deadpan once perfected by Zucker to sell the obvious anti-clichés.
Even across just nine short episodes, Sands of Passion goes on too long with merely a single, if potentially subversive, joke.