There are two things you should watch this weekend. It’s not a matter of distracting choices. Just watch both.
You can educate and frighten yourself a little with a new documentary about how the Islamic State radicalizes and recruits young people to join its barbaric battles. And you can enjoy a new, light and breezy satire of, well, macho superhero stuff. The two matters are not without connection.
Undercover in ISIS (Sunday, documentary channel, 8 p.m.) is the work of veteran Canadian news reporter and filmmaker Martin Himel. While Himel has an established history of florid overstatement, this one is pretty straightforward. It’s a no-nonsense look at how the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, persuades the young and the lost to join the cause. It opens with rather unnecessary footage of Islamic State fanatics declaring, in a propaganda video, “We are coming and we will destroy you.”
Himel then sets out to illuminate the methods the group uses to trawl for recruits and persuade them to take terrorist action. To achieve this, he uses the old-fashioned strategy of having people fake interest in radical Islam and waiting to see what happens.
In a way, there is a basic thriller technique going on here. We’re told and shown how a special personal computer is created and filled with just the right amount of data to intrigue the recruiters. Using retired “security personnel,” social avatars are created to closely resemble the typical recruit. We’re told that ISIS is highly aware of cybersecurity and can examine the contents of a computer to search for clues that a trap is being created.
The typical persona is then established – usually a young man or woman who has little or no contact with family, has some connection with Islam and is captivated by what they perceive as the injustice of anti-Muslim prejudice and actions. It’s about “people coming from a void, a big identity crisis and ISIS fills the void,” we are told.
A fake persona, that of a young man, is contacted quickly and, using encrypted text-messaging software such as Wikr, a relationship is established. In what seems like no time at all, the fake persona is instructed to go to Brussels in Belgium and there make contact with an Islamic State cell.
The most substantial segment involves the fake persona of a young woman who has lengthy contact with an IS member, a woman, who quickly offers the fake recruit a husband and they have lengthy telephone conversations about the husband – a Swede who converted to Islam and is now an Islamic State fighter – and his good and bad sides. The potential recruit is told she would be his second wife and the existing first wife is happy with the new arrangement.
Eventually, Himel goes to Sweden and has a secretly recorded conversation with the recruiter, who has returned there. It is mind-bending, this entire exercise and is utterly, chillingly surreal, as the mundane is connected to the barbarity of the Islamic State dictum of killing. There is nothing subtle about Himel’s doc. It is a clandestine operation story that reveals how the jihadi fighters we all fear are lured into their terrorist roles.
Son of Zorn (Sunday, Fox, City, 8:30 p.m.) is a new live-action/animation hybrid comedy in which the Zephyria warrior Zorn (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) returns to Orange County, Calif., and “seriously complicates” the life of his teenage son (Johnny Pemberton) and ex-wife (Cheryl Hines), who is engaged to a psychology professor (Tim Meadows).
Now, the live action/animation mash-up isn’t new, but what’s very engaging about this seemingly slight comedy is its deft satire of the barbarian warrior and all the aggressively male assumptions he brings to his new circumstance. Zorn’s first impulse in any situation is to pull out his giant sword and kill something. This is a bit of a drawback when he is obliged to find and keep a job, like a regular person.
Executive-produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who did The Lego Movie, this little comedy is nether sweet nor dumb. (Ms. Hines, familiar from Curb Your Enthusiasm, is very adept at eye-rolling reaction to her ex’s outrageous propensity for violence.) It mocks the sort of macho primitivism that terrorists use to intimidate and appall the civilized. While some viewers might see the show as a gimmick, it has serious intentions under its surface.Report Typo/Error