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Comrade Detective: Channing Tatum's weird new show

Comrade Detective: Channing Tatum's hidden gem of Romanian TV | Television & radio | The Guardian

I link above to the Guardian review of Comrade Detective without approval. The completely modern, American-written and produced show is, as it says:

...an astonishingly high-concept Amazon comedy; a detective spoof written in English, then filmed in Romania with real Romanian actors speaking Romanian, then dubbed back into English...

....and it's cleverly hilarious.

I was drawn to the show because it's set in Communist Romania and filmed mostly in modern Bucharest. That's a city I visited several times when I was based in Poland working as a lawyer on real estate finance, investment and development projects in Central & Eastern Europe. I have a Goodbye Lenin! style nostalgia for the cities of the region as they stood, in all their Socialist shabbiness, during the 80s and 90s. Some parts of them still look that way, despite the Stakhanovite efforts of my clients and me. The Central Business Districts generally look like German cities now as do the new apartment buildings and suburbs, but it will not have been too hard for the producers to clear streets of modern cars and advertising to film this show.

Tatum introduces the show, Fargo-style, as if it were for real. He and his colleague suggest that the American shows of their youth were Cold War propaganda and that it's therefore an interesting counterbalance to see one made in support of "Communist ideals". In the cod-serious introduction to a later episode they even claim Stanley Kubrick was a fan at the time. The opening titles, colour grading and 80's style semi-naturalistic acting all support this illusion and I regret that I may be spoiling it for you by writing this. It provided a lot of the humour in the first episode for me. For example, when a character proclaims "There are no corrupt policemen in Romania!" I laughed as my friends from the region would have done when they watched such stuff at the time. Or as the late Mrs Paine and I laughed with the Polish audience in our local cinema when a Russian officer in "Schindler's List" said to Auschwitz survivors

          You have been liberated by the Soviet Army.

My friends in Poland and Russia had told me – with affectionate nostalgia – about the TV programmes of their youth featuring heroic, lantern-jawed KGB men and so forth. I was happy to think I was finally going to see one, but I began to have doubts fairly quickly. The settings are accurately shabby and of course it would have made no sense for them to differ too much from reality at the time (except in the dream-sequences set in NYC) but I mused that Communist producers would have sanitised them to some extent. Well before the first (of six) episodes ended with modern credits that gave the game away, I had Googled the show and figured out I was being skilfully spoofed. My familiarity with light switches of the era and my spotting a "fuse box" that featured grubby modern circuit breakers may have tipped me off minutes before someone who didn't know the place as well.

The producers claim they wanted to work on a real show but couldn't secure the rights, but that may be another layer of spoof. I can't imagine why anyone in post-communist Romania would refuse to cash in those rights. There is no other way to exploit them in a society inoculated for a while from Socialist ideas. Back in the 90s I was briefly involved in trying to buy a set of such rights (and the associated archive) for a Western company. That effort failed on price, I believe, but there was no reserve on the seller's part about the principle.

Comrade-Detective
In essence it's a cop buddy show. A cod-Marxist Starsky and Hutch. Once the illusion is broken a lot of the humour consists (and I won't say too much because – spoilers) of the stupid anti-Western schtick ramping up and up. That shark had been spectacularly jumped by half way through the series and the nature of the humour changes so it's more about our knowing (as the characters don't) just how misplaced is their confidence in winning the Cold War. We end up laughing with the producers at themselves and their kooky idea.

Is it propaganda? No. It's a parody of propaganda and essentially a healthy one. An intelligent young SJW viewer might even recognise him or herself in it at times. But s/he'll also have fun with the parody of Americans, like the obese (and very Romanian-looking) ones in the Embassy stuffing hamburgers down their throats as the heroes walk by to visit the sluttish female US Ambassador. It's a joke and a good one at that. I have seen reviews like this one which try to argue that it's up to something else, but I respectfully suggest that's the reviewer's typical leftist sense of humour deficit. 

Watch it if you can. It's on Amazon Video and if you are a Prime member it's included in your subscription. Otherwise you'll have to pay less than the cost of a latte and it will make you a lot happier and perhaps even do you more good.

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