OK, you’re going to want to sit down for this because you need to take notes and there will be a quiz. COMRADE DETECTIVE is an Amazon buddy-cop show, released August 4, 2017… so it’s likely you’ve not seen it. You’d remember.
Here’s the official IMDB summary: “In the thick of 1980's Cold War hysteria, the Romanian government created the country's most popular and longest-running series, Comrade Detective, a sleek and gritty police show that not only entertained its citizens but also promoted Communist ideals and inspired a deep nationalism. The action-packed and blood-soaked first season finds Detectives Gregor Anghel and Joseph Baciu investigating the murder of fellow officer Nikita Ionescu and, in the process, unraveling a subversive plot to destroy their country that is fueled by-what else-but the greatest enemy: Capitalism.”
A little more research and you discover that the roles have all been dubbed in English by Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chloe Sevigny, Daniel Craig, Bobby Cannavale (great actor and proud owner of an impressive package he fully exposed on Boardwalk Empire), Kim Basinger, Debra Winger, and a host of other big name talent.
But of course, all the screen acting is done by Romanian talent and the storylines are gritty, though 1980ish, just with well-done voice overs.
The plots are typical cop show stuff – murder, action, car chases – but against a constant background of subtle and not so subtle punctuations of communist propaganda and wildly out of character roles for Americans, who are always portrayed as the instigators, the profiteers, the shady and sneaky spymasters. For example, the American Ambassador to Romania is played over the top by a Romanian actress as slutty, duplicitous, and a deal maker.
Just to make sure the central message of communism is better and capitalism is the corrosion of the world, there’s at least two scenes in each episode where there is some not so thinly veiled dialogue about it – and that doesn’t count the little side shots the actors take at capitalism throughout the series.
Surprisingly, however, the acting is good, the production values are great and the dubbing superb. You wonder how they managed to remaster this from an old Romanian series done on Soviet era equipment. So I asked myself that exact question as I was watching an episode where the hero reads the riot act to the American Ambassador whereupon she cusses them out.
And then Sherlock Holmes suddenly occurred to me, “When you dismiss the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Did it seem likely the Romanian government would greenlight a propaganda series, in the middle of the Cold War, where an American Ambassador cusses out two local detectives? Elementary, my dear Watson. And no.
What Sherlock was trying to tell me was that none of this is authentic, but the real story makes you want to watch it more.
Channing Tatum asked producer buddies to bring him the worst ideas they could think of and, as a group, they would look for hidden gems in the wanton waster. The winner was COMRADE DETECTIVE, a spoof of a Communist propaganda television show from the 1980s. There was an actual 1980’s show in Czechoslovakia named “Thirty Cases of Major Zeman” and another from East German entitled “Polizeiruf 110.”
The goal then became to make a show with “propaganda and inaccuracies obvious to a western audience… to make the subtle nature of modern propaganda more clear.” Their third mentor series was “Lethal Weapon” to make sure audiences had a familiar touchstone to the cop-buddy genre of the ‘80s.
In making the series, they don’t cut any corners. First they write the scripts in English and have them translated to Romanian; then the entire show is shot with Romanian actors speaking Romanian or Russian, as called for. Then they cut the whole thing together to make a full episode in Romanian – and THEN they come in with the voice talent who dub the entire episode.
What do they get for their money? A pretty good show as long as you give yourself over the suspension of disbelief that this was shot in the 1980s as a propaganda series. Do NOT expect “Lethal Weapon” though you will see Griggs all over the screen!
It’s fun, absurd, quirky and with the same hint of grit as everything else in the 1980s. The only mistake they make – and what actually tipped me off – was the lack of any language screen on the stories… and I could not imagine the Cold War Romanian government would allow such a show to use coarse language that even American broadcast channels won’t allow at present.
But it’s a fun watch, it doesn’t have to make sense and fully qualifies as escapist television, you filthy capitalistic running dog vermin!