Digital: Comrade Detective – Season 1 (2017)

September 27, 2017 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: n/a

Label:  Amazon Prime Video

Region: n/a

Released:  August 3, 2017

Genre:  Satire / Comedy / Action / Suspense

Synopsis: In this ‘lost’ Romanian anti-American propaganda TV series from 1983, Detectives Gregor Anghel and Iosif Baciu try to solve the murder of a fellow Bucharest officer killed by a sniper wearing a Ronald Reagan mask.

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

The concept of a faux lost TV series isn’t new, but the trick to good satire is finding that sweet spot where the characters aren’t themselves ridiculed, and they’re merely the filmmakers’ pawns in a series of broad, blunt gags that fail to truly poke fun at a variety of topics, including politics.

Comrade Detective is billed by its executive producers as a forgotten Romanian TV detective series from 1983 that served as an overt propaganda loudspeaker for the corrupt Soviet dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, whose eponymous leader was overthrown and was executed on TV with wife Elena.

With such a dark history, political wonks were certain to wonder whether it’s possible to create a satire with light and sharp jabs without directly addressing the regime’s brutality. In darkness resides a special kind of absurdity which only the skilled and perceptive are capable of extracting and exploiting with finesse, and series writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka (Animal Practice, Dice) managed to work recurring small miracles in this 6 episode series that’s quite literally played as a Romanian riff on the classic American detective series; instead of evil Commie bastards stealing secrets and killing good Americans, it’s evil Americans corrupting good Romanians with vile capitalist ideals, and the U.S. Embassy portrayed as the shameful epicenter of woefully foolish attempts to turn good socialist workers against each other.

The drama begins with Gregor Anghel’s partner is killed during a drug bust by a sniper wearing a Ronald Reagan mask in a Bucharest suburb. Anghel’s new teammate is Iosif Baciu, a country cop, needle-dropped with wife Sonya, daughter Flavia and son Andrei into the big city. While the initially mismatched partners slowly bond, Sonya remains a supportive wife soon to be snatched by the masked sniper who commits murder… and may have a network of supporters high and low.

Anghel remains single and a classic womanizer, his hair regularly ruffled from bed-head, couch surfing, heavy boozing, and one night stands with one or two babes, culminating in the boffing America’s Ambassador to Romania, Jane. The hunt for the Reaganesque killer climaxes after the two men meet lowlifes, a corrupt kingpin, and suffer sudden incarceration.

To say more would ruin some great in-jokes, which span more than political name-dropping and assorted posters and iconography. Clues sometimes come in the form of blackmarket capitalist products, and very subtle pokes at communist brand names that are sure to fly over the heads of average (and young) viewers, but it’s the absurd circumstances, twists & turns, ideological pro-Communist rants, anti-American hectoring, and lighthearted buddy-buddy chatter that reveal the show’s careful construction.

Admittedly, any ‘found’ period production should be shot with period gear and media, so a overt anachronism is Comrade Detective being shot in gorgeous widescreen HD, but it’s a minor quibble when so much detail resides in the Romanian locations, set décor, clothes, hair, and cheeky period music, including a rustic Romanian dance version of Animotion’s 1985 hit “Obsession” which in Canada became the theme music for CityTV’s Fashion TV.

Vital to the show’s success is the superb Romanian cast who perform every role in Romanian: Florin Poersic Jr. is a gruff, profane, mostly moral Anghel, whose hard features give the veteran cop weight and aged cynicism; and Corneliu Ulici plays Iosif as the series’ ideological centre, never succumbing to the sexy bling of capitalism, even when Iosif was sent to the America’s Sodom for a wrestling tournament – New York City.

Olivia Nita plays Jane as wily, sexy, and sympathetic to the boys’ increasingly dire positions within the force; and the police force is filled with classic genre archetypes, including the tough police captain, two loudmouthed fellow detectives seething with jealousy for the way Anghel’s bad attitude never gets him drummed out of the force, and “Tipsy,” the clumsy tech whiz who loved and ridiculed by his peers.

Sam Goldie’s cinematography evokes the slightly muted colour palette of a vintage series, with lovely night shots, misty day scenes, and grim lighting for the vivid interior sets, especially the weathered city apartments.

Director Rhys Thomas (Saturday Night Live, Documentary Now!) never goes broad yet makes sure the camera movements capture the right performance beats, and Joe Kraemer’s score is a robust orchestral creation, filling each episode with marvelous thematic variations and slight incorporations of Eastern European sounds. The expectation is to hear synth music, but if one accepts Comrade Detective as a big budget Soviet series designed to meet the hunger for western cop drama through the filter of Soviet ‘Production Code’ censors, it’s perfect. Kraemer’s music also manages to add sympathy to the lead characters, and quickly enhances absurd circumstances with witty thematic iterations.

Perhaps more of a commercial move to help sell the show to mainstream viewers, all of the dialogue was redubbed into English by a great team of voice artists, headlined by actors Channing Tatum (Anghel), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Iosif), Jenny Slate (Jane), plus Chloë Sevigny (Sonya), Jake Johnson, Kim Basinger, Daniel Craig, Tracy Letts, and Debra Winger!

The dubbing also relates to the show’s original pitch to producers which was reportedly taking a vintage Soviet era series and just dubbing it into English. The original scripts ensure a more controlled, precise level of satire, and the voice work is highly evocative of 1980s English dubbing, with period catch-phrases and classic genre bravado.

Being an original Amazon series, it’ll be a while if it ever makes it to DVD and Blu-ray, but it would be fascinating to re-watch the series on disc with an optional Romanian dub track and see if the show feels more like an artifact with the actors’ original voices.

Several of the episodes feature short intros by star / executive producer Tatum and actor Johnson, and the bogus Main Credits are replaced with real names in the flashier End Credits.

 

 

At 6 episodes, Comrade Detective is lean and devoid of padding, just as a good series should be, and although the mystery is resolved in the kinetic finale, the last scene open the door for a Season 2, featuring another crime-riddled adventure for Detectives Anghel and Baciu, and maybe Jane. Those expecting easy belly-laughs will be disappointed, but Comrade Detective isn’t a one-joke, high concept series stretched out over one too many episodes; it’s nuanced, sly, and if you stick with it, deliciously absurd.

A podcast interview with composer Joe Kraemer is available via Google Play, iTunes, Libsyn. and YouTube.

 

 

© 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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