Title: Comrade Detective
Rating: 4 Stars
The premise is almost irresistible. There is a long lost Romanian detective series from the 1980s produced to glorify the Romanian state. An old tape of the series is found and it’s such a masterpiece that great care is taken to restore it and dub it in English so that we can all enjoy it.
It works on many levels. First of all, for those of us who were around in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s a great spoof of detective shows from that time. It was a golden era of hard nosed detective shows, including Starsky and Hutch, Baretta, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, and Mannix. These were all hard men that were somehow irresistible to the ladies.
The lead detective, Gregor Anghel, with his leather jacket, shaggy unkempt hair, and general glower perfectly matches the bill. He actually reminded me of Joe Don Baker playing Mitchell in the great MST3K movie. Women can’t seem to keep themselves from falling for him.
Just like in those old television series, there is rampant violence. Suspects are beaten, guns are fired, and the cops just bust in where ever they want to, hilariously shouting “Bucharest PD!”.
Above and beyond that is the overt propaganda. Being dedicated communists, they hold capitalism, and specifically, United States, in contempt. They visit the US embassy, where grossly fat men sit around eating mounds of hamburgers. The ambassador is an oversexed Texan woman. The Monopoly game is seen as a capitalist tool to subvert communists. Jordache jeans drive susceptible Romanians mad with desire. The suspect (who murdered Anghel’s partner) goes around wearing a Reagan mask.
This is contrasted with the perfection of Romania. They extol the virtues of Romanian vehicles, the Romanian healthcare system, and Romanian cops. They do this despite the fact that Romanian cars are clearly tiny little boxes, the healthcare system has beat up beds and soiled pillows, and the actual Romanian police force kind of resembles Keystone cops.
On the one hand, you laugh at the absurdity of it all. But then you start to think a little about the affect that the Cold War propaganda had on the Western culture. The obvious example here is Red Dawn. That’s scarcely the only one. Think of the Rambo movies (after First Blood). Think of pretty much any 1970s / 1980s James Bond film. How many positive examples can you come up with where the people of the Soviet Union were presented fairly? The propaganda here is broad and is therefore amusing, but there is a message here about how culture makes a distinction between Us and Them, and then makes sure that the Them is represented as unflattering as possible.
In one episode, there is even a Trump reference that’s pretty awesome. Clearly, Trump, with his accusations of fake news and his pretty absolute disregard for the truth (with the support of various other media outlets) understands the value of propaganda, and as is done here, he lays it on with the subtlety of a meat cleaver.
The last episode, trying to tie up loose ends, is kind of a slog and the satire becomes a little too obvious as it goes along, but all in all, I’d highly recommend this series. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.