Review: Comrade Detective transcends parody; un-ironically an engaging cop drama.

Synopsis: “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 Ionesco and, in the process, unraveling a subversive plot to destroy their country that is fueled by-what else-but the greatest enemy: Capitalism.”

If you’ve seen Kung Pow: Enter the Fist or Danger 5, you’re familiar with the gimmick of using the throwback appeal of a retro show as a vehicle for comedy. In Comrade Detective, the hook of using comedic voice-overs by Hollywood celebs is taken to new heights because this show seems to have been created for the express purpose of being dubbed over for American audiences (especially ironic, considering the actual story/material). At a certain point the gimmick falls to the wayside and you become legitimately interested interested in a genuinely engaging cop drama.

Okay – so this show was completely filmed in and stars actual Romania actors who play all the material 100% straight. Even the American voice-over actors play it 100% straight; which makes the comedic moments work that much better and if this show were released without the celeb voice-over, it’d still be better than most cop dramas out there – so props to A24 and Amazon Prime for that.

channing tatum and joseph gordon levitt voice the lead characters in comrade detective

The basic premise is that Comrade Detective is like the Romanian version of American propaganda films during the Cold War (Red Dawn or Rocky IV). It’s best to think of it like a show set in a parallel dimension/alternate reality. Romania is portrayed as this Communist paradise and paints American culture as greedy, selfish, violent and prone to obscenity. That may sound like painting with a wide brush, but if you think back to the films of the 80’s, 90’s and even today – American films retain the kind of xenophobia that could easily be classified as “indoctrinating.” In Romania everything is perfect – except for the subversives attempting to bring in the decrepit values/fashion/soda of the West. The kind of patriotism portrayed in Comrade Detective still doesn’t hold a candle to the “GOD BLESS AMERICA” rhetoric in American films, but it points out just how bizarre it is to other countries.

So, obviously this show is an expertly done send-up of propaganda films that pokes a lot of fun at American culture (as well as the cliches about Communist countries). Be forewarned if you’re one of these die-hard “America is the best ever and no one can say different” types who can’t laugh at yourself, then just skip this show altogether because it’ll probably just upset you. The overt digs at America and our “decadent ways” is obvious fodder for endless jokes, but unlike those Hot Shots/Naked Gun movies from back in the day Comrade Detective doesn’t try to drown you in jokes by forcing them into the movie. Every time they make a joke at America’s expense, it actually fits organically into the overall story while still being funny.

diana vladu voiced by chloe svegny in comrade detective

When the detectives find a Monopoly gameboard in a criminal’s car they are unsure what to make of it. Because games from the West are forbidden, they have seek out the knowledge of someone with American expertise to explain it to them. The revelation that the point of the game is to make your fellow citizens to completely broke is as shocking as the knowledge that children are encouraged to play this game as an early attempt at brainwashing them into the cult of Capitalism. Another example is when Joseph tells Gregor about an uncle who was seduced by the West and moved to America. He was forced to start his own chain of car washes to just to survive. Gregor has no idea what a car-wash even is and Joseph’s explanation about how “American’s have become so lazy they cannot even wash their own cars and use cheap, exploitive labor to do it instead” is as funny as it is accurate. The interim US ambassador (voiced by Jenny Slate) has one of the best lines in the whole series (btw, she the former US Ambassador was literally poisoned by American money!). Gregor asks if she misses the US and she replies, “I don’t miss the AIDS. Everyone in the US seems to have AIDS.”

As much as they tear into American culture (and just like our classic 80’s American films) they put Romania up on a pedestal – big time! A lot of throwaway lines about “Bean soup is a delicacy,…” or after a suspect dies in hospital a doctor comments “Great, now ever OUR healthcare can’t save him.” The constant and overt big-upping of Romania’s superior government draws out equal amounts humor as does ripping on American culture.

olivia nita voiced by jenny slate in Comrade detective

A favorite episode is Ep3: “Bread is bread,” where the detectives must investigate a Christian cult associated with the murder of a police officer and the influx of contraband goods. Communism, by its nature, is non-religious so they view Christianity the same way most Americans view cults, Scientology or mental disorders. When the US Ambassador demands the release of a priest in police custody because they’re violating his rights, Joseph replies, “Health-care is a fundamental human right. Believing in some imaginary god is insanity.”  The way this version of Romania views religion (and America’s seemingly cult-ish devotion to it) is obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, but still really funny. When explaining how the US government uses religion to sway the masses, Detective Baciu begins by saying, “In countries that are slaves to the Christian faith…” and asks a suspect, “You don’t share his fascination with the Christian occult?” Again, these may seem like pointless jabs at American culture, but in context of investigating a murder – it works surprisingly well.

The best part is how they portray “American fanaticism” the exact same way most movies still portray Muslim extremists as the generic, go-to bad guys. As previously mentioned, even without the voice-overs, this show is still a terrific watch. It takes the typical “American exceptionalism” we see in most movies and flips it on its head in a humorous, but still thought-provoking way.

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