Comrade Detective Season 1
Director: Rhys Thomas
Actors: Channing Tatum, Florin Piersic Jr, Corneliu Ulici, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Writer: Brian Gatewood, Alex Tanaka
A Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
Comrade Detective is a Romanian cop drama from the ‘80s, lost to the public until now. Previously only a select few like Stanley Kubrick were able to track down copies of the series. Luckily, actor Channing Tatum and author Jon Ronson came upon the 6 episode series. They restored it, dubbed it, and finally airing it to an international audience.
But not really though.
The entire series is a satire on several levels. It’s actually an impressive piece of filmmaking. Comrade Detective not only is it an exploration of communism versus capitalism but a solid send-up of present day prestige dramas, in and of themselves, while pretending to be a lost series from well before that time.
The show revolves around Gregor Anghel (Florin Piersic Jr. and dubbed by Channing Tatum), a Bucharest police detective. Anghel is on the trail of a killer wearing a Ronald Reagan mask who murdered his partner. He teams up with the dead partner’s friend, Iosif Baciu (Corneliu Ulici and dubbed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and discovers a trail of blue jeans, Monopoly, sugar-rich sodas and lots of other signs of the perverse effects of capitalism. Romanian actors make up the entire cast, and the voice cast includes people like Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Jake Johnson, Chloe Sevigny, Nick Offerman and Daniel Craig. It’s an impressive amount of effort for a quirky little joke, and it pays off big-time.
There are two ways to look at the series. The first is by taking it at face value and seeing how the show holds up as a cop drama. All the best parodies live and die by their ability to be a worthy addition to their genre. Edgar Wright and Mel Brooks have perfected this, but too often a parody film or series acts like it’s sneering at its subject instead of reveling in it.
Luckily Comrade Detective has Rhys Thomas, the co-creator and co-director of the amazing — and amazingly underrated — Documentary Now! His ability to work within genres to create send-ups that are bordering on too subtle has been well-established in that series, and he brings the same kind of confidence and passion to Comrade Detective. The visual language of the series is authentically Romanian and authentically ‘80s. Still skewering the dark, tortured prestige detective dramas we’ve become inundated with over the last several years.
The other way to look at the series is by judging its effectiveness as a parody and, ultimately, a comedy. I’m surprised and impressed with how little the show relied on dubbing jokes. The actors played it straight for the most part. Gordon-Levitt’s over-eager and Tatum’s matter-of-fact deliveries landing many of the verbal punchlines. Well-tested comedic talents, Jenny Slate and Jason Mantzoukas, play to their parts — an American consulate official and an asshole detective, respectively — perfectly.
The series itself isn’t written to be off-the-walls and gag-filled like Angie Tribeca or some episodes of Documentary Now! But the absurdity of the situation comes from how straight-faced they play the Ronald Reagan killer and the anti-capitalist propaganda. They generally let the jokes play without trying to juice them up or hang a lampshade on them. It’s an impressive amount of confidence for a show that’s practically a high-wire act. Depending on how much your audience is willing to buy into it.
There are two performances in the 6 episode series that I think deserve singling out. The first is Daniel Craig’s voice work as a priest and a suspect. Craig is obviously a good actor, but I’m incredibly impressed with his work in Comrade Detective. He played it so straight I was starting to wonder if he was even in on the joke. His scenes, particularly his interrogation scenes, are creepy and captivating enough. I kinda want to see him as a villain in an actual prestige murder mystery TV series.
The other performance, and the most impressive of the whole endeavour, is Florin Piersi Jr. as Detective Anghel. He’s so believable as a hard-drinking, anti-hero cop that he almost lulls you into a false sense of security. A scene will go by where you forget you’re watching a comedy until he sells a punchline. He’s like a modern day Leslie Nielsen. It’s a damn shame that he probably won’t get any international work thanks to this. He needs to pull a Christoph Waltz and blow up big time.
Verdict: Watch it! Overall the series succeeds on both of its fronts. It’s a compelling story by itself as well as being a funny and entertaining parody. I’m still not quite sure how this series exists, but I’m damn glad it does. I’d also be extremely happy if they somehow uncovered a previously unknown second season hidden in Kubrick’s vaults.
Comrade Detective is available to stream on Amazon Prime.