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‘Comrade Detective’ is Hard to Explain but Easy to Watch
August 4, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Like most spoof shows, Amazon’s Comrade Detective may have a finite life span.

But the new series, which debuts Friday on the streaming service, offers some clever moments out of the gate.  

Comrade Detective is framed as a cop show produced in Romania in the early 1980s by the reigning communist government.

In many ways, it looks to be your typical cop show, with an odd-couple police partnership chasing villainous bad guys and creating lots of action along the way.

At the same time, the show is permeated with pro-communist and anti-American propaganda. Heroic characters are described as “good communists” who serve the people, while Americans are portrayed as cold, decadent and overfed.

The broader setup and gag is less complicated on the screen than it sounds when you describe it on paper.

Comrade Detective revolves around two cops, the hard-boiled and suspicious battle veteran Gregor Anghel and his more polished but equally smart partner Iosef Baciu.

They’re played by two Romanian actors, Florin Piersic Jr. (top) and Corneliu Ulici (top), who seem to be delivering all their lines in Romanian – as they naturally would have done on a Romanian TV show.

But all we see is their mouths moving because their voices are overdubbed in English by Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

That creates the conceit that in 2017 we’re seeing a restored version of an actual 1980s Romanian TV show.

Most of the actors, accordingly, are Romanian, with Americans popping up in guest and spot roles.

In the first episode, Gregor and Iosef barge into the American embassy, where two slovenly Americans are sitting at a table shoveling down gluttonous amounts of food.

The ambassador herself is a nasty Southern belle who condescendingly explains the one clue the detectives found at a crime scene – a piece of paper with the word “Jordache” on it.

In America, she sniffs, every woman who matters wears Jordache jeans.

Well, snaps Gregor, then we may have to interview all of them.

Comrade Detective has some nice visual touches, though not in the same way that, say, the BBC does British country scenes. The clothes here are ‘80s-ridiculous, and since it’s communist-era Romania, the cops drive possibly the worst cars ever seen on a television show. That includes the one driven by Fred Flintstone.

It’s occasionally tempting to see Comrade Detective as a backwoods relative of The Americans since they’re set at about the same time and they both involve dedicated communists looking for information.

There really isn’t much connection, though. Nor, surprisingly, does Comrade Detective very often feel like Naked Gun or the Leslie Nielsen cop spoofs of the past.

To the credit of producers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, this show has a tone and ambiance of its own.

It still may have a limited pool of fresh gags. But between the satiric riffs and a decent cop-buddy setup, it’s worth a look.

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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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