And what a scrumptious hidden gem this is! Parody meets ridicule, and they’re both wrapped up in layers of spoof propaganda, mystery, and action, sprinkled with some comedy and sharp enough sneers to make Ronald Reagan and Nicolae Ceausescu and Mao Zedong cry somewhere deep in the beyond.

Amazon Studios’ ‘Comrade Detective’ (2017) is the show we never knew we needed in these trying times, as people throw words like ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ around without fully understanding their meaning and complexity. And considering that it was mainly aimed at an American audience, I’d say creators Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka do a fine job of delivering not only the definitions but also the extremes of two political tenets that have been warring for decades: Communism and Capitalism.


Pretending to be found footage of an ‘80s cop buddy TV series of the Romanian Communist era, ‘Comrade Detective’ has been curated and dubbed to fit more modern times. It also features a few hilarious introductions from Channing Tatum, who is also executive producer, and author Jon Ronson.

With a throng of beloved comedy actors dubbing the Romanian characters involved and accompanied by what I can only describe as the most decadent and cheesiest soundtrack, the show packs a funny but bitter pill to swallow. It makes light of both sides in terms of politics and ideology. The West versus the East wrestle behind the Iron Curtain of ‘80s Bucharest, Romania, where a killer wearing a Reagan mask wreaks havoc through the city and even through the ranks of local police.


Enter Gregor Anghel, splendidly portrayed by Florin Piersic Jr. and voiced by Channing Tatum, and Iosif Baciu, played by the uber-talented Corneliu Ulici and voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. One is a jaded detective who doesn’t always play by the rules, but he’s eager to avenge the murder of his dear colleague, Nikita Ionescu, at the hands of the Reagan killer. The other is a more empathetic and eager police officer who transferred from the countryside to the big city in order to avenge the murder of his dear childhood friend, Nikita Ionescu, at the hands of the Reagan killer. Their different personalities collide and become homogenized by their deep Communist values and their disdain of Capitalism.

Directed by Rhys Thomas of ‘Saturday Night Live’ fame, the series is a surprisingly tasteful pastiche that sort of claps back at the likes of ‘Red Dawn’ (1984) and ‘Rocky IV’ (1985) which, according to Mr Gatewood, was essentially propaganda in the United States at the height of the Cold War. Mr Tatum went on to remember his own childhood in the ‘80s, where virtually every movie had a Russian villain. With ‘Comrade Detective’, the writers decided to show the world what life would have been like for the ‘other side’, for the dreaded ‘Commies’—in an anything-but-serious fashion whilst also delivering a remarkably poignant message for America and the West, in general.


From an ideological perspective, both political establishments get skewered in this series. Russian Communism, for its indoctrination and often absurd, bloody extremes despite its otherwise good intentions, and American Capitalism, for its hypocrisy and lack of self-control, for its greed and absence of social justice. In the end, both dogmas are the villains, and their representatives are simply doing the best they can with what they are given, genuinely believing that their path is the righteous one. Though it pretends to portray the real Communist society of Romania from that period, ‘Comrade Detective’ treads gently when it comes to character development. Credit where it’s due, as Gatewood and Tanaka do a surprisingly good job of portraying a world that very few in the West ever got a chance to truly observe.


Of course, there are plenty of bloopers and minor inaccuracies, but I’ll forgive it all for how the writers treat their characters from beginning to end. There are twists and there are plenty of turns—not to mention questions. The villain is the psychopathic embodiment of American Capitalism, but we also get a reluctant yet helpful hand through Jane, Secretary-turned-Ambassador for the United States in Bucharest.

There is also a plethora of the chucklesome and the chilling along the way, too. While American viewers might find themselves forced to peer into an exaggerated mirror that shows the ugliest side of their culture, Romanian viewers will have a hard time letting go of the bitter taste of nostalgia. Few people miss that decade.


In terms of performances, Mr Piersic Jr. and Mr Ulici are exquisite loyal Communist cops with smart-ass jabs and multifaceted pasts. Olivia Nita is an intriguing Jane, additionally spiced up by SNL alumna Jenny Slate’s dubbing. And speaking of voice acting, this series managed to put together an impressive cast that includes Jason Mantzoukas, Fred Armisen, Chloë Sevigny, Nick Offerman, Beck Bennett, and Daniel Craig, to name but a few. The Romanian actors are equally stupendous—I was particularly impressed by Diana Vladu’s Sonya Baciu, Iosif’s loving and fiercely Communist wife. A Mexican proverb says that the house does not rest on the ground but rather on the shoulders of a woman—it certainly applies to Sonya.

With a score composed by Joe Kraemer of ‘Jack Reacher’ (2012) fame, ‘Comrade Detective’ aims to immerse its viewers into the gritty atmosphere of an era long gone. Quality-wise, the series is infinitely better than what Romanian studios would’ve been able to produce at the time. Sam Goldie, better known for his work on ‘Green Zone’ (2010) and ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ (2001), is the cinematographer in charge of rendering this delightfully fun morsel of lampooned propaganda. Worth noting here that the team behind this project, beginning with the writers and going all the way into the set decoration and costume departments, never aimed to spoof Communism as Americans but rather imagined themselves as the Communist Romanians who “created” it.


A tip of the hat goes to Dan Toader, production designer, also known for ‘What Happened to Monday’ (2017) and ‘The Sisters Brothers’ (2018). Drawing from reality and his own memories of the Communist period, Mr Toader finds the appropriate design and colour tone to make ‘Comrade Detective’ just a smidge more realistic. I find it easier to believe the story and its anything-but-subtle characters when everything around them reminds me of my own childhood.

But all the talents involved aside, I would like to go back to the idea behind this witty production, which was so simply and eloquently described by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an article penned for IndieWire. It ‘isn’t only making fun of Eastern Bloc Communism. It takes a few shots at Western Capitalism, but in my opinion, that’s not it, either. There’s a different “ism” that I think it’s really getting at—tribalism.’

And in that sense, he couldn’t be more right. Yes, we can make fun of the silly woollen hats and the preposterous propaganda and the appreciation of televised chess matches as though they were Superbowl Sunday games, and we can make fun of the overweight Americans gorging on hamburgers and the summarily dressed American women who snicker at the ways of these backwards Communist ‘pieces of scum’, but we’d be blind to the bigger picture. Both sides wholeheartedly believe that their culture is the best and that everything else isn’t just wrong. It’s evil.


It’s enough to take a look around today and see how polarized the world has become. The Left versus the Right. Labour versus Conservatives in the United Kingdom. Democrats versus Republicans in the United States. Naturally, no one really likes the politics of life in this day and age, yet it has all become an integral part of our existence. We forget that what we do and who we are—regardless of our creeds and affiliations—wasn’t always this, and it won’t always be this, either. Policies change. The world itself changes.

And though ‘Comrade Detective’ addresses a society that is no longer there, we can’t help but look at it as a thinly veiled warning. It won’t be the resurgence of Communism or the malignancy of out-of-control Capitalism that will destroy us. It will be the aforementioned tribalism and our growing inability to look beyond our bubbles. In that sense, the series does raise a few queries.

How much of what we believe is actually ‘right’? How wrong are we in our ways, and we didn’t even know it? Given what a complicated year this has been thus far, I say it’s time we consider finding answers to these questions.