’80s nostalgia on TV knows no bounds. While much it is annoying and facile, some recent examples, like GLOW and Stranger Things (which is really the most nostalgic, yet also beautiful), have shown the potential for period specificity beyond facile “remember this?!” antics. Amazon Studios has picked up what sounds like it could be the next interesting dose of ’80s saturated bizarrerie, a Romanian(ish — I’ll explain) half hour cop comedy series called Comrade Detective, set to premiere on August 4.
The series was executive produced/created by Brian Gatewood and Alex Tanaka (the duo who’re unfortunately responsible for writing The Sitter) and will be directed by Rhys Thomas. Interestingly, it’s a co-production between Amazon, Channing Tatum’s production company Free Association, and indie film super-distributor/producer A24, who’re of course most known for their film efforts (like Moonlight, It Comes at Night, and the upcoming A Ghost Story), but whose TV credits include The Carmichael Show and Playing House.
Based on the producers/creators of Comrade Detectives, you can see that this is not a Romanian-made project. It is, however, filmed with Romanian actors, including Florin Piersic Jr. (Killing Time) and Corneliu Ulici (of The Devil Inside), in Romanian. From there, it’s dubbed in English by a list of enticing names including Tatum, Jenny Slate, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mahershala Ali, Chloë Sevigny, Nick Offerman, Fred Armisen, Jerrod Carmichael, John Early, Kim Basinger, Tracy Letts, Debra Winger (yes, both leads from The Lovers), Bobby Cannavale, Richard Jenkins, and more. “But,” you might think, “dubbing is a device that rarely works and only distances you from what’s onscreen.” That seems to be the point exactly. In the vein of Documentary Now!, this series is attempting to recreate something very specific. “True to its nostalgic inspiration, the series is presented in Romanian and dubbed in English—as a Romanian show of that time would have been,” reads a press release (that really seems to want to emphasize the word “nostalgia,” because, as annoying as it is, it’s also clearly a marketable phenomenon.)
The series is itself a spoof of a Romanian Communist propaganda show — the premise being that what you’re seeing was itself created during the Cold War. It follows two detectives (played by Piersic Jr. and Ulici), who’re investigating the murder of their fellow officer, and, per the press release “unraveling a subversive plot to destroy their country that is fueled by—what else—but the greatest enemy: Capitalism.” The meta-premise is that the series disappeared from screens and from memory after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but was rediscovered and given dubbing for its leads by Tatum and Gordon-Levitt.