Servant of the People: Season 1
March 17, 2022 1:54 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

A Ukrainian history teacher's rant about politics makes it to YouTube, which leads to him running for president of the country and winning. Now on YouTube and Netflix.

I just started watching this since this happened in real life after the show came out... I'll probably put more commentary later, just wanted to get this started in case anyone else is trying this one out. The Netflix has subtitles, the YouTube had subtitles at first but not on everything.
posted by jenfullmoon (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Notable things about the first three episodes:

* History teacher goes on a spectacular PRIVATE rant in his empty classroom to some guy he knows about how we always have to vote for the least bad shitstick, and everything continues to suck, and if he was president for a week he'd improve things. One of his students(?) films this and slaps it onto YouTube, making him quite popular. I totally think the "we have to pick the least bad one" argument is universal.
* They have some creepy oligarchs periodically pop in to muse on what's going on.
* So far they haven't really gotten into what his campaign was like--we're told he crowdfunded it through donations and he got 70-ish % of the vote.
* It's very odd that the show starts with him waking up late, trying to talk someone into ironing his shirt (his niece is all, "if you had just sucked it up and ironed it yourself, you'd be done by now") and then he finds out he's president when some government official shows up while he's camping out with Mr. Toilet. Like, is that how you win elections in Ukraine, you don't find out via the news all night?
* The government not only pays off his loan, they claim he "just happened to win" some "random drawing," and then we find out a bunch of actors were hired to be in the bank as customers.
* Pick out a suit! Pick out a nice watch! No wonder everyone's corrupt if they're being offered nice shit right off the bat.
* For his niece's birthday, a guy who I guess is a singer she likes, is brought over. In a giant cake.
* Suffice it to say any of his dad's conflicts with other people now magically Go Away.
* He gets a giant fancy house. His family has a shopping spree.
* There's so many people/staff you can't keep track. You get a therapist with the job. Your therapist gets a therapist with the job.
* They JUST HAPPEN to have a lookalike of Vasyl around? Musta been some fast plastic surgery? Is this A Thing there or just television?
* The niece's ex, who dumped her, shows up on her doorstep along with his parents proposing marriage. Clearly the parents are more into that than the son. Natasha rightly says to fuck off.
* They have SO MUCH cutlery for very specific foods.
*This show likes to have...dreams? A hallucination of Lincoln?
* Lookalike foreign leaders are also brought in, including Fake Obama and Fake Merkel.
* Vasyl continues to bring his own car, ride a bus, etc. The credits show him biking to work.

Mostly I find myself thinking, "Well, no wonder everyone ends up corrupt if you're offered THOSE levels of expensive freebies." Seems even more souped up than what we expect at the White House. I'm assuming this is over the top for actual oligarch life in Ukraine politics, but what do I know?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:51 PM on March 17


Well, after Yanukovych turned tail and ran, protestors stormed his presidential palace and discovered gold taps, a private zoo, and an artificial river with a replica galleon. And he was having another even fancier sea-side one built for himself. So that fits.
posted by tavella at 8:56 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]


Episode 4: "Hard work and honesty. I almost died laughing!" The old president is not taking it well...
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:48 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


My favorite episode so far (I'm 6 in) is the practicing for the inauguration. Especially since they take that moment to lampoon both the foreign powers and also how Ukraine relies on them for aid & support.

My favorite joke so far falls in that territory. Zelensky wants to write a speech for his inauguration. His handler gives him a speech already written. Zelensky starts to practice the speech. "25 years ago, Ukraine was founded as a new nation for liberty and freedom..." Zelensky stops. Looks at the handler. Says: "I can't give this speech. It's a rip off of the Gettysburg Address." Handler responds: "That's ok. Ukrainians won't care. But the Americans will. They'll be happy we used their most popular speech and they'll give us more money."

There's a second joke about Merkel that falls in a similar vein. A Merkel look-a-like comes into the room. Zelensky is told to give her a soft handshake. "Let her hand be the firm one. The difference in firmness between you and her will be the aid amount we can get from Germany."

(All jokes paraphrased from memory / not exact quotes)

I think those jokes stuck in memory because of the current circumstances. A key part of Zelensky's job is getting the money, weapons, and aid required. The jokes read a little differently now. And the joke about the US + Gettysburg Address hits especially differently now. As the real life Ukrainian President, Zelensky has been speaking to Congress, UK's Parliament, and many other countries. He's tailored his stump speech to each nation with specific local historical and cultural references. And it's been very effective. The show's joke became an actual and useful tactic.

And the rest of the related scenes stuck with me too. At one point, a Putin lookalike came into the room. He didn't say anything and was quickly dismissed. But his mute presence was still chilling in the light of the wars. Both then and now. They also had a near perfect Lukashenko lookalike.

I'm enjoying the hijinks of the family going face first into (relatively mild) corruption while Zelensky is trying to pull the government out of the mire. The show is starting to get a bit overtly preachy in episodes 5 & 6, but I have hope they won't stay there. Having

And after January 6, I can appreciate the show's version of an ex-President who won't leave. I liked that bit. I hope he returns. I also hope imaginary Che returns with the unhelpful advice of "just put these bastards up against the wall!"
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 9:54 PM on March 17 [9 favorites]


I love how he's all "move this fancy stuff out of my house, I wasn't raised like that" and meanwhile his parents are hauling all of it into their house...
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:32 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


What a timely documentary!

No, seriously, I checked out E1 the other night. It wasn't bad. It was definitely a starter episode. I did like the deus ex machina they used to make Vasily Petrovych president. In our day and age, perhaps not really that incredible. The scenes with the three oligarchs were definitely the most interesting. I have high hopes for the show. And I will check out more episodes as time allows.
posted by Stuka at 4:31 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I have watched the first episode, and I must say that I really like it! The pacing is good, the acting is good, and the humor has a pretty light touch.

It's funny how many things I simply accept because I don't know whether they are made up for the show or are real. And that's marvelously relaxing! For example:
* For his niece's birthday, a guy who I guess is a singer she likes, is brought over. In a giant cake.
There really is a Ukrainian singer name Jijo. Most of the English-language stories about him in a quick Google search concern his divorce. *shrug* His real name is Mykhailo Khoma.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:46 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Episode 7: I'm not sure why he and the ex broke up, but it seems rather taunting of her to get drunk and be all "I'm 37 and single, maybe we should get back together since I can't find anyone else but this too-kinky dude." His face is pretty neutral-deadpan about it, which makes me think he's either both totally over it and/or seen her pull this before.

On the one hand, his prime minister guy subbing in his own people for positions is suspicious. On the other hand, hiring your ex-wife and your ex-teacher or whatever for positions...I get how he wants people he can trust, but also rigged?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:30 PM on March 21


Episode 8: WAIT A MINUTE, THEY'RE GOING TO ROOFIE A WOMAN?!?! AT WORK?!?! Which...made her hallucinate that she was in Singing In The Rain? Literally?!

"managed to cross the boundaries of political correctness six times." "
Negroes are also people! Let them coup if they want!"
"Negroes, Africans...no difference."
"I didn't say (n-bomb), I said Negroes."
"Incidentally, have you heard a joke about this?"
"We can't show Mukhin's joke."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:12 PM on March 21






S1E3 tonight. I enjoyed the dream sequence at the top of the episode; a nice little primer on Ukraine. And the same with the oligarchs getting a briefing on Vasily Petrovych. More of the same with Vasily Petrovych, getting primped and introduced to all those people. Not bad, but I'm looking forward to when the show gets on with it. The scenes with his family were the highlight tonight.
posted by Stuka at 6:52 PM on March 26


Some assorted free-range thoughts:

The producing company Studio Kvartal 95 was founded by Zelensky, and he's got more than a few production credits to his name, and he's credited as a producer on this show as well. In fact, in the list of producers, his name is first. So it seems likely he was the driving force behind getting the show made. That doesn't necessarily mean he was the driving force in the writers room, deciding the literary content - I think he was, since it looks like he's also credited under "idea" - but I'm quite certain he had, at minimum, a lot of authority to give notes to the writers and veto story elements. That's not exactly typical even for very famous starring actors.

The historical context is written all over the show - it was released just one year after the Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity. In the American TV industry that is exactly the production time you'd expect if they started writing the pilot literally as the Maidan was happening. (idk anything about the Ukraine media industry, it could move slower or faster.) As much as it's a commercial entertainment property intended to make money, I feel like it's also very clearly working through some stuff, working through a lot of thoughts and feelings about their political system, expressing very real political and emotional conflicts that are sincerely felt by the people making the show. I find it fascinating in a literary way.

It's not a coincidence that it's students and teenagers that push Holoborodko into his political career, and it's young people and college students who drove the Maidan. Also, that little scene where Holoborodko had to talk the old history professor into accepting retirement and leaving his office, that's playing off the same theme in a quite important way.

I wish I had the lyrics for the opening theme and the various closing themes. (The subtitled version I found doesn't cover the lyrics.) I feel like they're significant.

I just got to Episode 5 and it's definitely heating up, finally. Although I liked the slow roil.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:53 PM on April 1


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