Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Servant of the People: Season Two

Vasily Petrovych Goloborodko: “Why are you helping me? Sincerely?”
Oligarch Nemchek: “Let’s be sincere. I sincerely don’t like you. But I sincerely hate him.”

Intelligent and funny and so relevant!

Season two of Servant of the People opens approximately where season one ended, with the prime minister, Yuriy Ivanovich Chuiko, in prison and Vasily Petrovych still president. The first half season deals with the fallout of the arrest of the prime minister, who was discovered to be guilty of stealing and the puppet of the oligarchs. Two obvious threads are the trial of the prime minister (a difficulty, as 95% of the judges have been bought by the oligarchs) and the selection of a new prime minister. There’s also a third significant storyline, in which Ukraine is trying to get a substantial loan from the IMF.

I say approximately where season one ended, because some threads don’t get tied up that well. The actors who play Vasily's mother and son never appear, and only later do we learn that they’re off in Italy. Also, Papa and the sister have moved out to a much larger house in the countryside, a move that isn’t really explained. Perhaps I missed it; my situation has not permitted a rewatch, and there’s always a problem with a language barrier, and the possibility that they talk about it but it is not captioned. On the other hand, late in season two the move is finally acknowledged, so maybe that's all the attention it and the disappearance of Vasily's mother and her grandson received.

Anyway, the main theme of the series is political corruption. The prime minister is not the only guilty party, and perhaps not even the main guilty party. The series features three oligarchs (Roizman, Mamatov and Nemchek, and my apologies if the spelling is off, but transliterations vary). Fighting corruption is like fighting the hydra, always seem to be more heads. Vasily Petrovych soon realizes the oligarchs are the real problem – he can’t get anything passed in the Rada (parliament) – and so he makes an unholy alliance – he turns to the former prime minister for assistance (the scene where he goes to the prison is lovely: I expected to see you yesterday). Chuiko, furious at having been abandoned by the oligarchs to rot in prison, knows their weaknesses and helps Vasily Petrovych with the powers running the country.

Breaking the bonds of the triumvirate oligarchy is accomplished with hilarious maneuvers. However, although the show makes light of this, it’s also dangerous. They fake-kill the ex prime minister, Chuiko, so that he’s not being pursued by the oligarchs, and this means that he’s always in disguise. There are ridiculous chase scenes, but they’re also artistic, because getting the props and the people to do these things well is no small deal.

The selection of a new prime minister is only background, but getting an IMF loan is important – even to the oligarchs, who view the money as another pot of gold to steal. My favorite duo – the bald, former actor, Sergey, now the foreign minister, and his prim and proper deputy, Oksana – are forced to come up with delays to explain the president’s non-appearance (I love how Sergey unveils a statue that existed for decades). However, the president finally does appear and has his conference with the IMF committee. He discovers in this meeting that they are demanding unacceptable things (Ukraine to become a nuclear waste site and to reduce their agricultural production by 50%). Oh, and they’re offering Vasily Petrovych sizable kickbacks to get him to sign.

The corruption shown by the IMF – and the kickbacks aren’t the only instance – makes me wonder if that is really happening. Zelenskyy was not yet in Ukraine’s government when this series was being made. Still, I have the feeling that there were always connections. It makes me uneasy about institutions I would like to trust.

The second half of the season is more focused, as it deals with Vasya’s campaign for the presidency. As he’s only been president for a few months, and presidential terms in Ukraine are supposed to go on for five years, what’s he doing running a campaign? Well, about halfway through the second season, Vasily Petrovych suddenly resigns while addressing the Rada.

Now, I’d think that most people who resign from office, would not be welcome back because they’d be considered quitters. Of course, there are exceptions, such as temporary health crises, or being chosen to fulfill another important duty that interrupted a tenure – e.g. someone leaving the Senate for a cabinet position, to return to the Senate years later. None of these is true in this series.

In fact, exactly why Vasily Petrovych resigns was not clear to me. There were several possible reasons, such as the planned impeachment; fear for his life (he's been annoying both the oligarchs and the IMF); the constant governmental gridlock. If there was an overriding reason, I missed it.

Nevertheless, this turns out to be a brilliant plot twist. Once you get past the implausibility of resigning only to sign up again immediately to campaign again, the series goes into showing how campaigns work in Ukraine (some issues are country-specific) and around the world. It’s brilliant, and gives a focus to the episodes in the second half of the season that was missing in the first.

Bits and pieces

Although I really enjoyed the second season, I disliked the first episode, which I thought was stupid and a waste of time.

The opening credits, especially when the president is walking past the various paintings, are full of little surprises. Notice how some of the paintings have moving parts. Notice, too, how one of his shoes is untied, meaning he’s always got the potential to trip and fall flat on his face. An excellent metaphor.

I haven’t discussed the “Dialogue” TV show, which is a forum that the politicians use to talk at each other. It’s a bit talking heads, but I loved the bit where two of the candidates took each other out.

My favorite bit is when Vasily Petrovych uses the campaign money to pay for crosswalks that light up at night. Not only does it lead to the campaigns spending money to do good for the country, the metaphor of using light to help you through dark danger is wonderful.

The English captions are sometimes wanting. Even though I don’t know Russian, I have spent a lot of time with people who speak English as a second language and I recognize many common errors (meaning the captions were not done by a native English speaker). For example, the captions use the word “fractions” when they should use “factions.” And, at one point, a translation is given as “weeping-gas” when it should obviously be “teargas.”

IMDb lists 24 episodes in season two, but there were only 23 on Netflix in the second season. Moreover, the 17th episode had the title “Episode 18” and the 18th episode had the title “Episode 17” – which made me believe that we were about to be treated to some fascinating backstory. But after watching it, I have concluded that these were just typos.

Maidan. Apparently Maidan is Persian for town square, and the Maidan uprising refers to what happened in Ukraine in 2013-2014, when Ukrainians had had enough of the Russian puppet Yanukovych and used demonstrations to get him to resign and to flee. It was a dangerous time, and people died.

Both our hero and his ex-wife were betrayed by lovers. Will this get them back together?

Overall rating

I enjoyed season two of Servant of the People immensely (with the exception of the first episode, which I hated). As political satire, it’s not quite at the level of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, but I may be missing many nuances because of the language and cultural barriers. There were a few plot holes and bits missing. Still, it was hilarious, relevant, important, and shining bright lights on the dark dangers of corruption. Furthermore, I have rarely heard my husband laugh so much. Three out of four lit crosswalks.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

1 comment:

  1. Victoria, I haven't seen this series yet but this is such an interesting read. It must have been fascinating in Ukraine, in real life, to see this popular television star become what he was only pretending to be.


We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.