HomeTelevisionServant of the People Review: A Surreal Case of Fiction Becoming Reality

Servant of the People Review: A Surreal Case of Fiction Becoming Reality

Photo Credit: Netflix/ECCHO

Despite his election in 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not someone most Americans were familiar with. In the English-speaking world, prior to Russia’s escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, Zelenskyy was best known as the Ukrainian president that Donald Trump threatened. Unfortunately, Zelenskyy is now much more well-known for leading the Ukrainian people through a dark period in their country’s history. However, this is a pop culture website, so we’re not going to focus on the atrocities of war. Instead, we’re going to examine how Servant of the People, complete with a scene of Ukraine’s future president reading a magazine on the toilet, is one of the weirder historical artifacts. 

Editor’s Note: Here is a list of charities You Can Donate To That Supports & Benefits Those Impacted By The War in Ukraine.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Zelenskyy was a professional comedian before he entered politics. His performance in Servant of the People as Vasily Petrovych Goloborodko, a history teacher who gets elected as president after a profane rant is posted on YouTube, led Zelenskyy’s election as the real president of Ukraine. The closest American equivalent would be if Veep’s Selina Meyer was an idealist and Julia Louis-Dreyfus was voted into office on the strength of that performance. 

Even stranger is how much Servant of the People parallels reality. Goloborodko won 67 percent of the vote in the Servant of the People. Zelenskyy was elected with 73 percent of the second-round vote. Goloborodko, who is seemingly unaware of the irony, tries to fight cronyism by appointing friends into his cabinet. Zelenskyy did the same. The show is also filled with insults toward Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs that control the Ukrainian government. 

While the horrors seen daily on the nightly news make it hard to simply enjoy Servant of the People, the series is a surprisingly hard-hitting satire about the bureaucracy that solidifies around any government. Unlike the United States, where the president officially must pay for everything he buys, it is assumed that all Ukrainian politicians are accepting bribes. Once elected, Goloborodko and his family have access to the finest luxuries money can buy – without having to worry about whether they can afford it – because the taxpayers will pay for it or an oligarch will give the president anything he wants in return for favors. However, Goloborodko is determined not to fall into the traps of his predecessors as he reforms the Ukrainian government. 

Whenever he needs help with a decision, Goloborodko consults with historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln and Julius Caesar. In context of the show, these scenes provide insight into the character’s influences, yet they also provide a curious look into Zelenskyy’s historical heroes and his ambitions for Ukraine.

On its own, Servant of the People is a fantastic show in the vein of the BBC’s Yes, Minister and worth watching if you can quickly read the subtitles of this fast-paced show. Had Zelensky been widely known as a comedian outside of Ukraine when the series was released, more people would have watched it the first time it was released on Netflix. Instead, most viewers must reconcile the surrealness of this political commentary from the country’s current president with the war he’s leading his country through. For some people, the only logical conclusion is that Putin watched this Russian-language Ukrainian series and was so offended by the content that he escalated a war. While that is highly unlikely, Servant of the People provides proof that Putin’s shadow always loomed in the background of Ukrainian politics. 

The complete series is not available in English. However, the first season is available on Netflix and YouTube with English subtitles. If you’re willing to put up with garbled captions, YouTube has the complete series in Russian and can automatically translate the dialogue. For those waiting for a human to translate, Netflix has not announced whether it will release the remaining seasons in the United States. 

 Servant of the People is streaming on Netflix.

Allison Lips
Allison Lips
Anglophile, Rockabilly, Pompadour lover, TV and Music Critic

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