It might look like a penguin, but it's actually a Russian cop show, Gentlemen Comrades. No, really -- set in Moscow in the aftermath of the October Revolution, with the ongoing Russian Civil War raging in the distant background, a time and place for which "interesting" is an understatement. The city is a mess, crime runs rampant, the Bolsheviks are grabbing power with both hands while trying to consolidate what they already have.
There's a functioning secret police/political police, the Cheka* (of course), but regular police forces, the newly-formed Militsiya, are struggling, understaffed, inexperienced and overwhelmed. And it's these ordinary cops, the "Criminal Police," who are the focus of the series. The first character we meet is a "revolutionary sailor" -- which means he's an earnest rube, something like a patriotic, unsophisticated farmboy -- freshly assigned to the Moscow militsiya as an investigator. The second is more complex: a former detective for the Czar's police, now out of work, under considerable suspicion and drinking heavily. Events unfold; the young sailor meets Dornbergs, his boss and (apparently) the top man in the Criminal Police, and is assigned to stop a strange gang of leaping, white-robed criminals. Meanwhile the same gang attacks a friend of the former Imperial detective, frightens his sister, and leads him to sober up and offer to help the militsiya for just this one case. Dornbergs accepts (over the objections of his Cheka liaison), pairs him up with the young sailor and the hunt is on.
It's about as accurate as Have Gun, Will Travel, or perhaps Hec Ramsey, and for similar reasons of national myth and cinematic convention (parts of the past were considerably filthier than you'd care to see). Production values are excellent. The acting and story-telling is first-rate and the overall sweep and structure reminds me of the first season of Homicide: Life On The Street, with an emerging ensemble cast of well-developed personalities. Each story arc takes up at least two hour-long episodes, allowing for fairly convoluted plots; gun geeks may enjoy the Nagant revolvers, Broomhandle Mauser "Bolos" and other early 20th-century firearms used by police and bad guys. The contrast between the eager greenhorn and experienced detective is well-played, as are various subplots.
English subtitles appear to have been translated by a native Russian speaker, with some of the foibles of number and article typical of that tongue; they're clear enough, and the substitutions of "Mr. [Last name]" for "firstname + patronymic" and "KGB" for "Cheka" are actually useful clarifications for English speakers.
I'm a half-dozen episodes in and still enjoying it. Sure wouldn't want to have to live through it at the time!
* "The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage," no less, later changed to, "All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption," which developed from a similar organization operating in Petrograd. "VCheka" and "'Cheka" are the short versions of the name, from Vserossiyskaya chrezvychaynaya, "All-Russian Extraordinary." Over time, they became the GPU, OGPU, NKVD and, yes, KGB. Ordinary crime was at best outside their remit. At worst? H'mmm, remember how the FBI and the Mob were said to work together during WW II? Yeah, that. For decades.
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