Vanity Fair about Amazon’s ‘Comrade Detective’: What the Hell Is “Comrade Detective”?

It’s a quirky new Amazon series from Channing Tatum—and it’s got a message America needs to hear

In a hushed tone, Channing Tatum urges me to “watch as much propaganda as you can possibly find.” After a beat, he lets out a laugh—but really, he’s serious.

Tatum stars and is executive producer of Amazon’s Comrade Detective, an eerily timely satire of Romanian Communist propaganda. Created by Brian Gatewood and Alex Tanaka, with director Rhys Thomas, the six-episode cop drama was brought to Tatum when he asked the creative team to give him their worst idea. As he explains, “When you try to find something that is not working, you figure out what’s cool about it, and you can find some really hidden gems.”

The initial idea, Gatewood says, was to take actual Communist propaganda and dub it with English dialogue—like a TV version of Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? When obtaining the rights to Cold War-era television proved difficult, they decided to film their own faux propaganda, complete with a strong ’80s aesthetic.

After filming with Romanian actors, they dubbed the series with the vocal talents of an all-star cast. Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (dubbing for actors Florin Piersic Jr. and Corneliu Ulici) star as the loyal Communist cops; other voices include Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Offerman, Mahershala Ali, Chloë Sevigny, Jerrod Carmichael, and Fred Armisen, to name a few. The series begins with footage of Tatum and author Jon Ronson, who present the series as a recently unearthed archival treasure.

After delving deep into the archives of Cold War propaganda, Gatewood and Tanaka took inspiration from hits like the Czechoslovakian classic Thirty Cases of Major Zeman. When creating their homage to shows created behind the Iron Curtain, Rhys explains, “We weren’t going in with the mindset that we were Westerners making fun of Communism. We always tried to make sure that, no, no, we’re the Communist filmmakers.”

As Gateway says, “We grew up in the ‘80s, watching Red Dawn and Rocky IV and all these films—not really knowing as kids that we were essentially watching propaganda.” Tatum recalls a youth where every movie “had a Russian bad guy.”Showing the reverse, though, is both “hilarious and really poignant right now.”

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