Life imitates art big time with Zelenksyy’s Servant of the People re-airing on Netflix

The accidental politician: ex-comedian and now Ukraine president Vlodomyr Zelenskyy.

Netflix is again showing the popular Ukraine TV show,  Servant of the People, which of course stars Ukraine president Volodmyr Zelenskyy.

Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of the show, which it categorizes as political satire. [I’m using its spelling of his surname, which seems to vary by media outlet]

Airing first in the Ukraine in 2015, Netflix originally ran the show’s four seasons between 2017 and 2021 [with English subtitles]. Evidently interest has been rekindled by Zelenskyy’s Churchillian fight against Russia’s mad dictator, Vladimir Putin.

Last week, Netflix announced Season 1 of the series  was back. There are 23 episodes in the opening season, most of them about 25 minutes, although the pilot episode is twice that length.

I had missed it when it first came out but was keen to watch in light of the profile the war has generated for Zelenskyy. I’d be surprised if millions of Netflix viewers don’t think similarly and propel the show to the top of its rankings.

Based on the first nine episodes I’ve seen, it’s fascinating to see a modern democracy and actual shots of Kiev and other parts of a beautiful Ukraine as it was a few years before the February 2022 invasion: the highways and late-model cars, young people embracing social media, smart phones, Skype and Zoom calls and even crowdfunding for the teacher’s political campaign: talk about life imitating art! At one point, after a kiss, one character declares “I have to tweet this!” There are plenty of shots of TV news standup reports so familiar to North American viewers of CNN or Fox 24/7 cable news.

All of which makes a stark contrast with Russia’s current post-invasion Iron Curtain on independent media and social media, where the only sources of information are state-sanctioned television believed only by older Russians who aren’t technology literate. See a recent New York Times piece on the thousands of tech-savvy young Russians fleeing the country for Armenia and other parts of western Europe, where they gather in cafes with their Apple laptops and Smartphones.

“Shockingly prescient”

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s heart-wrenching to see so much foreshadowing of the calamity to come in the show’s occasional references to Russia and even to Putin himself in the opening episodes. At one point, the TV president says “Putin has been deposed,” quickly adding “I was kidding.”

Then, in episode 7, one character portrays the Zelenskyy character’s options as “to flee or to stay.”

Little wonder that in its review of the series last week, the Daily Beast describes it as “shockingly prescient.”

For those who are new to the series, here’s one website’s brief plot description:

“After a Ukrainian high school teacher’s tirade against government corruption goes viral, he soon finds himself sitting the president’s seat.”

Zelenskyy played a history teacher named Vasily Petrovych Goloborodko.  But life began to imitate art in earnest early in 2018, when a political party named after the television series was registered with the Ministry of Justice. In real life, Zelenskyy was elected President of Ukraine in April 2019, with more than 70 per cent of the second-round vote.

In the TV show, the rant that kicks off the fictional presidency goes viral after racking up millions of views on YouTube: more evidence of how technologically sophisticated and Western Ukrainians are. The rant itself — in episode one — is worth rewinding because it talks so much about government corruption and the fact so many politicians care more about themselves than the citizens who put them in office.

Zelenskyy’s TV president is so honest and sincere and seems to have no regard for the trappings of power and perks, while emphasizing the needs of the unemployed and pensioners. The opening sequence shows him biking to his presidential office, ending with a shot of him reaching for something pinned to his leg. (I assume it’s a clip to prevent his pant leg from catching on the bicycle chain.)

In short, he plays an honest, hard-working, sincere Everyman. To the extent the real Zelenskyy shares similar values, it’s not that big a surprise that Ukrainians voted him in.

In episode 3, there’s a fantasy sequence where he experiences a visitation from a former US president. No, not Trump and his “perfect phone call” to the real Zelenskyy but Abraham Lincoln. There’s an exchange about his eliminating slavery and the fact that even in pre-invasion Ukraine, many workers are in effect slaves to the elite in government and top industry positions.

Both the TV character and the real Ukraine president “happy to die” for their country

As you can learn from Wikipedia, Zelenskyy was much more than just an actor in the show. It was created and produced by  him. And for those who only know Zelenskyy as the accidental politician turned war hero, it may be hard to distinguish the 2022 icon for democracy from the fictional idealist-turned-leader of the TV show. Believe it or not, early in season 1, Zelensky actually declares “I’m happy to die for my country.”

Apart from the political satire and the eerie aspect of seeing pre-invasion Ukraine and Zelenskyy as the lead actor, the show is quite funny in and of itself. There are charming scenes of Vasily Petrovych’s family, including his parents (who are much more attracted to the perks of his office than he is himself) and even his ex-wife, who he appoints to the central bank.

Personally speaking, I think this show alone is reason enough to subscribe to Netflix. For those who haven’t yet done so, here’s a YouTube trailer of the show that may whet your appetite.

What does this all have to do with Findependence and Investing?

I apologize for the fact this blog has no particular focus on Financial Independence, although it does address the far more important topic of a key nation’s independence, one most of the free world is rooting for. That includes Canada, which has the third largest number of citizens (roughly 1.6 million as of 2016) of Ukrainian extraction living here, after Russia and the Ukraine itself.

However, episode 9 does include an oblique reference to Canada and to financial independence: “Toronto is good for retirement, after all.”

As for the investing implications of the invasion, I covered this in my blog earlier this month: The Ukraine Invasion underlines Investors need for Superdiversification. Also see last week’s blog here by Allan Small: What investors need to understand about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

2 thoughts on “Life imitates art big time with Zelenksyy’s Servant of the People re-airing on Netflix

  1. Thanks, Deane. I’ve since viewed eps 10 and 11: gets pretty interesting when his cabinet pretends to take bribes, but just to catch the corrupt cabal offering them: they then add the funds to the depleted national treasury.

Leave a Reply