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  • David Zak

Art became life for the SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE.

I was expecting the 2015 sitcom from Ukraine to be a weak joke, only resurrected because miraculously, the fantasy of the comedy series SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE had morphed into real life. You might know that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine and now a worldwide hero, was once an actor. This very clever TV show in which he stars as a humble high school history teacher who becomes president of his country gave him the star power to become president a few years after the series started airing in 2015. Who would have thought a TV star could become president of a country?

The writing is clever and, in some instances, profound and prophetic. Zelenskyy plays Vasiliy Petrovich Goloborodko, highly regarded by his students but invisible to the rest of society. He is a divorced dad, still living with his Archie Bunker-like father, mother, sister, and niece.

His country is celebrating 25 years of democracy. Yet the leaders, corrupted by wealth and power, keep the people in poverty and ignorance while living in palaces, villas, and yachts. And the president - when defeated by the voters - refuses to leave his office.

When a student captures his teacher's profanity-laced rant about the inequities of Ukrainian life, the video goes viral, and the course of history - both on-screen and in real life - is changed.

When Goloborodko takes power, he replaces government ministers with his ex-wife and friends from his past, thus following the pattern of a good person corrupted by politics. This infuriates the oligarchs who run the country. Cleverly, we never see their faces as they drink and dine, get massages, and play 'Carve It Up' which looks a lot like Risk.

The broad comedy works well. When the president ditches his limo to take a bus to work, a dozen security agents run behind the bus to keep up. The weaving of current events with flashbacks to his classroom works nicely, giving a few students a moment in the spotlight. The rest of the large cast of ensemble players are standard villains or good guys.

This is Zelenskyy's official portrait, shortly before Donald Trump's antics made him a household name in America. Now, for the most unfortunate reasons, he is a constant on the evening news in the very serious drama that embroils us all.

What is most striking is the lush beauty of Kyiv. The rivers and bridges, historical buildings, and inspiring architecture make you wonder what will remain and if it can ever be made whole.

SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE, which Zalenskyys production company produced, is on NetFlix.

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