Servant of the People (Слуга народа in Russian, Слуга народу in Ukrainian, also often translated as The Servant of the Nation) is a 2015 Ukrainian sitcom about a simple history teacher who becomes the president of Ukraine.
The events transpire in a near future. The next presidential elections are nearing. Vasiliy Goloborodko (Volodymyr Zelensky), a high school history teacher, loses his temper in front of a co-worker and goes into a profanity-laced tirade, chewing out the Ukrainian government. Unbeknownst to him, one of his pupils films him and puts the video on YouTube. The video becomes a hit, and, while it lands Vasiliy in trouble at his school, his pupils and their parents agree with him to the point of suggesting he should present himself as a candidate for presidency and organizing him a crowdfunding campaign so that he could register. To his own surprise, he wins.
The idealistic Vasiliy finds himself in a cynical world he is absolutely unsuited for, but is ready and willing to tackle.
The series was produced by the studio Kvartal 95 and premiered in November 2015. After airing daily, the first season ended in December, and got a very positive reception. Over the season, the series evolved from a sitcom featuring just Vasiliy in a Fish out of Water-type situation (and his family as comic reliefs) to a Work Com with an Ensemble Cast.
A real-life political party entitled "Servant of the People" was officially registered in Ukraine by Kvartal 95 on 31 March 2018, with Zelensky as a member of the party. Having no prior political experience apart from playing a politician on television, Zelensky ran in the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election and was elected President of Ukraine by a landslide on 21 April 2019.
In addition to running on television, the series was also released on YouTube. You can view it here in Russian and Ukrainian, with some episodes subtitled in English (the subtitles are in the process of being written).
The series provides examples of the following tropes
- Aborted Arc:
- The final shot of season 1 is Vasiliy learning that the new president of Russia is someone he knows. This plot point is never followed up on in season 2.
- Vasiliy's new girlfriend Anna being a spy on behalf of the oligarchs is dropped by the first season finale. Subverted in season 2, in which she is shown to still be working for Nemchuk, and makes a misstep, prompting Vasiliy to arrest her.
- All Just a Dream: A season 2 episode, in which Vasiliy manages to lift visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens, segues into an episode-long dream sequence, in which Vasiliy wakes up only to find out that absolutely everyone in the country left, except for him. While the episode itself is a very obvious dream sequence, it is still a good watch, if only to see Vasiliy go into a very dark and desperate place before he finally wakes up.
- Amicable Exes: Vasiliy and Olga remain close friends after their divorce.
- An Aesop: The series is known for Vasiliy's speeches, in which he accuses not only the government of Ukraine, but sometimes also the people, of mostly thinking about themselves, being irresponsible, opportunistic and reactionary, and being the biggest thing standing in their own way towards making Ukraine a great country it can be. The show also avoids any heavy accusations towards Russia's influence, not for any sort of implied consent or approval, but to point out that it is not the only problem, and might not even be the biggest one.
- Big Bad:
- Bilingual Dialogue: Most of the dialogue in the series is in Russian, but some characters (in addition to most TV reporters) speak Ukrainian. The languages are similar enough to make such dialogues flow without any problems.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Vasiliy's cross-eyed political decoy, seen as a gag early in season 1. He later resurfaces in season 2, after Mamatov orders a hitman to kill Vasiliy, and is hired by Mamatov to take Vasiliy's place.
- Cluster Bleep-Bomb: Vasiliy's tirade in the first episode is basically this. There is also an uncensored version on Youtube, which was actually used to promote the series before it premiered.
- Corrupt Politician: Almost everybody in the government. Vasiliy takes it as his mission to weed them out, while the oligarchs do their worst to corrupt him and his team.
- Debut Queue: Vasiliy's sister Svetlana, who becomes a major character on the show, is introduced in the second (well, technically third, since the pilot was a two-parter) episode. Among the team of ministers he eventually assembles and who become major characters as well, his ex-wife Olga appears in the fourth episode, most of the team comes along in the eighth episode, and the final member of the team appears in the tenth episode.
- Demoted to Extra: In season two, Minister of Defense Ivan Skorik and Head of Tax Service Mikhail Sanin recede into the background. Vasiliy's family as well, with only his father appearing fairly often, his sister only appearing in several episodes, his mother only appearing once, and his niece completely gone.
- Dwindling Party: The oligarchs towards the end of season 2. First, Vasiliy arrests Roizman. Then, after Mamatov orders an assassination attempt again him, he is arrested as well by Surikov, leaving Nemchuk as the only oligarch standing.
- Ensemble Cast: Before the eighth episode, Vasiliy is the only protagonist of the show. Once he assembles his team, they too become major characters and get their own storylines and satellite characters.
- Every Man Has His Price: The oligarchs are convinced of this, and actively attempt to bribe Vasiliy and his people.
- Evil Chancellor: While more smug and selfish than outright evil, Yuriy Chuiko, the prime minister is definitely not on Vasiliy's side. Played straight later on when he is revealed to be in bed with the three oligarchs. His successor in season 2 turns out to be even worse.
- Evil Cripple: One of three Big Bad oligarchs is wheelchairbound.
- The Faceless: Two of the three oligarchs, Andrei Nemchuk and Mikhail Roizman, are this during most of the first season, up until the episode where they stop sending in their people and contact Vasiliy themselves. The third one, Rustem Mamatov, remains this until season 2.
- Foreshadowing: One of Vasiliy's favorite phrases that he uses to get attention in crowded and noisy places is "Putin has been overthrown!". Come the end of the first season, he receives a phone call from the newly elected President of Russia, and is shocked to learn their identity.
- How We Got Here:
- The pilot follows this format. It starts with Vasiliy finding out he won the election, and follows him through the day, while showing how this came to be through flashbacks.
- The second season premiere as well. It starts with Vasiliy being betrayed by his friends and getting arrested, all while showing rather ominous flashbacks. Turns out it's all an elaborate prank his friends set up for his birthday.
- For those who saw The Movie before season 2, the first seven episodes of that season serve to bridge the gap between the season 1 finale and the movie itself.
- Imagine Spot:
- Vasiliy sometimes imagines receiving advice from historical figures when he is in a dilemma.
- A season 2 episode is almost entirely this, when Vasiliy imagines an overly optimistic scenario of the country's future after he arrests the three oligarchs.
- Intrepid Reporter: One of the recurring characters is Yana Klimenko, a journalist who always jumps on an occasion to discredit Vasiliy.
- Loyal to the Position: Vasiliy inherits two employees from his predecessor who, despite all odds, end up being trustworthy allies:
- The old and jaded secretary Bella Rudolfovna, who worked for the past four presidents.
- Tolik, who worked as a bodyguard for the former president. In fact, he is so dedicated to his job, that when Vasiliy fires him, he loses all sense of purpose in life. When Vasiliy hires him back, he simply resumes doing his job as if nothing happened.
- The Mole: Vasiliy's girlfriend Anna, introduced late in season 1, is soon enough shown to be a spy on behalf of the oligarchs.She is found out and gets arrested halfway through season 2.
- The Movie: A mid-season plot involving of all the main cast only Vasiliy, the former prime minister Yuriy Chuiko, the minister of foreign affairs Sergei Mukhin and his assistant Oksana Skovoroda, as well as the oligarchs, was compiled into a movie that got a theatrical release before the premiere of season 2.
- Next Sunday A.D.: The tagline of the show is "The story of the next president". The setting is exactly like 2015 (when the first season was shot) , except for some major Real Life events that are not mentioned on the show, and the outgoing president not being Petro Poroshenko (nor is he an Expy of him). The presidents of other countries are exactly the same ones as when the series was shot. Also, see Year X below.
- Our Presidents Are Different: Vasiliy is an idealistic, devoted and honest president, who lives with his parents, rides a bicycle to work (when he doesn't take a bus) and overall thinks and acts as a regular person.
- Rags to Royalty: In the aftermath of Vasiliy's inauguration, his family think they are this now, and act the part. Vasiliy quickly shoots them down.
- Reality Ensues: Some of Vasiliy's decisions as president have very real impacts on his own family, with whom he still lives:
- Vasiliy started cracking down on unlicensed taxis. He then found out his father didn't have a license.
- It's only after he signed a law raising the retirement age in order to comply with IMF's demands that he found out that his own mother was hit by it.
- Him raising excise tax on alcohol was the last straw for his father, leading him to (temporarily) kick Vasiliy out of his house.
- In the final scene of The Movie Vasiliy publicly rudely tells off the IMF and refuses a big credit after learning of their demands that could be catastrophic for the country, finishing his press conference with an empowering Aesop. Season 2 shows that this action bit him in the ass hard afterwards, leading him to suddenly retire.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Despite obviously being able to enrich himself (as seen in Real Life, unfortunately) , Vasiliy insists on being honest at work and living a modest lifestyle, and does not accept bribes. This also applies to the members of his team.
- Sequel Non-Entity: In season two, Vasiliy and Olga's son does not appear (his absence being addressed as him having gone on a trip to Italy with Vasiliy's mother, who at least appears once) , neither does his niece (who is mentioned, and implied to be around, but doing her own things) and his former secretary Bella Rudolfovna (who, this time, isn't even mentioned once) .
- The Smurfette Principle:
- Olga is the only woman is Vasiliy's team of friends who comprise his government.
- After Vasiliy resigns and Olga unknowingly starts dating his rival, Minister Mukhin's assistant and girlfriend Oksana takes her place.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: During the events of the movie and the corresponding arc of season 2, the oligarch Mikhail Roizman is replaced by his brother, as he has business to attend in London. If not for two casually delivered lines (one about leaving for London and his brother taking over his business for the time being, and another one about being back and asking what he missed) , a casual viewer could easily think Roizman had been temporarily recast. It doesn't help that the two brothers are never seen together, and after Mikhail Roizman is arrested, his brother also vanishes.
- True Companions: Vasiliy and his team of ministers, who are also his best friends from school.
- Wild Card: Dmitriy Surikov is an embodiment of this trope in season 2.
- Work Com: After Vasiliy goes though his inauguration and assembles his team, the series becomes this.
- Year X: A subtle version of this is seen in the pilot, with a small poster that says "Elections 201...", but the part with the last digit is torn off.