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Series / Servant of the People

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"... so that a simple teacher would live like a president, and the president would live like a teacher!"

Servant of the People (Слуга народа in Russian, Слуга народу in Ukrainian, also often translated as The Servant of the Nation) is a 2015 sitcom from Ukraine about a simple history teacher who becomes the country's president.

The events transpire in a near future. The next presidential elections are nearing. Vasiliy Goloborodko (Volodymyr Zelenskyy), 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 Plucky Comic Relief) 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 Zelenskyy as a member of the party. Having no prior political experience apart from playing a politician on television, Zelenskyy ran in the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election and was elected President of Ukraine by a landslide on 21 April 2019, in a surprising case of Life Imitates Art.

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). It can also be streamed on Netflix.

Compare with Prez (2015), similar in spirit but more futuristic and outlandish.

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.
  • Appeal to Obscurity: When Vasiliy is hiring a political strategist for his campaign, the man says he assumed Vasiliy had already hired a different strategist, and listed several candidates that guy had helped. Vasiliy has never heard of any of them, which proves his point that the other strategist is terrible.
  • Artistic License – History: Played for Laughs - Mukhin greatly exaggerates the number of wives (and thus children) Vladimir the Great had to establish the case that 1 in 4 Ukrainians have Icelandic ancestry.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: When the Icelandic ambassador makes fluency in their language a prerequisite to giving visa-free access to Ukrainians, Mukhin points out the difficulty of learning spouting off a list of Iceland's volcanoes that even the ambassador's secretary remarks that the diplomat can't pronounce half of them. Half of those excessively-long names are made-up.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In Season 2, Episode 9, Yuriy Ivanovich hides behind a gravestone to watch his own funeral after having his death faked in the previous episode.
  • Back for the Dead: Subverted with Yuriy Chuiko in the movie. It turns out the explosion was staged. Subverted with season 2, Vasiliy was shown shot so they can replace them with a doppelganger, he came back not dead in the next episode.
  • Bad Guys Play Pool: The oligarchs frequently play pool together, and in the montage of the fake Goloborodko being friendly with Nemchuk, he plays with them.
  • Balkanize Me: In the third season, Ukraine splits into 28 different states, with the G7 enlisting Vasiliy to bring all of them back together. And after Yuriy's mishap at the interstate conference, five more states emerge on the map of Ukraine.
  • Batman Gambit: A mid-season 1 plotline has Vasiliy's gang intentionally accept bribes from the oligarchs to replenish the treasury.
  • Big Bad:
    • Yuriy Chuiko, the prime minister in season 1, with the oligarchs acting as a Greater-Scope Villain.
    • The oligarchs themselves, later relegated to The Heavy when Dmitriy Surikov, the new prime minister and Olga's paramour takes the spotlight, in season 2.
  • 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.
  • Broken Aesop: One of Vasiliy's biggest goal is the fight against corruption. Meanwhile, early on he appoints his closest friends (and ex-wife) as ministers. While the series presents this as assembling a team of highly moral True Companions, in reality this amounts to cronyism, which in fact is a form of corruption.
    • Downplayed - Vasiliy DID attempt to hold formal recruitments for all of these positions, but could not find any good candidates. The ones he did recruit before calling on his friends were revealed to be Yuriy's (and by extension the oligarchs') cronies in the end.
    • A similar situation happens in Season 2, where Vasiliy engages in conspiracy by faking Yuriy's death, prematurely ending his sentence, and granting him immunity via a fake identity to combat the oligarchs.
  • 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. Prior to that, the oligarchs use him to falsely create the impression that Vasiliy is in bed with Nemchuk (after photos of the real Vasiliy crashing his daughter's wedding during The Movie surfaced).
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Prime Minister Dmitry Surikov, to the point that the oligarch Andrei Nemchuk, of all people, decides to provide Vasiliy dirt on Surikov out of spite.
  • 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.
  • The Coup: An armed group controlled by the oligarchs takes over the Verkhovna Rada in the middle of President Borisenko's speech.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: When Vasiliy runs out of options on how to disperse the protesters, the cabinet gets a debate show to discuss the threat of a meteor strike on Ukraine. It works.
  • Death Faked for You: To make the oligarchs drop their guard, Vasily arranges for the truck transporting Yuriy Ivanovich to be blown up, making everyone think he's dead.
  • 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.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: The entire series played on the idea of idealistic Vassily against the politics of his country in his tenure as a president. Many of his benign actions were challenged due to the opinions of the citizens, political administration, international community, and his own family.
  • 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 absent save for a bit in the third season.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Some of Vasiliy's decisions as president have very real impacts on his own family, with whom he still lives, that he fails to consider because of his idealism:
    • 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 resign.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Yuriy Chuiko attempts to invoke this with one plan to take down the oligarchs. If Vasiliy takes a bag of cash from a certain locker in Zaporhizhia, the cops (who are in the pocket of one oligarch) won't get their payoff from another oligarch's gambling dens, which will lead to an escalating Enemy Civil War and economic chaos as they try to deny each other resources that each one needs, but are monopolized by the other. Eventually, this culminates in them both hiring a hitman to take out the other. Vasiliy is unable to get the bag in time, but the guy who takes it gets arrested by the Security Service anyway.
  • Disguised in Drag: In season 2, when Vasiliy and Yuriy need to escape a group of thugs from the Journalists' Union, they disguise themselves as drag queen Verka Serduchka and her "mother".
  • 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.
  • Enemy Civil War: Mamatov and Roizman wage war by crippling the other's companies, with the former even ordering a hit on the latter. However, the show doesn't explain how the two got into the same room without going at each other's throats later in the episode.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • The G7 leaders in season 3 are this as well.
  • Faking the Dead: Yuriy Chuiko pulls this off in The Movie to avoid suspicion from the oligarchs that he agreed with Vasiliy to testify against them. He also attends his own funeral.
  • 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.
  • Gambit Pileup: Nemchuk and the Wild Card Surikov in the season 2 finale - when the latter starts to threaten Vasiliy's lead in the presidential race by receiving the IMF loan that Vasiliy previously rejected, Nemchuk leaks his conversation with Surikov where the latter openly reveals IMF's secret conditions and offers of concessions to the oligarch. Surikov then avoids the debate by making Yuriy Chuiko (much to the host's shock) fill in for him and paint Vasiliy's actions in The Movie in a bad light. Chuiko, however, decides to backpedal after a commercial break and also after Vasiliy walks out of the stage. His maneuver apparently fails to stop Surikov's momentum as the incumbent prime minister (fraudulently) wins the election.
  • Global Ignorance: Played for Laughs in Foreign Minister Mukhin's plots. In his second episode, he couldn't point out where Uganda is.
    Oksana: Yesterday, the Lord's Resistance Army arrested him (Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's president).
    Mukhin: You see! Even God is against the president.
  • Happy Ending Override: 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 resign.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Chuiko undergoes this by the third season.
    • He arguably already went through this turn in the course of the movie / mid-Season 2. From this point on, Chuiko mostly aligned with Goloborodko and his ideals, even ruining Dmitry Surikov's plan of defacing Goloborodko by actually praising him throughout the Dialog.
  • 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.
    • It is later revealed that Yana is a lover of Yuriy, meaning Yana's intrepid reporting could be Yuriy's way of stealthily testing or hindering the President.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: In Yuriy's (faked) funeral in the movie.
  • Kill and Replace: A late-season 2 plot has the cross-eyed decoy introduced in the first season replacing Vasiliy, the latter of whom was thought to be killed by an assassin. Subverted in that the real Vasiliy appears in a press conference later that day.
  • 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.
    • Yuriy Chuiko Ivanovich counts to an extent, as well. Despite his corruption and allegiance to the oligarchs, he takes his post as Prime Minister seriously and genuinely tries to assist Vasiliy whenever his own interests are not in danger. Although Yuriy's role painted him as the final antagonist of season 1, he actually spent most of the series as an ally of Goloborodko, rather than an enemy. In return, Vasiliy keeps his promises to Yuriy and considers him "tolerable". Vasiliy also reinstated Yuriy as his political advisor following his re-election in season 3, although whether Yuriy is once again Prime Minister at this point is a little unclear.
  • 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.
  • Named by Democracy: One of the 28 republics that came out from the balkanization of Ukraine cannot decide on their name. A public consultation resulted in 400 submissions, all to be decided on via referendum.
  • 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.
    • Some scenes in the third season are set in 2049, with a history professor in Kyiv Medical University extolling how far Ukraine had progressed and doing some minor narration. The students, however, are seen carrying iPads that are more suited to The New '10s.
  • Noodle Incident: A news report early in season 1 dedicated airtime to apparent gaffes committed by Vasiliy's appointees. Mikhail Sanin apparently had an incredibly long list of those to the point that a special had to produced. Not that we'd find out what happened.
  • Not Quite Dead:
    • The prison van carrying Yuriy in the movie suddenly explodes. One scene later, he's shown attending his own funeral.
    • Vasiliy, thought to be assassinated in the previous episode, suddenly shows up during a press conference where his decoy announces his withdrawal from the presidential race.
  • Outhumbling Each Other: Mukhin and his Greek counterpart Otas Karagunis try to make their respective cases for an IMF loan by emphasizing how horrible the conditions are in their own countries.
  • Overly-Long Gag: Mukhin's plotline in the movie.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Foreign Minister Serhiy Mukhin - his first press conference consists of him mentioning that all Africans are black and asking the press if the word "negroes" (a term he repeatedly used) is offensive. Apparently, a joke he cracked afterwards was so offensive that it couldn't be aired on TV.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Yaroslav Khudobyak, Speaker of the Rada and one of the presidential candidates in season 2, is openly antisemitic, accusing Goloborodko of being a Jewnote  and having "Get rid of the Jews and Muscovites" as his campaign slogan.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: In the seventh episode of the second season, the oligarchs pull off a last-minute broadcast of a sex tape between the Greek foreign minister and the IMF head, causing the latter to reverse her initial decision to give an IMF loan to Greece. This directly leads to The Movie's plot.
  • The Quiet One: Tolik is rarely heard speaking.
  • 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.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: After Borisenko prints more money, Ukrainians take to the streets for another maidan; Surikov having been overthrown the previous episode.
  • Secret Relationship: Zhanna Borisenko and Vitaliy Romanchenko, both deputies in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament), sometime in mid-season two. A leaked photo of their tryst leads to both of them dropping their candidacies for prime minister, leaving Sergei Karasyuk as the sole candidate.
  • 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; she pops up for less than a minute in season three) and his former secretary Bella Rudolfovna (who isn't even mentioned once).
    • Out of all the named deputies, only Vitaliy Romanchenko is absent in season 3.
  • Shout-Out: The opening scene of Season 2 is a parody of the scene where Jon Snow gets stabbed in the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, with Vasily dressed as Jon.
  • Telecom Tree: Another season 1 plot has the infrastructure minister send out Vasiliy's orders down the bureaucratic chain. When said minister gets sacked for failing to deliver on the roadworks project, the next guys down the chain get promoted in his place, and all of them eventually receive the pink slip over increasingly absurd acts of embezzlement.
  • 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.
  • Society Is to Blame: In Episode 15 of Season 1, Vasiliy gives an extended monologue on live TV about how from the moment of birth, the corruption in Ukraine's society shapes every Ukrainian into a "yokel".
  • Stealth Pun: The background in Nazar Dobrivechir's campaign ads is a night skyline.
  • Third Time's The Charm: In the plotline covered by the movie, Vasily and Yuriy make three attempts to Divide and Conquer the oligarchs. The first two attempts go awry, when Vasily goes off-plan. The third time, in Odesa, he sticks to the plan and is successful. This is a variation, since they're not direct confrontations, and each time he's facing a different oligarch or their cronies.
  • True Companions: Vasiliy and his team of ministers, who are also his best friends from school.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: In the plot covered by the movie, Vasily and Yuriy's plan is discussed in the train en route to Kharkiv. Naturally, it doesn't go to plan.
  • Unusual Euphemism: In Season 2, two of the candidates for prime minister are having an affair with each other. Their post-coital conversation uses heavy political metaphors:
    Vitalii: Would you like to "form another coalition"?
    Zhanna: Do you have the votes needed?
    Vitalii: I have a large electorate.
  • Velvet Revolution: Surikov gets overthrown by one after the public learns the terms of a coal deal in the season 3 premiere.
  • Voice Clip Song: In Season 2, a rapper makes a Diss Track video incorporating several clips of Vasiliy speaking, most notably his "go to hell" line from the previous episode.
  • We Need a Distraction:
    • In the 20th episode, it is revealed that the cabinet has consistently invoked this trope anytime there's a protest (see Crazy Enough to Work for a plot-relevant example).
    • The culture minister once attempted to use the meteor strike story when a wreath fell on Viktor Yanukovych. Apparently, the cabinet went with a "cheap fishing line that got people talking for a year". Meanwhile, the education minister proposed a bird flu epidemic as the distraction, though Yuriy himself preferred the meteor story instead.
    • Also invoked by Vasiliy in The Movie - while he and Yuriy are busy attempting to cause an Enemy Civil War among the oligarchs, he instructs Mukhin to buy as much time as possible. Mukhin and Oksana do this by exploiting a traditional Ukrainian ceremony to get the IMF head drunk. On a nightly basis.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Used as a storytelling device on how Vasiliy agreed to repaying a 250 million euro loan from the EBRD.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Vasiliy has this reaction when he sees that one of the breakaway states is named "тот" (that one).
  • Why We're Bummed Communism Fell: Implied with the breakaway Dnipropetrovsk Communist Republic, and the Luhansk and Donetsk region, which effectively took the Soviet Union's acronym, and whose leader (titled the General Secretary) is an avid collector of Lenin memorials and Brezhnev's vehicles, and is even said to be eager to trade away all the Donbass coalmines for Lenin's mausoleum and the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
  • Wild Card: Dmitriy Surikov is an embodiment of this trope in season 2.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: In the three-way debate between Vasiliy, Karasiuk, and Zhanna, Vasiliy just stays silent while the other two tear each other apart for not supporting Vasiliy's own anti-corruption policies. He ends up overtaking both of them in the polls.
  • Woman Scorned: Svetlana's first act upon being made deputy head of the State Fiscal Service is to arrest her ex-boyfriend...and her ex-employers.
  • 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.
    • Averted by the third season, in which a history professor explicitly states that the season's plot is set between 2019 and 2023.