Netflix has made available for U.S. subscribers a 2015 satirical comedy series starring current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy from his acting days. And to prove that life can imitate art, the show is about a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president.
"You asked and it's back!" Netflix said in a tweet announcing the move to bring the first season of "Servant of the People" to the streaming service. It comes as Zelenskyy's popularity has risen while he manages Ukraine's war against Russia's invading forces -- even bringing a strongly divided U.S. Congress together.
Zelenskyy plays Vasiliy Petrovich Goloborodko, a high school teacher propelled to the presidency after a student’s video of him denouncing official corruption in Ukraine goes viral.
Goloborodko sets about running the country while eschewing the perks of being leader by keeping hold of his normal life.
A hit in Ukraine, where it ran for three seasons and a spin-off movie, interest in the show has peaked since Zelenskyy became the face of the nation as it endures attacks from Russia.
Eccho Rights has distributed the program, made by Zelenskyy’s Studio Kvartel 95, since it launched. The company’s managing partner, Nicola Söderlund, said sales have increased dramatically in the last few days, calling interest in the program “remarkable.”
“It’s quite an old show already,” he explains. “But, of course, given the circumstances, it’s become very, very, very interesting for everybody.”
Channel 4 has announced it has the rights to “Servant of the People” in the U.K. and plans to broadcast an episode on Sunday, alongside a current affairs show about Zelenskyy. Eccho Rights also reported deals with MBC in the Middle East, Greece’s ANT 1 and PRO TV in Romania, as well as broadcasters in Bulgaria, Moldova, Estonia, France, Finland and Georgia.
“People get surprised that a comedian can be a politician, but he was,” says Söderlund. “His skills in getting compelling messages to the people, which is what to do if you’re a TV host, has helped him a lot becoming a politician.”
Zelenskyy's profile has skyrocketed during the invasion as he a tireless advocates for Ukraine, appearing with countrymen and on near-constant video addresses. Turning down an offer to escape the country and instead pleading for help made him a hero to many watching.
Zelenskyy, who was disdained by many in his own country recently, is now being compared to leaders like Winston Churchill and Benjamin Franklin for his communication skills at a time when Ukraine needs them most.
Members of Congress gave Zelenskyy multiple standing ovations as he invoked the values of “democracy, independence, freedom” in an impassioned appeal for more American aid. Many quietly wiped away tears or shook their heads as Zelenskyy paused to show a graphic video of the carnage being inflicted upon his country.
It was a show of unity in Congress that would have been unthinkable even just a few weeks ago, and quickly sparked talk among lawmakers about finding new ways to help Ukraine withstand the Russian onslaught.
“Servant of the People” won the best feature series award at the Teletriumph Awards in Ukraine and also the Gold Remi Award for Television Comedy at the 2016 WorldFest in Houston.