Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, delivers a keynote address at the 2016 CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada.Reuters
Netflix is organizing international online showings of the Russian TV series Mazhor, which depicts the gilded lifestyle of a moneyed youth from Moscow who joins the Russian police. The series, whose name will be changed to Silver Spoon for English-speaking audiences, will appear online at the end of November.
A procedural drama in the same mould as recent hits like House M. D. and The Good Wife, the plots deal with the routines of the Moscow police homicide unit and revolves around the fortunes of Igor, the son of a Russian oligarch whose father sends him to the unit to acquire some wisdom after Igor almost lands in jail after a fight with the police.
The sale of Silver Spoon is the first deal of its type on the Russian TV market. Earlier in 2016 Netflix bought another Russian TV product, the Masha and the Bear animation series. The animation was already popular in many countries thanks to its free availability on YouTube. But the purchase of Silver Spoon is a completely different thing. In essence, it is the first time that NetFlix will promote a Russian brand outside Russian borders.
Sreda, the company that produced Silver Spoon, says that while Netflix had also shown interest in other projects, for now it has decided to take on only one product. With hindsight, it is very clear why this particular series was chosen.
Adept at juggling the canons of Western TV dramaturgy, Silver Spoon fits cleanly into the procedural genre – a program about the daily routines of people who work in particular fields: doctors, policemen, lawyers, etc.
The procedural genre contains vertical-horizontal dramaturgy, and Silver Spoon is no different in this respect from its Western counterparts. It is vertical in the sense that each episode is a complete story that can be watched separately from the entire series: One episode is one investigation.
Like the various Western series on which it has been modeled, it also works horizontally: Character development progresses from episode to episode, meaning the viewer’s attention is focused not only on the intrigues of the unfolding investigations but also on the personal lives of its protagonists. Cliffhangers add tension and suspense.
However, the “Russian flavor” of Silver Spoon caters to the rather hackneyed stereotypes of Russian life that occasionally appear in the foreign tabloids: parties in clubs for billionaires, Lamborghini races in the center of Moscow, kilograms of cocaine and sumptuous beauties serving as trophies for the rich and famous. In sum – it deals with the nouveau riche class that is treated with irony in Russia but with a mixture of curiosity, envy and disdain abroad.
Although in its depiction of the dolce vita of Russia’s gilded youth Silver Spoon has followed Russian stereotypes, everything else – from the aesthetics to the problematic plots – is typically Western. This unfaithfulness to Russian reality has prevented Russian TV critics from qualifying the series as an absolute success.
However, it is precisely this shortcoming that may help Silver Spoon win over foreign viewers, those who are unable to identify the inconsistencies in its portrayal of modern-day Russia. And foreign audiences will certainly have no problems identifying the two strong and clearly defined narrative arcs: the transformation of an arrogant snob into an intelligent and responsive human being and the protagonist’s quest to solve the mystery behind the death of his mother.
Silver Spoon's visual aspect is also substantially different from that of most Russian series. It seems clear that director of photography Ulugbek Khamrayev was asked to create a bold, "fashionable" aesthetic for the series.
As a result, the scenes appear to have been decorated with the most popular Instagram filters, creating a look that is vivid and not always realistic, but unquestionably attractive. And if this has attracted the attention of Netflix, then the creators of Silver Spoon have probably achieved exactly what they wanted.