Reclaiming its popularity in the recent decade, it is safe to say TV series genre has made a grand comeback in terms of viewership and cultural influence. As a country that has produced hundreds of TV shows, Russia has without a question left its mark on the genre. Whether historical, dramatic or gangster themed, certain shows have reached cult status and outgrew small screens, establishing themselves as a part of culture and even language. Some are quoted daily, and referenced in both casual conversations and journalism or politics, as vivid and unmistakable symbols of a time, movement or generation.
Brigada (Бригада), 2002.
Perhaps the most popular TV show in Russia to date, Brigada is a gangster mini series that consists of 15 episodes that occur between the year 1989. and 2000. Its story follows the lives of four friends and their path from regular young Muscovites in late 90’s to powerful, notorious gangsters. According to director of the show, police as well as gangsters who were active during 90’s were consulted in order to gain information that will make the story as close to reality as possible. Created as a Russian reference to classics of gangster genre such as Scarface and Godfather, Brigada was met with high reviews by critics and turned its actors into major stars. However, it was criticised for romanticizing crime and gang mentality and subsequently even banned in Ukraine.
Poor Nastya (Бедная Настя), 2003.
Most expensive TV show ever made in Russia, Poor Nastya lived up to high expectations as it became an international hit and was aired in 34 countries worldwide. Set in an Imperial atmosphere of 19th century reign of Nicholas I of Russia, it revolves around lives of nobility as well as serfs who were all somehow tied to the royal family. Filled with romance, passion, intrigue and betrayal, Poor Nastya was praised for its realistic approach and representation of the court life at the time. Named after its protagonist Nastya, show features a large number of historical characters such as the Emperor Nicholas, Empress Alexandra and tsarevich Alexander next to completely fictional characters and storylines. One of the most successful TV projects in the genre of historical fiction, it was set up for a sequel since the destiny of many characters remained unknown. However, the sequel was never made due to schedule and personal issues among actors.
Kitchen (Кухня), 2012.
Following the story of a young man Max who comes from a small town of Voronezh to Moscow to become a chef, Kitchen focuses on peculiar and often funny events that occur in the capital’s most exclusive restaurant called Claude Monet. Owned by a famous Russian actor Dmitry Nagiev who plays himself in the show, Claude Monet is run by a moody master chef Viktor Barinov. Filled with many interesting and slightly ridiculous supporting characters, who mostly also work in the kitchen of Claude Monet, this show is considered to be the most popular comedy sitcom to come out of Russia. Screened in more than 10 countries, most of them in Southern and Eastern Europe, Kitchen is ranked as one of the most expensive TV productions in Russia, with one season budget being 8 million dollars. Beloved by both audiences and critics, Kitchen has been followed up by a spinoff called Hotel Eleon in 2017., and two films, Kitchen in Paris (2014) and Kitchen-The last fight (2017). Its sequel Hotel Eleon which features many characters from the original series Kitchen along with some new characters, has also been very successful in Russia and other Eastern European countries.
Major (Мажор), 2014.
Purchased by Netflix as well as production companies in USA, Germany and Poland, it is safe to say Major has received worldwide attention and success. Currently into its third season, Major tells a story of a young and spoiled son of a wealthy man whose life turns around after a conflict with a policeman. As a graduate of law school, Igor is sent away to work at a remote police station as a part of his father’s plan to remove him from the spotlight and silence the story about the incident. After a bad initial impression, Igor finds his place in the station, love and purpose in life, and that is to discover the identity of his mother’s murderer. Consistently ranked as one of the most popular and beloved TV series in Russia by various magazines and websites, Major has expanded its brand with a publication of a book in 2016.
Life and Destiny (Жизнь и судьба), 2012.
An Emmy nominee in the category of Best TV movie/mini-series, Life and Destiny is based on a novel of the same name by Vasily Grossman. Set in the year of 1942. and 1943., Life and Destiny focuses on Viktor Shtrum, a Jewish scientist employed by one of the leading institutions for atomic weapon development in Soviet Union. However, as persecution of Jews grows by day both in Europe and Soviet Union, Viktor loses many friends and family members which leads him to rethink his priorities and purpose in life. Out of nowhere, Stalin becomes extremely interested in Shtrum’s work on the atomic bomb and at the same time the authorities begin their persecution campaign aimed at him. Torn between his work, emotions and will to survive, Viktor’s existential crisis reaches its peak. Attracting huge viewership in Russia almost immediately after it premiered, the show was still heavily criticized for straying away from the original book in some parts.