I have a new, favorite TV show. It’s on Netflix. It’s about a citizen plucked from obscurity to lead his nation. Think Peter Sellers in ‘Being There’ with a modern twist. Does anyone remember the line: “I like to watch”? This show is called ‘Servant of the People’.
It tells the story of a high school history teacher who gets his 15 minutes of fame when his students record him engaged in a rant about government corruption. After a student-led crowdfunding campaign, his political star rises, resulting in him being elected president. Think ‘Veep’ meets ‘Parks and Recreation’.
‘Servant of the People’ ran in Ukraine from 2015 to 2019, and in its final year, the star of the show, Volodymyr Zelensky, was actually elected president in Ukraine.
Today of course we are accustomed to seeing Zelensky in his signature green t-shirt, a new millennium version of Winston Churchill in his Turnbull & Asser “Siren” suit. It’s easy to see why Ukrainians would have wanted him as their leader, and why the world would be rallying to his cause.
A Pew Research Center survey released yesterday revealed that 72% of Americans have “a lot” or “some” confidence in Zelensky to do the right thing in Ukraine – that’s higher than any other national leader tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Biden, by comparison, is at 48%. France’s Emmanuel Macron is 55%. Germany’s Olaf Scholz has the confidence of 53% of Americans. Vladimir Putin? Six percent…and you have to wonder who they are!
Something else: the depiction of Ukraine and its capital, Kyiv. We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the footage of people fleeing the country or the remains of bombed and burned-out buildings. It’s easy to think of Ukraine as perpetually drab and dreary. But here, in ‘Servant of the people’, is the pre-Putin Ukraine – vibrant, colorfully lit, beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan, and yearning for others to embrace its burgeoning democracy, free of corruption or fealty to Russia.
Yes, the story is fictional. But it is nevertheless insightful as to the country in which it is set and the man who leads it. This is Ukraine, the way it was, and the way it will be again once Putin’s advance is permanently repelled.
And there’s no way Zelensky could have played this role without possessing a high level of intelligence, wit, charm, and resolve.
As Sean Penn, himself an Oscar winner, told me yesterday: “20 years from now, when documentaries about him are shown, kids will see them & say of Zelensky to their parents, “Mom! Dad! Did you know Zelensky was once a comedic actor??!!”