Living-Room Gangsters: Russo-Soviet TV Police Procedurals from the 1970s through the 1990s

Elena Prokhorova, University of Pittsburgh

From their emergence in the early 1970s, Soviet television police procedurals played a distinct role in both re-writing cultural narratives of public order and articulating new conflicts. Like their Western counterparts, Russian police procedurals have followed two major models: either an "institutional" or a "populist" one. The first model, introduced in 1971 by the longest-running, 22-episode Soviet mini-series The Investigation is Being Conducted by Experts, focuses on a centralized police investigation, draws a clear boundary between police and criminals, and usually features "intellectual" policemen. The second model, the most prominent Soviet example of which is Stanislav Govoruxin's 1979 blockbuster production, The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed, represents police as stand-ins for the populace itself. The policemen tend to be blue-collar, run-of-the-mill guys. They often cut corners in the institutional routine and display more kinship with the criminals than with their more "upscale" victims.

While these models might intersect within a single police series, the choice of one or the other indicates a certain cultural paradigm and bears on the series' narrative strategies, and acting style. In this respect, the two most popular post-Soviet police series, Kamenskaja (1999-) and Streets of Broken Lights (Cops) (1998-), both continue and redefine the police procedural tradition as it was inherited from the Soviet-era television culture. The two series are strikingly different not only in their specific "class orientation" (in both textual and audience-related aspects), but also in their respective representation of the post-Soviet society. The talk will focus on two issues: first, on the representation of the inner dynamic between the police community, the criminals, and the society at large; and second, on the use of narrative and visual strategies either to contain/localize crime, or, in contrast, to establish it as an organic element of social life.