New episodes of Russian TV series 'Puppets' to be made in Estonia

The idea for the Estonian version of the show called "Pehmed ja karvased" originally came from Russia. New puppets stepped into the spotlight in Tallinn this summer, while this time, the satire is aimed at Russian politicians. ERR looked into why the political satire show is now in Russian and why will Estonian politicians be given a break.

There is an effort being made on YouTube to breathe new life into the satirical TV series "Puppets" ("Kukly"), which became nothing short of legendary in Russia a few decades ago. While the jabs are still aimed at Russia's ruling elite, the show is being produced in Estonia.

"The Russian opposition so to speak is behind the whole thing; largely journalists most of whom have escaped Russia. As far as I know, they are living in Riga, Vilnius, Tel Aviv, while some still remain in Russia," said "Pehmed ja karvased" artist and director Hardi Volmer.

That is also the reason why the new show's end credits are so short and mostly cover the Estonian crew. Several people involved with the show in Estonia have also asked for their names to be excluded for the safety of loved ones living in Russia.

"There are very talented people somewhere in Russia – I do not know where exactly – when it comes to imitating these characters. The way it worked was that an actor received the text somewhere in Saint Petersburg, recorded it in their kitchen, sent the file to us and an actor then used a puppet to act out the scene on camera," Volmer said.

The first episode of the "New Puppets" show was made in June, while the second was made public on September 1. Shooting the third episode will start in October. This pace means that instead of breaking news, the show needs to concentrate on more general topics.

"They have ordered an unbelievable number of puppets. The last three war criminals are still with the make-up artist – Kadyrov, batushka Kirill and Belarusian kolkhoz chairman Lukashenko. We are waiting on them as they are having their hair and eyebrows fitted. There are a total of 21 characters," Volmer said.

The Estonian version of the show started with five puppets and treated viewers to a funhouse mirror look at Estonian politics for a total of 12 years. The show ended towards the end of Andrus Ansip's term as prime minister, which one of the screenwriters, Gert Kiiler, described as a period when nothing happened.

"They canceled our show just months before Taavi Rõivas' government stepped in and things started happening again. I think a lot is happening today," Kiiler remarked.

While there seems to be no end to subject matter suitable for a "Pehmed ja karvased" reboot, Kiiler said that Estonia is short on idiosyncratic and expressive politicians who could feature in the show.

"We have Kaja Kallas, a few members of the Helme family, and perhaps Jürgen Ligi who stand out somewhat, while it is not what it used to be," he said.

Kiiler also doubts whether the show's format would work in this day and age. Scandals and politicians come and go so quickly that a puppet might find no use six months after it is made. But if the series was to return in animated form, it would be very simple to include [EKRE MP] Kert Kingo for an episode or two.

Producing topical satire has also become more complicated over the last decade. "The disservice that social media has done is make sure that if there is a scandal, all the possible jokes get made by the first evening," Kiiler suggested. "We would need a different approach, find a way to give new meaning to the script to make sure it remains relevant for days after."

Even though "Pehmed ja karvased" last aired many years ago, Kiiler is still asked about its return every time he meets with former viewers. The subject matter is there, as is the potential audience – the time seems ripe for a new political satire show.


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Editor: Barbara Oja, Marcus Turovski

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