“Special Division” – Not so very [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Neely Swanson
“Special Division,” the new offering on MHz Choice is a made-in-Armenia police procedural. This series aims to be all things to all people, using every American cop show as an influence, but, sadly, not very well.
There is a “special division” within the capital city police force; it is unclear why it is special or how it is different. It is said that they investigate complex crimes, however that may be defined. In the first two episodes it is the murder of the wife of a very rich banker with a seemingly solid alibi. Colonel Arno Ghazaryan, the wizened, world-weary cop who’s seen everything, leads his merry band consisting of Captain Rob Vardanyan, a practical jokester, Max, the bald tough guy and former boxer, Captain Alla Sevunto, the lone female sex pot having a clandestine affair with the Colonel (we’ve never seen that one before), and Arment Avagyan, a rich kid trying to prove to mom and dad that he can be responsible by using his computer hacking skills for good rather than personal gain (as in the past).
The script is very expositional with the dialogue between characters explaining their relationships rather than allowing the action to reveal those interactions organically. The first case is unraveled reasonably well, though it doesn’t take two episodes to figure out the perp or the reasoning behind the original murder (the body count keeps rising).
“Special Division” is special only in that it is Armenian and may be that country’s first television export. Not being acquainted with this market, I can’t say for sure. At first, I thought I might be watching a takeoff on a 70s American cop show – “Kojak” without the speed; “Starsky and Hutch” without Starsky or Hutch; “Columbo” without the humor. No, they’re serious. What I can say for sure is that the production values are extremely low. The camera work is quite primitive, with no thought to lighting. How, you might ask, is it possible to film indoors (and outdoors, too) and have no shading, shadows, or nuance to the color? It is perhaps a stroke of luck that the names of the actors and the above-the-line crew (i.e., production designer, director of photography, writer, director) shall remain anonymous as they were not translated from Armenian into English subtitles.
In general, the acting is perfunctory with most of the characters performing at full vocal pitch or with little to no vocal inflection. Rob is the joker, Alla smolders; Max is threatening; and Arment is wide-eyed. I am totally unacquainted with the actors but, with the exception of Shant Hovhannisyan (his name was listed in publicity materials) who plays Arno, the Colonel leading the group, it is unlikely that they will have careers outside of Armenia, at least not in the near future. Hovhannisyan, however, appears to be a seasoned and nuanced actor who successfully conveys much wordlessly, emanating empathy, warmth, and wisdom. It would not surprise me to learn that he has had an international career.
Is this a bad show? No. “Special Division” is just not special. Plotting is more than adequate. It’s the kind of series you might happen on when you’ve finished all the good offerings on MHz, and there are many, and are waiting for the next compelling series.
Premiering on MHz on Tuesday, October 6.