Even though I’ve had a TV and Film category on the blog for more than five years, there’s a pretty good reason why there aren’t many entries. Simply put, most Romanian-language TV and movies are pretty bad.

That’s why I was quite excited when I heard about Umbre (Shadows). Filmed in Romania with real Romanian actors, this HBO show is far, far, far higher budget than most Romanian fare, which tends to be either super dumb copies of Italian shows (TV) or depressing “artistic” works (movies) about abortions, exorcisms, and dying alone.

The chatter on IMDb about Umbre looked pretty good – professional lighting, a real script, and some decent camera work. And so I duly downloaded it from an unauthorized source (sorry, but I don’t have HBO GO) to give it a chance.

Bam! Ka-pow! Blooey!

First impression? Well, the lighting really is much better. And the camera work is too. For the first five minutes, I felt my hopes rising. Sure, the dialogue was super fast Bucharest street slang (without subtitles), but maybe there was a decent story in there.

Unfortunately, the official description of the show reveals just how much stupidity I was in for.

My translation:

Relu (Serban Pavlu) is a family man. He has two kids, a wife, and a double life. As far as his family knows, Relu Oncescu is an ordinary taxi driver. Nobody guesses that Relu secretly works as an enforcer for “The Captain”, a local mafia boss.

Neither of these two (the family or the mafia) knows about the existence of the other.

Oh lord.

First of all, I can understand why a man’s family might not know about his secret life, especially if he’s a taxi driver and going all over the city during the day. But how in the hell would the mafia not know about his family??

The mafia doesn’t advertise on the internet for enforcers! They only hire people they know. What kind of mafia sends an unknown individual to go recover huge stacks of money?

Within literally five minutes of Umbre starting, we see Relu beat the shit out of two people in order to recover a huge stack of cash owed to “The Captain.”

All right, well I can suspend my disbelief a bit, but I had to turn off the TV after Relu delivered the mafia’s money to a) a YOUNG woman who was b) impossibly attractive. Okay, she’s younger than Relu AND in charge of him in the mafia hierarchy? Hmm, maybe if she’s the daughter of someone.

I’m a high-ranking mafia lady in a deeply misogynistic society!

But what soured me forever was when the Mafia chieftess started counting money and talking at the same time. Not once, but twice!

Look, I’ve been living with Romanians for more than 15 years, and I have never, ever once seen a Romanian have a conversation and count money at the same time. Literally nobody does this.

Watch an episode of Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad or any other show involving the mafia (Sopranos, et al) and you will never, ever see a mafia boss speaking a single word when they’re counting money. Never. That’s because if your entire reason for existence is making money via illegal activities, you focus on the damn money, not chitchat.

Sadly, there were other issues with Umbre as well, including the fact that some of the actors weren’t that good. The only performance that impressed me was an unnamed character who attempts to bribe Relu 50 lei in order to borrow his taxi for a few minutes. The rest were a joke, including Relu (Serban Pavlu) himself who seems to think that grunting and looking constipated = acting.

Final score? Yes, the lighting was good. The camera work was better than average, but there was far too shaking going on, making it quite distracting. The sets were acceptable, including the one outdoor scene I saw, but the casting for the mafia lady was simply ridiculous. The audio was quite good, but without subtitles, you’ll need to be extremely fluent in Romanian slang to follow the wooden dialogue. Frankly, the basic premise was dumb, and the script needs major polishing.

Not worth watching, and definitely not worth paying HBO GO to stream it, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

2 out of 5 stars.

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