Less champagne in the glass is better!” shouts director Alexei Popogrebsky to a crowd of well-dressed people in a restaurant. “Mingle, eat, have a great evening!”he adds, before retreating to a set of screens behind the glass wall of the restaurant.
We are at the Palace of Pioneers, a brilliant piece of early Soviet architecture, built at a moment that the nation was in the grip of space euphoria. For several evenings it has been turned into a trendy restaurant and part of the set for a new Rossiya TV series called “The Optimists.”
The series explores the lives and relationships between a group of young diplomats who work for the Strategic Analysis Group, a fictional proto think tank supposedly established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Khrushchev era.
Michael Idov, one of the series’ co-authors and screenwriters, shows me around. The original idea for the show came in 2010, he says – formed while he was working on a book called “Made in Russia: Unsung Icons of Soviet Design.” The book focused on the 1960s and space-age design.
Idov found inspiration in the work done by the Russian Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics VNIITE during the period. He enthuses about the “truly innovative and groundbreaking projects” launched by the “really progressive young men and women” who worked for the institute.
“I loved the idea of this group of people that was ahead of its time and yet somehow forgotten by history,” he says.
His coauthor at the time, Mikhail Shprits, came up with the idea of moving the story into the realm of international politics. The series has been released right at the peak of interest in the 1960s and Khrushchev’s short-lived “Thaw” period. Exhibitions devoted to the period are currently on view at two of Moscow’s major museums: the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum. It’s no coincidence that the series’ producer is Valery Todorovsky, creator and director of “The Thaw,” a critically acclaimed TV series about the same period.
The show opens with the 1959 American National Exhibition in Sokolniki, where we first meet the main characters.