The Buzz: 'The Indian Detective' Suffers from a Baffling Identity Crisis

Russell Peters is a charming, if unmemorable comedian. His stand-up specials are packed with laughs, though they fail to establish a tangible persona in the same way that compatriots funnyman have managed to. And while this may be a matter of splitting hairs when it comes to the world of tapped specials and movie cameos, it proves a crippling flaw in Peters’s latest foray into sitcom television, The Indian Detective.

Grossly overstating the talents of it's leading man, The Indian Detective is a sitcom stuck between two gears; as if uncertain as to how to best use Peters’s talents.It's unfortunate, given what appeared to be the good intentions of its star and showrunner Frank Spotnitz, but there’s no getting around a show that, for supposedly being a comedy on the surface, is needlessly-- and frustratingly-- unsure of itself.

Things start off in comedic, Paul Blart-esque fashion: police detective Doug D’Mello (Peters) is hot on the trail of a drug lead. Only there are no drugs, and D’Mello winds up looking like a bumbling idiot. Reeling from the humiliation, he decides to travel to India to regroup and spend time with his ailing father (Anupam Kher). It's a competent (if not particularly inspired) premise that should, on paper, give Peters a chance to flex some observational wit regarding the culture clash between his Canadian upbringing and his Indian heritage.

Instead, The Indian Detective appears to take its title literally, and turn the series into a toothless police story, with investigations, interrogations, and bafflingly, very few laughs. Peters has a cool, affable air throughout, but his presence is notably thinned-out when he’s reduced to being a “tough cop” that practices every cliché in the book; including but not limited to: smug comebacks, friction with his superiors, and moments of brooding reflection. While that’s not to say television cops who prescribe to this rulebook are inherently bad, Peters doesn’t bring anything to the table in terms of freshness or acting ability. He delivers his lines as though he knows it to false, and he’s sorely mistaken if he thinks the viewer is going to put in more effort than he.

That the series is less charming than your average CSI episode is an even bigger detriment. It attempts to keep the tense precision of a detective drama, fails, yet has nothing in terms of likability or clever punchlines to keep it afloat. The supporting characters have the same affliction of unfunny as Peters, which is a real shame when it comes to talented personnel like Christina Cole and William Shatner, the latter of which is suffused of all of his hammy natural charm.

Even more egregious is the vapid, at times racist depictions of citizens in India. The series gives us the full gamut of stereotypes, including angry cab drivers, crooked law enforcement, and characters with such thick, cartoonish accents that Indian Express claimed they will “force you to read subtitles even if you understand Hindu perfectly well.” This was an unexpected pitfall for me heading into the series, as Peters’s comedy act has always approached the subject of his Indian heritage from a place of love and jabbing admiration (his 2006 special Outsourced is especially good). His jokes never came off as malicious attacks as they do here, and it makes one wonder exactly how much Peters had to adjust to get the “okay” from CTV and Netflix.

According to The Star, The Indian Detective is something of a passion project for the comedian, having been in gestation for the past five years. Given the success of fellow Middle Eastern funnymen Aziz Ansari with the acclaimed dramedy Masters of None (also via Netflix), and Kumail Nanjiani with the charming rom-com The Big Sick, it seemed a perfect time for Peters to roll out his first starring vehicle. Sadly, where the former two managed to reconcile their personas with more dramatically weighty material, Peters has only pinpointed his weaknesses as a performer, and the result is a series that does little to shed light on his comedy career.

Per usual, time and ratings will determine whether The Indian Detective will return for a second season, but given what we’ve seen so far, I can’t say I’m enthused for the future of D’Mello and his stiff cohorts.

All four episodes of The Indian Detective are currently available for streaming on Netflix.