Russian Trolls: Workplace comedy-style podcast explores foreign meddling in US elections

“Americans are easy to troll, because we’re so dysfunctional,” says the writer and creator of the new narrative fiction podcast “Russian Trolls.” The self-proclaimed “useful idiot” has chosen to remain anonymous: “I’m a little worried that Vladimir Putin is onto me, and is planning to poison me.”

Presuming there are no agents of the Kremlin prowling around Rhode Island, “Russian Trolls” will release their first episode the week before the election. The show puts a dark twist on the classic workplace comedy, focusing on a group of down-and-out Muscovites who make their
living pretending to be Americans online. The events of the series are based on the real life actions of the now-infamous “troll farms,” whose goal, in the words of the series’ creator, is simply “to fuck with us — it’s psychological warfare.” He described the inside of a troll farm as something like a “comedy writer’s room of 20-somethings” who make good money picking fights online, organizing outlandish political stunts (one involved Pokemon Go) and generally degrading the (already extremely degraded) American political discourse.

In Episode 1, we meet Yelena, played by Ashley Risteen, who’s deciding whether to take a job as a troll. Risteen describes her character as “a kind but struggling human; she lives with her psychologically abusive babushka and she’s looking for a way out.” Yelena has ethical qualms about trolling Americans, but ultimately takes the job once she sees how ugly real
Americans are to one another online. “These days we see fewer and fewer grey areas,” says Risteen. “Yelena is in one and that’s what makes her so interesting.”

Yelena is recruited for the farm by her friend Lexi, played by Michael LoCicero (also a co-producer). LoCicero described his character as “a know-it-all, but also a bit of a buffoon, with no qualms about the impact [trolling] has.”

There’s one American working at the troll farm, a cynical ex-reality TV producer named Ken Kurwitz. Ken is the team’s “Yoda on how to be American.” He came to Russia to marry Xenia, a blunt young woman played by Darya Kravitz. Kravitz, who was born in Russia and raised in the US, served as the show’s consultant on all things Russian. She provided translations and coached fellow actors on their dialects.

“Economically, a lot has happened in the last 20 years that has been good for Russia,” said Kravitz, “but not unlike here, the 1% is controlling the population, and people are desperate. There are so many parallels between the Russian people and Americans.”

“Russian Trolls” draws out those parallels. The show digs into election interference, but that’s not what it’s truly about, according to the creator. “I’m not that interested in Russia’s influence on the American election. I mean, we interfere in their elections, too. I’m much more interested in what this says about us.”

The show is 10 episodes and will be available on all major streaming platforms. The cast also includes a number of local favorites, including Phoenyx Williams as Sergei, Clare Blackmer as Ludmilla, Nikita Zabinski as Mikhail (who also provides music), Jon Audette as Vlad, and Alexandra Cipolla as Nadya.

Will there be a Season 2? Maybe, says the creator, “If they interfere again.”