My Roommate is a Detective (民国奇探; Min Guo Qi Tan) is a Chinese detective show that takes place in the 1920s in Shanghai and follows Lu Yao (portrayed by Hu Yitian), a Cambridge math and medical science graduate, as he becomes the most famous detective in town and makes enemies of influential people who will try time and again to go against him.
Co-protagonist is inspector Qiao Chusheng (portrayed by Zhang Yunlong), a former gang member under the protection of Mr. Bai and the man who first sees Lu Yao’s potential as a detective when Lu Yao loses his former job. Qiao Chusheng dotes on Lu Yao and the two form a deep bond.
The thing that drew me to the show was the visuals (thanks to my friend Ash who posted gifs and screenshots), and how could they not:
When I first started I immediately liked it for its dry humor and I knew I would love it, especially Lu Yao’s character is such a fun protagonist despite almost never laughing, and his chemistry with Qiao Chusheng is simply through the roof.
The cases are interesting to see unfolded by the masterful Lu Yao, whose OCD make him chase detail after detail to find the true culprit. I don’t watch a lot of detective shows but I always like the part when finally everything gets uncovered in a typical “everyone gather up for the murderer reveal” fashion, and it’s fun to see if I could spot it beforehand (I think I only managed two or three times). Since I mentioned his OCD, Lu Yao also has dyslexia, as far as representation goes.
The third member of the main cast is Bai Youning, a reporter whose father is none other than Mr. Bai, one of the main mafia bosses in Shanghai. She’s portrayed by Xiao Yan and pictured above. She helps with the cases (when she’s not hindering them with her poor and gossip-like reporter skills) and is, unfortunately, Lu Yao’s roommate.
I have a lot of negative feelings about Bai Youning and before I talk about them I want to say I appreciate how, at least on the surface, she represents an independent woman who relies on her job since she wants nothing to do with her father or his way of life, at least in the beginning.
Before I talk more about this I want to say that when I started this show I was under the (wrong) impression that this was an adaptation of a BL (m/m) novel which had gone through censorship due to China’s laws. It turned out I was wrong in the sense that the show is original material and there is no novel, but I was still (most likely) right in assuming the script had been heavily modified to fit censorship, but was (probably, since there is no proof) originally written as BL between Qiao Chusheng and Lu Yao.
This video review pretty much solidified this conviction of mine. Basically, because of censorship or other reasons, Bai Youning was added in a later version of the script, and that’s why her character feels so underdeveloped and highly contradictory with herself. She’s basically written to fill a role that was probably meant to be all taken by Qiao Chusheng, including the romance with Lu Yao (which would have had to be implicit in case they managed to avoid a female love interest). By far the biggest giveaway is the English title, which seems to be from Bai Youning’s point of view, when she’s really not the point of view character at all.
Now, I know it’s murky waters to call queerbait something that by law is to be subject to censorship, especially from someone like me who lives comfortably where there are no such laws, so that is not my intention here. I also tried really hard to analyze why Bai Youning has always bothered me as a character, and I concluded it’s not because of internalized misogyny but because her character is written so poorly and so all over the place. She’s also very physically abusive and generally awful to Lu Yao, and it’s not cute.
While I won’t call the show queerbait in general for the reasons stated above, I will also say that there are scenes that somehow passed censorship, where the creators of the show couldn’t resist showing off the potential that Lu Yao and Qiao Chusheng could have if their relationship had been allowed to evolve in a different direction:
I will admit that this show wasn’t perfect and that I really wish a lot of things had been different, even within the limits that censorship inevitably sets. After all, The Untamed came out just one year ago and it managed to not add a female love interest, even if the m/m romance had to stay implicit.
Regardless, the two male leads have incredible chemistry whether you choose to ignore canon and see them as romantic or just see them as friends, and both actors worked really hard on their roles, stepping out of the comfort zones they had created for themselves in their career, and did a wonderful job.
The show is free to watch with English subtitles on the iQiyi app or on viki. I had so much fun watching it despite the few problems I had with it and I think it’s worth giving it a try if you like classic detective shows with clever know-it-alls. You’re guaranteed to fall in love with the two male leads at least, and have a good time even if all you care about are the murders and their unraveling.