Foreign TV Shows to Binge Watch Now
It’s been a long, brutal winter (say the people living in Los Angeles)—and nothing quite passes the time like a marathon-worthy show. Here, a round-up of notable series from the rest of the world: Europe, in particular, really pushes the boundaries, takes risks, and sets the tone for what’s happening on TV. What they put forward is always game-changing.
This show has been widely compared to the Twilight Zone, and a few minutes into the first one, you’ll totally get why. Set in a not-so-distant future, each mini-movie tells a seemingly unrelated story—and they’re all done with different directors and casts—but the underlying theme (technology’s unhealthy hold over society) becomes clear really quickly. Some episodes, like the much-discussed “The Entire History of You,” are better than others.
The opening scene of episode one is enough to give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for—a no-holds-barred thriller that’s not afraid of blood or controversy. Maggie Gyllenhaal, a successful business woman working toward peace in the Middle East while dealing with all manner of tragedy, is great in the lead role.
If you liked The Imitation Game you’ll dig this mini series: The four leading ladies play bad-ass Nazi code-breakers during the war, and years later, they figure out how to apply their skills to solving a series of murders. We got through it in a single sitting.
Sure, Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe seem like an unlikely duo, but in the context of this borderline-slapstick comedy—in which they constantly appear in scenes together representing the young and old versions of Dr. Bomgard—it makes sense. It’s based on the semi-biographical short stories of Russian writer, Mikhail Bulgakov, so the humor is kind of cerebral. As of right now, there are only eight episodes, making it a fun, easy watch.
This Netflix original is divided into four episodes, so it’s not much longer than a movie, but it chronicles an entire year’s worth of events after a mass shooting in a sleepy English town. It’s a heartbreaking story and it’s told beautifully through the eyes of a reporter who goes back to his hometown to cover the tragedy.
The first episode of this seven-parter takes a while to get going—but don’t give up. Once you get used to the creeping pace, the show is mesmerizing. The storyline revolves around the disappearance of a pregnant twelve-year-old and a young detective’s (Elisabeth Moss) search for answers. It’s set in rural New Zealand, so the surroundings are a major part of the action. And like any good detective story, the twist at the end is a massive mindf@%k. Season two is currently in the works.
NETFLIX/BBC TV SHOWS
If we’re being 100% honest, Gillian Anderson was the main reason we pressed play, but it was the insanely twisted plot—a vicious psychopath first stalks then violently kills young, professional women in Belfast—that sucked us in within the first ten minutes. And yes, Superintendent Stella Gibson is complex and brilliantly written, but Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan, pre-50 Shades of Grey fame), the spectacularly creepy serial killer and loving dad of two, totally pulls his weight.
Quite possibly the most underrated Netflix original in the history of streaming, period drama Peaky Blinders (think Boardwalk Empire meets The Sopranos) is so good, we actually watched both seasons twice. Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby is sexy, lovable, and terrifying all at the same time, and the rest of the Shelby crime family is pretty incredible, too. It’s set in 1920’s Birmingham, England, but the whole thing is scored to modern day rock music and beautifully stylized.
Think of this lighthearted period drama as a much-deserved palette cleanser after binging on one murder mystery after another. Set in 1950’s East London, it centers around a nursing convent that specializes in midwifery and family medicine and the young nurses who live and work there. Oh, and it’s narrated by Vanessa Redgrave.
A small English town is thrown into disarray after a little boy is found murdered. Consequently, a pair of brooding investigators are tasked with finding the killer. Olivia Colman as detective Ellie Miller is spectacular—she’s also amazing alongside Vanessa Redgrave in The Thirteenth Tale.
This Welsh detective series is kind of reminiscent of True Detective in that it centers around a deeply damaged investigator who has to tame his own demons while weeding through a sea of suspects. But here, the backdrop is moody, rugged Wales, which makes the entire experience extra interesting.
Based on Henning Mankell’s detective novels, this is Nordic Noir at its best (it’s like a grimmer Girl with Dragon Tattoo), but in the form of a procedural. It may sound like nothing new, but this show is way deeper that your average cop drama, and the character of Wallander is wonderfully complex. There’s also a UK version, but most prefer the original.
Australian export Wentworth (it’s actually a remake of an Australian show that was super popular in the 80’s) is essentially the way more dramatic, non-humorous, and, weirdly enough, totally unrelated version of Orange is the New Black. Luckily, it’s just as, ahem, arresting, as the women’s prison dramedy we know and love.
This series manages to tell the story of a family looking for their kidnapped son while jumping around in time (when the boy was first kidnapped, and present day, when the investigation is reopened years later). It also jumps between France and England. This isn’t the kind of show you can half-watch while surfing the net, as keeping up requires focus. And parents take note: This is excruciating to watch.
INTERNATIONAL ORIGINALS OF AMERICAN SHOWS
The American Shameless is currently in its fifth season; the original British version bowed out at a whopping eleven. The staying power can be chalked up to the outrageous and oftentimes heartbreaking antics of the Gallagher clan—even more out-there and raunchy than their Chicagoan counterparts. Fun fact: the character of Steve/Jimmy is played by James McAvoy, who married Anne-Marie Duff—who plays Fiona—IRL.
House of Cards fans who’ve barreled through season three (and one and two before that) in a single sitting will love watching Francis Underwood’s British predecessor Francis Urquhart wreck political havoc all over Parliament. Though no Claire Underwood, Elizabeth Urquhart is a super compelling—and sometimes straight up terrifying—character. The three-part mini series was shot in the 90’s, so wardrobe and some references feel a bit dated, but the plot still holds.
The premise of this French series is simple: A bunch of people return to their hometown—a picturesque alpine village—years after their deaths with zero explanation…or the knowledge that they’ve died at all. What happens next is horror-slash-mystery gold. Keep an eye out for the American version premiering on March 9 on A&E, but only after you’ve gotten through the first season of the original. We promise the subtitles are worth it.
It’s hard to imagine a more intense TV-watching experience than the first two seasons of Homeland, but its Israeli inspiration, Prisoners of War, is just as suspenseful and far more emotional. The story delves even deeper into the inner turmoil experienced by the freed prisoners and their families. The most jarring difference is that there isn’t really a Carrie Mathison-esque lead, as the majority of the cast is male.
Pretty much everyone knows that the workplace mockumentary that catapulted Steve Carell, Mindy Kaling, and the rest of The Office crew to comedic fame is an offshoot of a British sitcom. But those that haven’t watched the Ricky Gervais-written original may not know that it’s not nearly as silly. In fact, it can be a real downer. It also lasted a mere 14 episodes, making it the ideal single weekend binge-watch if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.
You can’t technically stream this, but The Killing devotees probably wouldn’t mind owning the Danish original on DVD, which many say is even better. Much like the American iteration, this procedural intertwines law enforcement and politics while centering around the hunt for a young woman’s murderer. The main difference is that it all happens over the course of 20 days, with each episode depicting the events of a single day. We also like the fact that the American rendition stayed true to Detective Sarah Lund/Linden’s character-rich penchant for chunky Fair Isle sweaters.