The best non-English TV shows you should watch this weekend
Yeah, we all know Hollywood has the biggest budget – and it’s not surprising that American companies like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and Amazon have conquered the realm of TV by primarily English-speaking means.
But that doesn’t mean your weekend marathons on the sofa have to be so damn vanilla. There are dozens of fantastic foreign series that should have a special spot in your viewing schedule, but if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, they can be hard to find.
We’ve done the dirty work for you, so you can spend this weekend lounging with the best of international entertainment like the enlightened global citizen you are, rather than scrounging through reviews.
Some are from last year, some are finished (hooray for binge material!) and some are ongoing…and they’re all ideal fodder for a discerning but open-minded TV gourmand. You’re welcome.
1. La Doble Vida de Estela Carrillo (Mexico)
We’ll start with a telenovela – what would international TV be without them? Bring on the melodrama!
And this one is not only satisfying but topical: it’s about an undocumented migrant to the US.
In The Two Lives of Estela Carrillo, the title character – like many Mexicans who move to the US – ends up in California, where unexpected events turn her into a local hero. But she has to watch her every step for fear of deportation.
You can binge watch the first season now – and hungrily await the second season coming in 2018.
2. Babylon Berlin (Germany)
Word on the streets is that Babylon Berlin is the next big thing. It’s the most expensive series ever made in Germany, and that kind of gamble doesn’t always pay off – but we dare say this one was worth it.
The story plays out in the decadent nightclubs of Berlin in the the late 1920s, and it’s a perfectly shaken cocktail of period drama, crime series, and sex appeal. It’s about a copy investigating a porn ring – but it’s a lot better than it sounds! Give it a chance.
The first season is currently airing in Europe, and Netflix will start streaming the show in the US from 2018. The second season is already filmed and a third is on its way.
3. 3% (Brazil)
If you enjoyed movies like The Hunger Games, Divergent, or Gattaca, this one’s for you.
The Brazilian Netflix Original series takes place in a dystopian future where the majority of the world is a total slum – but youth can compete to claim a place in the paradise of the privileged 3%. It’s a twisted coming-of-age practice that most will fail.
Season 1 finished last year and season 2 is coming in 2018 – watch it now so you won’t miss a thing!
4. Fauda (Israel)
There might not be much that Israelis and Palestinians agree on. But we know of at least one: Fauda rocks. This Israeli TV show combines the best of entertainment with crucial education about the world we live in, focusing on telling both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
It’s also based on a true story. An undercover Israeli cop comes out of retirement to hunt down a Palestinian man he thought he had already killed…and from there, well, you’ll have to watch for yourself.
You can watch the first season on Netflix – the next one is coming out early next year.
5. Rishta Likhenge Hum Nay (India)
If you’ve already heard of this one, it might be because there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding it. This Indian romantic drama is the second attempt at a series (previously Pehredaar Piya Ki) in which an 18-year-old woman marries a 9-year-old prince. Um, yeah, people weren’t cool with that. So here’s version two – with a tweaked story where the characters are close to the same age. Thank goodness.
But the new show, which just premiered in early November, is getting great reviews – and who’s not a fan of a little fun Indian romance? If you’re not convinced yet: there’s also sword-fighting.
6. Gomorrah (Italy)
Italian crime drama Gomorrah premiered in 2014 – but while this one may be a bit of an oldie, it’s also a goodie that just keeps getting better. Season 1 came to the US in 2016 and season 2 recently finished. The show is so popular that the first episodes of season 3 were just released in movie theaters in Italy – and it topped the box office.
The storyline follows gants and drug dealers in Naples – but rather than rehashing old stereotypes, it’s a refreshing modern take on the Italian mafia. It’s like The Wire meets The Godfather…and it works.
7. Sunset Oasis (Egypt)
Here’s another one with an appropriate cross-border focus – specifically, cross-cultural love. Sunset Oasis (Wahet al Ghoroub) is based on the award-winning book of the same name by Egyptian author Bahaa Taher, and is set in the late 19th century. An Irish woman and an Egyptian police officer are united over their hate of British colonialism – and upon this political premise, a love story unfolds. Most of the TV series takes place when the officer is forced by colonial powers to take up a post in a rural area full of rebels.
Each year around Ramadan Egyptian TV is flooded with new series – but this year Sunset Oasis took the cake. It’s got passion, history, action, and beautiful storytelling – and the entire season is available for binging.
8. A Very Secret Service (France)
Alright, there’s quite a bit of seriousness on this list – but we promise that’s not all we’ve got for you! If you’re looking for a bit of fun in your international streaming sessions, this French spy comedy is your best bet.
The series is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets on Netflix, and it’s admittedly pretty odd. It goes back and forth between comedy and drama, hilarious and dark. But mostly, it’s just a good time.
Come on, a show set in the 1960s in Paris is simply bound to be fun.
9. Dramaworld (Korea)
Speaking of odd, what would happen if a antisocial American student was sucked into her smartphone and ended up as a character in one of her favorite Korean TV shows?
That’s not a joke or a rhetorical question. It’s the actual premise of the wacky but wonderful series Dramaworld – basically as far from Westworld as you can get.
It’s short and sweet, with just 10 episodes with a running time of about 20 minutes each – so hey, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t watch the whole thing tonight, right?