Almost two months into the coronavirus quarantine, with dozens of shows watched, it’s increasingly common to find ourselves desperately searching Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streaming services for quality television or films we’ve not yet seen. Inevitably, for truly compulsive viewers, this search will lead to discovering more obscure or international options.
Fortunately, lots of these foreign language programs are quite excellent, even if English-speakers have to read subtitles, endure inferior overdubs or struggle through some seriously thick accents to enjoy them.
In addition to simply expanding our options, these shows have the added bonus of transporting us to different countries where we can experience other cultures during a time when travel is all but impossible, and foolhardy to boot. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to enjoy a virtual journey around the word by way of streaming international television.
For this trip, we travel to Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Russia and Spain. Keep your seatbelts on, this is a fun ride.
Mr. Inbetween – Seasons 1–2 (2018–2019) Hulu
Created by the show’s star Scott Ryan, this English language series from FX is easily one of the best shows no one seems to have watched. Ryan plays skilled contract killer and loving dad Ray Shoesmith who, as the title suggests, must balance his violent and dark career with his truly sweet efforts to raise his young daughter. The story is small and does exactly what it needs to without the action ever getting overblown or the dad-and-daughter stuff becoming overly sentimental. Ryan is absolutely charming as Ray, even during his more sociopathic and brutal scenes—and there are many—which typically cross over into black comedy. You’ve been warned.
The Kettering Incident – Season 1 (2016) Amazon Prime
Two girls vanish under very similar circumstances from the wilds of Tasmania 15 years apart, and Doctor Anna Macy (Elizabeth Debicki) finds herself at the center of both disappearances—one from her childhood, and, more recently, one that’s just happened during her first visit home since she left. To clear her name from suspicion, Anna must delve into her difficult past and face truths about herself and the possibly paranormal goings-on in her hometown. This show is thoroughly compelling, if a bit odd, and it builds to a startling conclusion that begs for a Season 2, which remains to be ordered. And it’s in English, mate.
The Rain – Season 1–2 (2018–2019) Netflix
This hit Danish series, about survivors of a deadly virus that’s spread by rain, might cut a bit close to the bone right now, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch, especially for fans of post-apocalyptic fare. The story follows Simone (Alba August) and her younger brother Rasmus after their father sends them to an underground bunker just as the deadly rain decimates all of Scandinavia. Their father, a scientist with inside knowledge about the virus, never returns and they’re left to survive on their own. Six years later, the siblings emerge to find their father and some answers. Along the way, they meet and join a group of your survivors and travel around Denmark and Sweden, dodging the virus and numerous human threats, as well as agents from an evil corporation that seems to know some things about that deadly rain.
Rita – Season 1–4 (2012–2017) Netflix
Only available in its original Danish (with English subtitles), this dramatic comedy focuses on its title character, Rita Madsen (Mille Dinesen), an uncompromising, chain smoking, unconventional teacher and single mother. Despite her eccentricities, Rita is an excellent teacher who’s beloved by her students, but she doesn’t always do as well with the adults in her life. This series is good, heartfelt fun as viewers watch its star wade through problems with family, school and some very interesting friends. Season 5 has been confirmed.
The Bonfire of Destiny (Le Bazar de la Charité) – Season 1 (2019) Netflix
Also appearing in our binge list of Can’t Miss Netflix Period Dramas, this French language series (with English overdubs or subtitles) takes a historic and devastating 1897 fire to set its story in motion. Following a terrible conflagration that burns an annual charity bazaar to cinders and kills 126 people—mostly wealthy women—three survivors end up in a web of intrigue, romance and deceit. One aristocratic woman, Adrienne de Lenverpré (Audrey Fleurot), uses the fire to escape her husband and start a new life. Debutante Alice de Jeansin (Camille Lou) sees her fiance’s true colors during the fire and it changes her path completely. Meanwhile, Alice’s maid Rose Rivière (Julie De Bona) lives, only to awaken in a terrible and possibly inescapable new reality. Originally created as a miniseries, The Bonfire of Destiny is being considered for a second season.
Marianne – Season 1 (2019) Netflix
Loaded with some of the creepiest scenes on television, one after another, episode after episode, Marianne tells the terrifying tale of horror author Emma Larsimon (Victoire Du Bois), who returns to her hometown after the characters and events in her stories begin invading reality and a visiting friend meets a tragic end. Back home, the writer and her old group of friends investigate the root of what’s happening and find some truly scary moments in their quest for answers. English dub and subtitles available over original French dialogue.
Generation War – Miniseries (2013) Amazon Prime
It’s uncomfortable to consider watching a German language series about World War II told completely from the perspective of Germans, but Generation War will change your mind. Told over three, feature length episodes, the show follows a close-knit group of five German friends who are sent their separate ways after the war begins. A sort of Band of Brothers from the other side, this epic tale brings viewers along with brothers Wilhelm (Volker Bruch) and Friedhelm (Tom Schilling) Winter, an officer and an infantryman, as they go to fight on the Eastern Front—each wrestling with the moral struggles and horrors that came with fighting for Hitler’s Third Reich, as well as their own strained relationship. Meanwhile, the beautiful Greta Müller (Katharina Schüttler) attaches herself to a repugnant Gestapo officer in order to become a famous singer, and save the Jewish man she secretly loves. That man, Viktor Goldstein (Ludwig Trepte) is inevitable headed to a concentration camp before he eventually joins the resistance with a group of Polish partisans. Finally, Charlotte (Miriam Stein) becomes a nurse treating wounded soldiers on the front lines. Subtitles only, but it’s not difficult to stay focused on the dramatic story.
We Are the Wave – Season 1 (2019) Netflix
Loosely based on Todd Strasser’s 1981 novel and TV movie The Wave, this German language series (with English overdubs or subtitles) follows a group of teenage friends who bond over their shared passion for social justice. Led by the edgy and charismatic Tristan Broch (Ludwig Simon) and calling themselves The Wave, the teens perpetrate various political stunts and protests, which grow increasingly radical and dangerous. At the same time, their message begins attracting attention and other young followers—who may not be in it for the right reasons. Soon, the consequences of their actions become very real. Season 2 seems in the cards, but it’s not in production yet.
Normal People – Miniseries (2020) Hulu
Adapting Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel of the same name, Normal People takes viewers to Ireland for an absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful love story. The story begins as popular teen Connell (Paul Mescal) and troubled school “freak” Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) find themselves drawn together in a passionate but secret love affair that kicks off years of strife and joy. The two follow each other to college in Dublin where they succeed brilliantly in their studies but fail miserably at communication with one another. As Connell and Marianne attempt to manage their feelings and relationship, their love, pain and chemistry are palpable. You’ll be left thinking about this wonderfully acted show long after the final episode concludes. This show is in English, with a bit of a brogue. Subtitles help if you struggle with accents.
Love/Hate – Seasons 1-3 (2010-2013) Amazon Prime
Set in Dublin’s gangland, this gritty Irish crime drama series is so good, you’ll be hard pressed to know why you’ve never seen it before. Tensions ignite in a small-time drug gang when a young member, just out of prison, is gunned down in the street. The tight-knit crew of young thugs seek revenge while also trying to grow their power in the city’s criminal underworld. Sometimes it’s just about survival, and at others, the boys must look to their friends, family and associates—even within the gang’s own ranks—for those who might betray them. English with some heavy accents.
Fauda – Seasons 1–3 (2015–2020) Netflix
Acted in Hebrew (with option for English overdubs) and Arabic (subtitled), this intense thriller follows Israel Defense Force (IDF) undercover agent Doron Kavillio (Lior Raz) and his Mista’arvim unit, part of that country’s Border Police, who work under Shin Bet—the equivalent to our FBI. Through three exciting seasons, the team crawls through violence, pain and great loss in their efforts to foil a variety of terrorist plots, but Doron sometimes finds himself struggling not to feel for the innocent Palestinians who suffer due to his actions and those of the terrorists around them. That said, he has no problem eliminating threats in pretty large numbers. Co-created by Raz, the show takes inspiration from his own experiences in the IDF, and it has been criticized as “anti-Arab,” even while it seems to also represent the struggles and motivations of its Palestinian characters. In the end though, they are the “bad guys,” so you’ll have to judge for yourself. And you’ll certainly be entertained while doing it.
When Heroes Fly – Season 1 (2018) Netflix
Another Hebrew language hit out of Israel, this 10-episode series has decent English overdubs, but it can also be watched in its original form with subtitles. Like Fauda, When Heroes Fly focuses on Israeli military veterans—this time operating on an entirely unsanctioned mission. Eleven years after a bitter falling out split them apart, four former squad mates and friends must reunite to find a woman they thought long dead. A former love of one friend and sister of another, Yaeli (Ninet Tayeb) was presumed dead in Columbia, but her picture appears in a Columbian newspaper, inciting the men to travel there and find answers. Starring Fauda’s Tomer Kapon as Aviv Danino, this show is full of twists, turns and surprises as the men work to overcome their demons, heal fractured relationships and get the truth. The series has been renewed for a second season.
Ragnarok – Season 1 (2020) Netflix
Filmed in Norwegian with English overdubs or subtitles, Ragnarok brings the Norse gods back to life in a modern setting, and not in a cheesy or ridiculous way. As the pristine, rural town of Edda (fictional) begins to show the effects of industrial factory pollution, a new boy in town, Magne (David Alexander Sjøholt), seeks to expose the rich and powerful Jultul family, who own the offending factory. But he’s up against something far greater than the rich and powerful. The Jultuls, including two teen classmates of Magne, are actually ancient frost giants posing as human. Lucky for Magne, he’s becoming the embodiment of Thor, the god of thunder. This all sounds a bit absurd and hokey, but Ragnarok is actually a thoroughly enjoyable series that’s already been renewed for Season 2. Give it a chance and you will be pleasantly surprised.
The Heavy Water War – Miniseries (2015) Amazon rental
Travel back to 1942, when World War II raged across Europe, in this dramatic retelling of a heroic and little-known (among Americans) Norwegian sabotage mission that very well could have stopped Germany and the Nazis from building the first atomic bomb and defeating the Allies. With dialogue in Norwegian, German, English and Danish, the six-part series chronicles this story from all sides, including the scientists’ race to split the atom and control the planet’s most destructive force—but the sabotage lays at its heart. In 1942, a small team of Norwegian commandos, working in concert with British special operations, entered the town of Telemark in German-occupied Norway to destroy a heavy water production plant, which was creating the substance needed to build an atomic bomb. No one assumed they’d be returning from the daring mission, so when the men succeeded without a single casualty, their adventure became the stuff of legend. A number of scenes are in English, but subtitle-averse viewers may want to avoid.
T-34 – Movie (2018) Amazon Prime
Supposedly inspired by real World War 2 stories, this Russian film (with English overdub and/or subtitles) puts viewers inside a powerful tank with its brave crew. This movie is right on par with American films like Fury, and it’s loaded with great action, firing off one explosive shot after another. Alexander Petrov plays Nikolay Ivushkin who leads his men in a daring escape from German imprisonment in a legendary T-34 tank. WWII buffs will enjoy the realistic battle scenes, which show what it was like to be in a historic war machine. It’s incredibly satisfying to see a Russian heavy tank barreling down Main Street in the heart of Nazi territory.
Better Than Us – Season 1 (2018) Netflix
Fans of AMC’s Humans, Sweden’s Real Humans, HBO’s Westworld or even the film Ex Machina (2015) will enjoy this Russian language addition to the near-future synth TV genre. Things change drastically for family struggling to stay together after they bring home Arisa (Paulina Andreeva) a cutting-edge, lifelike android, which have become common in 2029. Unfortunately for them, and Arisa, the robot is being hunted by CRONOS, the corporation that made her and can’t do so again, as well as homicide investigators and an anti-droid terrorist. English overdubs and/or subtitles.
Hache – Season 1 (2019) Netflix
Inspired by real events, Hache‘s first season kicks off the title character’s meteoric rise in Barcelona’s heroin trade of the 1960s. A ambitious and clever prostitute, Helena, aka Hache (Adriana Ugarte), uses her beauty, feminine wiles and street smarts to move up quickly in a powerful cartel. In Spanish and dubbed in English or subtitled, this show will have you hooked from the first episode. It was quickly renewed for a second season.
Cathedral of the Sea – Miniseries (2018) Netflix
Based on Ildefonso Falcones’ 2006 Spanish historical novel La catedral del mar, this epic Catalan-language series (with English overdubs or subtitles) spans many years in the life of Arnau Estanyol (Aitor Luna), a peasant boy born after his mother was raped and beaten by a passing noble exercising his feudal rights on her wedding day. Raised by his bereft and angry but loving father, Arnau’s life is often as tragic as his conception, but he also experiences much love and triumph throughout the eight, decades-spanning episodes. Experience war, poverty, plague, friendship and the Spanish Inquisition alongside Arnau in 14th century Barcelona—from his childhood to his journey into manhood, and well beyond. Because Cathedral of the Sea took many years to complete, it’s not likely they’ll make a second season. After watching this to its satisfying conclusion, you’ll likely agree it’s not needed.