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On Deutschland 83, a grocery store can provide extreme culture shock.
On Deutschland 83, a grocery store can provide extreme culture shock.

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9 great foreign-language TV shows you should be watching

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

One of the unforeseen benefits of TV's streaming revolution has been the sudden influx of the best TV from the rest of the world to our shores.

In the past, American TV viewers were lucky if they maybe got to sample the best TV of other nations where English was spoken, which usually only happened if it popped up on PBS or an out-of-the-way cable channel, like the early BBC America (which focused on British programming but wasn't available on many American cable systems).

But the rise of sophisticated scripted dramas in the States has been accompanied by a similar rise of such programming in many other countries with active TV industries. Denmark, for instance, has become one of the most important producers of TV drama in the world, while France has proven surprisingly capable at creating gripping cop shows. (I've listed two French police dramas below, and easily could have listed several more.)

But the flip side is that it's not always easy to know these programs exist. So allow us to help you out. Here are nine foreign language programs you can watch right now, along with their American counterparts.


For fans of The Americans

Deutschland 83
FX spy drama The Americans has quickly become a favorite of critics and viewers alike, but its portrayal of Soviet spies is obviously heavily influenced by American conceptions about what the USSR was up to in the early '80s. Enter Deutschland 83. The series follows a young East German soldier who is plucked from his life and trained far too quickly to become a spy in the West Germany of the early 1980s. The series boasts some of the same tensions as The Americans, but with a faster pace and a healthy dose of bleak humor. It's also the first German scripted series to air in the United States.
Watch it: Wednesdays at 11 pm Eastern on Sundance. It debuts June 17 and will run for eight episodes.


For fans of Twin Peaks

The Returned
This eerie French drama chronicles what happens when the dead return to a small mountain town. But by "return," the series doesn't mean they come back as zombies. No, they come back as if they simply picked up where they left off at the moment of their death, neither aged nor decayed, with the living forced to incorporate them into lives that have moved past their loved ones, sometimes by decades. The first episode of this one is a tremendous treat. See if you can watch it and not want to immediately gobble up every other available hour.
Watch it: The first (and only, so far) season is streaming on Netflix. There are only eight episodes.


For fans of Homeland

Prisoners of War (Hatufim)
This recommendation is a bit literal, as the Israeli family drama served as the direct inspiration for Showtime's espionage thriller. But where Homeland became more of a spy story (and, indeed, the character of CIA analyst Carrie is original to the US version), the original Prisoners of War is much more of a psychological drama about the weight of trauma and what it means to return to your life after everyone assumed you were dead. Prisoners of War isn't perfect, but it provides a soulful examination of its central premise in a way that Homeland does not.
Watch it: The show's entire run is streaming on Hulu. There are 24 episodes, spread over two seasons.


For fans of Hannibal

Looking for a dark serial killer drama? Then we've got a dark serial killer drama for you. In 2004, HBO — high on the success of The Sopranos and its many other drama hits of the decade — greenlit a Spanish-language crime thriller via its HBO Latin America arm. Shot in Argentina, Epitafios is a shadowy plunge into the criminal underworld of its unnamed city, as well as an exercise in plumbing the psychology of the sorts of over-the-top killers these shows require. It can be too much to take, but in its best moments, Epitafios is as sly and stylish as any story of dark, murderous deeds.
Watch it: Both of the show's seasons are available on HBO Go. There are 13 episodes in each season.


For fans of The West Wing

Denmark, as mentioned above, has become one of the world's foremost producers of quality dramas, and Borgen is the nation's crown jewel. Over three seasons, it chronicles the career of Birgitte Nyborg, the country's first female prime minister, with plenty of stops along the way to consider how her rise affects her staffers, the nation's press, and her family. The series features all the optimistic politicking of The West Wing, while also allowing viewers a window into a parliamentary system that may seem a bit baffling to American viewers. It's packed full of characters worth falling in love with, too.
Watch it: The best option for most viewers will be to purchase the series on DVD. However, it also airs on the cable network LinkTV (which streams a handful of episodes on its website), and Link will air a marathon of several episodes on July 4, 2015. There are three 10-episode seasons.


For fans of The Shield

A good old-fashioned potboiler, the French series Braquo involves cops who operate within a moral gray area and find themselves crossing the line after they're suspected of involvement in the death of a colleague who committed suicide. Their attempts to clear their name cause them to run afoul of internal affairs, and the story that follows is one you've heard hundreds of times before. But Braquo tells the story with a brutal, breathtaking efficiency, and it offers plenty of chances for your jaw to drop.
Watch it: Four seasons have been produced so far, with two eight-episode seasons available to stream on Hulu.


For fans of The Wire

While this French series isn't as sweeping as HBO's classic deconstruction of the systems of power in Baltimore, it nonetheless does much the same for Paris. Every season a new crime surfaces, and every season those who work to both apprehend and prosecute criminals find themselves faced with both the best and the worst examples of humanity. The show's title refers to the spiral of violence that often results from poverty-stricken areas and the endless cycles that those who are trapped by crime or drug abuse find themselves caught up in. That gives you an idea of what to expect.
Watch it: Four of the show's five current seasons are available to stream on Hulu. There are 40 available episodes.


For fans of Game of Thrones

Magnificent Century
Thanks to YouTube, more and more foreign-language series are becoming available for English speakers to enjoy, often with extremely high-quality, fan-generated subtitles. (The presence of most of them on the video site is of questionable legality, but since the shows often don't have official distribution deals in the United States, it's unlikely that copyright holders will police them.) Such is the case with Magnificent Century, a Turkish series about the rise and reign of Sultan Süleyman, a near-legendary figure in the country's history. With all the epic sweep and political maneuvering of Game of Thrones, plus lots and lots of episodes to watch, the series is a natural fit for fans of the HBO fantasy show who are going through withdrawal after that cliffhanger-filled finale.
Watch it: The series is on YouTube. There are 139 total episodes, most of which are more than 90 minutes in length.


For fans of The Vampire Diaries

My Love From Another Star
No list like this would be complete without a drama from South Korea, which turns out huge quantities of short-run series that often have romantic plots so goofy you can't help but embrace them. To that end, check out My Love From Another Star, a series about an alien who's preparing to return to his home planet but has second thoughts when he meets a famous, beautiful actress. (My K-drama-loving friend describes it as "the world's sexiest Mork and Mindy.") Yeah, it's a wacky premise, but K-dramas commit, dammit, which means you can expect alien romance treated with complete sincerity.
Watch it: All 21 episodes are available to stream on Hulu.


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