Foreign Adventures at Home
If your summer vacation was relaxing, but didn’t let you see the world in a big way, we have some Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime suggestions to fill the gap.
The Time In Between
NY Times Watching
We had a lot of fun watching this soapy Spanish show. The star, Adriana Ugarte, does a great job with this historical drama. She moves from a childhood spent in a working class neighborhood where she trains as a seamstress, to a pre-WWII Morocco, back to Madrid (as a spy for the Allies) running a clothing salon for society wives, and then on to Portugal. The clothes are amazing, the people are gorgeous, the Nazis are plentiful and easy to hate, so you’ll forgive a few silly plot devices. Episode one, being a lot less glamorous, makes the series effectively blow up into color as it takes off with Sira as a young woman on the move.
This Norwegian political thriller seems to fly under the radar, perhaps because it was just one season, so more of a mini-series than a TV show. We couldn’t find a standalone review to give as a backup link! All the more reason to watch it. It’s set in the current day with the protagonist a soldier, recently returned from Afghanistan, who is married to a fast-rising government political player as the machinations of selecting a Nobel Peace Prize winner are kicking into gear. The show seems to really understand foreign policy and not to shy away from the tricky trade-offs that have to be made in any kind of government.
Bron/Broen (The Bridge)
This mismatched detective TV show has been remade in several languages, but this is definitely the most gorgeous murder location ever. The characters are terrific, with well-fleshed out back stories, and it’s got a good twist with the female detective somewhere on the spectrum, while the male is married with several children. We liked it so much, we’ve knocked out two versions in full already. There’s a murder on the Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden, exactly on the midline, so it’s tough to know which police force should investigate. We’re not going to spoil how they decide, but invite you to watch the show. The British/French is the same story for Season One only, then it goes a different direction. We found it amusing how good the serial killers were each season, not just at killing in service to a larger social agenda, but in the British/French version how really good they were at making short little horror animations as clues. To be clear, we’re not seeking any felons out as a new client base, but there’s clearly a market.
Call My Agent!
The New Yorker
If you enjoyed Entourage, Barry, or 30 Rock, you’ll enjoy France’s Call My Agent! Set in a Parisian talent agency with all the background character drama, you get to see behind the scenes of the running of the agency with a much less yelling than in Entourage and problems that seem very much the stereotypical French dilemmas (as Entourage was so clearly an LA show). As you would expect the people are stylish, whether young and casual or wealthy society, and the sets are all gorgeous–movie star houses or locations. We suspect if you actually had a strong knowledge of French actors, there are a lot more inside meta jokes that largely passed over our head. Even so, it’s impossible to miss Isabelle Adjani and Juliette Binoche, clearly playing some funny variation on themselves. Each episode has a one-word, first name title so the named client is the focus of the self-contained episode, while the cast of regulars fail to work out their problems over all the seasons available so far. One of those shows that could be good not to binge and keep on the back burner for when you have less than an hour and need a laugh. As a side American recommendation, if you like this, you might check also out Party Down in which actors working a catering business host a different party each episode.
While Hard Sun has some flaws, what SciFi work doesn’t? We didn’t want to leave the genre unrepresented and we were hooked, binge watching it all in two nights. Hard Sun shows its solid detective credentials, coming from the creator of Luthor, and it’s just hard to nail down an alternate world that makes everyone happy. While the inspiration is said to be a David Bowie song, detectives racing to solve a crime before the world ends has to owe a debt to Ben Winter’s excellent The Last Policeman trilogy, which has long been rumored to be in pre-production as an American TV show. Netflix doesn’t have any credible entries in apocalyptic TV, nor do they need to get it right with their lock on the Marvel TV properties, leaving the field open for Hulu and Showtime. Both networks do a good job, but just don’t make the volume of shows, so if you like this kind of stuff, Hard Sun is worth watching. And if you think times are dark now as we live through the hottest year on record, hey, this might just cheer you up with the idea that things could be a lot worse.
Another crime series, our one gripe is that it requires a significant suspension of disbelief—how many murders can you have on one tiny little Scottish island? (Shades of Agatha Christie and those little English villages.) The scenery is unbelievably beautiful, the accents seem to be pretty authentic–every once in a while we’d have to back up and put on the English subtitles, but if you binge watch, you get the hang of it. DI Jimmy Perez seems to be the best TV boss around–the right mix of caring, unselfish, and yet distracted by his own life just enough to be human.
Things we’re just going to assume you’ve already seen because they are so universally acclaimed:
- Money Heist (La Casa de Papel)
- The Honorable Woman