5 foreign TV shows to watch during the quarantine
I am a firm believer in the idea that you shouldn’t spend this global crisis trying to be productive. Make sourdough, learn to crochet, write a novel, sure—if those are things that bring you joy and help you maintain your mental health. However, if you can’t find the energy to wash your breakfast dishes, that’s okay. Stress affects each of us differently, and there’s no one “right” way to react to a pandemic. But I’m also a Type A planner, and finding ways to sneak productivity into my day the way parents sneak vegetables into their kids’ marinara sauce is actually helping me cope with all that’s happening. My current favorite way to do that is to watch foreign-language Netflix shows.
Hear me out. Watching Netflix in and of itself? Relaxing and nice. Watching Netflix shows from other countries, in other languages, with subtitles? An educational experience that’s still relaxing and nice. I feel like I’m not only learning about other cultures but also working on my language skills and zoning out from the sometimes stomach-churning reality of my day-to-day existence. It’s a three-in-one!
If I’ve convinced you to give it a try, start with these five incredible foreign TV shows. You can watch them dubbed in English with subtitles in their native language, or in their original language with English subtitles.
1La Casa de Papel (Money Heist, in English) | Spanish
This wickedly smart and sexy show about a gang of criminals led by a nerdy mastermind has become one of Netflix’s overall best-performing shows, so you may have already heard of it. If you haven’t, here’s a brief overview: The first season starts with a genius plan to rob the Bank of Spain, and subsequent seasons continue to focus on action-packed heists. The show is always mixed with thoughtful commentary on everything from capitalism to immigration. It has something for everyone (including some racy love triangles). It’s incredibly well-produced, and you’ll learn your fair share of foul words—what’s not to love?
2Plan Coeur (The Hookup Plan, in English) | French
This hit French series takes a classic rom-com plot—someone hiring a professional to pose as their significant other, who then is surprised by a real connection forming between them, à la Pretty Woman or The Wedding Date—but twists things on its head. Instead, the someone in question is a woman who’s hopelessly hung up on her ex and whose friends set her up with a gigolo— unbeknownst to her—to snap her out of her funk. It’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, and a great way to practice your français.
3Coisa Mais Linda (Most Beautiful Thing, in English) | Brazilian Portuguese
This Brazilian drama definitely passes the Bechdel test, which is especially impressive considering that it takes place in the upper echelons of Brazilian society in the ’60s, where women were expected to look nice, smile, and do little else. The show’s main character is a woman who arrives in Rio de Janeiro from São Paulo to discover that her husband has left her and their business and run off with her money. She decides to stay and get involved with the bossa nova scene, and, along the way, the show investigates the racism and classism inherent to Brazilian society at the time (and now). Come for the joy of watching a woman find herself again, and stay for the incredibly beautiful, vibrant, cinematic shots.
4Baby | Italian
Based on a real-life scandal involving underage prostitution in Rome, this soapy teen drama feels like a mix of Gossip Girl and Skins—aka a ritzy high school mixed with drugs and sex. Despite its flashy (and potentially exploitative) premise, the show’s not too intense, sticking with sideline references versus graphic depictions. It’s infinitely watchable, a bit slow, but a very exciting way to get your Italian beyond arrivederci.
5Better than Us | Russian
Okay, so this show might not seem like it’ll teach you too much about Russian culture because it takes place in a future world full of phones embedded in forearms and sex robots. But once you get past the sci-fi getup, this show is really a contemporary drama about acceptance, evolution, and family. The basic gist is that a former sex robot finds her way into the family life of a couple with children facing separation. While the government and big tech companies seek her out, she’s busy adapting to everyday life—and changing the lives of those around her. It’s definitely a different bent than the rest of this list, but if you’re looking for something futuristic and thought-provoking, give this Russian sci-fi/action/drama a spin.