The Best Foreign TV Shows You're Not Watching (But Should Be)
Photo: Courtesy of KBS.American television is currently in a Golden Age. Little-known fact, though: Many of the most beloved, critically acclaimed shows are actually overseas imports that have been redone for English-speaking audiences. Homeland, The Bridge, and The Killing are all examples of international phenomenons that were made over for our shores.American TV creators are increasingly looking to foreign programming for inspiration. While the remakes are great, there's just no beating the originals. There's also a whole slew of foreign TV shows that have yet to receive the adaptation treatment — and are definitely worth watching.If murder mysteries in sleepy towns and the eccentric detectives brought in to solve them are your dramatic sweet spot, for example, there's literally an entire world out there devoted to that genre. Somehow the shows all manage to be unique and completely engrossing, especially those from Scandinavia that now have their own classification of "Nordic noir."There are so many brilliant foreign series out there, and the good news is that it's easier than ever to stream them in the U.S. Ahead, check out the best offerings from countries all around the world — and where to watch them.Wolf Hall, EnglandIn this BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's acclaimed novel, Henry VII (Damian Lewis) is desperate to marry Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). He enlists the help of a longtime political enemy, Thomas Cromwell (Mary Rylance) to pull the political strings to make this marriage work. This miniseries features a whopping 102 characters.Courtesy of BBCTerrace House, JapanAt first, this Japanese reality TV show might seem like a hard sell, especially when we're used to sensational shows like The Real World and Big Brother. While Terrace House also features a bunch of beautiful people living together, there's no drama or bad behavior. Instead, the 20s year old are amicable, and we watch as chemistry chastely buds. It's addicting, and refreshing.Catch it on Netflix.Courtesy of NetflixThe Island, GreeceHistory, leprosy, and a Greek island converge in this acclaimed miniseries, based off a novel by Victoria Hislop of the same name. The series is set on a now-defunct lepers' colony off the coast of Crete, and what happens when a local schoolteacher finds out she has contracted the disease and must live on the island — forever. Her ancestor travels back to Crete to piece together the story of her family.Where to watch: DailyMotionSpiral, FranceIf you’ve exhausted all of America’s options for police procedurals, check out this award-winning French drama, long considered one of the best cop shows in Europe. Set in contemporary Paris, the large cast of police and lawyers grapple with instances of terrorism, drug trafficking, corruption and other issues of modernity.Courtesy of Canal+ Crazyhead, United KingdomBuffy The Vampire Slayer went to Britain, earned itself a funny bone, and took weird to another level. This British comedy tells the tale of demon-slayers Amy (Cara Theobold) and Racquel (Susan Wokoma) as they slay demons and navigate their early twenties. They look up demon killing techniques on the internet and endure awkward encounters with boys, as one does when one is born to kill demons. It's soapy, silly, and just self-aware enough that you don't feel like you're watching a relic of 90's television. Wokoma, who also appeared in Netflix's Chewing Gum, stands out as the charismatic center of the series. She takes the show from a rehash of popular supernatural television to a paragon of humorous fantasy writing.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: Courtesy of Netflix. Heartland, CanadaThe OC traveled to Canada and became Heartland, the soapy teen drama that takes place on a horse ranch. The northern-based series will satisfy any cravings you have for Degrassi or its brothers Gossip Girl and Secret Life Of The American Teenager. It focuses on Amy, your classic scrappy teen on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her mother just died, and, to top it all off, they might just lose their ranch.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: Courtesy of Netflix. Occupied, NorwayVogue called it "the new Homeland, " The New York Times declared it "gripping," and, to make matters even more delicious, the Russian government ain't pleased with it. Safe to say, the Norwegian import that came to Netflix this year is the type of incendiary television you've got to watch. In the show, which is called "Okkupert" in Norway, Russia occupies the uber-progressive country after it decides it will remove themselves from oil and gas production. What follows is a tense psychological thriller about one country's struggle for autonomy.Part of this series intense appeal relies on its timing — just as the United States uncovers Russian interference in our own political system, a Norwegian drama dramatizes a similar interaction with the eastern European nation. Occupied will either scare you to your bones, or scare you to your bone marrow. There's drama in Norway, but it's awful close to home.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: Courtesy of Pivot. Pacific Heat AustraliaImagine that the screwball series Brooklyn Nine-Nine went Aussie and animated— that's Pacific Heat for you. The bumbling idiots in this series are a group of undercover police investigators called the "Pacific Heat." The first episode sees the team attempt to crack an undercover meth ring. (Although most meth users become professional chefs, as one of the team points out.) Naturally, things go awry, there are a few errant subtitles, and the team argues over who gets to say the tacky pun. ("Our loveboat just became a drugboat.")Created by what amounts to Australian comedy royalty, Pacific Heat is the type of foreign TV that provides pure escape. There are laughs, there are beaches, and there's a spunky lab technician with a short haircut. You can watch The Wire some other time — for now, enjoy some low-stakes animated tomfoolery.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: Courtesy of Netflix. 3%, BrazilThe title of this Brazilian Netflix original refers to the elite 3% of the population, carefully hand-picked via the annual "Process," who get to live in luxury on the fabled Offshore. The remaining 97% of the world's population live in poverty on the Inland. This is a meritocracy to extremes — all 20-year-old citizens must endure said Process and its harrowing events. The series follows a group of aspiring 3-percenters as they fight their way through government-designed tests and trials.Like the best dystopian thrillers, 3% forces a closer inspection of the present. The Process mirrors the high-stakes job interviews of today — Vice compared it to the Google job interview. But that's not even the most frightening part. 3% is so chilling because, as the main characters fall victim to the Process, the tyrannical government starts to sound reasonable. And that's just scary.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.Lovesick, EnglandThis patient romantic comedy suffered at the hands of its original title, Scrotal Recall. The replacement, Lovesick, isn't much better, but the show is proof that a television show is much more than the sum of its title. Somehow, this UK sitcom survives its sophomoric name (and, for that matter, premise) to deliver a gentle depiction of love, regret, and friendship in your 20's. It begins when hapless Dylan (Johnny Flynn) discovers he has chlamydia. The diagnosis catalyzes an analysis of his romantic past: the failures, the successes, the omipresent anguish. The show uses flashbacks to explore various parts of Dylan's history. He's accompanied by Evie (Antonia Thomas) and Luke (Daniel Ings), both as oblivious as Dylan himself. It may have lost on its title, but Lovesick wins at heart and pathos.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Netflix. The Last Panthers, FranceA British insurance agent is on the hunt to recover a handful of diamonds stolen by an elite mob called the Pink Panthers. A French-Algerian policeman is also looking for the goods. It's dark and brooding, but also beautifully shot.Also: David Bowie arranged his song "Blackstar" as the show's theme, so you know the music will be great.Gomorrah, ItalyGomorrah’s lens is set on Italy’s sprawling gangster subculture. It’s more The Wire than Sopranos, which focused on one crime family with intimacy. Gomorroah is about how a few people’s crimes affect (or infect?) the lives of everyone around them.Where to watch: SundanceTV.The Samaritans, KenyaGo inside a dysfunctional NGO in this Kenyan mockumentary. It’s like The Office or Parks and Recreation, only with a geo-political spin. The fictitious “Aid for Aid” organization the show focuses on is a sly take on white colonialism and human rights efforts. When an offbeat and inept manager is brought into to run the aid agency, eyerolls and buffoonery ensues.Where to watch: AidforAid.orgPhoto: Courtesy of Xenium Productions.Torchwood, EnglandCaptain Jack Harkness leads a team of alien hunters. And we’re all just sitting blissfully ignorant while they continually save our butts from extraterrestrial doom. It's sure to please anyone remotely interested in sci-fi or who misses old X-Files episodes.Where to watch: AmazonPhoto: Huw John/REX/Shutterstock.Gavin & Stacey, EnglandWhat’s that? You love James Corden? Well, technically this show is about a long-distance couple, Gavin and Stacey, but we’re really here for Corden, who plays their friend Smithy. This program is basically about the romantic relationship between the title characters, and all the milestones that come with it — engagement, looking for a house, maybe having a baby, that kind of thing. But since Corden co-created and wrote the show, you can expect his infectious brand of humor throughout.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Everett.Fawlty Towers, EnglandThis 1970s British sitcom takes place in Fawlty Towers, a seaside hotel in England. The guests are wild! The hotel is falling apart! The owners aren’t the brightest and probably shouldn’t be running a hotel at all! What a treat. Requirement: Must enjoy dry British humor. And there are only 12 episodes, so you can binge it on the next rainy day.Where to watch: SeesoPhoto: Courtesy of Seeso.The Bletchley Circle, EnglandOr, four former female spies take on modern crime. This lady-filled British drama follows former World War II codebreaker Susan as she applies the skills she learned during the war to everyday events. The title of the show refers to Bletchley Park, the historic site where operatives broke secret German code during the war. Susan and three of her fellow code masterminds begin to unravel a pattern surrounding serial murders in London.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: ITV/REX/Shutterstock.Life’s Too Short, U.K.I know Ricky Gervais can be polarizing. But his BBC series with Stephen Merchant is hilarious and features a lot of people you definitely love. If you want a taste of what you can expect from the observational comedy, check out this clip in which Liam Neeson wants to do more comedy and comes to Gervais and Merchant for help.Where to watch: HBO Now.Photo: Ray Burmiston/HBO.Grand Hotel, SpainIf you’re into Downton Abbey, then you probably enjoy just about any glimpse into the lives of early-20th-century aristocracy. This one’s set in Spain and centers on Julio, who gets a job as a waiter at the titular hotel to further investigate the disappearance of his sister.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Hulu.Father Ted, IrelandFather Ted is a Catholic priest on Craggy Island, a fictional Irish isle. He lives with Father Dougal, a younger, oblivious priest, as well as the elderly and cranky Father Jack and their housekeeper Mrs. Doyle. This sitcom was on air for just a few years in the ‘90s, but it certainly stands the test of time.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Hulu.Boys Over Flowers, South KoreaIn a Gossip Girl -esque turn, a dry cleaner's daughter winds up at an exclusive private school.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of KBS.Please Like Me, AustraliaEarning comparisons to Lena Dunham and Girls, creator Josh Thomas also writes and stars in this show (a co-production between ABC Australia and Pivot in the U.S.), which follows his character realizing that he's gay in his early 20s, while also dealing with his mother's mental illness and his father's second marriage.Where to watch: AmazonPhoto: Courtesy of Australian Broadcasting Corporation.Southcliffe, EnglandA gripping exploration of a town in the aftermath of a mass shooting.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Channel 4.The Returned (Les Revenants), FranceThe dead start coming back to life in a sleepy French village, but this isn't your usual zombie fare. These resurrected folks just want to continue their lives right where they left off, but their loved ones have already mourned for them and seemingly moved on.Where to watch: Netflix.Photo: Courtesy of Canal+Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!The Straits, AustraliaIt’s been called an Australian Sons of Anarchy with a dash of King Lear and The Sopranos...plus, of course, meth kingpins. Get watching.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of ABC TV.Srugim, IsraelModern Orthodox Jews search for love and happiness in Jerusalem.Where to watch: AmazonPhoto: Courtesy of Yes TV.Wallander, Sweden, EnglandPart of the “Nordic noir” wave, this series follows disillusioned detective Kurt Wallander as he solves grisly murders in a formerly peaceful province. The show's based on Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels, and has been adapted in both Sweden and England.Where to watch: Both versions are on Netflix (Swedish, English)Photo: Courtesy of TV4.Borgen, DenmarkThis political drama, which follows politician Birgitte Nyborg after she unexpectedly becomes the first female Prime Minster of Denmark, has been compared to House of Cards and The West Wing.Where to watch: Link TVPhoto: Courtesy of DR1.Love/Hate, IrelandCheeky Misfits star Robert Sheehan gets his brood on in this terrific dramatic series that’s been called Ireland’s answer to The Wire.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of RTÉ Television.Las Aparicio, MexicoMembers of a mysterious family, in which only females seem to survive, have their lives disrupted when a man tries to investigate the "Curse of Las Aparicio."Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Cadena Tres.Prisoners of War ( Hatufim), IsraelThis Israeli thriller was the inspiration for Homeland.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Channel 2.The Witnesses ( Les Témoins), FranceA detective investigates a string of murders and her partner's mysterious past.Where to watch: Coming to Netflix in MayPhoto: Courtesy of Cinétévé.The Missing, EnglandThis Golden Globe-nominated miniseries traces the psychological and emotional impact of a child's disappearance on his parents. A second season, which will feature new characters and a different case, is currently in production.Where to watch: Google PlayPhoto: Courtesy of Starz.A Place to Call Home, AustraliaIn this show set in the 1950s, a woman returns to Australia to start over after 20 years abroad, and ends up at odds with a moneyed matriarch.Where to watch: Acorn TVPhoto: Courtesy of Seven Network.The Legacy( Arvingerne), DenmarkThe latest in addictive Nordic noir is an inheritance drama centering on the adult children of a legendary artist, who discover a long-lost fourth sibling when they gather to sort out her estate.Where to watch: AmazonPhoto: Courtesy of DR Fikiton.Dance Academy, AustraliaIt's a little cheesy, sure, but it's also like Center Stage on television with Australian accents. For some of us, that's a total slam dunk — or, to use a more appropriate analogy, grand jeté.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Werner Film Production.Vampire Prosecutor, South KoreaMuch like iZombie, Vampire Prosecutor has an undead protagonist whose supernatural abilities, combined with an insatiable thirst for human blood, help him solve crimes.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Orion Cinema Network.Grand Hotel ( Gran Hotel), SpainIt's been called Spain's answer to Downton Abbey, which should tell you everything you need to know.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Antena 3 Televisión.The Bridge, Sweden & DenmarkA dead body is discovered on the border between Sweden and Denmark, leading to an investigation by detectives from both countries. FX adapted the thriller for two seasons, setting it on the border of the U.S. and Mexico.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of SVT1.Poldark, EnglandYou may have already caught the Internet rumblings about how much of a babe Aidan Turner is, playing the titular Poldark. The show's also prompted many humorous critiques of modern-day actors’ scything techniques.Where to watch: Coming to PBS in JunePhoto: Courtesy of BBC One.The Slap, AustraliaThe original is much better than the recent NBC remake.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of ABC1.Los Caballeros Las Prefieren Brutas, ColombiaThis relationship dramedy is about love, marriage, and machismo.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television.Broadchurch, EnglandTwo detectives investigate the murder of a boy in a small town filled with secrets.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of ITV.Spiral ( Engrenages), FranceThis gritty police thriller has been broadcast in over 70 countries, which is just one indication you should get on board.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Canal+.The Only Way Is Essex, EnglandIt's almost a crime how addictive this reality show, which fans affectionately know as TOWIE, is.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of ITV2.Misfits, EnglandIt's not quite the same since the original ASBO Five (so called for their "anti-social behaviour order") left the series, but this British teen show with a superpower twist is highly entertaining.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of E4.Wentworth, AustraliaIt's like Orange Is the New Black down under.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of SoHo.The Honorable Woman, EnglandMaggie Gyllenhaal won a Golden Globe for her role in this BBC miniseries (which also aired on Sundance) that follows a British-Israeli businesswoman as she tries to work toward peace in the Middle East.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of BBC Two.Rita, DenmarkThis Danish dramedy centers on teacher and single mother Rita Madsen. Its promotional image caused all sorts of problems with anti-smoking groups.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of TV 2.Peaky Blinders , EnglandIf you've been searching for a fix of early 20th-century gangster drama now that Boardwalk Empire is over, look no further than Birmingham's brutal Peaky Blinders gang.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of BBC Two.Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, AustraliaP.I. Phryne Fisher solves murder mysteries in 1920s Melbourne.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Australian Broadcasting Company.Hostages ( Bnei Aruba), IsraelCBS attempted to remake this hit Israeli thriller, but there was just no replicating the tense, compelling original.Where to watch: Google PlayPhoto: Courtesy of Channel 10.Vicious, EnglandIan McKellan and Derek Jacobi star as a constantly sparring couple whose lives are disrupted when a handsome young man named Ash ( Game of Thrones and Misfits star Iwan Rheon) moves into their building.Where to watch: Google PlayPhoto: Courtesy of ITV.The Almighty Johnsons, New ZealandThis Kiwi series is about four brothers who just so happen to be descended from Norse gods. We assume it was inspired by Chris Hemsworth, Norse deity (yes, we know he's Australian, but go with it).Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of South Pacific Pictures Ltd.Moone Boy, IrelandChris O'Dowd's whimsical sitcom (which is getting adapted by ABC) chronicles the adventures of a boy and his imaginary friend.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Sky 1.Black Mirror, EnglandThis anthology-style series is The Twilight Zone for the technology-obsessed age. It's absolutely terrifying.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of Channel 4.Happy Valley, EnglandYorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood investigates a kidnapping with a painful connection to her family.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of BBC One.Underbelly, AustraliaThis series features dramatizations of Australia's most notorious true crime stories.Where to watch: HuluPhoto: Courtesy of Nine Network.Hinterland ( Y Gwyll), WalesA police detective finds trouble afoot in the idyllic Welsh countryside.Where to watch: NetflixPhoto: Courtesy of BBC One.Fortitude, EnglandA violent crime rocks a peaceful, remote town on the edge of the Arctic Circle in this coproduction between Sky Atlantic and Pivot.Where to watch: AmazonSidenote: If you're still craving additional British offerings after reading, head here for more recommendations from our U.K. chums.Photo: Courtesy of Sky Atlantic.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Movie Review Roundup: What You Should See This WeekendCan We Talk About This Cameo In Alien: Covenant?!Who Is Playing These Hip-Hop Greats In The Upcoming Biopic All Eyez On Me?