The 3 Best Non-English TV Shows – Guest Entry by Miri

What’s up folks?

This is Miri. The last couple of years I have always been on the lookout for new, exciting TV dramas, and, as we all know, the best (or, at the very least, the most) entertainment is still produced in the US and Britain. However, there are a few golden pieces of TV I’ve come across that may completely escape the English-speaking viewers. Of course, being able to watch something in its original form, without dubbing or subtitles, is always the most rewarding, but trust me when I tell you that for the three shows I will introduce to you, dubbing and/or subtitles will not ruin the fun.

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No.3: Gomorra – La Serie

Gomorra is an Italian TV series produced by Sky about the mafia in Naples, Italy. The show is based on the nonfiction book by Roberto Saviano, who infiltrated the Camorra (the mafia’s local name) and published names of important people and detailed information on the organization’s illegal operations. Saviano’s book was so close to the truth that he has had to live with a constant protection detail due to threats. Herein lies the series’ biggest advantage as well as its biggest flaw. The stories told are so realistic and so sinister they not only make for prime entertainment, but they also serve as a constant reminder that what we see here is not fiction but bitter reality; this knowledge creates an intense viewing experience. Because of its realism, however, we have no one to identify with. Everyone is evil, no character is likable. Every person portrayed in-depth is either a hateful, cruel beast of a human, or an innocent soon to be killed. That is reality in the mafia, and that makes the show hard to watch, so those who like gritty crime shows with hero figures may be disappointed or confused. We are constantly reminded that we are not watching standard, easily digestible TV because of the violence that always undercuts each scene, every piece of dialogue, always threatening to break out. Everybody is fair game, no one is safe, not even little children.

So why is this show worthy of your time? For one, it is something that needed to be made to expose the violence that exists day to day to a broader audience. The people live with fear, the young kids grow up believing that they will never get out of their parts of the city. Honest jobs are rare, so if you need money, you have to turn to crime. The show brilliantly portrays the way in which the kids in Secondigliano take the crime and cruelty for granted, even emulate what they see in their childish games.

Also, and we as viewers should never take this for granted, Gomorra is incredibly well-made. The cinematography is stunning, especially in the third season, where every frame would be worthy of being hung on a wall as a piece of art. The original score is haunting and creates a unique atmosphere. In these gorgeous images, we see devastation and beauty exist side by side.

Lastly, the characters may be unlikable, but they are strong and interesting and captured in amazing performances by talented actors. The show has been renewed for a fourth season set to air next year, and I cannot possibly imagine what may happen next, but the first three seasons all centered on the relationship between Ciro di Marzio and Gennaro Savastano. There is an entire army of characters, including some strong women, but Ciro and Gennaro and their connection with one another has driven the show forward. It is brutal, and disgusting, and beautiful all at once.

No. 2: Deutschland 83

Everybody in Germany who loves great TV entertainment has had to turn their backs on German TV productions. Most shows produced in Germany, by Germans, for a German audience, are not very good, and every German will agree with me, I’m sure. I think the problem is that the German networks are, on the one hand, very hesitant to allow change (which is why, when Breaking Bad was aired on free TV, it was hidden in a very small channel Saturdays at 10 pm). Experiments are never welcomed with open arms. On the other hand, the prime networks probably think we, the viewers, are stupid. They do not seem to have a lot of faith in our comprehensive abilities. These issues make it all the more astounding that such a show as Deutschland 83 exists at all. It is a well-written, intelligent, thrilling show about the tensions between East and West Germany in the 1980s. Martin Rauch, a young man who firmly believes in the government of East Germany, is forced to go undercover for the Stasi in West Germany, posing as a soldier named Moritz Stamm. The real Moritz has been killed to make room for Martin. Suddenly, Martin is ripped out of his safe, relatively comfortable existence with his sick mother and his (unfaithful) girlfriend and thrust into the colorful world of West Germany, where all the restrictions and trade embargos on American merchandise of the East do not exist. But Martin also continuously risks his life for his country, spying on the West, stealing important data, only barely escaping from being discovered. The stakes are high, as would be the punishment for treason.

Deutschland 83 thus manages to combine history lessons on East and West tensions and the Cold War with a genuinely thrilling espionage story. The actors are amazing, and the soundtrack includes some of the best songs from the 80s. What makes this show so entrancing, however, is the development the main character undergoes over the course of the episodes. Martin starts as a rather naïve young man who firmly believes in his government’s values, that East Germany is right and everybody else is wrong. When he is forced to go undercover in the West, he refuses at first, but with a few patriotic lines, his Stasi handlers, who include his aunt, manage to convince him that what he is doing is “the right thing.” This serves as one example of how fanatic patriotism is akin to brainwashing. And the longer Martin works for the Stasi, the more ruthless he gets, until even human lives seem to pale in significance compared to his mission. Subtly fused into the compelling thriller is the story of how one finds his or her identity, sometimes by consciously turning away from what you know. The show is also very well-made, as lighting and editing basically scream American TV standards. And, indeed, it is a co-production between German network RTL and the AMC. If only we could have more collaborations such as this one. A second season is supposed to be coming this year, and I can only hope that t will be able to compete with the first one.

No. 1: Bron/Broen

The Bridge is a Scandinavian crime drama I discovered on accident while I was browsing articles for my bachelor’s thesis. The pilot episode begins with a female murder victim on the Øresund Bridge, a bridge that is 5 miles long and provides a direct connection between Denmark and Sweden. The body discovered has been placed exactly at the junction of the bridge where the official border between Danish and Swedish territory runs, even though the border crossing is not marked on the bridge. Also, the body of the victim is cut in half, one half each lying on Danish and Swedish territory. As the upper half is immediately identified as belonging to a known Swedish citizen, the Swedish police claims the case as theirs. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that the lower half of the body belongs to another victim, making it two cases of murder. The lower half is discovered to be that of a Danish woman, and thus a cooperation between Swedish and Danish police forces becomes necessary. The bridge obviously stands in for more than just a geographical connection between two places; it also symbolizes the cooperation between two nations, as well as the language gap that is artfully bridged in the show. The original title, Bron/Broen, means “bridge” in Swedish and Danish, respectively. As I do not speak Swedish, or Danish, I watched the show in German, so the language barriers that the characters may encounter at times was completely lost on me, but I do know that when the Danish characters speak, there are Swedish subtitles, so the language definitely factors into the viewing experience for native Scandinavian audiences.

Even without the language barrier, however, the show makes for a unique experience. In part this is due to the clearly Scandinavian crime thriller vibe. Muted colors, sparse lighting, and imaginative murders create an oppressive, sinister atmosphere that provides a welcome distraction for those viewers who are tired of polished, over-produced shows where everybody looks pretty and the bad guy is always apprehended. This is one thing The Bridge has in common with Gomorra: there can be no happy ending. The bad guy is never caught, or if he is, he has been caught too late.

What really makes this show worthwhile is its main character: Såga Norén, homicide detective in Malmö, is the strong female lead women have been waiting for. Interestingly, she is the antithesis of what societal norms predetermine a woman should be. An excellent detective, extremely intelligent, with an almost perfect memory, Såga is incapable of understanding social cues and engaging with other people on an emotional level, which makes her come across as cold and rude in the beginning. Once the audience gets closer to her, it becomes clear that she must have some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, and although she has never been diagnosed, Såga herself is aware, as she says at one point, that she is “not normal.” She never tries to hide this fact about herself, however, which gives her a range of freedom in social interactions others can only dream of: not inhibited by the unwritten rules of “proper” conduct, Såga has sex whenever she wants, with whomever she wants to have it, without ever coming across as anything but self-assured and determined. On the downside, her condition, and the love she has for her job, make her incapable of maintaining relationships, and she has a hard time finding, and keeping, friendship. Såga’s job is her life. Not interested in hobbies, police work is all her life consists of. We learn more about her tragic backstory as the seasons progress, and it fits right into the sinister mood of the show. Basically, if you love Scandinavian crime thrillers and strong female lead characters, this show is an absolute must. I am currently waiting for the fourth, and final, season to arrive on Netflix, because I would really like to see how Såga’s story concludes. If you have the opportunity, just watch it. It is time well spent.

Do you know any non-English TV shows that would be worth watching? I would love to hear some suggestions. Also, follow me on Instagram if you want: miri_mh8

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