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It’s a Small World: The International TV Shows You Aren’t Watching

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McGill chapter.

Yes, I am talking about TV again. Let’s get this over with.

So, America is pretty swell. I am from there, so maybe I am biased, but you know, we do okay for ourselves. We have tax-free shopping (in some places), Panera Bread, Meryl Streep, really large quantities of food that get your photo on a wall for eating it fast enough, the Shakespearean decline of post-divorce Ben Affleck smoking e-cigarettes and getting parking tickets, and some other things, I think.

We also have great TV: The Americans, American Horror Story, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, American Crime, and a host of other shows that do not include the word “American” and are equally as great. However, the world is so big; there are a million other amazingly creative and talented people making awesome television across both oceans. In all honesty, half of your favourite shows are probably just the American version of something that someone else did first. It can be so easy to play it safe and watch Parks and Recreation for the 15th time, but branch out, people. Live on the edge. Dance in a fountain or something. Get crazy. Here, I shall proceed to rattle off all of the amazing international shows that you need to be watching. (Yes, need. I am tired of being so nice and using words like “should.”)

This show. Wow. Imagine The Americans wasn’t soul-crushingly upsetting, switch Russia with Germany, add a smattering of cluelessness about how to be a decent spy, and you have Deutschland 83. It was the best thing I watched in 2015, and if you have read anything I have ever written, I watch a lot of things. Even though there are subtitles, it did give me an amazing opportunity to put my two years of high school German to the test (I failed. Sorry, Frau.). To sum it up, it is a coming-of-age spy story about Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), a 24-year-old East Germany border guard, who has to go undercover as Moritz Stamm in West Germany.

Its use of 80s music is absolutely perfect, the costuming is spectacular, and the way it sets the dramas of the Cold War as the backdrop of the smaller-scale dramas occurring with the characters adds to the realism of the storytelling. I am also obsessed, obsessed, obsesssed with the opening title sequence.

Where Deutschland 83 succeeds is how it finds a way to be a show about the Cold War, while still having a certain delightful groundingness to it. (There is even a spy-training montage. I wish montages were used more often, as they are refreshingly cheesy.) Deutschland 83 never falls prey to being oppressed by its own self-importance like so many “prestige” shows tend to. I cannot say enough fabulous things about this show, except that there are only eight episodes, and the second season (to be entitled Deutschland 86) is still just in preliminary talks. 

Series One is available to stream on Hulu.

Based on the 1993 John le Carré novel of the same name, this show follows former soldier Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) who begins to act as a spy for the government to learn more about the secret arms trade. I mean, Tom Hiddleston will bless your television screen, so I don’t feel it is necessary to explain more than that. I just caught the pilot episode, but it is really fantastic. Dr. House, that one guy from Pirates of the Carribbean, that other guy from Sherlock, and Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby will also all be there to stir up some sumptuous English spy drama. 

Episode one premiered in the United States on April 19, 2016 on AMC. The following 5-episodes will air every subsequent Tuesday.

  • Grantchester (United Kingdom, ITV. Distributed by PBS/Masterpiece Mystery.)

I watch more Masterpiece than any person not collecting social security should, but it is just one of my many, many charms. I discovered this delightful little program not too long ago when my favorite bloggers, Tom & Lorenzo, tweeted a shirtless picture of the show’s star, James Norton. Being the monster that I am, I knew I had to start watching this show based on the photo alone. I was so thrilled that I did.

It is a charming, little mystery show in which an Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) starts helping Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) solve crimes in the village of Grantchester (hence the name of the show, folks). It also takes place in the 1950s which is fun, if only for the costuming.  I watch so much dark, depressing television that this is the perfect palette cleanser.

There are unrequited loves, a sassy, older British lady who serves as the voice of reason (See: The Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey or Lady Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones), people riding bikes, and lots of scenes of shirtless Sidney. It is almost unsettling how often an Anglican vicar does not have his shirt on, but I digress. It is no Downton Abbey, but if you enjoy pleasant English television with just enough drama, you will adore this as much as I do. 

Series Two is currently airing on PBS, and Series One is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

  • Sherlock (United Kingdom, BBC One. Distributed by PBS: Masterpiece Mystery, Netflix.)

I hate that I feel the need to include this, but I feel there are some souls out there who have yet to experience this. With a huge Tumblr fanbase, it is no wonder that this show is the amalgamation of why people love Benedict Cumberbatch so much.

So if you have been living under a rock, Sherlock is a modern version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes. Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) moves in with Sherlock after answering an advertisement about the need for a flatmate; they end up joining forces and solving crimes together and it is spectacular. One suggestion I have is not watching this with someone else (after you have taken my suggestion, watched the whole run, and fallen in love with it), because without a doubt, they will not appreciate the dark humor and you will be left devastated. 

Series One, Two, and Three are available for streaming on Netflix.

  • Top of the Lake (New Zealand, BBC Two/BBC UKTV. Distributed by Sundance Channel, Netflix.)

Elisabeth Moss with a New Zealand accent is the thing that you did not know you needed in your life until you watch this show. Beyond the fact that she is just an overall spectacular actress, and that this performance got her a Golden Globe, her ability to do that accent blows my mind. Now, that being said, this show is super dark. It follows Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) who is investigating the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl, Tui, in the remote New Zealand town of Laketop. It sounds like a real laugh-riot. I know. But trust me, it is worth it for the sweeping shots of the New Zealand landscapes and Holly Hunter. 

Holly Hunter absolutely slays me in this. And, Gwendoline Christie is going to be in Series Two! She is a queen. 

Series One is available for streaming on Netflix. Series Two began filming at the end of last year in Sydney, Australia.

  • The Fall (Northern Ireland/UK, BBC Two/RTÉ One. Distributed by Netflix)

In my opinion, a good serial killer drama is exactly the way you should be spending some sunny summer day. This is the one you should be watching. It stars Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, the Metropolitan Police Superintendent, who is called to Belfast to investigate a string of killings involving young, professional women. It becomes obvious that it is the act of a serial killer, one Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). Dornan, while handsome, is not always the most complex actor. However, this performance is my favourite of his as an actor. (I know you may find that shocking, seeing as all of his incredible acting skills were on display in the latest 50 Shades of Grey movie.)

Also, Gillian Anderson is flawless, but that is to be expected. It is dark and gritty and murder-y and great. Watch it.

Series One and Two are available to stream on Netflix. Series Three just wrapped filming and should premiere later this year.

  • Catastrophe (United Kingdom, Channel 4. Distributed by Amazon Prime.)

After you watch a bunch of murder-filled dramas, it will be nice to settle down and laugh hysterically for a few hours. Rob Delaney plays Rob, a Boston businessman who, while on a trip to London, sleeps with Sharon (Sharon Horgan), an Irish schoolteacher. (Carrie Fisher also has lots of cameos as Rob’s mom and is absolutely brilliant.) He goes back to Boston only to receive a call from Sharon (aptly named in his phone as “Sharon — London (sex)”) saying that she is pregnant; he then returns to London and they decide to create a new life together. 

Written and created by both Delaney and Horgan, the show is one of the few shows I find myself actually LOL-ing at. The characters are really well-developed in the way that they act how real people would. When one character makes a really funny joke, the other characters in the scene actually acknowledge the joke and laugh. It is sort of bizarre to watch at first, because most comedies exist in a realm where people are hilarious, but the tertiary characters don’t recognize the humor. (End rant about television comedy.)

Series One and Two are available for streaming on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

  • Vicious (United Kingdom, ITV. Distributed by PBS, Amazon Prime.)

Created by my favorite tweeter, Gary Janetti, Vicious chronicles the daily tribulations of an elderly gay couple, Freddie (Ian McKellan) and Stuart (Derek Jacobi). They are constantly insulting one another and being beset upon by their host of eccentric friends, Violet (Frances de la Tour), Penelope (Marcia Warren), and their handsome new neighbor, Ash (Iwan Rheon).

It is in the style of a traditional, Norman Lear style sitcom, complete with a laugh track. It is one of the single most enchanting things I have ever watched. There is nothing more satisfying or hilarious than watching McKellan and Jacobi just hurl the meanest, most insulting things to each other.

Series One and Two are available to stream on Amazon Prime Instant Video. A series finale special was filmed at the end of last year and is set to air some time this year on ITV.

Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game, Downton Abbey) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) are two actors who wear blue button-ups, silly hats, and roam the Italian countryside tasting wine for 13 glorious episodes. Yup. That is the entire premise of this show. It is The Trip, but more educational and with younger, hotter people (Though, The Trip and The Trip to Italy are amazing, no matter what my mom said, which was that she “didn’t get it.” She is wrong.) 

I enjoy both of the actors immensely, which helps, but this show is super informative about all aspects of wine, while still being insanely silly and goofy. It never takes wine too seriously. Now, how can you watch this delightful little program since it does not have a US or Canadian distributor yet? Glad you asked, so that I could share my TV pro-tip: Go to the ITV4 website, and set up an account with a London postal code. (If I lose my ITV4 privileges for sharing my wisdom and pretending I live in England, I am blaming all of you.)

The first two episodes are available to watch in ITV4.com, with every subsequent episode airing every Saturday evening.

Honourable Mentions with Non-Exhaustive Explanations:

  • Les Revenants (France, Canal +. Distributed by Sundance Channel, Netflix): It isn’t The Revenant, so that automatically gets it points from me, but it is super creepy and fabulously acted.
  • Please Like Me (Australia, ABC2. Distributed by Hulu.): Delightful, funny, and charming. We have reached peak dark-millennial comedy. The tone reminds me a lot of You’re the Worst with a smattering of Transparent. 
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Australia, ABC. Distributed by Netflix.): The costuming in this is off the charts gorgeous. 
  • Luther: (UK, BBC One. Distributed by Netflix.): Idris Elba. 
  • Broadchurch (UK, ITV. Distributed by Netflix.): Nobody loves shows about dead children in idyllic villages more than the United Kingdom; that is what this show is about. Also, I love me some David Tennant as much as the next girl, and he is great in this as he is everything. 
  • Black Mirror (UK, Channel 4. Distributed by Netflix.): If you do anything, watch the “White Christmas” special with Jon Hamm. Go. Do it now. 
  • Marseille (France, Netflix.): This does not even come out until May 5, but I am really excited for it regardless. The reach of Netflix and producing amazing original content knows no bounds. 

I hope you take all of my suggestions to heart, as I strongly believe your life would be improved by watching any and all of them. May your summer be fabulous, fun, and filled with lots and lots of television. I know mine will. 

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Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Gabrielle is a fourth year student at McGill University. She watches a lot (some might say too much TV) and has gotten into screaming matches over movies. In her spare time, she enjoys being utterly self-deprecating. For clever tweets, typically composed by her favorite television writers, follow her twitter. For overly-posed (but pretending not to be) photographs follow her Instagram.