International TV Round-Up
"The best international shows to watch right now"
Spring once marked the end of the television season. Now, however, it marks the beginning of the prestige TV season, with networks pulling out all the stops to get their best and brightest shows to the masses just in time for the all important Emmy push to begin. Over the next month, I'll be highlighting some of the new and returning shows that are worth a look (a pre-season two review of the reigning Best Drama champ The Handmaid's Tale
will be coming your way next week, in honor of the show's April 25th premiere). This time, we'll take a look at some of the best international shows currently available.
Babylon Berlin (Netflix)
Your enjoyment of this German drama, set in the Weimar Republic, will likely be directly proportional to your ability to watch a series with subtitles (yes, there is an English language track, but it's nowhere near as good as watching the actual performances from the show's exemplary cast of actors). If you're one of those people who just can't stand reading the dialogue, this one won't be for you- no matter how good it might be. But if you're like me, and aren't put off by a little additional homework with your television, Babylon Berlin
is a truly delightful delve into Germany on the eve of war. The story twists its way through two main story arcs, an investigation into the blackmail of government officials and a plot by Trotskyists within the German capital to send much needed gold to the Russian exile. Sure, on paper that might sound a bit dull (and perhaps a bit too much like a World History class from high school), but the series's incredible attention to detail allows the audience to become immersed in the hedonism of the era (with more than enough reminders that the freedoms enjoyed by some were certainly not enjoyed by all).
The success of the series relies on the show's two leads: Volker Bruch as Inspector Gereon Rath and Liv Lisa Fries as Charlotte Ritter. Fries is the more successful of the two, as Charlotte is allowed to grow and develop more over the course of the show's first season than Gereon (the first two seasons of the show are available on Netflix, listed as a single season of 16 episodes- I've only seen the first eight). Knowing what's to come for these characters, as Germany falls into the hands of the Nazis, casts a pall over the more exciting moments. But for those who enjoy a solid historical drama ripe with intrigue, Babylon Berlin
might just be the ticket.
The Terror (AMC)
Speaking of historical dramas, AMC's The Terror
has a more supernatural bent to it, but still fits the bill. Based on Dan Simmons' novel of the same name, the ten episode series tells the tale of the doomed 1845 expedition of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus as they attempted to find the Northwest Passage. The show's opening moments let the audience know this is a tragedy and that none of these men made it back to England, however we don't learn exactly what there is to fear out in the ice and snow until later in the series (besides frostbite, lack of food and water, and the harsh conditions themselves, of course). While the story takes liberties with the historical account (the chances that an actual terrifying monster lurked out in the Arctic and killed the men is pretty slim), its still a solid costume drama.
Starring some of the best British actors out there (among them, Ciarán Hinds (Mance Rayder on Game of Thrones
), Jacob Harris (The Crown
and Mad Men
), and Tobias Menzies (Outlander
, Edmure Tully on Game of Thrones
, and the new Prince Phillip on The Crown
)), the story of the doomed expedition has plenty of suspense and drama, with flashbacks letting us know just how these men became stuck in the ice flows without hope of rescue.
Killing Eve (BBC America)
Without a doubt, the best of the bunch is Killing Eve
, a brilliant psychological thriller from Phoebe Waller-Bridge (the writer/star of the superb dark comedy Fleabag
, which is available on Amazon and is a must see) and adapted from Luke Jennings's book series. The eight-episode first season (the series has already been renewed for a second) stars Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy
) as an MI5 desk jockey who gets messed up in the mission to catch international assassin Villanelle (the spectacular Jodie Comer, in what should be a star-making role). Along the way, naturally, the cat-and-mouse game between the two turns into a mutual obsession.
Darkly funny and with two incredibly complex central characters, Killing Eve
is must-see TV of the highest caliber. Oh continues to have the same easy screen presence she displayed during her time on Grey's Anatomy
, and it's nearly impossible not to be swept along as her Eve begins to find herself adrift in too deep waters. Comer manages to make Villanelle one of the best sociopaths ever to grace the small screen, and the relationship between the two women harkens back to that of Will Graham and Hannibal Lector on the dearly departed Hannibal
. It's a stunning series.