As the pandemic wears on and television viewing options dwindle, we watched seen and enjoyed more shows made outside the US. Sometimes, with subtitles, you can even learn a few words of another country’ language. (I don’t like dubbing. It’s always obvious and jarring.)
It is difficult to do a jigsaw puzzle at the same time you have a show on subtitle, though, because it forces you to watch. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
In my Pandemic Watchlist #4, I share some of the international shows we have watched and liked recently.
Watchlist #4: International TV Shows
Deadwind (AKA Karrpi) — Finland
“When Sofia Karppi discovers the body of a young woman on a construction site, she triggers a chain of events that threatens to destroy her life again.”
Two seasons of this excellent police procedural on Netflix kept us riveted. Both combine solving a murder with political intrigue, which makes them more interesting than a lot of one-dimensional American shows.
Deadwind stars Finnish actors, including one impossibly handsome young detective (Lauri Tilkanen). Finland is cold and snowy and seems to be sparsely populated but the location photography is compelling.
I learned to say Yes, No, Why, Why Not, and Sorry in Finnish. I was working on What but ran out of episodes.
The Gift – Turkey
“A painter in Istanbul embarks on a personal journey as she unearths universal secrets about an Anatolian archaeological site and its link to her past.”
I watched this because of its connection to, and location shooting at, Gobekli Tepi, one of the world’s largest and most mysterious megalithic archaeological sites. The two seasons go from political plotting to the paranormal, with some romance and alternate reality thrown in. The first season is the best. In Turkish but dubbed, so I learned no words.
Van der Valk – Netherlands
“A Dutch detective takes on criminal cases in Amsterdam using insightful human observation and his natural street smarts.”
This is another excellent PBS Masterpiece Mystery shot on location in Amsterdam. We get a hero detective (kommisaris), who is handsome but brooding with a mystery in his background that’s only hinted at.
Why does he treat the team’s smart new addition so badly? What are those flashbacks he gets? Why does he hold team briefings in a pub? Presumably, a second season will deliver the history. We see a lot of Amsterdam but don’t learn any Dutch because the dialog is in English.
Emily in Paris — France
“A young American woman from the Midwest is hired by a marketing firm in Paris to provide them with an American perspective on things.”
Okay, the show is lighter than a meringue and cuter than Tintin but it’s getting better with every episode. Really., Emily is dropped into a Paris job unprepared and tries to cope with a city that’s beautiful. Unfortunately, the people are, as one character declares, “mean.”
Of course, the man who lives in the apartment below hers and helps out is a handsome young, English-speaking chef. With my luck, he would be a fat father of four, with chest hair sticking out of his wife-beater tee shirt and a Gauloise hanging out of his mouth. There would be no meet cute. But this is TV, so Emily lucks out.
The show can be annoying but It’s also charming and fun.You can pick up some French as Emily, laboriously, learns the language.
Are you missing Paris? Would you like to visit for the first time? Here’s your chance.
The Third Day – England
“A man and a woman make separate journeys to a mysterious island off the British coast.”
The jury is still out on this show. We have watched one bleak, disturbing episode and I’m not convinced I need to watch Day Two. Jude Law is, of course, excellent and the location is intriguing but those people are truly weird and not in a good way.
Hinterland – England
“A noir crime drama set in Aberystwyth, Wales, where troubled DCI Tom Mathias solves murders while searching for redemption.”
This is a 2013 series, that starts with a murdered woman and goes on to explore all the many people who had a motive. It rains a lot. The countryside is beautiful. If you have trouble with the Welsh accents, turn on your subtitles. But the characters grow and develop in fascinating ways.
Watchlist #4: The American TV Front
We have had rather less luck on the American TV front, with shows that often prove difficult to watch for a variety of reasons. My rule of thumb is to give a show three episodes before deciding thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Lately, we haven’t gotten that far.
“A group of young adults, who meet online, get a hold of a cult underground graphic novel, which not only pins them as a target of a shadowy deep state organization, but also burdens them with the dangerous task of saving the world.”
Utopia was created by Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame and stars John Cusack, so I had hopes. But this Amazon Prime show starts with a mass murder at a graphic novel convention and goes downhill from there. Critics talked Utopia up as the next great science fiction show, so I slogged through two episodes. After the second stomach-churning hour, I had no desire to see any more.
“In 1947, Mildred Ratched begins working as a nurse at a leading psychiatric hospital. But beneath her stylish exterior lurks a growing darkness.”
Clearly, Ryan Murphy and Evan Romanski thought there was a great story in a psychopathic nurse doing her best to break her even more psychopathic brother out of a mental hospital. I don’t agree.
This Netflix show is very visual, with gorgeous saturated colors and a lot of style. It reminded me of Edward Hopper paintings come to life. Each character seems to have his or her own color.
Clearly, the showrunners also have no problem with anachronisms and inaccuracies. In the first episode, a priest comes into a rectory and breezily reveals what he has heard in confession to the other priests. Anyone named Murphy should know better. In the second episode, Nurse Ratched refers to a “felt-tip” pen, which did not exist in 1947. Such mistakes may not bother others, but they kick me right out of the story.
Some big names are attached to this show: Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Paulson, Judy Davis and Sharon Stone. I think their talent is wasted in it. After two episodes, I lacked any desire to slog through another. But if you enjoy watching pre-frontal lobotomies conducted without benefit of anesthetic, have at it.
“A young African-American travels across the U.S. in the 1950s in search of his missing father.”
Like Watchmen before it, Lovecraft Country deals with how black people were treated in America in the fifties. That’s interesting and educational for those of us born white and who never had to deal with the kind of abuses, both large and petty, directed at Black people who are just trying to get ahead.
The racial parts of this bifurcated show are excellent. The second part—the Lovecraft section—features a lot of blood and guts. All over the place. Over and over. I can’t help but wonder who cleans up all those messes — and that kicks me out of the story.
Why is it that European companies can produce TV shows with compelling stories, complex characters, excellent location photography, and good scripts while American companies rely on the shock value of social deviance seasoned with large quantities of blood and gore? It’s a mystery.
Things appear to be picking up again on the production front, so I have a few shows to look forward to:
- The Expanse, Season 5 – For my money, this is the best hard science fiction to ever appear on TV. But when those Belters talk, they can be hard to understand. Subtitles help.
- This is Us, Season 5 – A normal family living a normal life with the kinds of challenges we all fac2. What a relief!
- The West Wing Onstage – Remember when we had an educated, intelligent and honorable man in the White House? I do. And I miss Jed Bartlet.
That’s all for now on my Pandemic Watchlist #4. We have a new jigsaw puzzle to start, which we often work on while the TV is playing. More later.
Pandemic Watchlist #4 carries on my thumbs-up/thumbs-down recommendations for what’s on the tube right now. Here are the previous watchlists: