If you’re looking for something a little different on your TV, foreign shows are readily available on our streaming services. But don’t be put off by the subtitles — otherwise, you could be missing out on some excellent programming.
Netflix has more than its share of worthwhile TV shows with subtitles — whether they’re American shows that are set around the world or foreign shows that have come to our digital shores. You can even change the settings for the ones that have English-dubbed tracks to revert them back to their beautiful native tongue.
While choosing to watch TV with subtitles allows for the optimal experience — immersing you in another culture through its language while you appreciate the actor’s actual performance — there’s one other benefit as well. Reading subtitles requires that you put down your phone and therefore truly focus on and revel in the series in front of you.
So turn on your nearest widescreen and check out the best TV shows with subtitles that Netflix has to offer:
Premise: In a dystopian future, the majority of Brazil’s population lives in scarcity and squalor. At the age of 20, though, each person has a chance to pass the Process, a series of intense and competitive tests that will allow a mere 3 percent to leave their old lives behind and enjoy the privileged comforts of the place called Offshore. A rebellion known as the Cause has emerged, however, intent on taking down the entire system that has created such an unbalanced society.
Why You Should Watch: While it shares some of the YA hallmarks of post-apocalyptic fare like the “Divergent” series or “The Hunger Games,” it feels far more realistic and possible and therefore frightening. Every episode seems to present a new surprise, even as we slowly get to learn the backstories of each of the compelling candidates. One particularly big twist [Editor’s Note: Spoiler!] still haunts us to this day. It’s a damn good thing that Netflix has already ordered a second season.
“Cable Girls (Las Chicas de Cable)”
Premise: Set in Spain in 1928, young women vie for the opportunity to work in the new national telephone company headquartered in Madrid. We follow four of the girls who become “cable girls,” aka switchboard operators. By far the most colorful has to be Alba, a woman with a mysterious past who is blackmailed by a cop to steal from the very building that she now works in.
Why You Should Watch: This is not any boring story of drudgery. The first 15 minutes alone gives you just a taste of the scheming, betrayal, murder, sexual tension and intrigue that is in store. Add to that a heist plot, an underlying theme about women’s rights and fantastic ’20s flapper garb, and you have the equivalent of a dinner of champagne and fruit — fun and borderline decadent, but not too heavy.
Se young. Oh. /Netflix
Premise: Technically, this is an American series, but brings us to so many global adventures that it sneaked onto this list. The TV docu-series offspring of the big-screen “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” takes the same approach by highlighting the food and inspiring story behind some of the world’s most fascinating and innovative chefs. The show currently has three seasons plus an extra spin-off series set in France.
Why You Should Watch: The gorgeous photography and score creates a feast for the senses and the perfect setting for the extraordinary food and even more impressive stories of people who realized their passion in the most delicious way. Watch them all in order or just sample what’s on offer. While the American chefs are well represented (check out Season 2’s Grant Achatz episode for some truly fanciful creations) it’s the international ones who’ve truly opened our eyes to possibilities. Take for example, Season 3, in which four foreign chefs are featured ranging from a Russian chef who wants to reclaim the classic Russian flavor that have been lost to a Buddhist monk in Korea who has humbled even the greatest chefs from around the world with her mastery of natural ingredients.
Premise: When the patriarch of the prominent Iglesias family dies from a heart attack, the gloves are off for his heirs to determine who will gain control of his beloved professional soccer team: The Cuervos (Crows). This is not just any soccer team though: It put the fictional Mexican city of Nuevo Toledo on the map, bringing respect and modernity to its citizens.
Why You Should Watch: Part outrageous comedy, part poignant family drama, the series hinges on the central sibling rivalry between elder daughter Isabel (Mariana Trevino) who is dedicated and responsible, having worked behind the scenes of the team for years, and her younger brother Chava (Luis Gerardo Méndez), a man-child recently caught snorting cocaine off of a hooker. The only problem for Isabel is she’s a woman in a patriarchal society which values Chava’s Y chromosome over her knowledge and skill. The spotlight on sexism and sports politics balances the more soapy elements, such as a possible third heir who could be a threat to their inheritance. Two seasons are currently available on Netflix.
Premise: Claire (Liv Hewson) is a 20-year-old college student obsessed with Korean dramas, more familiarly known as K-dramas. Lately she’s been watching her favorite actor Joon Park (Sean Dulake) in “Taste of Love,” but just as she’s about to watch a pivotal episode, a strange bit of magic transports her straight into the show. It turns out this is Dramaworld, where the K-dramas get made, and she now has an essential role to play in making sure that the happy endings come off without a hitch.
Why You Should Watch: This comedy is the ultimate love letter to the genre, and joining Claire for the ride into the fantastical Dramaworld is a delight. The rules and tricks for living there are fascinating — such as being understood by anyone even though Claire doesn’t understand Korean — and is a meta look into the tropes that go into these formulaic but satisfying stories. Hovering just above or below the 10-minute mark per episode, “Dramaworld” is easily digestible on the go.
Premise: This Norwegian-American show was Netflix’s very first original series, and is a testament to the unique programming that the streaming service has offered. The story is set in the tiny town of Lillehammer in Norway, where a former mafia underboss Frank Magliano is living under the name of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen in the Federal Witness Protection Program. (Note: The spelling of the title refers to the dog Lily seen in the pilot and how certain people mispronounce the town’s name.)
Why You Should Watch: The series mixes deadpan, quirky comedy with crime-related violence, akin to a Norwegian “Fargo” with touches of Italian mafia (think: Tony Bennett- or Frank Sinatra-rich soundtracks, etc.). Despite this comparison, it’s unlike anything else on TV and has three seasons of fantastic Scandinavian knitwear for your viewing pleasure.
“Midnight Diner — Tokyo Stories”
Premise: Based on a manga of the same name, the series is set in the tiny eatery known as Meshiya, but referred to by its patrons as the Midnight Diner because it’s only open from midnight to 7 a.m. Late-night customers ranging from businessmen, taxi drivers and students sidle up to the bar to order from the Master, the taciturn proprietor who only has one item on the menu, a pork miso soup, but will make you whatever you want as long as he has the ingredients. Each episode is a vignette themed around one dish or drink, which relates to the story of one of the oddball patrons.
Why You Should Watch: The Master isn’t the only one dishing up comfort food here. The series is as heartwarming as a bowl of noodles and just as nourishing. While the plots range from sweet romances to the bizarre relationship between a man and his mother’s ghost, the stories always come to a swift and satisfying conclusion where the right people learn their lessons and had their faith in humanity reaffirmed. In such a volatile world that we live in, this series is a meditative bit of kindness and tranquility in 23-minute bites.
Juan Pablo Gutierrez/NETFLIX
Premise: The series is set Colombia in the late 1970s and chronicles how drug kingpin Pablo Escobar created an empire through the production and distribution of cocaine. Meanwhile, the DEA sends one of its agents to investigate Escobar and the drug cartels. Power plays and cat-and-mouse games ensue.
Why You Should Watch: This crime series delivers all the drug, sex, betrayals and violence one could wish for. That the show is filmed in Colombia with nearly half of the dialogue in Spanish (with subtitles natch) gives it authenticity and weight. It also boasts a strong cast including lead Wagner Moura in a nuanced take on Escobar, Boyd Holbrook as the DEA Agent Steve Murphy whose narration unfolds the story, and Pedro Pascal — remember him as the Red Viper in “Game of Thrones”? — who gets the increased exposure he deserves in the second season. Netflix has already ordered Seasons 3 and 4, so you already know that this show isn’t going to disappear anytime soon and is well worth your time.
Premise: When dedicated businessman Takeshi Kasumi finally retires, he’s unsure of what to do or how to enjoy himself without feeling guilty that he’s not working. When he stumbles into a restaurant and has his first-ever midday beer, it’s an epiphany. Retirement isn’t the end of an era but the beginning of a new one, full or gastronomical delights that he can partake of day after day. His inner samurai — depicted in fantastical period sequences — gives him the courage to pursue any delectable delight his heart desires.
Why You Should Watch: This show epitomizes the obsession of the everyday foodie who relishes every part of the eating experience, not just the gourmet or trendy aspects. The amount of time that Kasumi spends in the first episode even considering the beer, fantasizing about a samurai who day-drinks, pouring, drinking and gazing upon the beer would even bring a tear to Homer Simpson’s eye. The series presents the meals using swooping camerawork and all the proper angles worthy of Instagramming before Kasumi inevitably consumes the food with rapture exuding from every pore. It’s probably the first time many of us will wish to be a 6o-year-old Japanese man. Don’t watch this show while hungry.