Netflix continues to have such a vast array of acquired TV series from around the world that it’s difficult to know what to give a chance. While British shows like “Peaky Blinders” have recognizable faces and don’t require translation, it’s a bit more daunting to commit to a foreign-language series.
As part of IndieWire’s ongoing mission to uncover some of the best global series that aren’t getting the attention they deserve, here are some of the best foreign language shows available for streaming on Netflix right now. (For more recommendations, check out Part 1.)
Premise: Think “Devil Wears Prada” set in the world of Emotion, a boutique lingerie company in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district. Mayuko is an ingenue who rhapsodizes over fabric (OMG, is that jersey with rayon and polyurethane?! I die!), but her boss Ms. Nanjo is a very exacting Miranda Priestley lookalike who doesn’t care for Mayuko’s frumpiness.
Why You Should Watch: Spritely and good-natured, this is probably the nicest show that ever existed set in the world of fashion. While its lack of sex and bitterness may seem incredibly naive, it’s a refreshing break from the deeper, darker fare that can weigh heavily on viewers who are already feeling emotionally taxed. This is pure bubble gum, with some cultural curiosities thrown in. Check it out for a mental vacay.
Premise: Teenager Kato (Lynn Van Royen) doesn’t have a memory of the last 24 hours, but when she wakes in a hotel with blood on her hands and sees a body in the tub that looks like her, that’s just the start of the bizarre and creepy murder mystery story. As it turns out, what she saw was her own dead self — that means she’s a ghost… or something. Coming to terms with her new existence while trying to catch her murderer will be a challenge, but at least five people can somehow see and speak to her.
Why You Should Watch: This Belgian crime drama could hold its own among other small-town TV murder mysteries, with its slow-burn storytelling and gorgeous imagery. But the supernatural element gives it extra oomph, as adding another layer onto the mystery: What is Kato? Why do those five people see her? And what happens if/when she solves her own grisly murder? Van Royen is compelling as Kato from the very first frames, and it’s hard not to mourn the loss of her character, even though she’s right in front of our eyes.
Premise: In the near future, the Norwegian Green Party has risen to counter the devastating effects of climate change, and the new Prime Minster Jesper Berg declares that the country will stop fossil fuel production altogether and will start to rely on a thorium-based nuclear power. But, since all of Europe is suffering from a recession caused by the energy crisis, drastic measures are taken. The EU requests that Russia initiate a velvet glove invasion of Norway in order to get their oil and gas production started up again.
Why You Should Watch: Fifteen minutes in, the pilot takes off at a frantic pace, throwing the viewer into geopolitical waters with gusto. It’s a fascinating, speculative look into a rather far-fetched future, and gets even more complicated as the series rolls along, taking the time to look at how this occupation also affects the average citizen. It’s also intriguing to see how the United States reacts to this crisis in an alternate reality.
Premise: Rita seems far too cool to be a school teacher. She can layer a T-shirt, flannel and leather jacket effortlessly, takes smoke breaks in the bathroom before class and has at least one colleague offering to help her, you know, unwind. She also happens to be a damn good teacher who uses unconventional methods to get to her students to really think and doesn’t suffer bullshit. Her romantic life, however, is a different story when she runs into an old flame unexpectedly.
Why You Should Watch: This lighthearted comedy feels entirely natural, and Mille Dinesen as Rita is utterly entrancing as a young mom who’s done well by her three grown children. Rita’s sharp wit and charming bluntness give way to uncertainty, and she finds that she’s still growing up alongside her kids. Also, the series’ main titles featuring a changing cat’s cradle design is just as cool as Rita is.
Premise: ”Spiral” is the French answer to “True Detective,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “The Wire,” and has been engrossing viewers overseas since 2005. Each season of the crime and judicial drama usually has one central mystery, with Parisian police captain Laure Berthaud leading her men into the fray to investigate. Her methods sometimes are questionable, but she’s tough and gets results.
Why You Should Watch: While the premise is immediately familiar to American audiences, “Spiral” doesn’t trot out rote stories. It delves into the psychological darkness of the human heart with intelligence and doesn’t shy away from the brutality of murder, even if the victim is a baby, or when the supposed good guys start making shady deals. Four seasons of the International Emmy-winning series are available to stream.
Premise: Set in 1950s Spain, this is the epitome of a nighttime soap. Prestigious fashion store heir Alberto has fallen for Ana, the seamstress who works there, and their Cinderella romance is just part of the melodrama that unfolds.
Why You Should Watch: Although this series only reaches the depths of a kiddie pool, there’s something comforting to its throwback vibe. Like the films of that era, reality and logic aren’t huge factors here, but the cinematic tropes, high style and gorgeous fashions are enjoyable enough to compensate. Plus, Alberto is played by Miguel Angel Sylvestre, whom Netflix audiences may know better as Lito from “Sense8.” Four seasons of “Velvet” are currently available on Netflix.
For more recommendations, check out Part 1 of Netflix’s best foreign language shows list and The Best Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Acquired Series You’re Not Watching.