Foreign language TV shows to put on your list

Our writers recommend some foreign language TV shows for your watch list

multiple writers
25th June 2020
It is so important that we don't restrict ourselves in terms of television. There is a whole world of art and culture out there that some people overlook just because it isn't in English. If you're looking to expand out for your summer TV show binges, here's a few we recommend.


The only languages I've ever really studied properly are French and Spanish - so they tended to be the only languages I would watch TV shows and films in. I can now say that that's absolutely a huge mistake. Because earlier this year, Netflix released their first original four-part TV show primarily spoken in Yiddish, Unorthodox, following a young, recently married 19 year old woman, struggling to fit in with her new life and role within the New York Hasidic community.

Credit: IMDb

Unorthodox is by no means an easy watch. The Hasidic community has a set way of life, especially for female members such as Esty. Throughout the season, we see flashbacks to intimate moments alone with her husband, who refuses to take part of the responsibility for the failing relationship. At the end of each episode there's a stark reminder that a lot of this really did happen; the first credit reads "Inspired by the book Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman". It might involve fictional elements to protect the privacy of those involved, but the crux of the show is based on hard-hitting truth.

And somehow it feels almost unbelievable, not during the large, plot-based scenes, but in little bits interjected throughout Esty's journey. When she has to have someone teach her how to use a computer. But "‘if you can Google ‘Is there a God?’ it’s hard to stop people leaving a religious community.’" said Feldman.

I can only hope that this is only the start of Netflix bringing more underrepresented voices

Unorthodox is a beautiful series to watch. Visually, it's stunning - the traditional styles of the Hasidic community contrast with the vibrance and freedom of Berlin. Esty's journey is certainly an inspiring one. And as she learns to find her voice, both physically and metaphysically, I can only hope that this is only the start of Netflix bringing more underrepresented voices, communities and stories to light.

Harriet Metcalfe


Skam (translated into English as Shame) is a Norwegian teen drama created by Julie Andem. This show ended 3 years ago but it remains to be one of my favourite shows of all time. The web series ran for four seasons, with each one focusing on a specific main character. It was truly a show for our generation; while airing, a new clip, text conversation or social media post was published in real time on the NRK website every day. The clips pieced together to make the weekly episode, and the various posts and texts were vital to the plot. It was something so unique and exciting. I remember having the Twitter notifications on for an account that posted the updates the second they dropped.

Skam was so popular that it inspired many remakes across the world

This show is commended for the ways it tackles important issues. Often with teen dramas, everything is romanticised and the portrayals are often skewed. Skam does not fall into this trap. Season one covers loneliness, self worth and identity. Season two focuses on sexual assault, eating disorders and self love. Season three is all about sexuality and mental health. And finally, season four delves into the world of being a Muslim in Norway as a young teenage girl. Every single season of this show was incredible. Watching it as a teenager at the time, it helped me in so many ways. Despite it specifically being about Norwegian culture, it was still relatable. The experiences of teenagers are universal, after all. Skam was so popular that it inspired many remakes across the world. None of them will quite match up to the original, though.

Credit: IMDb

Skam was a defining show in my young adult life. It does what Skins tried to do without all of the extra drama. It also inspired me to learn Norwegian, which I tried to do for a long time. Maybe I'll pick that back up again. This show is beautiful; lovely cinematography, ELITE soundtracks, incredible acting. I could go on and on. If teen coming of age shows are your thing, please watch this one. You won't regret it.

Amy Brown

Suburra: Blood on Rome

With its first Italian entry, Netflix contributes a show that is stark, unforgiving and well-acted. Rome is a complex city. There is an interplay of entrenched powers which all play out in the Italian capital, controlling it in every detail. This series encapsulates these dynamics well through its multi-faceted characters.

Drawing on the real-life events of the Mafia Capitale investigation, the series analyses the interactions between the Catholic Church, organized crime, and politicians. Despite the series threading on familiar stories and almost tired tropes, it is distinguishable in one way: the cinematic sheen that is often applied to Italian stories of crime vanishes almost completely. There is no beauty, no grace in the actions portrayed. Power is not portrayed as a temptation, but rather as an inescapable reality of living in that dimension of the city.

Credit: IMDb

This is accomplished because of the layered characterisation of the three protagonists: Aureliano (Alessandro Borghi), Spadino (Giacomo Ferrara), and Lele (Eduardo Valdarnini). Through their eyes we are able to see the different sides of the criminal history of the city: from that of the gangs, to those of the higher classes. This series was jarring to me: having grown up in the city, I could recognise the realities that were described, despite clearly never having lived through them. They felt foreign, yet extremely believable.

Elisabetta Pulcini

Atiye/The Gift

Atiye/The Gift is a a Turkish web series streaming on Netflix. Based upon a novel by Şengül Boybaş, the series features Beren Serat as Atiye and Mehmet Günsür as Professor Erhan Kurtiz. As Netflix summarises it, the show revolves around Atiye, an abstract painter from Istanbul who sets out on a journey of self-discovery as she "unearths universal secrets about an Anatolian archeological site and its link to her past".

It’s an 8-episode series which revolves around the themes of spirituality and self-discovery. The narrative is refreshing and keeps you hooked long enough to look for the next puzzle piece. Character development takes place for most of the characters as it provides a unique and complex storyline to each of them. The actors are brilliant in their roles; feeling the grief, confusion and loss of connection. The show also comments on the good ol’ relationship between the hunter and lion, with the hunter’s glorified castle falling to ruins due to his own deceits. 

Credit: IMDb

The cinematography is a masterpiece, flaunting the brilliant and exhilarating sights of Turkey. The visual concepts are breath-taking in their synchronisation with the narrative. One of the shots feature Atiye emerging out of a hilltop, lying in a fetus position. It signifies her re-birth as someone who now possesses the knowledge of her true power. The shot epitomises the director’s vision as it creates a fusion of the innate mysticism which lies within a human existence; perhaps the underlying motive of the narrative. This is definitely a show to try out!

Arnojya Shree

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