It’s a golden age of television in America. But if you’re a binge-watcher, you’re bound to hit a wall eventually.
If you’re the kind of person who watched the entirety of Luke Cage over a weekend or knocked out all of the latest season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in record time, you’ve probably already exhausted all of the other American-made television shows available to you as well. So you can wait for the latest seasons of recent shows to appear or you can step outside your box for a little bit. Might we suggest the latter, because if you’re willing to watch shows with subtitles or deal with the fact that everyone has a different accent than you, your TV viewing life will be richer for it.
One of the best things about Netflix is the way it’s imported some of the best programming from around the world and made it available in a way that we’ve never had before. Even if you just limit the selection to shows from European countries such as England, Sweden, France, and even Iceland, you’re getting the chance to see how they tackle reliable genres like the crime thriller or mystery.
Here are 10 great TV shows recently added to Netflix that will serve as fantastic ways to expand your TV viewing horizons. The world is getting smaller, which only means your entertainment options are getting bigger.
Honorable Mention: We’re excluding Black Mirror from the list because although the show began in the UK, it’s now technically a US production. (Netflix commissioned the third season.) Besides, you’ve probably already heard about it and we can’t think of a good reason why you’re not already watching it.
The Scandi noir genre is a fairly popular one in Europe. The Scandinavian countries just seem to have a knack for making really good crime dramas that dig into the underbelly of humanity in order to try and find the good buried within. American audiences have seen a few of these shows remade with middling success (The Killing, The Bridge). But in most cases, the original remains the superior product.
Iceland, which isn’t Scandinavian but is Nordic, decided to get in on the trend with a crime drama of its own. Case begins with a young girl found hanged in a dance theater and slowly unravels as every character’s life becomes intertwined, as do their fates. It’s a solid entry in the genre, though it can get a bit graphic and unsettling at times. That’s the point, however, as this show delves into some very dark topics.
American audiences mostly know Stellan Skarsgard as a character actor, either showing up as a snooty European or the bad guy. It’s great to see him in the lead role here as Detective Inspector John River, who is haunted by visions of his recently-murdered partner (played by Nicola Walker) and vows to figure out who killed her while also trying to convince those around him that he’s sane.
A great mixture of police procedural and character study, there’s a wonderful balance of humor and pathos sprinkled through. We can only hope that Walker returns for the second season as the show would be lesser without her.
There’s some serious tropes at play here. It’s a crime drama (check) about a damaged female detective (check) forced to revisit an unsolved crime (check) while also dealing with bouts of amnesia (check). That said, the mystery at the heart of the show is solid and the acting is really great across the board.
Battlestar Galactica fans who have been wondering what happened to Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) will be happy to see him pop up here. It’s a classic “everyone is a suspect” storyline but one that plays out in a satisfying way.
Doctor Foster (U.K.)
Not a crime drama, per se, this show is more of a straight-on drama. Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones) is a successful doctor with the perfect family who has to come to terms with the fact that her husband is cheating on her… and that’s just the beginning. A lot of the same plot points and twists that make crime dramas work are at play here, but that’s not the point. The point is watching a woman who seems to have it all unravel and then try to pick up the pieces while revealing along the way that she never quite had it all together in the first place.
It’s the kind of show that leads to real-life discussions between men and women on the unwritten rules of society and how stacked the deck can be against working women in situations like this. It’s an entertaining watch but also as thought-provoking as they come.
Peaky Blinders (U.K.)
Let’s be honest, you’ve probably heard about this one already. We’ve even dedicated a post to its greatness already. Peaky Blinders begins in post-World War I England, specifically the industrial town of Birmingham in 1919 where the titular gang begins to make waves in the world of gambling, booze, weapons and racketeering. The cast is top-notch (Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill, Helen McCrory) and only gets better as the show goes along. (Hello, Tom Hardy.)
We will admit that season three stalled a bit as the show tries to transition the Blinders from cocky upstarts to established bosses. But the first season is as well-paced as any show that’s been made in the last decade, and you’ll be amazed how much you’re rooting for the Blinders while also watching them do horrible things. Such is the power of Cillian Murphy.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (U.K.)
Hard to say if this qualifies as a TV show or really more of a mini-series. While it’s possible that another season could be done, the end of the show fits with the end of the book it’s based on, so it would either have to wait for the written sequel or just go it alone. Either way, audiences would probably love to jump back into this magical world.
Harry Potter fans will eat up this story of an alternate history of England where magic is real and practices by Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) and Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel). When Norrell accidentally unleashes a nasty faerie known as The Gentleman (Marc Warren) on the world, it opens a Pandora’s Box of sorcery and other worlds that the two dueling magicians will have to close in order to save their loved ones and the world.
Les Revenants/The Returned (France)
There was a U.S. remake of this show, but it was garbage and got cancelled so don’t bother. Stick to the original, which itself was an adaptation of a movie called They Came Back. The plot has since been used in multiple TV shows and movies (a group of dead people return from the grave and attempt to reintegrate themselves into their old lives), but it hasn’t been done better than here. There’s a genuine mystery at play and the show doles out reveals and character connections adeptly.
There’s so many touches along the way that make this show a step above. The cinematography is amazing, helped along by the mountainside location. The score, which was done by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, is atmospheric and almost a character unto itself. Even the opening credits, which have a fantastic way of weaving in imagery that only makes sense as the show progresses, is a wonderful mood-setter.
Admittedly, the second season felt rushed and much of that likely had to do with the young boy central to the plot. One wonders if the original plan called for three seasons but when they realized that they were in a race against time with puberty, they decided to complete their story when they could.
Heads up, there are two Wallander TV series on Netflix. One is British and stars Kenneth Branagh (though it is still set in Sweden, for some reason). The other is actually from Sweden. We’re suggesting the latter over the former, if only because we enjoyed watching the character be a bit less shouty.
Based on a popular series of books, the show follows detective Kurt Wallander (Krister Henriksson) as he tries to solve disturbing crimes and deal with his own pain along the way. If you’re looking to understand what it is about Scandi noir dramas that make them different, Wallander is a good place to start. The episodes are a mixture of book-based stories and new stories but there’s always some heavy themes and entertaining plots woven throughout. More than anything, you’ll start to wonder how in the hell Wallander gets out of bed every day given everything he’s seen.
The Fall (U.K.)
Gillian Anderson plays a smart, qualified law enforcement officer in search of the truth and constantly butting heads with men who think they know better. Stop us if you’ve heard that one before.
All due respect to The X-Files, The Fall might be Anderson’s best work. As Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson, she is sent to Northern Ireland and tasked with hunting down a serial killer who preys on women, played by Jamie Dornan. The show wears its themes on its sleeves as Stella is facing patriarchal standards and oversight at every turn. Ultimately, the show is an indictment of male privilege and the perceived power that men think they wield.
Something else that also makes The Fall stand out is that it is, at times, procedure porn. As you watch the way the show painstakingly details how a real crime scene is processed and how an actual emergency room patient is accessed, you realize that every version of those things you’ve ever seen on TV was a lie. There’s a great pleasure in seeing how the show wants to get all of the little things right, which in turn steeps you in it’s reality.
Fair warning, that painstaking concern to process and reality applies to the serial killer as well. And there’s just something about Dornan that really disappears into this sadistic role. Perhaps that’s why his turn in Fifty Shades of Grey feels disconcerting to some.
Another one with an American remake you need to avoid. Despite the fact that Gracepoint also starred the imitable David Tennant, it fell apart under the weight of dodgy writing and a disappointing performance from Anna Gunn. You almost can’t blame her, though. Trying to live up to the performance that Olivia Colman created for Broadchurch might well have been impossible.
The plot is straightforward and not unlike the plots of other shows on this list. A young boy is found dead on a beach and everyone is a suspect. DS Ellie Miller (Colman) and DI Alec Hardy (Tennant) team up to figure out who did it and end up dredging up all of the dirty secrets below the surface of this bucolic seaside town. The plotting is smart, the characters are memorable, and the ending culminates in shocking and unforgettable scenes.
The second season doesn’t quite match up to the first, but it’s still better than most shows out there. A third season is supposedly coming, though one wonders if there’s more story to tell here. The first season, however, might be one of the most well-crafted, tightest seasons of crime mystery storytelling out there. And if you didn’t already know who Colman was, you better learn.