The Foreign Side of Netflix
Updated: Jul 2
Netflix is no stranger to producing hit American TV, but have you ever browsed through their foreign show selection? All across the world, from Spain to Germany to Japan, Netflix is producing trending hard-hitters. Topics range from salacious high school murder dramas to teenage drug-seller comedies to exposés on Orthodox Judaism, and more. If you’re interested in exploring some of these subtitled goodies, read on to learn about which ones are worth your time, and which ones should remain off the watch list.
Elite is a 3-season Netflix Spanish television show that was filmed in Madrid, Spain and first released on Netflix in 2018.
It’s impossible to write an article about foreign TV and not mention everyone’s first quarantine indulgence — Elite. This Spanish high school drama was trending on Netflix’s Top #10 TV for quite some time, skyrocketing with a Season 3 release at the beginning of our worldwide lock-down. People might not have thought they needed more drama in their lives, but that was until they pressed play on this rollercoaster. Immediately, viewers are launched into a world of high stakes competition, where adolescents’ cutting personalities are bolstered by incredible amounts of wealth and family power. When low-status outsiders, Christian [Miguel Herrán], Samuél [Itzan Escamilla], and Nadia [Mina El Hammani’ are awarded scholarships to attend their private school, what follows is an unpredictable series of events that unfold from the explosive opening scene of each season. The interweaving of outsiders and insiders, with the lines slowly blurring between who is who, keeps viewers hooked. Whether it’s unrequited love, wild sex, or family drama, Elite speaks to the desires and frustrations within all of us. Most viewers are not positioned at the top of an old money society, where big parties and extravagant houses are all the norm, but they can still find themselves in these characters. Albeit exaggerated, the archetypes of Lu, Carla, Marina, Polo, Guzman, and Ander reveal how carnal desire can obliterate almost anything in its path, most especially yourself. Looking for a mouth watering binge? Elite has it all, but be warned that each season’s plot and character’s predict themselves very quickly. It’s not as tasteful for those of us seeking productive, high quality television.
How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)
How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) is a German Netflix Original that was filmed in Germany and first released on Netflix in 2019.
Based loosely on true events, this German mini-series explores the unexpected genesis of two high school nerds turned online drug dealers. Starring Maximillian Mundt as Moritz, and Danilo Kamperidis as Lenny, these two best friends are kept together by their low status on the high school totem pole and their dreams of running an online business. After being dumped by his long-term girlfriend, Lisa [Anna Klenke], when she returns from studying abroad, Moritz finds himself crushed by the reality of their broken plans to one day escape to college in America. Lisa, to his surprise, is no longer the lovable nerd he fell in love with, as she now prefers hanging out with popular kids and drug dealers. What starts as an innocent plan to win her over with (stolen) ecstasy ultimately evolves into a cooperation of Mortiz’ and Lennys’ online drug-selling business. The show is expertly composed, with keen visual graphics depicting drugs as both revelatory and dangerous. The unique documentary/flashback narrative (think Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers) and remarkable editing make this show a must-see for any foreign television enthusiasts. Though a little silly, viewers find themselves eager to follow the crazy adventures of Moritz, Lenny, Lisa, and her friends. If you’re also interested, check out this low-commitment six-episode series on Netflix. And if you’re really feeling lazy and don’t want to read subtitles, you can flip on the English dub. I plead guilty.
Unorthodox is a Netflix Original mini-series that was filmed in New York and Berlin and released on Netflix in 2020.
Unorthodox is a cinematic triumph. I was utterly amazed not only by the poignancy of the story, but by the careful genius with which it was constructed. Using a clever non-linear narrative alternating between the past (where our protagonist, Etsy [Shira Haas] still lives in her ultra-orthodox community in Brooklyn) and present (where she has made her escape to Berlin), this show hits all the emotional right cords — including some that you wouldn’t expect. With beautiful cinematography by Wolfgang Thaler, the sights and scenery come alive on screen. As is my habit, I did not binge all four episodes in one day. Regardless, I could not keep my mind from wandering to Etsy and her troubles throughout the week. The truth behind her Hassidic community in Brooklyn proved jarring for someone as reform as myself. I watched her be subjected to strict rules and sexist beliefs that make today’s feminists scream in protest. Sometimes, it seemed like Etsy herself would scream, but she didn’t. She had learned how to stay silent, obedience being the only form of success. At 19 years old, married off to a stranger and trapped in a world with ideologies she did not live up to, Etsy embarked on a brave and terrifying journey to start her life anew in a foreign country. What follows is a harrowing and triumphant story that reveals just how much love and passion will thrive, no matter the desperate circumstances they are born in.
Hopefully these few recommendations will keep you satiated for now, but that’s not all for foreign Netflix dramas. If you enjoyed even one of them, I encourage you to keep watching more. Shows like Money Heist and Fauda have garnered their own prominent fanbases. Don't let the subtitles scare you! Explore the foreign side of Netflix, and you will be amazed at the incredible stories that exist in communities far different from your own.