Have you seen Lupin yet? Have you been glued to all four seasons of Money Heist? Are you binging Call My Agent? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, you’re not alone. During the pandemic, viewership of foreign language TV series has soared, with Americans watching 50 percent more foreign content on Netflix in 2020.
The European influence
TV shows from Spain (Money Heist) and Germany (Barbarians, Dark) proved popular last year but Americans also watched Danish post-apocalyptic series The Rain and Mexico’s steamy thriller Dark Desire. This year, the TV world has had its heart stolen by French thief Lupin, Netflix’s biggest French original by far, with 70 million households tuned in worldwide.
These bingeworthy series have followed successes like the German/US production Deutschland 83, broadcast on Hulu. And it arguably all started with the Scandinavian noir craze that spawned a dizzying round of remakes and broadcasts of original series like The Bridge and The Killing.
A lack of entertainment
Of course, through the challenges of the pandemic, when many have been forced to spend long periods at home sheltering in place, we could assume that we’d watch pretty much anything. TV is one of the only forms of entertainment and escapism available to us. The filming of new seasons of favourite shows have been postponed, leaving a vacuum to be filled.
There’s also the fact that spending all our time at home may make us yearn to see somewhere different. Even if that somewhere is a bleak Scandinavian wilderness with a killer on the loose – but much more so if you’re watching a gentleman thief and master of disguise run around Paris outwitting everyone in sight.
But that analysis doesn’t take into account the earlier successes enjoyed by foreign-language TV shows and movies, which have been stealthily and steadily gaining viewers.
Streaming services like Netflix are one thing. They have international audiences and so you can expect them to also have international series and films available. But if you’re looking for proof that the US has broadened its cultural horizons, there’s the fact that HBO has introduced two non-English-language series on primetime. My Brilliant Friend is a prestigous adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s worldwide bestseller, told in Italian and Neapolitan. While Spanish-language comedy Los Espookys is an oddball comedy about a group of Mexican goths.
In an audio essay for the BBC, Hasting trumpeted the streaming service’s investment in global shows, such as Money Heist, arguing that they “translate across borders because they reflect universal truths.”
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen our members watching more content from other countries or cultures. In part, that’s because people have had more time to explore our service,” he said. “[But] in part, it’s because we’re discovering that the more global we become, the more important it is that we work with local, diverse creators to tell local, authentic stories that speak to us all.”
There was a time when many English speakers had no interest in local, authentic stories, unless they were delivered without subtitles. But that time has long passed. Boosted by streaming services and bolstered by broader horizons, foreign-language TV shows are enjoying a growing following.
So, now that we’ve given you some ideas about what to binge next on Netflix, you’ve got some spare time to put to good use – sorting out your life insurance.
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