10 Non-American TV Series You Must See!

Television Favourites

For Your Viewing Pleasure

I’ve cobbled this list together because I really think you need to watch these. A couple of them have been remade in North America and these remakes are not as good as the original versions. And that’s a shame. I had eagerly anticipated the re-makes but was regrettably disappointed.

That being said, the following titles have amazed with quality of writing, the bravery of the performances, the risks taken by all concerned. You’ll probably notice that some names crop up more than once in the list. It’s an odd thing, but you have to give the credit to people involved in consistently good projects and who bring their “A” game to each one.

One thing I really like about these European productions is that the people seem real. They look real. They’re like people I see every day in real life. American television seems to only use actors who represent some network executive’s idea of physical perfection. Don’t get me wrong: I do like some North American productions and I will probably compile a list of those ones in the future.

Inside No. 9
Inside No. 9

Be invited into very different No. 9s, where the ordinary and mundane rub shoulders with the extraordinary and macabre. From a grand country house where a game of ‘sardines’ leads to some chilling revelations in a wardrobe; to a very oddly haunted house; to a blood-soaked actor’s dressing room in London’s West End; to the flat of an apparently happy primary school teacher who becomes the victim of a good deed; these unpredictable tales feature high comedy and claustrophobic horror by turns.Created and Written by Steve Pemberton and Reece SheersmithAppearances by Timothy West, Oona Chaplin, Ophelia Lovibond, Sophie McShera, Paul Copley, Helen McCrory

My thoughts:
Some great writing here. A couple of the episodes – like “A Quiet Night In” – are bloody hilarious. They all have a sense of humour to them and they all have a positively cringe-worthy insights into human interaction. Mr Pemberton and Mr Sheersmith appear in each episode in some compacity, not always in the lead the roles.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

With magic long since lost to England, two men are destined to bring it back; the reclusive Mr. Norrell and daring novice Jonathan Strange. So begins a dangerous battle between two great minds.Based on the novel by Susanna Clarke

Starring Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan, Marc Warren and Charlotte Riley

My thoughts:
I was utterly surprised by this one. Fantastic art direction, a fun idea and mixture of history and fantasy. What if magic had been used to fight Napoleon? Great character work from everyone involved. The best thing about it for me? The question of redemption. Throughout the tale, the questions about who is evil and who is good and who has the best motives are continually in play.
Last Tango In Halifax
Last Tango in Halifax

Re-united after 50+ years apart, Celia and Alan decide to marry. At age 16, Alan’s late wife failed to pass on his letter with apology for missing first date and forwarding address. Both now have daughters with lover troubles.Written and Created by Sally Wainwright

Starring Anne Reid, Derek Jacobi Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker

My thoughts:
Again, taken by surprise. This seems like it should be so boring and trite, but Ms Wainwright is so good at filling out her characters and making them as flawed as they are humane that the people are irrestistable. What is the most fun for me is that you just watch these people make horrible choices are mistakes or open their mouths at the wrong time, and most of the time they are doing it with the best of possible intentions. Just when you think everything is going to fine and they’ll all be happy… somebody says something so small and insignificant and it opens a wound in someone else. It’s cringe inducing and delicious. Oh… and some of the establishing shots? Jaw-dropping beauty of the Yorkshire country-side. I can’t wait to visit it.
Happy Valley
Happy Valley

Catherine is a no-nonsense police sergeant who heads up a team of officers in a rural Yorkshire valley. When a staged kidnapping spirals out of control turning into a brutal series of crimes, Catherine finds herself involved in something significantly bigger than her rank, but unknowingly close to home.Written and Created by Sally Wainwright

Starring Sarah Lancashire, Steve Pemberton, James Norton, Joe Armstrong, Charlie Murphy and Siobhan Finneran

My thoughts:
Wow.  I cannot express  to you how good this show really is. Don’t let the title fool you. Sarah Lancashire is brilliant, as is the whole cast. Steve Pemberton puts in a great version of one of his low-status characters and what a pleasure it is to see Alun Armstrong’s son, Joe, carrying on the family tradition with such skill. The story is down-to-earth, compelling and frightening. There are some real gut-wrenching moments here. Interesting to note that this was also created by Sally Wainwright (Last Tango…) and it’s also set in Yorkshire. Ms Wainwright may be one of the best things going in British Television right now.
Black Mirror
Black Mirror

A television anthology series that shows the dark side of life and technology.Create by Charlie Brooker

Appearances by Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Jodie Whittaker, Rafe Spall, Rupert Everett, Oona Chaplin, Lydia Wilson, Jon Hamm, Rakie Ayola,Hayley Atwell and Lenora Crichlow

My thoughts:
This is bloody great. There was only one episode that didn’t really do it for me, but the rest are absolutely perfect. Every story takes current technology or cultural trope and just tweaks it a little bit – pushing it a little further ahead in our possible time-line. They all seem like entirely possible futures that are just a year to a decade away. Take each one as a warning. No preaching is going on, more positing. Watch it with people with whom you like to discuss ideas, because there is tons to chew on here.
The Syndicate
The Syndicate

Season 1 is about 5 poor workers in a supermarket in Leeds whose lives turn upside down after they jointly win the lottery, and then in Series 2 it’s the turn of a team of hospital staff.Written by Kay Mellor

Season 1 Starring: Lorraine Bruce, Timothy Spall, Matthew Lewis, Matthew McNulty, and Joanna Page

My thoughts:
Such a simple idea. Each season takes a different group of people who chipped in together to buy tickets in Britain’s National Lottery. We watch as Ol’ Dame Fortune spins her wheel. It’s painful, joyous, funny, surprising, shocking. So much could have gone wrong with this series. I was delighted with how well the creative team kept the quality up. There is, apparently, a USA version… I shudder to think. If you dare watch that one, let me know how it goes…
Äkta Människor

Äkta Människor – Real Humans (Swedish)

In a parallel present new technology and advancements in the field of science have made it possible to manufacture a product – a kind of mechanized servant – that is so similar to a real human that it can often be considered a perfectly good substitute. As an ever growing number of people form relationships with their Human Robot (HUBOT), the boundaries between human and machine become blurred and thorny legal questions begin to rise: Who is responsible for the actions of a hubot? Do hubots have some form of “hubot rights”? Should they be paid for their work? When humans make copies of themselves which are so close to the real thing they form emotional bonds, the questions arises: What does it really mean to be ‘human’?

Created by Lars Lundström

Starring: Lisette Pagler, Pia Halvorsen, Johan Paulsen, Anki Larsson, Alexander Stocks, and Måns Nathanaelson

My thoughts:
I watched the first two episodes of the english language version that just started up and was disappointed. Not sure why, exactly. I think perhaps because the swedish version took the time to set things up and wasn’t so worried about jumping right into things. It’s a much more leisurely pace that ends up making us care more about the characters. And I prefered the performances in the swedish original as well. As much as I like William Hurt, there was something so off-kilter about his analogous character in the swedish version and the relationhip with his hubot (Odi) – it becomes hilarious and frightening at the same time. I missed that in the USA verion. Also, the swedish version does more showing than telling. Mimi’s relationship with the family (Anita in the US verion) is very enigmatic and tentative. The changes in the dynamics between the family members are so well observed – nothing is rushed, we watch it happen beat by beat. I find it so much more satisfying when questions linger.
Rev.

Rev.

The misadventures of an Anglican vicar, his wife, and a small but odd group of parishioners in London.

Created by Tom Hollander and James Wood

Starring: Tom Hollander, Oivia Colman, Steve Evets, Miles Jupp and Simon McBurney

My thoughts:
This is terrific comedy. What’s interesting is that each season has a story arch and each episode has guide posts. For example, at a certain point in each episode, Adam sits down on the bench outside the church and commisserates with Colin. There are about 4 of these guide posts. It’s a formula. But it works. Adam is a guy who struggles to do the right thing, really wants to think the best of his fellow man/woman, wrestles with his humanity as he tries to be godly. It’s really quite beautiful and real, and the comedy is, at times, uncomfortably painful. Just the way I like it.
Broadchurch

Broadchurch

A seemingly calm and friendly seaside town becomes a town wrapped in secrets when the death of an eleven year old boy sparks an unwanted media frenzy. As the town’s locals start to open up about what they do and don’t know, it falls upon the police to catch the supposed killer.

Created by Chris Chibnall

Starring David Tennant and Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buckan and Arthur Darvill

My thoughts:
Don’t even bother with Gracepoint. I have friends who appeared in Gracepoint, and I think they did a great job, but the US producers just don’t understand what it is that makes Broadchurch the fantastic thriller that it is. And really, it all comes down to casting. Compare the following: Olivia Colman (UK) versus Anna Gunn (US) or Arthur Darvill (UK) versus Kevin Rankin (US). Now, I’m not comparing their acting ability here. What I’m comparing is look. The thing about film and television is that what someone looks like is very important. ‘Look’ is part of how the story is told. US casting tends to be so obvious. Kevin Rankin looks a bit shady so we suspect him, especially because he’s a priest and we all know what priests are like around little boys. Yes, the story does put the priest out there as a possible suspect but … ugh … can’t we suspect him because of circumstances rather than because he looks like a wierd bad guy? The UK casting is so enigmatic. Everyone looks like a normal person. Our heroine isn’t blonde and beautiful and possible a model in her spare time; she a little frumpy (No offense Ms Colman, I like you that way) She’s had baby after all. The local priest actually looks like a nice fellow: what a relief! He wouldn’t do anything baaa…. Wait a second… what did he just say???? We much more likely to be surprised by word and action in the UK version. Also, the cinematography of Broadchurch leaves Gracepoint far behind. Broadchurch is so creative with its camera shots, angles and lighting, that at times it takes away one’s breath. Gracepoint? blah. Routine. And just wait til you get into the second season of Broadchurch. Oh my! It’s a ride and a half, my friends.
Utopia

Utopia

After a group of people, who meet online, discover a bizarre graphic novel which seems to hold mysterious answers, they find themselves being tracked down by a merciless organization known merely as ‘The Network’.

Created by Dennis Kelly

Starring Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Alexandra Roach, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Adeel Akhtar and Neil Maskell

My thoughts:
I have no idea how I stumbled upon this series, but I’m glad I did. It’s got a great sense of humour, fantastic ‘down the rabbit hole’ feeling, and a good yarn to drag you along. And the sound-track! I could listen to the sound-track by itself and be happy! Some highlights: Neil Maskell’s characterization of ‘Arby’ is chilling, and disarmingly sad. Alexandra Roach displays amazing comic timing with her Welsh accent; I got giggles everytime she sayed “EE-Yun”. Great camera work and colour palette. I think you should have to take a shot of whiskey everytime someone gets shot in the head. Someone just delighted in squibs exploding out of people’s heads – it almost gets funny in a horribly surreal way. And finally, Fiona O’Shaughnessy is delicous to watch; you never know what to expect from her and she gets pretty eerie at times. Watch it. Don’t know if they are coming back for another season, and I’m not sure I want them to. I can’t imagine how they could possibly keep things up to the level they’ve sustained over two seasons.

So there you go. Ten series you must see.

I’d love to hear what you thought of them once you’ve seen them, and what series have work on you the way these have on me.

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6 Responses to 10 Non-American TV Series You Must See!

  1. You might like ‘Life on Mars’, the British original, not the American remark which is terrible.

    • Anthony says:

      Yes I agree with you. British Life on Mars is quite good, though I think it sort of lost its way at some point. Ashes to Ashes, I was rather dubious about, but it won me over and I really enjoyed the whole journey. Gene Hunt is a hero for the ages.

  2. filmandtv101 says:

    Happy Valley was probably one of the best British shows of 2014 if you ask me, the acting and the storyline were both amazing. A couple of shows that I think are equally as good are Ripper Street and No Offence.

    • Anthony says:

      I loved Ripper Street, even though it seems to lose its taughtness toward the end. Perhaps the pressure of wrapping things up does that. And No Offence – my, my – what a refreshing show! Damn funny, dark and inventive twists. A major plus for this one: Great to see women in the all the major roles.

      What did you think of WhiteChapel?

      • filmandtv101 says:

        I only saw the final season of Whitechapel, and I was quite disappointed by it. I’d been told that it was very dark and there was potential for it to scare, but the ones I watched weren’t that. It was alright, but I don’t think until I see the other seasons I’ll find it anything to write home about.
        Ooooh, wait, I forgot about Luther! Have you seen that?

    • Anthony says:

      Yes, the final season was not as good. I think what I enjoyed about Whitechapel itself was Rupert Penry-Jones in such a priggish role. Seeing him in Spooks, Silks and then this, I was quite delighted at the range he displays with apparent ease. Also, I’m a big Philip Davies fan… so…
      Luther is brilliant. A very gritty show. I was prepared not to enjoy it, but got completely sucked into it.

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