Best TV Shows With Subtitles
“On Friday night, I was reading my new book, but my brain got tired, so I decided to watch some television instead.” Stephen Chbosky
Since I can’t actually travel right now, I’m traveling to a different country, one TV series at a time. These shows take me to different places and different cultures. As the virus continues, I’m sure I will be adding more to this list.
Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories (Japan) Netflix
I used to love eating after midnight in college. There’s something about eating with people at odd hours that inclines one toward romance or deep philosophical discussion.
Based on the manga of the same name, the story follows a man who owns an izakaya in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, (translated into diner) which is open from midnight-7AM. Each episode follows the story of a customer with ties to a particular dish from his past. The diner serves as a meeting place for the episode’s featured characters, while the owner—referred to only as “Master”—offers sage, down-to-earth advice. The patrons range in backgrounds, from taxi drivers to physicists, writers, actors, gamblers, gang members, drag queens and strippers. There are several regulars who appear in each episode and interact with the featured character. There is nothing epic in the stories and the characters are often based on stereotypes. What I particularly love is that the setting allows them to let their guard down organically, alone in a small diner in the early morning, with no one but the proprietor to intrude on their journey of self-discovery. It facilitates a sense of separateness—almost outside of reality—where people who might otherwise be considered nobodies or oddballs can express and share their humanity. It is our favorite show. In these troubled times, it reminds us that everyone has a story and reflects a truth of what it means to be human.
Shtisel (Israel) Netflix
Shtisel is a drama featuring an ultra Orthodox family in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem. The depiction of ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture is just fascinating. At the heart of “Shtisel” is the relationship between Shulem Shtisel, a recently widowed religious school principal, and his youngest son, Akiva, a bachelor who still lives at home. There is true love between them, but their relationship is fraught with tension over Akiva’s still being single, as well as over his preference for making art instead of studying and teaching Torah. The other main plot lines deal with Giti, one of Shulem’s daughters, and her family. Her husband, Lipa, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of supporting a large family, goes abroad (ostensibly for a job) and disappears for months. Left to raise and financially support the children on her own, Giti almost falls apart under the strain. Additional strands of the dramatic narrative involve other members of the extended Shtisel family and their friends and neighbors in Geula. The Haredi lifestyle is presented as a given, and by and large the characters do not strain against its strictures. At the same time, the series does not shy away from dealing with real-life issues and the fact that all of them have “vices”. The peculiarity and foreignness of the show combined with the universal and familiar feeling of what goes on in families completely won me over. I watched it once by myself and again with the BF who also loved it.
Broadchurch (United Kingdom) Netflix
I discovered Broadchurch by accident. Like True Detective, Season One revolves around one murder case. I was on the edge of my seat trying to guess who murdered Danny Latimer. Everyone looks suspicious. Each time I thought I knew who the murderer was, a new clue came up and secrets popped out and I had to guess again. i watch a lot of detective shows and I’m pretty good at figuring out the culprit but this one had me stumped. Broadchurch was the most popular show in The UK when it came out and I can see why. The cast is superb led by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman and David Tennant. It is a fully immersive drama that will grip you from the first episode. Unfortunately, the other two seasons are not as good. But, the character development is brilliant and they have great chemistry, so I stuck with them. Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Charlotte Rampling appear in the second season. The natural beauty of the town (the Jurassic coast-now on my list of places to go) and the people that populate Broadchurch allow it to rise above the usual detective series.
Made In Heaven (India) Amazon
I absolutely adore Made In Heaven and can’t wait for Season 2. The story follows Karan and Tara as they manage their wedding planning business of the same name. It seems like a very real take on the wedding industry of the very rich in India. Each episode focuses on a different, unbelievably beautiful wedding while the characters navigate their very complicated lives. Kabir and Jaspreet work for Made In Heaven and are dealing with complications of their own. Kabir often narrates the videos of the weddings and they’re always wonderful observations and really tug at your heart. Each wedding tells a story of India, undisguised and unsweetened. They don’t shy away from politics or religion and there is always a message of hope.
Bordertown (Finland) Netflix
Bordertown follows Kari Sorjonen, a shockingly great detective (definitely on the spectrum), who decides he needs a break from the horrors he sees everyday in Helsinki. This is understandable as no horror is too scary for this show. Kari moves his sick wife and teenage daughter to a family house in Lappeenranta, a town that borders the edges of Finland and Russia. At first it seems nice. However, if you’re in a crime drama, things are never nice for long. Though Bordertown has the brooding, dark environments and intense acting of similar shows, the series is more of a family-focused drama with a killer on the loose. There are horrific crimes happening in the background — almost all of them are done to young, sexualized women. The main narrative is about this one tired, brilliant investigator who just wants to have dinner with his family. I loved the first two seasons but I couldn’t make it through the first episode of the third season. It became way too dark and gory for me.
Fauda (Israel) Netflix
An Israeli show about an elite team of commandos looking to infiltrate a terrorist group with ticking time bombs and evil masterminds does not seem all that different from many post 9/11 shows. What makes it different and worth watching is the relationships between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It shows a bit more realistic portrayal of how they are willingly and unwillingly entangled into each others lives. Fauda follows a group of Israeli undercover agents, known as mista’arvim, who carry out counter-terror operations in the West Bank by blending in to become indistinguishable from local Palestinian residents. I think it does a good job of showing both the good and the bad on both sides. . It is clear that the two sides are past the point of no return in being able to coexist, yet they cannot bring themselves to do what is needed to end their mutually destructive relationship. The cast and directors are both Israeli and Palestinian and though there are many political critiques it is definitely a binge watch.
Henning Mankell’s Wallender (Sweden) Netflix
Wallander is the popular 62-year-old hero of a group of novels by Henning Mankell, the best-selling Swedish crime novelist. The inspector lives alone, except for his beloved dog, tends to be morose, is a good cop and a liberal idealist. Detective Wallander is both the beat-up and dysfunctional ex-husband/son/father and a professional who makes honest, human mistakes, but sticks around to see the job through. The BBC made the show as well starring Kenneth Branagh but I watched the original in Swedish. Each episode is an hour and a half and the first season is apparently movies that were based on the different books. In the first episode, Wallander’s daughter Linda returns to Ystad having successfully graduated police training. The difficult relationship between father and daughter is now further complicated by having them work together. I highly recommend watching season one. I get the feeling the other seasons were made into a TV show which was very different than season one and they don’t work as well. I like the casting-they seem more like ordinary people than actors which makes the stories more believable.
Hinterland (Wales) Netflix
Hinterland is set in Aberystwyth, Wales. Speaking scenes were filmed twice, once in English and once in Welsh and was released in both languages. The accent was hard for me but then I got used to it. The series is full of silence. These are not talkative people. They live in a brooding, windswept barren place filled with secrets. And they have their own secrets as well. Tom Mathias stars as a recent addition to the police department in this small coastal town. Mathias is not inclined to explain himself to his officers and they are often left to try to read his mind in hopes of understanding why the investigation is going as it is. He is dedicated to being the tragic figure in this series. Mared Rhys, his partner and an experienced police officer herself, has her own problems. The photography of Western Wales is beautiful but doesn’t look like a place you would want to visit in winter. There are five episodes per season and if you can stick through it to the end of season three, the payoff is good.
Call My Agent (France) Netflix
Call My Agent is about a film talent agency called ASK, and revolves around the agents, their assistants and the film stars they work for. The episodes are filled with gossip, drama and likable relatable characters. In each episode French actors play themselves as clients of the agency. The day-to-day problems are relatively unimportant: the agents are faced with non-compliant actors, try to disseminate false rumors, attempt to reconcile co-stars who have fallen out, wrestle with tarnishing media stories… As well as these behind-the-curtain dramas of the stars, the agents’ private lives are also wrought with entertaining relationship dramas and personal dilemmas. It is a highly, binge worthy watch and just what you need in dark times.
Merli (Spain) (Catalan) Netflix
In the style of “Dead Poets Society,” Merli tells the story of a philosophy teacher in a public secondary school who opens his students minds and makes them question things in a very unorthodox way. His son who has grown up with his mother, now lives with Merli and his grandmother, and is in his class. Every episode is named for a new philosopher. I like the premise but in each episode Merli seems to care more and more about himself. It is less about a great teacher and more about a selfish man that uses his knowledge to justify his actions. Yet for some reason, he still seems to be a good teacher, inspiring his students. There is only one season so it is not a huge commitment and I like watching it. I couldn’t find a trailer with subtitles (the show has them) but you get the idea.