Babylon Berlin, Image: X Filme

    The best European shows to watch on Netflix

    2 December 2020

    With stress-free foreign holidays looking unlikely for the time being, anyone needing a spot of continental culture can instead look online for their fix.

    Netflix and Amazon boast archives full of foreign language dramas that they have been snapping up for years. Here are eight of the best from Europe:

    Caliphate (Netflix)

    While it’s certainly no-one’s idea of a relaxing watch, Swedish thriller Kalifat – the most viewed original on the country’s SVT network – is one of the most reliably bingeable mini-series on all of Netflix.

    Beginning with a regretful ISIS bride trying to negotiate her way back to Sweden – by offering authorities information on a future terror attack in exchange for safe passage – this taut terrorism thriller has you hooked quicker than any show since Bodyguard.

    Admittedly some of the later twists beggar belief, but Kalifat is at its best when getting inside the heads of the women – many still in their teens – caught up in the brutal Jihadi network. A must watch.

    Babylon Berlin (Amazon Prime/Now TV)

    The most expensive German television product ever (and the most influential since Das Boot), Babylon Berlin is a richly-plotted neo-noir set in Weimar Germany.

    Like Downton Abbey or Deadwood, the show is fascinating not just for its central storylines (though those are reliably excellent) but for the way it gives us a viewing platform into such a tumultuous period of history.

    With the ill-fated Republic clinging on for dear life (and everyone from Soviet agents to anarchists and would-be Brownshirts vying for power) Babylon Berlin is a portrait of a society on the edge of collapse – but having one hell of a ball before it goes under.

    Dark (Netflix)

    When a young boy goes missing in modern-day rural Germany only for a separate body to turn up in 1980s’ clothing, residents start to suspect something seriously strange is going on.

    Taking place over three separate time periods – 1953, 1986 and 2019 – Dark is a complicated and rewarding German thriller that’s drawn comparisons to Stranger Things and Twin Peaks.

    As the time-travel plot expands, the series moves away from murder mystery and becomes more of an intelligent sci-fi, as characters from across the splintered timelines try to work together to solve the other-worldly mystery that have brought them together.

    Money Heist (Netflix)

    Spanish drama Money Heist (or La casa de papel) has become a ratings sensation for Netflix – just not in the English-speaking world.

    Kicking off with an impossibly-stylish team of international crooks plotting to take over the Spanish mint, this siege epic has seduced audiences with its telenovela-style romantic plots and unashamedly melodramatic twists.

    Despite being one of the most streamed shows in Netflix history, Money Heist has only a small  following over here – though its distinctive aesthetic is starting to break through. If you’ve ever seen a red cloaked figure in a cartoonish Dali mask on Instagram lately, now you know why.

    Suburra: Blood on Rome (Netflix)

    Beginning with an audacious plot to blackmail a sex-addicted priest, Suburra soon becomes something resembling a buddy drama as three unlikely allies – a Sinti-speaking closeted gypsy, a would-be policeman, and a gangland heir – team up to try to take control of Rome.

    While there are plenty of flashy guns and cars on show (would Netflix ever commission a crime series without them?), Suburra is a cut above the average mafia yarn, creating an almost claustrophobic sense of what it’s like to be caught up in the underworld.

    But for all the snarling gangster types on show, it’s notable that the show’s star turn comes from former Italian showgirl Claudia Gerini who plays the superbly-corrupt advisor to the Holy See, Sara Monaschi.

    Call My Agent (Netflix)

    Like a Gallic answer to Curb Your Enthusiasm, cult comedy Call My Agent has been lapped up by French viewers for its affectionate yet waspish take on the country’s artistic traditions.

    Just look at the guest-stars who have been drawn to the show – with the likes of Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Huppet and Juliette Binoche all appearing in recent years. Gerard Depardieu, meanwhile, is rumoured to be due a turn in the upcoming season.

    And even those of us dependent on the subtitles can still appreciate the whip-smart Succession-esque dialogue that’s won praise from critics and fans alike.

    The Valhalla Murders (Netflix)

    While the Nordic noir genre is so well established it could probably have its own dedicated streaming service, The Valhalla Murders is one of only two efforts from plucky Iceland to make it to Netflix.

    Revolving around a suitably grisly plot involving child abduction from a state institution, the eight-part series weaves in enough clever procedural twists to have fans of the genre keenly watching every move.

    Of course being Icelandic, The Valhalla Murders does have one secret weapon when it comes to its regional counterparts: the sheer amount of breathtaking scenery on show. Prepare to get some serious landscape envy.

    Elite (Netflix)

    Billed as Spain’s answer to Gossip Girl, Elite is a knowingly trashy – but no less engaging – romp about three working-class teens who end up transferred to a school for the children of the super-rich.

    Making liberal use of flash forwards – in which the previously cocksure teens are quizzed in custody – the first season slowly builds towards an almost implausible murder, after which things only get wilder.

    Having established itself as a guilty pleasure for people who wouldn’t otherwise own up to watching it, Elite has just been renewed for its fourth and final season. All things being well, it’s due to arrive on Netflix in 2021.