Fancy a quick trip to Europe without leaving the comfort of your own couch? Tara Ward rounds up the best European drama for your viewing pleasure.
Anyone who reckons travel is the only way to expand your mind has never had the pleasure of lying on a couch for three days while hoovering up several Scandi-noir thrillers and a Russian drama about a florist who masquerades as a pimp. Forget the jetlag, the queues, the strange thrill of finding a tiny jar of Vegemite in a foreign supermarket. There’s a trip of a lifetime to be had from the comfort of your own home, one European TV show at a time.
European drama exploded when Scandinavian shows like The Killing and Wallander became a hit in English-speaking countries during the late 2000s. We couldn’t get enough of these slow, dark dramas filled with haunting landscapes and sulky detectives, and you can see the genre’s influence on more recent British dramas like Shetland, Marcella and Broadchurch. Euro dramas might be bleak and intense, but there’s a quality and richness to this genre that you won’t find elsewhere. It proves that great drama pulls you into its world, wherever that world might be.
TVNZ OnDemand’s European drama collection is television’s version of a Contiki tour, without the hangovers and regret. Dip your toes into international waters and take a quick blat around the continent with a Swedish murder mystery, or a crime thriller set in metropolitan Belgium, or a supernatural drama from the French alps. You’ll also learn how to say “I am a brooding detective with a troubled past” in Flemish, which is bound to come in handy at least once in your life.
European drama always brings one hell of a mood, but with such a variety of cultures, languages and characters on offer, where do you start your TV trip of a lifetime? We’ve handpicked a few highlights to see you on your way.
If you wish Twin Peaks had French zombies in it: The Returned
This chilling French supernatural drama is set in a small mountain community, where the dead suddenly come back to life as if they were never dead in the first place. C’est la vie, you might think, except other weird things start happening that makes everyone begin to freak out. Zombies in France? Ooh la la, indeed.
If you like your comedy so dark you need to turn a light on: An Ordinary Woman
Touted as a cross between Breaking Bad and Happy Valley, this Russian drama follows a woman leading an extraordinary double life. On the surface, florist and mother Marina seems to have it all, but she’s also running a network of prostitutes through a secret WhatsApp group. Women! Such complex beasts.
If you love watching rich period dramas with your frenemies: My Brilliant Friend
HBO’s stunning adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan (no, not the ice cream) novels transports you straight to 1950s Naples and the vivid world of Lenu and Lila, two friends growing up in post-war Italy. It’s a drama that’s both tender and heartbreaking, and will stay with you long after you watch. Even better, season two drops on TVNZ OnDemand on March 10.
If you think the only good thing to come out of Denmark is Lego: Those Who Kill
They know how to make small plastic bricks that make you cry when you stand on them barefoot, but Denmark also makes some bloody good TV. There’s a serial killer on the loose in Those Who Kill, and when a woman is kidnapped in Copenhagen, detective Jan Michelsen is the only one who believes she’s still alive. It’s a cracker of a thriller, even if the murder weapons aren’t made out of Lego.
If you love shows where hardly anybody talks: Rebecka Martinsson: Arctic Murders
Fall down the Scandi-noir rabbit hole with this slow and moody Swedish drama about a lawyer who returns to her sleepy hometown and gets pulled into the hunt for a murderer. Come for the bleak and foreboding landscape, stay for the gripping murder mysteries.
If you love a jaded police officer as much as you love a Belgian biscuit: 13 Commandments
Thou shalt not ignore 13 Commandments, a gritty Flemish thriller about a criminal hellbent on reinterpreting God’s will, and the ambitious detectives hunting him down. At a whopping 13 episodes, this super-sized Dutch language drama is a dark and gruesome watch that’ll have you praying for a happy ending.
If you want to watch a Scandi-noir but set in France: The Disappearance
There’s more twists and turns than the Arc de Triomphe roundabout in this French mystery about a family’s search for their teenage daughter who fails to come home after a night out. The family has to rely on a surly detective to find Lea, but when your family has this many secrets and lies, who can they really trust? Who can they turn to? Why are detectives like that?
If you wish there was more New Zealand in Europe: Straight Forward
If you watch international crime thrillers and are forever shouting “if only they’d filmed this on Lake Wakatipu!”, then Danish-Kiwi crime thriller Straight Forward won’t disappoint. Danish con-woman Silvia is left fuming when her plans to avenge her father’s murder fail, and she flees to New Zealand to start over. The biggest crime she’ll face will be Queenstown’s house prices and the line at Fergburger, but that’s a drama for another day.
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Go to TVNZ OnDemand, where you’ll find a ton of other great shows (…way beyond just what’s played on TV).