TV Editor Matt Dawson looks at some of the subtitled highlights brought to you from around the world by Netflix
As a streaming platform, Netflix is one of the biggest and arguably the most-culturally influential. Without wanting to sound dramatic, it could be said that the company has changed the way we view television altogether. And slowly, they might be helping to introduce another positive change: the exposition of TV shows in languages other than English. This is not the first time something like this has been attempted – Channel 4 launched Walter Presents as part of their online, on-demand service All 4 (and if you haven’t heard of it, you should definitely check it out), but Netflix has the power to take that to a whole new level, especially with their celebrated “Original” stamp. Already there is a lot to choose from, from South Korea teenage dramas to German supernatural thrillers, but here are a few of my personal highlights.
First up is Netflix’s debut original series in the Portuguese language, 3%. It is dystopian thriller set in futuristic Brazil, in which 97% of the population live in poverty while a select 3% are selected once a year to live in luxury in the Offshore. The entire first season revolves around the Process, an annual series of challenges in which young people have to undergo a variety of tasks testing intelligence, leadership and cunning. If you imagine a nightmarish version of The Apprentice mixed with The Hunger Games, you wouldn’t be far off. And much like the film franchise, 3% delivers a solid youth cast, with a standouts being Bianca Comparato as the main protagonist, Michele Santana, and Michel Gomes as Fernando Carvalho, a wheelchair user who has to overcome his disability as well as his economic situation. Another highlight is the series antagonist, Ezequiel (portrayed by João Miguel), a villain as menacing as he is human. With a second season arriving in a matter of weeks, now is the perfect time to catch up, but here’s hoping that 3% succeeds where The Hunger Games failed, in that it can deliver a story following the aftermath of The Process that is just as engaging as during the challenges.
Club de Cuervos
But 3% wasn’t Netflix’s first foreign language original series, that title goes to Club de Cuervos. Meaning Club of Crows in English, Cuervos is a Mexican comedy drama that centres on Isabel and Chava Iglesias (played by Mariana Treviño and Luis Gerardo Méndez respectively) as the sibling rivals who get enveloped in a power struggle for the ownership of Cuervos FC following their father’s death. Part zany comedy, part melodramatic telenovela, Club de Cuervos is equally hilarious and gripping. You don’t need to be an expert in Mexican football to follow the escapades of the Iglesias family – if anything, it left me with an interest to learn more about La Liga MX. An interesting aspect to the show is the focus on the team’s players as well as the action behind the scenes, with the most memorable being Joquín Ferreira as the Argentinian, Potro, Gutemberg Brito as the Brazilian, Rio, and Alosian Vivancos as Aitor Cardoné, a Spanish pastiche of football divas. There is a hilarious side-plot involving Tony (Juan Pablo de Santiago) and his coach, Goyo (Emilio Guerrero), but the show’s hidden gem is Jesús Zavala as the “other” Hugo Sánchez. Luckily, we’ll be able to see more of the bumbling, well-intentioned assistant soon as he returns for a spin-off mini-series this summer to coincide with the World Cup.
La Casa de Papel
Finally, keeping language but switching continents, we have something that I would say is in the running for the best show of 2018. In spite of the lacklustre English name of Money Heist, La Casa de Papel is a highly addictive, two-part mini-series that concentrates on a group of robbers that orchestrate a burglary and hostage situation within the Spanish Royal Mint in Madrid. Known only through their aliases as city names, La Casa de Papel has a distinct Reservoir Dogs or Die Hard feel to it, but it easily surpasses them in that is the most elaborate, multi-day heist that I have seen on film or television. All devised by the enigmatic Professor (portrayed superbly by Álvaro Morte), his back-up plans have back-up plans as he plays a tense game of cat and mouse with Inspector Raquel Murillo (Itziar Ituño). Meanwhile, our point of view comes mainly from Úrsula Corberó’s Tokyo who is a solid protagonist but nowhere near as interesting as some of the supporting characters. Both the robbers and the hostages bring their own personalities and backstories that get elaborated on as the series develops, with personal highlights being the father-son dynamic between Moscow (Paco Tous) and Denver (Jaime Lorente), and the devilishly villainous Berlin (Pedro Alonso). La Casa de Papel is the only show on this list that isn’t a true Netflix original, in that they bought the international distribution rights from Spanish network Antena 3, and sadly it doesn’t seem as if there will be any additional series since they manage to tie the story together by the finale of part two. Still, there are 22 available episodes at around 45 minutes each, so consider it the longest and most compelling heist movie you’ll ever see, and at the very least it will leave you with the song ‘Bella Ciao’ stuck in your head.
Parts 1 and 2 of La Casa de Papel, the first three seasons of Club de Cuervos and the first season of 3% are all available to stream via Netflix, with the second season of 3% arriving on 27th April and La Balada de Hugo Sánchez arrives from 17th June.