15 International Series to Binge-Watch Over the Holidays

12:32 PM 12/20/2019

by Scott Roxborough

The Hollywood Reporter selects some shows, from Indian action and Korean horror to raunchy Northern Irish comedy, to keep you busy over the holiday season.

'Derry Girls'
'Derry Girls'
Courtesy of Netflix

Whether you like Indian action fare, Korean horror or raunchy Northern Irish comedy, there is an option for you to keep you busy binge-watching over the holiday season. 

The Hollywood Reporter has picked 15 international series to catch up on — or rewatch — over the festive season. The titles range from American-Israeli series Our Boys and India's Made in Heaven to Mexico's The 43, Britain's Derry Girls and McMafia to Canadian Unspeakable and Australia's Mr. Inbetween.

Among the selection are an Asian period action drama that was adapted from an online comic and a very stylish thriller from Belgium on Netflix, a series that imagines what could be in store for an ordinary British family in politically charged times, which is available on HBO Now and DirecTV, a Sundance Now British shortform drama about a marriage under siege, a romance drama on Amazon India and a Dutch affair drama on the PBS Masterpiece Amazon Channel.

Plus, THR also lists a couple of shows that you may have already seen, but may savor again or rewatch with your loved ones (can you say Fleabag?).

Lean back and enjoy a trip to foreign countries courtesy of a selection of 15 international series for the holiday season.

  • 'Kingdom'

    'Kingdom'
    'Kingdom'
    Netflix

    Forget what you think you know about Asian period drama. This Netflix series, adapted from an online comic book, blows up every convention in a wild, satirical horror-adventure tale, ostensibly set during a zombie-like plague in 16th century Korea, a few years after the Japanese invasions of the country. South Korean star Bae Doona, of Cloud Atlas and The Host fame, is a standout as Seobi, an under-appreciated female doctor who joins a plucky band of underdogs, including the outcast Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon) and the enigmatic Yeong-Shin (Kim Sung-kyu), as they race around the country trying to stop the undead while also fighting off a coup masterminded by Minister Cho Hak-ju (Ryu Seung-ryong), whose family has its eye on the throne. The horror and comedy elements lighten and elevate the swashbuckling and palace intrigue typical of the period genre, creating an addictive combination. (Streaming on Netflix)

  • 'Mr. Inbetween'

    'Mr. Inbetween'
    'Mr. Inbetween'
    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    Scott Ryan created the character of Ray Shoesmith — a Sydney strip-club bouncer and occasional hired killer — for his 2005 mockumentary The Magician, and the actor wears Ray like a worn-in leather jacket. Taciturn, sardonic and prone to violence, Ryan's Ray is still compulsively likable, particularly in his unwavering loyalty to his young daughter (Chika Yasumura) and disabled brother (Nicholas Cassim). Season 2 only adds to Ray's complexity as Mr. Inbetween adds layers to its comedic surface and delves deeper into the character's contradictions. (Streaming on FXNow, FuboTV, DirecTV, SlingTV)

  • 'Tabula Rasa'

    'Tabula Rasa'
    'Tabula Rasa'
    Netflix

    This incredibly stylish thriller from Belgium plays with the cues of horror films to tell a twisty story of trauma and mental illness where nothing can be taken at face value. The plot revolves around Annemie “Mie” D’Haeze (Veerle Baetens, who co-wrote the series). She's been locked up in a secure psychiatric hospital, suffering from memory loss and under investigation as a suspect in a missing person's case. Apparently Mie was the last person to see a certain Thomas De Geest alive. That De Geest in Flemish translates to "the ghost" is only the first clue that not all is as it seems in this story. As Mie tries to piece her past together she is haunted by terrifying visions that may or may not be real. Is Mie mentally ill? Is she a victim of gaslighting? Baetens' central performance, together with the excellent writing and directing of Tabula Rasa, keeps the audience questioning what is true and what is imagined. But be warned: try one episode and you'll be hooked for the whole season. (Streaming on Netflix)

  • 'Unspeakable'

    'Unspeakable'
    'Unspeakable'
    SundanceTV

    Canadian writer-producer Robert C. Cooper is best known for his work on the Stargate TV franchise, but this miniseries is deeply rooted in the real world. An exploration of the true-life tragedy that unfolded in the 1980s when Canada’s blood supply was tainted by HIV and hepatitis C (Cooper himself contracted hepatitis from hemophilia treatments during that time), Unspeakable is a straightforward docudrama with a core of bubbling rage at a system that allowed such an unnecessary and avoidable catastrophe to occur. Its tight focus on five affected families might strike some as overly sentimental, but the approach keeps the viewer engaged, and enraged, as the scandal unfolds. (Streaming on SundanceNow)

     

  • 'Years and Years'

    'Years and Years'
    'Years and Years'
    BBC Red Productions/Guy Farrow

    Russell T. Davies, a writer for sci-fi series Doctor Who and Torchwood, as well as on the political miniseries A Very English Scandal, imagines what lies in the future for an ordinary British family in these politically turbulent times. Starting one fateful night in 2019, Davies follows the Lyons family over a decade and a half of political and financial unrest in the United Kingdom. The setup allows Davies to address both macro social and political ideas and the micro developments between people as they address technological anxiety and a growing political divide. His forecast is made all the more terrifying by remaining realistic and plausible. This isn't comfort food, but, arguably, one of the most essential series of the year. (Streaming on HBO Now, HBO Go, DirecTV)

  • 'The Adulterer'

    'The Adulterer'
    'The Adulterer'
    PBS

    The extramarital affair between photographer Iris (Sylvia Hoeks) and lawyer Willem (Fedja van Huêt) is just foreplay for this steamy Dutch drama of intrigue and betrayal. Iris' husband is a state prosecutor, Willem's father-in-law a shady property tycoon under suspicion of criminal activity. As the pair's affair deepens, so do the secrets and lies and the crimes and misdemeanors. Come for the illicit sex, stay for the dirty deeds. (Screening on PBS Masterpiece Amazon Channel)

  • 'State of the Union'

    'State of the Union'
    'State of the Union'
    AMC Networks

    About a Boy writer Nick Hornby created this British shortform drama and his on-point dialogue crackles throughout the story, which explores a couple's disintegrating marriage through a series of counseling sessions. Each episode is a 10-minute scene set just before the sessions, when the pair (played by the always-excellent Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd) meet at a pub across the street to dissect their relationship with fondness and fury. And the whole season clocks in a half-hour short of the running time of Noah Baumbach's divorce drama Marriage Story. (Streaming on Sundance Now)

  • 'Our Boys'

    'Our Boys'
    'Our Boys'
    Ran Mendelson/HBO

    This 10-part dramatization of the real-life kidnapping and murder, in 2014, of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas — an act that sparked brutal retaliation when Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian living in Jerusalem, was kidnapped, beaten and burned alive — offers no easy answers to the questions of fanaticism, fear and violence it explores. But the writing-directing team of Hagai Levi (In Treatment), Tawfik Abu Wael (Last Days in Jerusalem) and Joseph Cedar (Beaufort) are relentless in their examination of the details of the crimes and their aftermath and remarkably balanced in their depiction of those on all sides. That approach led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the American-Israeli HBO series and call for a boycott. You can hardly get a better recommendation than that. (Streaming on HBO Now, HBO Go, DirecTV)

  • 'Gentleman Jack'

    'Gentleman Jack'
    'Gentleman Jack'
    Courtesy of Aimee Spinks/HBO

    Groundbreaking is the word for this BBC/HBO period drama from the prolific British writer-producer Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley). Based on the life, and copious diary entries, of 19th century landowner, industrialist and open lesbian Anne Lister, Gentleman Jack upends everything you thought you knew about British history and the period genre. Funny, fresh and provocative, the series also delivers up, in Suranne Jones' Lister, one of the best LGBTQ characters of all time. (Streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now)
     

  • 'Made in Heaven'

    'Made in Heaven'
    'Made in Heaven'
    Amazon India

    Amazon India's romantic drama takes its name from the agency run by Delhi-based wedding planners Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur). Each episode revolves around another big, fat Indian nuptial. Amid the expected comedy and chaos, series creators Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti and lead writer Alankrita Shrivastava manage to slip in some pointed social commentary about modern India. Mathur's character Karan is one of the first gay male leads in an Indian series. But like a good wedding speech, Made in Heaven keeps it fast and light. An ideal family binge-watch. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

  • 'McMafia'

    'McMafia'
    'McMafia'
    BBC

    A slow-burn drama on the Russian mafia seen through the eyes of Alex Godman (James Norton), the son of a Russian mafia boss raised outside the family business to be an English gentleman. Godman is determined to play it straight, but when crisis hits his banking company, he gets drawn into his family's shady world and enmeshed in a transnational web of globalized crime. The action in McMafia, though sparse, is well done, but the real appeal of this BBC/AMC drama is its depiction of an intricate, wholly believable crime syndicate whose operations, from drug smuggling to human trafficking, reach across borders and form the dark underbelly of  society. More John le Carré than James Bond, McMafia takes time to get going but fully earns its nail-biting climax. (Streaming on AMC, SundanceNow)

  • 'Derry Girls'

    'Derry Girls'
    'Derry Girls'
    Courtesy of Netflix

    A coming-of-age comedy set in Northern Ireland in the 1990s — at the tail end of the Protestant-Catholic sectarian violence known locally as "the Troubles" — this show from writer/creator Lisa McGee keeps things light and pleasantly odd throughout. Five cheeky teenagers, four mouthy girls and a mostly unobtrusive boy, struggle through life's ordinary triumphs and humiliations against a backdrop of an ever-present, though mostly ignored and mocked, danger. Saoirse-Monica Jackson as the rubber-faced Erin Quinn is a highlight of an excellent cast, and McGee's pitch-perfect '90s soundtrack will have you humming along. So turn on the subtitles and zip through the 12 episodes of the first two seasons. (Streaming on Netflix)

  • 'The 43'

    'The 43'
    'The 43'
    Netflix

    Amid the flood of true-crime documentaries, this two-part Mexican series focuses on the kidnapping and disappearance of 43 college students in 2014 while they were on buses bound for a protest in Mexico City. Part one re-creates the night of Sept. 26, 2014 when police fired live ammunition in their attempt to intercept several buses carrying male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College en route to Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. Part two recounts the succession of reluctant investigations and the alleged cover-ups that followed the students' disappearance, focusing on the families, who are still searching for their sons' bodies. A powerful, if harrowing, look into organized crime, corruption and political complacency south of the border. (Streaming on Netflix)

  • 'The Family Man'

    'The Family Man'
    'The Family Man'
    Courtesy of Amazon Prime

    An action comedy with a twist from Amazon India, this spy thriller features Bollywood star Manoj Bajpayee as a seemingly ordinary middle-class husband and father who secretly works for the anti-terrorist unit of India's intelligence service. Think James Bond back when Bond was still funny. Filmmaker duo Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru manage to combine snappy one-liners with slick, edge-of-your-seat thrills in this refreshingly new take on the genre. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

  • 'Fleabag'

    'Fleabag'
    'Fleabag'
    Steve Schofield

    After sweeping the 2019 Emmys, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's BBC/Amazon comedy can safely be said to have gone mainstream. But if you still haven't seen this gem of a show — two six-episode seasons of pitch-perfect cringe humor laced with biting observations and a surprisingly emotional core — now's the time. Though Waller-Bridge maintains the show's signature style in season two, including her trademark direct-to-viewer commentary, the second season adds a more serious and, for Fleabag, almost shockingly optimistic tone in its tale of Fleabag's forbidden attraction to Andrew "Hot Priest" Scott. Waller-Bridge has said she's done with the show now, so this holiday is a perfect time to savor this landmark in recent TV history. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)