6 must-see European box sets you can watch on-demand for free
PUBLISHED: 14:41 19 October 2016 | UPDATED: 16:58 30 November 2016
The best European TV series you can watch on the small screen right now – Walter Iuzzolino picks the 6 essential European dramas available to stream now
We live in the golden age of serial scripted TV: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards… the most compelling and beautifully crafted stories of recent times are being told on the small screen. TV drama has never been better, stronger, more sophisticated than it is today. The US has always led the way in terms of scripted excellence, but in the past few years a cultural revolution has happened on our screens: European drama has landed, in a big way. Iconic foreign language series like The Killing and The Bridge and have revolutionised viewers’ attitudes to foreign dramas, both in the UK and globally.
Subtitled content, once associated with niche, art house fare, has suddenly broken into the mainstream – drawing sizeable audiences by terrestrial standards and proving that, when it comes to great storytelling and superb production values, language is no longer a barrier to global success.
The initial wave of non-US hit shows and scripted formats has drawn viewers’ attention Danish thrillers in particular – but the rest of Europe hasn’t stood still, and a growing number of countries have recently been in the limelight as the creators of outstanding global hits. So here’s a list of the best of European drama, the must see box sets that will have you glued to the screen, and begging for more.
DEUTSCHLAND 83 (Germany)
This series marked a turning point in the history of German drama on the global stage. Written and produced by husband and wife team Anna and Jorg Winger, this iconic and stylish cold war thriller tells the coming of age story of Martin, a young spy from East Berlin forced to leave his past behind to start a new life in the West. It is an irresistible cocktail of action, drama and humour… delivered with the most exquisite cinematography, art direction and aesthetic framework since Mad Men.
The series launched in the UK in January 2016 on C4 primetime, and it quickly became the highest rating foreign language drama in UK TV history, clocking over 4m viewers for the first episode alone, as well as millions of streams online. Audiences and commentators were captivated by the nail biting adventures of the reluctant young spy but also by the fantastic pop culture references dotted throughout the series: everything from the glorious retro soundtrack to the 1980s gadgets and fashions became talking points for press and viewers alike. Deutschland 83 is the first part of a planned trilogy.
SPIN SEASONS 1 & 2 (France)
Spin is a French House of Cards, an unforgettable, multi-award winning political thriller about the dark arts of spin doctors. The country is in shock: the President has been assassinated and behind the scenes, politicians are already campaigning for the special snap election. Two spin doctors, Simon and Ludovic, are locked in a ruthless battle to win the presidency for their candidate. These two former friends and business partners are pitted against each other in a riveting media war, manipulating the press and using every weapon at their disposal to crush the competition – from serious terrorist threats to sexual scandals and vendettas, there is no moral or ethical boundary that doesn’t get crossed in the quest for ultimate power.
The series features an all-star cast including Gregory Fitoussi from Spiral, Mr Selfridge and, most recently, ABC’s Odyssey – a national heart throb playing the role of the villain with real gusto. This is the drama equivalent of haute couture: a classy visual treat, French style. Forget paired back Scandi minimalism, Spin is an incredibly elegant and beautifully tailored series - everything from actors to suits, presidential cars to interior décor comes straight out of the pages of French Vogue. A real style feast. Series 3 of SPIN will be coming to Walter Presents early 2017
LOCKED UP (Spain)
Locked Up is a rollercoaster Spanish thriller bursting with sex, violence, and a supercharged, fast-paced plot, built around the most compelling use of cliffhangers you will ever see on television. It tells the story of Macarena Ferreiro, a beautiful and prim middle class girl who finds herself locked up in a high security women’s prison when her lover frames her for corporate fraud. In prison, she is caught in a terrifying battle with Zulema, the most vicious and dangerous inmate and a deadly Queen Bee. Both women are trying to get their hands on a big load of cash – 9m euros, which was stolen by a former inmate and is now buried in a secret location outside Madrid. So soon, family members and lovers from the outside world become involved and the plot quickly evolves into a fast, furious and truly spectacular thriller which has all the visual gloss of Orange is the New Black and the breathtaking, high adrenaline storylines of The Wire and Prison Break.
The heroines of the show are incredibly iconic, larger than life representations of Good and Evil – but the supporting cast is just as memorable: Curly, the beautiful young girl who falls in love with Macarena; Dr. Sandoval, the creepiest and most sinister TV doctor of all time; Fabio, the hunky policeman who is struggling with his conscience – these are superbly written characters who get you under your skin from the moment you meet them. A word of warning though, this is highly addictive storytelling - make sure you’ve got a few spare nights before you start, as you will find it very hard to stop. Series 2 of Locked up will be coming to Walter Presents early 2017.
THE OUT-LAWS (Belgium)
The Out-Laws is a smash hit Belgian series with a truly original and surprising tone - an intoxicating blend of crime thriller and black family comedy. The series is a dark, sexy, funny, compulsive whodunit: five sisters, one evil dead husband (the most loathsome baddie you are ever going to see on telly), two nosey life insurance salesmen who are convinced there’s something fishy in his death… but who’s killed the bastard? The style is visually stunning - crisp, elegant and colourful - a world away from the dark, moody world of nordic noir – this is pure Belgian chic, where every shot is bright, beautiful and polished like a 1950s Hollywood postcard.
BLUE EYES (Sweden)
Blue Eyes is a top scandi noir focusing on the rise of political extremism in northern Europe. The perfect box set for lovers of The Bridge and The Killing, this is all about political intrigue, violent murders, and high level corruption, Swedish-style. The national election is looming when a spate of brutal murders from a fringe group of young, dangerous neo Nazis throws the country and the political elite into a state of shock. But who are these young terrorists, and what can be done to stop them? There is no simple answer, as the ruling political elite and the emerging fringe parties are both too corrupt and focussed on their own survival to be able to offer a solution. Blue Eyes had a bold, daring approach to issues of racism, immigration and xenophobia – the terrorists are young, attractive and totally challenge and defy stereotypes. And the definition of good and evil is not so black and white… the frank depiction of the recruitment process in which young hopeless people are seduced by terrorism feels disturbingly close to real life.
This is A-list scandi fare, created by some of the top talent behind Humans and The Bridge: powerful storylines and gripping performances captured in stunning cinematography. Beware though – this is a chilling story that will keep you awake at night.
THE NEIGHBOURS (Holland)
Deutschland 83 proved that European drama is not all about broody, moody and incessantly bleak crime fare - that pop, commercial and shamelessly entertaining television is not the exclusive preserve of US studios. Dutch series The Neighbours embraces this logic even further: this is a sexy, glossy and voyeuristic Fatal Attraction between two couples living in a quiet suburban neighbourhood - a riveting Dutch story of sexual psychosis and obsession hidden behind trimmed edges and immaculate gardens. Pregnant with their first child, a couple move to the suburbs to start a new life together – but when tragedy strikes and they lose the baby, they seek comfort in the friendship of their next door neighbours – a couple of swingers who lure them into a dangerous world of lies, sexual promiscuity and murder.
Based on the bestselling novels by Saskia Noort the series transmitted on RTL last year attracting millions of viewers on ten consecutive nights. It’s just been optioned for a US remake by one of the big studios, so soon the neighbours will be relocating to leafy American suburbs, but the original series is coming to Channel 4 and Walter Presents in the UK early next year - and the original is always the best.
Walter Iuzzolino is the curator of Walter Presents, a free on-demand platform available for box-set viewing. The following shows are available, free, via walterpresents.com or All 4