There are few better ways to unwind after a long day than to collapse on a cushy sofa, shut off the brain, and enjoy an hour [or a couple] of effortless television-watching. Growing up, I didn’t watch much TV at all, but since marrying someone with a Netflix account, I’ve happily discovered the wonderful world of international television. Michael and I seem to prefer foreign shows [mainly British] over American, so this list reflects that preference. Ah, the American life: melting into a comfortable seat before a screen for hours until your body begins to mold itself to the couch, feeling your brain ooze into a glamorous pile of nothingness. What could be better?
Before Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman made their way to the big screens and became huge celebrity names in the film industry, they graced our smaller screens as the brilliant but socially inept Sherlock Holmes, and his loyal sidekick John Watson. I loved the books in my youth, and even Robert Downey Jr.’s 2009 feature film. However, BBC’s Sherlock takes the well-loved stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to a modern setting of unmatched quality that has allowed it to hold the title of “#1 show of all time” for the seventh year running in Tiffany’s book. It’s also responsible for getting us into British television in the first place, where we came to appreciate genuinely talented acting, solid plots, and compelling character development. Full of humor, wit, and fast-paced suspense, two seasons will pass like nothing. [You read that right: in the Chu household, Sherlock ended after season two.] You will fall in love with the characters. You will laugh with them. You will cry with them. And it will absolutely break your heart.
On a rare night when Michael entered blissful dreamland before I did, I scrolled through Netflix on my tiny phone screen, and made the terrible decision to start watching this show that he had been raving about a few days prior. Before I knew it, all eight episodes had passed [purely by accident, I swear], and the sun had already started to peak through the blinds. Compelling characters and an expertly-developed plot made this mystery drama an airtight bottle of sheer awesomeness. Never have I had the pleasure of watching such a wonderfully crafted story unfold on screen. At first glance, it’s just another small-town murder mystery: a young boy’s body is found on a beach, and suddenly distrust drives wedges between once-tightly-knit relationships. But as the series continues, you watch as the lives [and secrets] of the inhabitants unravel and come to light. It’s a stunning series, combing through the depths of the human heart and pondering over questions of what lies hidden in its depths.
Note: The Chus only include season one in their recommendation. Season two is enjoyable, but not at the same level of quality as season one.
I admit that I’m the type of person who would rather rewatch favorites than delve into a new series. Why waste time watching something I don’t know will be good, when there are plenty of safer options that I already know I enjoy? However, on a whim and thanks in part to Michael’s more adventuresome spirit, I took a risk that absolutely paid off with Hotel Beau Sejour, another murder mystery with a supernatural twist, hailing from Belgium. The show begins with a teenage girl who wakes to find her own dead body in a bathtub, gradually discovering that she has become a ghost who is only visible to certain people. The plot moves along more gradually than people may be used to, which almost lost Michael in the beginning, but will certainly reward your patience as you delve deeper into the story. It’s a slow burn that allows you to fully appreciate and contemplate the setting, the multi-layered characters, and ordinary in-between moments and scenes that often pass unnoticed in daily life.
We have now moved on from our proclivity for dark, mystery dramas, and into the realm of reality TV. The premise of this Japanese reality series is quite simple: six strangers are thrown together to live in a beautiful house, and we observe how they interact, along with a small group of hilarious commentators. I typically have absolutely no interest in reality shows, but this is not your typical reality show. Strangely, if people asked what is so great about Terrace House, I wouldn’t be sure how to respond. The whole thing sounds terribly mundane, watching [semi] normal people go about normal life. We watch as they go to the grocery store, wash dishes, go to school, go to work..And yet, there is something so refreshingly real about this, which in the end is what makes Terrace House so appealing. Perhaps it’s just nice to see people come together and have actually meaningful conversations as they get to know one another. Perhaps it’s the way the producers don’t milk the drama for all its worth, instead allowing the house-mates to work out their conflicts in mature, civilized discussions. As part of the show’s premise that everything is unscripted and organic, we get to see these people blunder their way through perfectly normal, sometimes tense and sometimes awkward situations, and in so doing, learn something about ourselves and our own natures as well.
Note: We recommend watching “Boys and Girls in the City” before moving on to “Aloha State.” They are listed as two separate series on Netflix.
What happens when technology takes the worst aspects of our human nature and warps them into something unrecognizably monstrous? That is the question that Black Mirror mercilessly wrestles with and presents for you to contemplate over. It’s a dark, though brief series, and probably not one you’d want to watch if you need cheering up. This anthology series is set in a dystopian, not-so-distant future, where each episode features a separate story with a different aspect of technology gone wrong. It’s brilliantly crafted, with each episode providing some sort of commentary intended to make you ponder over your relationship with technology, but also more profoundly, the darker corners of your own heart.
Note: Since the episodes are not continuous, it’s also not necessary to watch them in order. We actually recommend not starting with episode one of season one [which is so bizarre and otherworldly that it almost hindered us from continuing]. Our personal favorites include: “Fifteen Million Merits” [season 1], “Be Right Back” and “White Christmas” [season 2], “Nosedive,” “Men Against Fire,” and “Hated in the Nation” [season 3].