As the pandemic continues to inform our lives and how we interact with one another, some of you may understandably become increasingly bored at home and feel the urge to explore the outside world again. While that is certainly possible to a certain extent (e.g., a physically distanced picnic), international travel appears to be off-limits for the time being.
However, to satiate your wanderlust in the present, I offer you a virtual form of escapism: international TV thrillers. What I love about thrillers is the constant feeling of suspense, so you’ll never feel bored. Also, these series’ global settings provide extra dimensions of unfamiliarity, exploration, and curiosity that will keep you on your toes at all times. Now, let’s dive right into these immersive television shows:
France | The Bureau (2015-Present)
The Bureau, Le Bureau des Légendes in French, is a political thriller offering five seasons of drama to binge. The show revolves around the lives of agents of the DGSE, France’s external security service (the equivalent of the CIA). The primary cast members include Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz) and Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau), fellow officers who get involved in dangerous entanglements. Many of the plots written are based upon real accounts by former spies and inspired by contemporary events, offering the audience an increased sense of realism and high stakes. It’s similar to Homeland but less ludicrous and more French. A multi-season love story is very moving, too.
Available to stream on Sundance Now (and through Amazon and Apple TV with a Sundance subscription) with English subtitles.
The Mediterranean | The Night Manager (2016)
Based on a John Le Carré novel, The Night Manager is like a gorgeous, delicious, better six-hour James Bond film. The story introduces an ordinary hotel manager, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) who then gets swept up in a danger when a beautiful woman he tried to protect is killed in his Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo. After acquiring incriminating information about a gangster, Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), who illegally sells dangerous weapons, Pine is forced to escape to a remote hotel in Switzerland
When Roper later shows up at the same Swiss hotel, Pine enlists in the British Intelligence in order to spy on the criminal and to exact revenge for the murder he still feels responsible for. He wants to stop Roper. What follows is a game of deception and intrigue that will take the characters and audience across the Mediterranean, from beautiful Spanish islands to the insecure border between Turkey and Syria. The gorgeous Elizabeth Debicki and the marvelous Olivia Coleman also star.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Sweden | Modus (2015-2017)
The psychological thriller Modus focuses on the work of criminal psychologist and profiler Inger Johanne Vik (Melinda Kinnaman), who assists law enforcement agencies like the Swedish police and American FBI to track down dangerous culprits. The first season involves a contract killer working for an American religious sect. The second season’s conflict stems from the disappearance of the US President during a state visit to Sweden.
If you love Nordic noir, you’ll love this one. And those interested in psychology and the science behind how and why people commit acts of crime will also enjoy Modus!
Available on PBS Passport. Season 1 is also available to stream on Amazon Prime, and Season 2 available to watch on Amazon with a PBS Masterpiece subscription, both with English subtitles.
Norway | Occupied (2015-2019)
The political thriller Occupied, Okkupert in Norwegian, takes place in the near future. At the behest of the European Union, Russia occupies Norway to restore the nation’s oil and gas production. Previously, the Prime Minister of Norway (Henrik Mestad) had halted output due to catastrophic environmental events fueled by climate change, which had killed over a thousand Norwegians.
However, the Europe-wide energy emergency that resulted from this decision has inadvertently caused an international crisis. The Americans and French get involved too. The ensuing drama is intense and extremely addicting to watch, but also foreshadows and warns us about how climate change could indeed affect the global political landscape.
Available to stream on Netflix with English subtitles.
England + Israel/Palestine | The Honorable Woman (2014)
For lovers of history and geopolitics, the political spy thriller The Honorable Woman is an addicting and binge-worthy television series. Anglo-Jewish businesswoman Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) inherits her father’s Zionist arms business, and, to make up for the nefarious source of her wealth, she decides to use her position to attempt reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Her ultimate goal is to connect the West Bank with optical fiber cables for high-speed internet. The sudden and mysterious suicide of her business partner delays this effort. And as a result, various stakeholders and political players maneuver for influence in this venture, leaving Stein trapped in an international and dangerous maelstrom.
Available to stream on HBO Max.
Transnational | The Little Drummer Girl (2018)
Set in the 1970s, The Little Drummer Girl is a dramatic thriller focused on the espionage of aspiring English actress Charlie Ross (Florence Pugh). Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, recruits Ross to infiltrate a Palestine Liberation Organization. Her mission is to lure out its leader to prevent a string of suitcase bombings that target prominent Israelis. Under the direction of Israeli spymaster Martin Kurtz (Michael Shannon), Ross and her fellow agent Gadi Becker (Alexander Skarsgård) must travel across the hemisphere ― including Greece, Austria, the UK, then Yugoslavia, Israel, Palestine, Germany, and Lebanon ― to stop imminent terrorist attacks by any means necessary. As you may suspect, John le Carré wrote the novel that inspires this series.
Available to stream on Sundance Now (and through Amazon and Apple TV with a Sundance subscription).
These thrillers will easily engage you. You may momentarily forget all your worries and enjoy the drama, antics, and suspense of international television. Or during a time when we might sometimes forget or ignore the fact that there’s a whole world outside of our homes, these series―with their foreign languages, exotic locations, and unique political intrigues―can also serve to remind us of their existence. Entertainment via virtual immersion never felt so illuminating and so fully distracting!