English science fiction has made its way across the pond for decades, starting with Doctor Who through modern hits like Black Mirror. Without a language barrier in place, it’s easy for us Americans to enjoy British sci-fi. But guess what? Plenty of other countries have their own television industries, and they’re making compelling and unique science fiction of their own.
Some of that has already made its way over here – Netflix shows Brazilian post-apocalypse series 3%, for example, as well as German horror show Dark. But we want more! With that in mind, we trawled through TV Guides from all over the world to get examples of eleven foreign shows that we really want to see, subbed or dubbed.
Korean television is famous for romance, and the sci-fi My Love From The Star is a satisfying weepie. Kim Soo-hyun plays an alien who landed on Earth in 1609 and gets stranded here for 400 years. During that span, he lives multiple lifetimes, taking on a new identity every decade because he doesn’t show any visual signs of aging. When he meets a young actress just a few months before his people show up to take him home, it tests his allegiance to his adopted planet in ways he never thought possible. The show was wildly popular not only in Korea, where it influenced fashion trends for years, but also neighboring China.
Germany has built a reputation as a hub for innovative technology, and their sci-fi reflects that. One of the most successful shows on the air in recent years was Alpha 0.7, which was presented as a “transmedia” experience that also included a radio program and Web content. Following the adventures of a group of activists attempting to dismantle the surveillance state implemented by the Protecta Society, it’s a clever and compelling bit of dystopia that seems increasingly prescient the more we learn about Facebook and other actors misusing our private data. It’s worth noting that Germany has laws allowing individuals to sue companies for data breaches, so maybe this show inspired some real-world good. Or maybe it’s just a good sci-fi TV program.
If you miss the glory days of thinking Lost was good, Spanish TV show El Barco might scratch that same itch. When an accident at the Large Hadron Collider sinks all of Earth’s continents below the sea, the crew of the Estrella Polar must search for survivors and try to find a way to survive in this wet new world. The crew of the ship is primarily students on a sailing scholarship along with a few adults – a chef, a doctor and a mysterious stowaway. The show is fast-paced and pulpy fun, and while the shipboard setting can feel claustrophobic it keeps things lively with fun characters and some seriously bizarre threats, including panicked flocks of birds with nowhere to land.
Starring singer/actress Claire Keim, Éternelle was a big hit for French network M6 when it premiered in 2009. She plays an amnesiac woman who is discovered wandering nude in Paris and, upon examination, is host to an unknown bacteria that seems to have given her the ability to siphon memories from people she comes into physical contact with. The six-episode first series did exceptionally well and a sequel has been promised, but it’s been nearly a decade and nothing seems to have materialized. That’s a shame, because sci-fi TV isn’t a big thing in France and you’d think they’d want to follow up on one of their only homegrown hits.
Unsurprisingly, Russian science fiction still has the Cold War on the brain. Bunker, which premiered on their TNT network in 2006, is a dark comedy about a research team in an underground Siberian installation who have been cut off from the outside world for three years as they work on a mysterious project. When a new researcher shows up with a specialization in veterinary medicine despite there being no animals in the bunker, things start to get really weird. Full of dark humor, this series looks a little dated now but still packs a punch of culture shock.
Latin America is a huge market, and they’re already starting to make inroads into the entertainment world. 2091 is the first premium TV sci-fi drama from South America, and it’s a doozy. Made in Colombia, the show jets us forward to a future where video game addiction has become a public health issue, leading a billionaire to fly the hardest of the hardcore to the moon of Callisto to compete for a prize that’s a lot bigger than bragging rights. The show has some flaws, but it’s a really cool look at how another culture tackles some hoary old tropes.
“Normal people get unusual abilities” is one of the hoariest sci-fi TV premises, but it’s always interesting to see how other cultures interpret it. As you might guess from the title of this Israeli series, there’s a bit of a religious tinge to this one. When a teenage boy moves with his father to a nuclear research facility in the south of the country, he stumbles on a conspiracy to hide an alien spaceship that contains a portal to another place, occupied by criminals with superpowers. When they deactivate the restraint field, hundreds of people rediscover their true superhuman skills and chaos ensues.
Secret government institutions are a staple of sci-fi series all over the world, and Spain is no exception. The hit El Ministerio del Tiempo follows the employees of an office tasked with correcting disturbances in the flow of time. Pulled from the last 300 years, our lead trio leaps through mostly Spanish history meeting notable figures and fixing problems. It’s not the most original of premises, but the local flavor makes it a fun watch and you might just learn something. The show’s sense of humor keeps things feeling light and brisk, and there’s some clever set design to look at.
Stanislaw Lem is one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time, an idiosyncratic philosopher and physician who explored complex subjects with humor and skill. His work is frustratingly hard to translate to other mediums, but Germany’s ZDF channel did a solid job in 2007 with Ijon Tichy: Space Pilot. The titular hero is an awkward weirdo flying through space in a “three-bedroom rocket” made from a French press, accompanied by a holographic woman. The duo get into all manner of shenanigans in this satirical series, which lasted two seasons. The first one was shot entirely in star Oliver Jahn’s apartment.
This Korean sci-fi drama had a pretty unusual format hook. Each episode was divided into two stories following the same characters – the first half would take place in 2017 and the second twenty years later. Twin brothers Kim Woo-jin and Kim Bum-gyun are the protagonists of the 2017 storyline, following up their encounter with an alien spacecraft. The 2037 storyline sees Korea divided into a pair of nation-states – one sleek and hyper-advanced, the other polluted and hellish. Detective Kim Joon-hyuk lives in the latter but must gain admittance to the former to investigate the disappearance of the twins. It’s a clever and fascinating show with a cool premise and solid execution.
Class consciousness has always been a major part of science fiction, and this recent French miniseries tackles the subject boldly. In the uncertain future, a massive wall divides Paris into two segments – the city on one side and the Zone on the other, where 80% of the population lives. The demand for labor results in a lottery that brings Zone people over to the other side of the wall every year, but once there they learn that things aren’t quite as simple as they seem. It’s a bleak and relentless portrait of the world to come and very much worth watching.
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