HBO is Go-ing worldwide with its new international series coming to the U.S.’s streaming service, and we’ve got the shows you should keep an eye out for ahead of your next binge watch.
Following in the footsteps of Walter Iuzzolino of Walter Presents, premium cable network HBO is bringing a range of its original international series to its US streaming services, HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO VOD. Whilst it may seem HBO are replicating Iuzzolino’s vision of bringing world drama to American audiences, there is some originality: rather than buying shows created by a variety of programmers and production companies, HBO’s international content is produced by themselves and aired across their international platforms.
Some of HBO’s international strands include HBO Asia, HBO Europe, and HBO Latin America. With the network bringing some of the best, most popular, and most widely-viewed English-language shows in America, — see: Game of Thrones, The Wire, Westworld, and Big Little Lies — it’s no surprise that the international programmes lined-up for their streaming audiences are likely to become fan favorites.
HBO’s investment in creating quality international TV drama and comedy is not the only thing to look forward to. The very fact the network has the confidence to bring these shows to their streaming services represents a positive shift in both the network’s outlook as well as the audiences’. In bringing shows created by and starring Asian, European, and Latin American voices to America, the network is helping to bridge the problematic creative gap between the representation of minority voices and an audience’s ability to access international art. There are hundreds of international films to be seen, but they’re very rarely shown in small, working-class towns or cities; TV, and streaming, is much more accessible, and having access to a diverse range of voices from around the world is more important in a time when many are being silenced.
With the success of Germany’s Deutschland ’83, Spain’s Locked Up, and Germany’s Dark (currently on Netflix), audiences are clearly willing to overlook having to read subtitles in favor of great drama. In bringing high quality, and often cinematic, diverse programmes to American audiences, HBO is simply helping the push for more international drama.
The international series is available now on HBO’s streaming services. To help you with what to watch first below is a run-down of some of what’s on offer, including a teenage psychic, a mind-controller, and Indonesian mythology.
The Teenage PsychicThe Teenage Psychic (Courtesy of HBO)
The Teenage Psychic comes from Taiwan and is a six-part series following Shu-yao Kuo’s gifted character Xie Ya-zhen. She was born with the ability to see beyond life and into the spiritual realm, meaning she is able to talk to those who have passed away. The series never gets too caught up in the mystical elements of Xie Ya-zhen’s abilities, instead focusing on the character’s apparent annoyance at having to talk to spirits and pass exams; all she wants to do is sleep. Xie Ya-zhen’s apathy makes this series hilarious, whilst her love interests, enemies, and friends hint at meaningful challenges in the real world.
Filmed and set entirely on location in Taiwan, and developed with broadcasters Public Television Service (PTS) and InFocus Asia (IFA), The Teenage Psychic provides a fun, light way to explore Taiwan. Watch the trailer here.
WastelandWasteland (Courtesy of HBO)
International or foreign drama, for most people, brings to mind classic Nordic noirs, thrillers, or mysteries like the Danish The Killing or the Norwegian Valkyrien. With Wasteland, the Czech Republic take the narrative conventions found in their predecessors and mold it into something that is wholly its own dramatized representation of particular areas of their country.
Set in a working-class small town in northern Bohemia, Wasteland blends the cinematic feast found in Nordic noir with stark social realism. The series follows its small-town characters as the Mayor of the town, Hana Sikorova, finds her daughter has gone missing. However, the series is not only concerned with the search for 14-year-old Míŝa. Instead, Wasteland moves past the limits of the mystery genre to explore the psychological effects a missing person has a small town, as well as commenting on social and political concerns. Watch the trailer here.
El HipnotizadorEl Hipnotizador (Courtesy of HBO)
El Hipnotizador is based on Pablo de Santis’ graphic novel of the same name. The premise of the show itself is exciting: a Natalio Arenas, a skilled hypnotist, lives in a hotel for reasons initially unknown to us. He works with a circus-like cast of characters in a local theatre, helping willing audience members to remember their dreams and lost memories, and revealing what they mean.
The use of the hotel setting invites the opportunity for fun and eclectic characters to lighten up the darkness the show can often find itself subjected to. What’s more, the link between Natalio Arenas’ power with the elusiveness of hotels (forgotten past guests, a state of impermanence) makes for an interesting parallel between two worlds.
Visually stunning and boasting a skilled cast, El Hipnotizador is also very funny. The hotel’s manager helps his guest by offering her a cure for insomnia. “Cyanide?” asks Natalio Arenas. No, it’s herbal tea. Watch the trailer here.
PaktPakt (Courtesy of HBO)
Poland’s Pakt, or The Pact, is reminiscent of France’s political drama Spin or the Danish crime drama Dicte. Taking place in contemporary Warsaw, investigative journalist Piotr Grodecki uncovers major secrets and lies that threaten the jobs, lives, and reputations of businessmen and politicians. The similarities to Spin and Dice end in subject matter, as the Warsaw location and arc of Grodecki’s evolution inevitably sees the series concerned with questions of morality and truth. Watch the trailer here.
HalfworldsHalfworlds (Courtesy of HBO)
Based in Indonesian mythology, Halfworlds is set in Jakarta and explores two worlds: reality and the parallel universe containing “Demits”, creatures that live alongside humans by disguising themselves as their counterparts. We’re introduced to this world through the innocent-seeming Sarah, played by Salvita Decorte. The further Sarah falls into the worlds of Demits, the more she discovers about herself, and the visuals of the series follow the character’s increase in knowledge, becoming grander by the second episode.
With actors coming from Thailand, Indonesia, The Philippines and Taiwan, Halfworlds does a good job of providing its diverse actors with dynamic roles. Whilst the series can sometimes seem far-fetched, that’s also often where the joy of watching it is found. Watch the trailer here.
La Vida Secreta de las ParejasLa Vida Secreta de las Parejas (Courtesy of HBO)
Most of the previous TV shows are acceptable to watch with your family. Brazil’s La Vida Secreta de las Parejas (or, The Secret Life of Couples) is not. As the name hints at, the show is about sex, love, and relationships. Actress Bruna Lombardi stars as sex therapist Sofia, with her role as therapist coming into question the more we find out about her character. The more truth Sofia gains from her patients, the more lies audiences realise Sofia is telling. The erotic nature of the show makes for an interesting device, as we discover characters’ lies and truths when they’re at their most vulnerable. At the same time, having an unreliable central character makes the show binge-watch worthy as soon as viewers delve deeper into the mysteries of Sofia.
The visuality of La Vida… is where the show sets itself apart from others. In the first episode, the intimate scenes’ tone is established: rather than showing these scenes forthrightly, it’s instead done poetically. Bedding and montages are used to cover the characters. The scenes never feel like they’re exploding the characters, but are rather set-ups for the juxtaposition of the politics, lies, or toxic relationship that follows. Watch the trailer here.