Foreign TV: A world of entertainment awaits



Why is television so provincial? I’ve been noodling this question since a cinephile colleague pointed out that while movie lovers routinely take in foreign films at festivals, art-house cinemas and even in their own homes thanks to streaming services like Netflix, American television tends to be home-grown.

There are exceptions, of course. PBS has been bringing us classy British television for decades, and BBC America occasionally interrupts its endless Top Gear reruns to air a new drama. In recent months, Sundance has shown Top of the Lake, set in New Zealand, and The Returned from France; and new cable network Pivot’s big launch premiere was Please Like Me, a gay Aussie cousin of Girls.

Even the broadcast networks are stealthily getting in on the overseas action: NBC’s Dracula is an international co-production filmed and set in Britain with few American actors in the cast.

For the most part, though, viewers steer clear. With the exception of Downton Abbey, which drew 12.3 million people to PBS for the Season 3 finale in March, foreign fare scores mediocre ratings. That’s probably why American networks prefer to remake international shows rather than import them. The Returned and British drama Broadchurch, which earned rave reviews when it aired on BBC America this summer, are being transposed to stateside settings for A&E and Fox, respectively. And while our British cousins are crazy for Scandinavian dramas like Forbrydelsen and Broen, we get U.S. remakes The Killing and The Bridge.

I’m sorry, America, but that’s like eating brussels sprouts and french fries and claiming you’re feasting on fine European food. And it’s not as though you have to be Sherlock Holmes — either the BBC/PBS Sherlock or the CBS Elementary version — to track down quality television from the rest of the world.

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