American produced television shows, like Breaking Bad or The Big Bang Theory, get high praise and high ratings around the world. However, there are a few shows from other countries that don’t make it into American living rooms, but are hugely popular in their countries of origin. Here are five that top the charts even if they never cross the oceans.
Only Fools and Horses
While casual fans of the BBC have no doubt heard of Sherlock or Doctor Who, not many besides serious Anglophiles and those living in the UK have heard of Only Fools and Horses. The series focuses on Derek, Rodney, Edward and Albert Trotter as they run their unregistered company, Trotters Independent Trading (TIT), out of their Reliant Regal Supervan. It was highly popular during its run from 1981 to 1996, with annual Christmas specials airing until 2003, and continues to be well regarded among fans and critics. It became so popular that a phrase used throughout the series, “Lovely Jubbly” gained entry into the Oxford English Dictionary. It has won several BAFTAs for comedy, as well as Television and Radio Industry and Writer’s Guild of Britain awards for acting and writing . Fans of the show went on to create the Only Fools and Horses Appreciation Society, which holds regular conventions.
The US can boast of TV shows such as Gunsmoke, Law & Order, and The Simpsons for remaining on the air for up to 20 years. Tatort, the popular German police procedural, has been on the air continuously for over 40 years, since 1969. Part of what makes the show so popular is that it’s several different shows under one banner. The German public broadcast system produces 15 different versions of the show for different locales around Germany, and one for Austria. That means that tuning in on a Sunday night one week will bring you a murder mystery from Frankfurt, and the next week Berlin. Unlike our different versions of Law & Order, or CSI, these regional episodes aren’t spin-offs. They’re all the main show. Due to the popularity and wide reach of the show, the Left Party nominated former star Peter Sodann for Germany’s Presidential campaign (he lost).
Summer Heights High
This Australian mockumentary style comedy was not only one of the highest rated shows during its run, it was one of the most controversial. The brainchild of comedian Chris Lilly, who played three of the main characters on the show, Summer Heights High was often critiqued for the subject matter of its jokes. One episode sparked controversy before the show even premiered over a joke about a teacher inappropriately touching a child with Down syndrome. Another episode featured a musical about a student who died of a drug overdose, leading the network to apologize to one family who felt the episode was making light of their daughter’s death. Chris Lilly was not unfamiliar with controversy as his other shows, Angry Boys and We Can Be Heroes, were known for touching on taboo subject matter, such as racism. Despite all of the controversy, the show went on to win several awards.
Noted for its writing and depth of character by critics, Spiral is also bleaker and grittier than many of its counterparts, either within or beyond the borders of the United States. Often compared to shows such as The Killing or The Wire in tone, each series of this French drama follows the investigation of a single crime, from discovery of the often mutilated or disfigured corpse, through forensic analysis of the crime scene, investigation by the police and finally through the court system. Imagine an episode of Law & Order being carried over an entire season. The audience has steadily grown, as well as the acclaim, and soon it was broadcast throughout Europe, Asia and eventually became the first non-English drama to be picked up by Netflix. Along with The Killing, and Wallander, Spiral is part of a growing wave of “Eurocrime” shows that are becoming popular around the world.
The Thick of It
When you combine equal parts The Office, The West Wing, you get this highly intelligent British comedy that follows the members of the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship as they deal with members of the public, maddening bureaucracy and internal conflict to lampoon modern British politics. The half written, half improvised dialog is often profanity laden, sharp witted, and lightning quick. Show creator and writer Armando Iannucci went on to direct a spin-off movie, In the Loop, which was met with critical praise, as well as the HBO series Veep. The show is dizzying as it flies through the halls and offices of 10 Downing Street, where political spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker tries to keep all the plates in the air for the Minister of Social affairs and his team of not-quite-ready-for-public-service players. Well regarded in its four series, it has gone on to win a host of awards.