5 International Shows Worth Watching, From Kafka to a Human Kaiju


The long-awaited American premiere of a new season of the German hit “Babylon Berlin” was the big news this week in the realm of international television series. But interesting shows from other countries arrive on an almost daily basis. Here are five recent series to check out.

This six-episode mini-series on MHz Choice is a lot like a British country-house mystery, except that it’s French. So the matriarch of the aristocratic family visited by murder is even colder and more controlling, her out-of-control second son is an even more dire cokehead, and the food looks edible. Also, everyone is better looking than they would be in a British series, particularly the artisanally scruffy husband (David Kammenos) of the suspiciously dead eldest son, who kept the husband a secret from his family and the family a secret from his husband. (To stir the cultural pot further, the series is based on a novel set in Galicia by Dolores Redondo, the popular Spanish mystery writer.)

Viewers weary of the variously arch or dreary contrivances of most modern American thriller mini-series may appreciate the straightforward traditionalism of “All This I Will Give to You,” which has enough narrative pull to overcome the usual fits of melodrama that break out as the mystery nears solving. Kammenos’s Manuel, shocked by the discovery of his husband’s hidden life and disgusted by his new in-laws, is a testy, twitchy, holier-than-thou pain in the derrière for more than half the show, which is a nice change of pace. And the camaraderie that slowly develops between him and a retired cop with a personal interest in the husband’s death is nicely drawn.

This German mini-series demonstrates that, even in an era of consolidation, distinctive shows still sneak in through the side door of the streaming business, in this case via ChaiFlicks, which specializes in Jewish-themed content. (The fourth of six episodes premiered this week.) The series takes a meta-fictional, Wes Anderson-ish approach to the life of the writer Franz Kafka (Joel Basman) — it moves back and forth in time and among Kafka’s acquaintances, looking for crucial moments, and characters break the fourth wall to reinforce or angrily disagree with the narrator’s observations.

Each of the six episodes focuses on a different character from Kafka’s life, showing us what it was like to be the best friend, the lover or the much-maligned father. Stars of central European culture show up, some played by actors familiar to American audiences from “Babylon Berlin” (Lars Eidinger as Rilke, Christian Friedel as Franz Werfel, Liv Lisa Fries as Milena Jesenská). Some viewers may feel that the dryly humorous peak-TV approach undersells the seriousness of Kaka’s work and the momentousness of the times he lived in, but “Kafka” is never less than entertaining.

If the modern Godzilla and King Kong franchise films just wear you out, this sprightly anime series about a not-so-giant monster makes for a good palate cleanser. The hero, Hibino, is a worker on a kaiju cleanup crew — he and his co-workers do the seriously gross work of disassembling and disposing of vanquished beasts — who dreams of battling kaiju himself as a member of Japan’s defense force. When he mysteriously gains the ability to turn into a human-scaled but still powerful monster, the transformation is life-changing in the best and worst ways.

The show, based on a manga and made by the animation studio Production I.G (“Ghost in the Shell”), is a coming-of-age story — the split between Hibino’s competing identities could not be more stark. It is also a comrades-in-arms drama: An incoming class of defense force recruits, including Hibino, go through training and their first battles together, developing the loyalties and jealousies that will come into play as his secrets are gradually revealed. It is lighthearted and paper-thin, in the manner of most products of the anime industry, but it’s at the smarter and funnier end of the spectrum. The finale of the 12-episode season will arrive Saturday on Crunchyroll.

A spinoff of the Canadian series “Letterkenny,” which ran for 12 seasons, “Shoresy” takes a similar sitcom-as-eccentric-art-object approach. Its premise resembles that of the raucous hockey comedy “Slap Shot,” but in form it is an absurdist collage of non sequiturs, impenetrable inside jokes, ritualized repetition, hilariously specific trash talk and bespoke profanity. It celebrates sports clichés in ways that render them ridiculous; where “Slap Shot” was a cautionary tale about the American celebration of violence, “Shoresy” is a fond sendup of a Canadian insistence on indomitability that is both admirable and absurd.

In Season 3, which premiered last week on Hulu, Shoresy (played by the show’s creator, Jared Keeso) battles injuries, depression and a suspension (which inspires a laser-sharp “Slap Shot” reference) as he tries to lead the semipro Sudbury Bulldogs to victory in the national tournament. In its satirical portrait of the provincial hockey scene — including blanket news coverage, vicious YouTube commentary and the abundance of conspicuously attractive women surrounding the team in every capacity, including management — the show takes the game very seriously and not seriously at all.

The “Teasing Master” franchise encompasses the original manga (more than 12 million copies in circulation), three seasons of anime, an animated film, a video game and this live-action series, which premiered in March on Netflix. (A live-action film came out last month in Japan.) That’s a lot of product for a story about a middle-school boy and the classmate who inventively, ceaselessly and mercilessly makes fun of him. He has a huge crush on her, of course, but his obsession with getting back at her — a project that only leads to repeated humiliation — allows him to ignore those inconvenient emotions. For a few episodes, anyway.

“Teasing Master Takagi-san” is, by American standards, slow and simple, even for a show aimed at least in part at younger viewers. But it is cute — kawaii, in the Japanese idiom — to an almost medicinal degree. You can feel your muscles unclenching and your arteries unclogging as you watch. The young stars, Yuki Kaji as the boy, Nishikata, and especially Rie Takahashi as Takagi, enact bashfulness, mischief and awkward attraction without self-consciousness. Their performances, and the show’s placid affect, do not vary much across eight episodes, and that (despite some obligatory cliffhanger plotting) is the point — it’s not about the build, it’s about the wallow.



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