Elite, Terrace House and More: Why Some of Netflix's Best Originals Are Worth the Extra Work

Subtitles are your friend.

By Billy Nilles Sep 06, 2019 10:00 AMTags
International Netflix Shows, Elite, Terrace House, DarkNetflix; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration

At the end of a long day of work or school or whatever other activity it is that occupies most of your time, the idea of having to read your TV sounds downright exhausting.

After all, we are Americans. Laziness and a short attention span are sort of, you know, our things. And besides, how will we endlessly scroll through Instagram if the show we're watching is in a foreign language, with subtitles our only hope for comprehending anything that's going on?

But as Netflix continues to make headway on original programming created and produced outside of the U.S. entirely in—gasp!—the home country's native tongue, the content they're delivering has begun to make the case for putting down one's phone and giving the television our complete and undivided attention. You know, like our forefathers intended.

When I first sat down last October to watch Elite, one of the streaming service's first original series to come from Spain (though not the first as that distinction belongs to Cable Girls) that's returning for a second season on Friday, Sept. 6, I was a member of the uninitiated.

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I'd heard good things about the show. Set at a tony private school in Spain that's been forced to welcome three working class students on scholarship, the show presented as a cross between Pretty Little Liars and How to Get Away With Murder. And in all honesty, Elite had everything I could ask for: an extremely hot cast of young adults, a flash-forward mystery begging for theories, several pairs of star-crossed lovers, a provocative exploration of another country's class system. So I did what I'm sure most Americans tuning in did: I watched the first episode utilizing the available dubbing in English.

And dear reader, let me tell you—no tea, no shade to what I'm sure is a very talented group of English-speaking actors—it was not good. 

When I say that, I don't mean the show was bad. On the contrary, Elite's first episode invited me into a world I wanted to spend more time in, presented me with a mystery I wanted to solve, and introduced me to a cast I wanted to see more of, both literally and, well, literally. (What I mean is that the show has a lot of steamy sex in it. That's it. That's the tweet.) And yet, there was something slightly off between what I was seeing and what I was hearing. Sure, I understood what was going on just fine, but I didn't feel any of the emotion that the melodrama's writers and actors intended. 

So I switched to the show's original audio, turned on the English subtitles, put my phone down, and simply watched. And I devoured all eight episodes in what felt like the blink of an eye.


Aside from getting to view the show as its cast and crew intended, hearing the lines read by the actors hired to bring them to life and not by their invisible English counterparts, the totally-committed viewing experience was, in a way, freeing. By forcing my brain to remain focused on the show for the full episode, I found myself getting immersed in the world in a way I hadn't felt since iPhones were invented. And I'm not alone. The show caught on quickly, both in Spain and elsewhere, with a reported 20 million household accounts watching worldwide in its first month of release. It was quickly renewed for a second season and, in a further sign of its global strength, Netflix has ordered a third ahead of the season two premiere—something it doesn't do too often.

Of course, Elite isn't the only international Netflix production to catch on outside of its home country. 

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As hard as it can be to find new content on the streaming service, thanks to its algorithm and overwhelming deluge of releases each and every week, there's a rich trove of international treasures out there just waiting to be discovered. 

Take Terrace House, for instance. The Japanese reality show, a co-production with Fuji TV that returns for its fifth installment, subtitled Tokyo 2019-2020, on Tuesday, Sept. 10, has become a bit of a global phenomenon in its own right. A bit like The Real World, only if everyone were nice, each new season of the show finds six strangers, three men and three women, chosen to live under the same roof (in increasingly stunning homes, mind you), get to know each other, and date—or not—as a group of studio commentators (a mix of Japanese celebrities and comedians) provide an analysis of what we've just watched at regular intervals.


The beauty of the show, aside from its ingenious decision to place what would normally be reserved for an after show or a companion podcast smack dab in the middle of the regular episodes, lies in its staid simplicity. No one is trapped in the house, a la Big Brother or Love Island. Rather, they go about their daily lives, working or attending school, throughout filming. And while it's clear that the intention is for the singles to co-mingle during their time on the show, that's not a hard and fast rule. No one is eliminated when a relationship fails, though some do choose to leave, only to be replaced by someone new. But perhaps most importantly, everything just feels so nice. 

There is no manufactured drama, no one is outwardly cruel to one another, and, while that may sound boring when compared to the standard American reality TV, it's really not. There's something so soothing about it, so warm and gentle, that it's absolutely engrossing. 

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And these two are just the tip of the international iceberg. There's Dark, the streaming service's first German-language original series, which deals with missing children, time travel, and one very unlucky fictional town in Germany. Think Stranger Things, if only the Duffer brothers were influenced more by David Lynch and less by Steven Spielberg. In short, it more than lives up to its name. Two seasons are just waiting to be devoured, with a third and final batch of episodes on the way.

Last year saw the debut of The House of Flowers, a Mexican dramedy about a poor little rich family that runs the titular flower show and has about as many secrets as they do money, if not more. It's as funny and racy as any TV has any right to be. It has two more seasons on the way, one dropping this year and another in 2020.

This May saw a second season of The Rain, Netflix's first Danish series, drop continuing the post-apocalyptic about a group of young survivors traveling across Denmark and Sweden six years after a virus carried by the titular rainfall wiped out nearly all humans in Scandinavia. A third and final season arrives next year.

And for the foodies among us, there's July's Taco Chronicles, which devotes each of its six episodes to a different Mexican street food offering, be it pastor, carnitas, or asada, taking viewers inside the history of the each through the lens of the region of the country that birthed it. Be warned: it will make you hungry.

These shows are but a smattering of Netflix's many international offerings just waiting to be discovered. Whichever you land on, just promise us that you'll turn that damn dubbing off. Because though the languages in each may be different, and foreign to us native English-speakers, they all remind us that good TV is undeniably universal. 

Elite season two drops Friday, Sept. 6, while Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020 arrives on Tuesday, Sept. 10, on Netflix.

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