The 5 Best Foreign-Import Comedies You Can Stream Right Now
The CW has been more aggressive than some of its fellow broadcast networks in responding to this year’s double strike by importing shows from other English-speaking countries. And while promos for the likes of Son of a Critch and Run the Burbs, both from Canada, may not have particularly intrigued you, the network also looked across the ocean to find us Everyone Else Burns, which premiered last night. If you’ve been put off by other recent CW imports, you might skip it, which is why I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t.
And while I’m here, I also want to shout out some other broadcast and streaming imports of the past decade or so that haven’t gotten the coverage or Emmy attention of (Canada’s) Schitt’s Creek or (England’s) Fleabag. While you wait for Abbott Elementary and Girls5Eva to return for their new seasons, your friends in the Commonwealth have you covered.
Who Imported It? The CW
Premise: As everyone knows who watched the 2014 film What We Do in the Shadows, Wellington, New Zealand, is a hotbed of inexplicable phenomena. Police officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary) already survived a run-in with vampires in the movie; since then, they’ve been recruited by Sgt. Ruawai Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) to work in the department’s new, and very secret, Paranormal Unit. In this capacity, O’Leary and Minogue bravely protect the largely oblivious citizenry from ghosts, zombies, alien clones and figures of local Maori legend, like a Kurangaituku (thieving bird woman) and a taniwha (sea monster) — and, sometimes, find themselves bested but don’t get too bothered about it.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Wellington Paranormal was followed, around a year later, by FX’s series adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows. The two shows share co-creators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (who co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in the movie); both also stick with the film’s mockumentary format. And yet, Wellington Paranormal and What We Do in the Shadows are about as different as two shows spun off from the same movie possibly can be, without ever seeming like they’re cannibalizing each other. Or featuring cannibals, though Shadows still could!
And If This Hits, Try: What We Do in the Shadows, movie and show, are the obvious companion pieces, but if you’ve already run through those, try Flight of the Conchords, in which Clement plays “himself” as half of the titular band, struggling to break out in New York.
Who Imported It? The CW.
Premise: Rachel (Amy James-Kelly) would probably love to have the kind of teenhood her classmates enjoy — hanging out with friends in the evenings, preparing to go to university and wearing something other than very long skirts. Unfortunately for her, she’s being raised by David (Simon Bird) and Fiona (Kate O’Flynn), members of the Manchester, England branch of the Order of the Divine Rod. It’s not clear that every member of this Christian sect believes the apocalypse is imminent, but David is certain enough about it to subject the family to doomsday drills.
We meet the family just as Fiona and Kate start engaging in small rebellions against David’s tyranny: Fiona starts doing online sales with free-spirited divorcée neighbor Melissa (Morgana Robinson); and Rachel meets Joshua (Ali Khan), who’s been excommunicated from a different Divine Rod branch, and the two develop a tentative friendship… that’s maybe on its way to being something more.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I spent the series premiere braced for some kind of pro-Christian moment inserted after a note from network executives who don’t want angry letters about the show being disrespectful to people of faith, but no: David is portrayed as a petty dictator whose religious observances are regarded as comically extreme even by other parishioners of this extraordinarily strict community, so it’s perfectly fine to laugh at him. And apparently this attitude has served the show well. It’s already been picked up for a second season in the U.K., and The CW, which premiered it this week, has committed to air that season too.
And If This Hits, Try: The Inbetweeners, in which Bird proves bossy losers aren’t only heads of household; they can also ruin lives as high schoolers.
Who Imported It? SundanceTV, originally; it’s no longer officially streaming there, but if you start by clicking the linked title above, more is easy to find.
Premise: Daniel and Emma (Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola, who also co-created the show) were friends when Daniel was working as a real estate agent on the Australian mainland. She gets married and Daniel returns to his hometown of Rosehaven in Tasmania to help run his mother’s real estate business while she recovers from surgery. Then Emma leaves her husband on their honeymoon and joins Daniel in Rosehaven, and they both just end up sticking around working at the agency and getting into various comic misadventures for five seasons.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess it’s not a spoiler to say what doesn’t happen, so: the heart of the show is Emma and Daniel’s deep, abiding, but entirely platonic friendship, and it remains that way until the very end. With so many hangout shows sliding into romcoms, it’s nice to see one that respects friendship and takes it seriously!
And If This Hits, Try: Another gentle comedy set among quirky weirdos in a ruggedly beautiful part of the world: Northern Exposure.
Who Imported It? Max.
Premise: Stath Charalambos (Jamie Demetriou, who also created the show) is a London letting agent — essentially a broker who works as a go-between for rental owners and tenants. He’s desperate to prove himself to his father Vasos (Christos Stergioglou), who owns the agency Stath works for, and while Vasos is loving and supportive, Stath is a terrible agent who is routinely outshone by his colleagues, which isn’t hard to do given that Stath is given to clumsy gaffes like, for instance, accidentally setting a fire in a property he intends to show.
Biggest Surprise: British comedies are known for their savagery; writers generally have no compunction about creating situations that will leave characters humiliated, abused or worse. And while Stath does have to live with the consequences of his many mistakes, the show does have heart, and will shock the viewer with an emotionally affecting moment when you least expect it.
And If This Hits, Try: Starstruck! Al Roberts, who plays Stath’s fellow letting agent Al, appears as Ian, devoted boyfriend (and eventual husband) to Kate (Emma Sidi), roommate to protagonist Jessie (Rose Matafeo).
Who Imported It? The CW… briefly. The network put it up on its streaming platform CWSeed after yanking it off the broadcast schedule, but now the best place to find the show is on its YouTube channel, linked above.
Premise: Whereas most British panel shows — like Would I Lie to You? and 8 Out of 10 Cats involve comedians and TV personalities making wisecracks while sitting at desks, Taskmaster puts them to work. Each season, five performers are selected to complete absurd, brain-teasing, physically demanding, embarrassing or messy tasks — officially on the orders of the Taskmaster, host Greg Davies, but actually conceived by series creator and Taskmaster’s Assistant Alex Horne. While the performers, Davies and Horne sit in a studio with an audience, everyone watches video of how they interpreted the task; Davies then ranks their performance from 1st to 5th, awarding points accordingly. While the winner of each episode gets to take home the random assortment of items from the prize task (for such prompts as “most jaw-dropping thing”), there is also a season tally, and in the finale, the overall points winner is awarded a gold bust of Greg’s head.
Biggest Surprise: When the original U.K. version of The Office can be one of the most acclaimed comedy shows of all time with a series run of 14 episodes, knowing that there are 149 episodes (and counting) of Taskmaster feels like we’re getting away with something.
And If This Hits, Try: Doing a little Googling to find the other international versions of the show: Taskmaster NZ aired its fourth season this year, and Season Two of Taskmaster Australia is coming in 2024. Once you’ve exhausted all those episodes, you can branch out to editions from Denmark, Portugal, Quebec, Croatia, and Spain, among many others; you can definitely skip America’s.