This month, HBO brings to US audiences six wildly different dramas from its international divisions to keep you busy over the holidays. Now is a great time to check out something new, as, unless you’re a big fan of Lifetime’s annual lineup of cheesy Christmas movies, December is traditionally a slow month for television. Sure, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are keeping the TV pipeline open, but that’s mainly because there is no off position for the streaming content switch. And one of the ways streaming services keep fresh programming on tap for insatiable viewers, or just those looking to watch something with a different cultural perspective, is to bring in shows directly from international markets, without changing the content or messing around with expensive remakes.
For HBO subscribers who aren't afraid of subtitles, the premium channel is making full seasons of these international programs available to stream on services like HBO Go and HBO Now in December. That means six brand-new programs your friends probably have never heard of from HBO Europe, HBO Asia, and HBO Latin America, and a chance to broaden your horizons while you whittle away the shortened days during the upcoming holidays. Check out the line-up of HBO International shows below:
Perhaps the most striking of the six international series is Wasteland (Pustina), a dark, eight-episode miniseries from Czech Republic that takes the steady melancholy of the Scandinavian crime drama format and finds a way to make it even gloomier. The setting of the series is as bleak as its title, something made clear as the opening credits make use of some striking imagery that depicts the environmental and economic impact a mining company has on a small community. But while Wasteland makes a statement with its setting, the struggles of a small Czech village and a gigantic mining operation take a backseat to the suspicious disappearance of a young woman named Míŝa, who happens to be the daughter of Hana Sikorova, the village’s mayor and biggest detractor of the mining concern's aggressive efforts to relocate the village’s inhabitants.
As an added degree of difficulty, Wasteland also focuses on the young men of a reform school, and the question of whether or not one or more of them have anything to do with Míŝa's disappearance. The first hour alone throws several aspects of the young girl's disappearance into question, offering at least three potential red herrings, but more interestingly, it begins to show how the threads of this once tight-knit community have begun to unravel. It’s the ideal drama for anyone looking to be riveted by a strong mystery, but still wants to be fully immersed in the complex lives of characters caught up in an increasingly twisty drama. And since it's just an eight-episode miniseries, Wasteland makes for a no-strings-attached watch for those struggling to keep up with Peak TV.
This series from Poland follows Piotr Grodecki, an investigative journalist, who uncovers massive corporate fraud, only to find that his reporting has huge ramifications for not only him and his family, but the entire government as well. The Pact is a taut conspiracy thriller that blends political intrigue with corporate malfeasance that, not surprisingly, feels particularly incisive at the moment. But while it sounds like the series is a Polish version of The Wire season 5, the show actually functions more like a blend of All the President's Men and Homeland, as the deeper Piotr gets into uncovering the identities of the people behind the conspiracy he's investigating, the more likely it seems he, too, has been manipulated.
Told over the course of two, six-episode seasons, The Pact makes for binge-worthy viewing for those looking to add a little international, political intrigue to their TV watching. The series also makes for a nice change of pace for those looking for a conspiracy thriller, but want to see someone other than another special agent who plays by their own rules as the lead character.