When Netflix debuted its stylish French heist thriller Lupin in early January, it was just the latest in the streamer’s surprisingly long line of foreign language Originals. Its trailer was slick, and star Omar Sy cut a captivatingly dashing figure, but it was unclear, that first weekend the series was available, if it would go on to find the kind of mainstream (American) success that shows like Élite (Spain), Dark (Germany) and Warrior Nun (Italy-ish) had previously managed to secure, or if it would end up being more of a hidden foreign language gem, à la Ninguém Tá Olhando (Brazil), Vampires (France) and Baby (Italy).
Cut to the end of the month, when Netflix announced that not only had Lupin managed to become the first French series to crack America’s Top 10 list (an achievement only slightly diminished by the fact that the Top 10 feature is barely a year old), but it was also on track to reach a record 70 million households in its first 28 days. (Previous record-holders The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton, by contrast, reached 62 million and 63 million households within their own 28-day periods, respectively.)
These numbers don’t reflect how many people watched the series’ initial five-episode run all the way through, of course, but I’m not entirely sure that matters—here in the midst of the streaming wars, with dozens of buzzy shows on dozens of subscriber-hungry platforms all competing for our increasingly fractured attention, even a tiny slice of 70 million is significant. Lupin, I think it’s safe to say, is a bona fide hit. Which makes the fact that Part 2 isn’t set to arrive until later this year… frustrating, to say the least.
Well, Lupin fans: I am here to help. We might not get to see Sy’s dashing Assane pull one over on all of Paris for many more months yet, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can fill the hole while we wait. In fact, with so many disparate elements driving Lupin to the success it’s found, the global television scene has more than enough options to satisfy whatever kind of Lupin fan you might be.
To that end, I’ve pulled together a kind of Choose-Your-Own-Global-Recommendation adventure. If you dug Lupin because you dig a stylish heist (and/or con), go here; if you dug it because you’re a francophile at heart, go here; and if you dug it because you dug getting to see a Black man take on the kind of lead role that pop culture has historically handed to white men, go here. Alternately, if you dug Lupin for all of the above, just keep scrolling…
Note: As savvy natives of the streaming wars, you don’t need us to propose that, if what you liked best about Lupin was the heist/gentleman thief angle, you’d probably also dig White Collar, Leverage, or It Takes A Thief. Nor, if you dug it mainly for how much fun Omar Sy got to have reinventing an historically white archetype, do you need us to suggest that you check out Cress Williams on Black Lightning, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II on Watchmen, or Malcolm Barrett on Timeless. Happily, these are all beloved, well-known shows here in the states. They’re also all American. With very few exceptions, the recommendations that follow are internationally produced, and most are in a foreign language. All hail the global reach of the Streaming Wars!
The success of Lupin might have felt, to the average viewer, like it came out of nowhere, but as this section of the guide shows, Netflix long ago figured out that heist/con stories are subscriber catnip. They don’t have a monopoly on the genre (yet), but on the whole, if heist shows are what you’re after, Netflix really is the place to be.
Voice Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Finn Wolfhard, Abby Trott, Michael Hawley, Dawnn Lewis, Paul Nakauchi, Rafael Petardi, Charlet Takahashi Chung
Watch it on: Netflix
Anyone with pre-teen kids at home is likely to already be familiar with Netflix’s gorgeously animated Carmen Sandiego revival, but for anyone who has yet to give it a go, let this be the day you dive in. Featuring the vocal talents of Gina Rodriguez as Carmen, Finn Wolfhard as her homeschooled ops director, Player, and Dawnn Lewis as Chief of ACME, this deeply stylish iteration of Carmen Sandiego imagines the scarlet-clad thief as more of a Robin Hood-type figure. An Argentinean orphan who grew up inside the walls of the VILE Academy and only recently managed to de-program herself and escape, Rodriguez’s Carmen is on a mission to take VILE down once and for all. With the help of both Player and Boston siblings Ivy (Abby Trott) and Zack (Michael Hawley), she dedicates herself to following VILE around the globe, foiling their evil schemes when she can, and stealing back their previously stolen treasures when she can’t—a reverse heist series, if you will. There is definitely an edutainment element to the whole enterprise, to cater to its core demographic—Player takes a time-out each episode to brief Carmen (and the audience) on key geographical/historical facts for each new locale they visit—but it also gives Carmen a complexly serialized personal arc (not unlike Assane’s in Lupin) that will leave both kids and adults entertained.
(As a bonus, for anyone interested in falling all the way down the crimson caper rabbit hole: Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal is the best take on the interactive episode concept Netflix has made to date.)
Casa de Papel (Money Heist)
Language: Spanish (Spain)
Cast: Úrsula Corberó, Álvaro Morte, Itziar Ituño, Pedro Alonso, Miguel Herrán, Jaime Lorente, Esther Acebo, Enrique Arce, Darko Peric, Alba Flores
Watch it on: Netflix
One of the most straightforward if this, then that recommendations on this list, Netflix’s own Casa de Papel (aka, Money Heist) is tailor-made for everyone who wished the flashy Louvre heist that kicked Lupin off could have lasted longer than a single episode. Featuring a large ensemble cast that both introduces new Spanish actors to American audiences and draws more familiar faces in from other Netflix projects (its three youngest actors, for example, all coming over from teen hit Élite), the series follows a crew of near-strangers as they attempt, under the careful direction of their mysterious leader, El Profesor (Álvaro Morte), a heist for the ages: stealing 2.4 billion euros from the Royal Mint of Spain. Now five seasons into its massively successful run, Money Heist might be a bit closer in vibe to Ocean’s Eleven than Lupin, but it should still fill the Assane-shaped hole in every Lupin lover’s heart as we await the arrival of Part 2.
El Robo del Siglo (The Great Heist)
Language: Spanish (Colombia)
Cast: Andrés Parra, Christian Tappán, Marcela Benjumea, Paula Castaño
Watch it on: Netflix
The unbelievable true story behind Colombia’s greatest bank robbery in history has been floating around for decades, but it wasn’t until last year that a big budget adaptation of it hit the world’s small screens. Another international Netflix Original, El Robo del Siglo (The Great Heist) is a limited series out of Colombia that follows the crew behind the wildly ambitious 1994 heist. Using grifter Robert “Chayo” Lozano (Andrés Parra) as its way in, The Great Heist necessarily loses out on some of the complexity that getting to see the story from other characters’ perspectives might have provided, but with a runtime of only six episodes, that single perspective is probably for the best. In any case, what The Great Heist loses in narrative breadth it definitely makes up for in period-specific style.
Now, if only we can get Netflix to adapt the story of Argentina’s “Robbery of the Century” for a follow-up series…
Enkelstöten (The Simple Heist)
Cast: Lotta Tejle, Sissela Kyle, Tomas von Brömssen, Ralph Carlsson, Kristin Andersson, David Wiberg
Watch it on: Acorn TV
The solitary recommendation in this section that doesn’t hail from Netflix, Acorn TV’s Enkelstöten (The Simple Heist) is basically what you would get if you took NBC’s Good Girls, but recast it with a couple of Swedish retirees. Starring Lotta Tejle and Sissella Kyle as age-old friends Jenny and Cecelia, who take on a pre-planned bank heist that serendipitously falls into their laps, The Simple Heist leans on the same societal weaknesses that Lupin does to give its thieving protagonists such wild success—that is to say, as old* women (*over the age of 50), Jenny and Sissy fade into the background on the streets of Stockholm in much the same way that Assane does as a Black man on the streets of Paris. This doesn’t preclude them (or Assane) from getting tangled up in whole heaps of danger, of course, but obviously, that’s where the fun of the show lies. And with only two short seasons to its name, it’s a fun watch that’s easy enough to binge over the service’s free 7-day trial period.
(Pro tip: If you don’t currently have an Acorn TV subscription, check with your local library; many systems have log-in credentials available for check-out on a short-term basis.)
Cast: Inbar Levi, Rob Heaps, Parker Young, Marianne Rendón, Stephen Bishop, Brian Benben, Katherine LaNasa
Watch it on: Netflix
Bravo had hardly dipped a toe in the scripted originals pool before it pivoted hard back to what it does best (…reality?), but of the handful of series that made it to air in the second half of the last decade, Imposters was arguably the most surprising. Starring Inbar Levi as a con artist who specializes in marrying rich young romantics before taking them for all they’re worth, Rob Heaps, Parker Young, and Marianne Rendón as three marks who band together to seek revenge (slash win her back), and Stephen Bishop as a federal agent setting up a honeypot for her by posing as an ideal next mark, Imposters perfectly balances the slick cleverness of a great heist drama with the slapstick shenanigans of a solid rom-com. Between the hot-hot-hot cat-and-mouse game played between Levi and Bishop, the found-family bond that forms amongst the trio of spurned lovers as they master their own skills as con artists/thieves, and a truly bonkers guest turn from Uma Thurman as a menacing wetwork expert keen to keep Levi in the game, Imposters is the perfect show for heist lovers in search of a bit more love than heist.
One of the best things the rise of streaming has accomplished is making it dead easy to access just about any kind of foreign language series you could dream of—and that’s not counting the whole slate of international Netflix Originals discussed above. No more do avid language learners need to make pilgrimages to their local indie video rental store (RIP) in the vain hope that maybe a new title in their language of choice might be available; now we’ve got more options than we could ever get through right there on our smart screens, a simple click away.
To that end, if the French of it all was what drew you to Lupin in the first place, here are five excellent French language series available to stream this moment, both on Netflix and off. Amusez-vous bien!
Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau)
Cast: Mathieu Kassovitz, Florence Loiret Caille, Jonathan Zaccaï, Sara Giraudeau, Jules Sagot, Zineb Triki, Irina Muluile, Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Watch it on: Sundance Now
A taut, stylish spy drama, Le Bureau des Légendes (The Bureau) is a long-running cult favorite. Starring Mathieu Kassovitz (of Amélie fame) as veteran field agent Malotru, this Canal+/Sundance Now series follows agents from the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) around the globe as they get entangled in increasingly intense international imbroglios. Smartly written and full of exceptional performances, The Bureau stands out not just as a classic entry in the realist spycraft genre, but also for the fact that many of its storylines are inspired by contemporary events and loosely based on the actual accounts of former spies. What’s more, it’s got the seal of approval from the French Institute Alliance Française, which currently has a longform interview with creator Eric Rochant posted on its website, along with a code for an extended 30-day free trial for FIAF members.
Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent!)
Cast: Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Grégory Montel, Liliane Rovère, Fanny Sidney, Nicolas Maury, Stéfi Celma, Laure Calamy
Watch it on: Netflix
Netflix is, as they say, pleine de series of all genres en français — from modern dating comedies to supernatural teen thrillers to spies (but make it comedy), you really can find as many great French series to settle into on Netflix as you can heist shows (see above). Ask any francophile in your immediate social circle for their favorite, though, it’s likely you’ll hear the same title come up again and again: Dix Pour Cent, better known in states as Call My Agent! (exclamation absolutely included). A swishy workplace comedy in the vein of Younger or The Bold Type or even (in a certain light) Ugly Betty, Call My Agent! follows the professional and personal trials of a quartet of high-end talent agents (and their various personal assistants) in the heart of Paris. In a truly inspired gimmick, however—as in, so inspired, I’ll eat my proverbial hat if Netflix doesn’t eventually spin the whole thing into an even more inspired (read: cynically profitable) American adaptation—the series is formatted like a procedural, each episode focused on (and named after) a barely fictional version of some real-life French celebrity. Cécile de France. JoeyStarr. Juliette Binoche. José Garcia. Isabelle Huppert. At one point, NBA star Tony Parker shows up. At another, Sigourney Weaver does. But while all these big names are the superficial draw, it’s the soapy entanglements between everyone working at the agency that will keep you slamming that oui button when, hours into your first binge, Netflix asks, Still watching?
Les Ombres Rouges (The Red Shadows)
Cast: Nadia Farès, Manon Azem, Antoine Duléry, Lannick Gautry, Raphaël Lenglet, Mhamed Arezki
Watch it on: Sundance Now
Managing to balance the grittiness of the traditional European crime thriller with the balmy sunniness of its Mediterannean setting, Les Ombres Rouges (The Red Shadows) is for everyone who loves a Nordic Noir, but might be looking for a bit of sunshine as the North American winter lingers on. Starring Nadia Farès as Detective Aurore Garnier Paoletti from a ludicrously wealthy Côte d’Azur family and Manon Azem as Clara, a woman who might possibly be the long-lost sister whose childhood abduction spurred Aurore to choose the career she did, The Red Shadows is packed to the Mediterannean gills with twists, turns and tense family drama. As a bonus, its exclusive streaming rights are also owned by Sundance Now, so if you’re already signing up to binge The Bureau, you might as well add this to your list.
Cast: Philippine Stindel, Marylin Lima, Axel Auriant, Assa Aïcha Sylla, Robin Migné, Coline Preher, Lula Cotton-Frappier, Léo Daudin, more
I have never skipped an opportunity to rave about the global teen TV phenomenon that is Julie Andem’s SKAM universe, and I’m not about to start now—especially when SKAM France, from French public service television network France.tv Slash, is currently the franchise’s longest running international adaptation. (Seven seasons and counting!) Originally based on extensive research commissioned by Norwegian public broadcast NRK to figure out the exact kind of original programming Norwegian teens were hungry for, SKAM’s goal, in all its international adaptations, is to get as close to teenage realism as possible—down, even, to giving its actual-teen characters “real” social media accounts that inform story elements within the series, and which fans can interact with in between episode “drops.” (New episodes drop in random “real time” chunks throughout the week before getting edited together into a more traditional episodic format over the weekend.) While each adaptation features a large, ever-shifting ensemble cast, each season is told from the perspective of a single character, and focuses on whatever Major Issue that character is facing (cyberbullying, sexual abuse, homophobia, islamophobia, racism, ableism, addiction, etc.).
Like its fellow international adaptations, SKAM France follows many of the same arcs that SKAM itself did (a favorite fan pastime is mapping the character arcs of new SKAM offshots to those in the original), but it is also, like its fellow international adaptations, unafraid to stray from the mold when cultural realism demands it. This makes it an ideal pick for the streaming-savvy francophile — you want a window into contemporary French language and culture, you really can’t do any better than SKAM France.
Note: If you are having trouble isolating SKAM France within the France.tv Slash YouTube channel, fansite All of SKAM has collected earlier seasons (with subtitles) here.
Cast: Romain Duris, Céline Sallette, Laurent Lucas, Flora Fischbach, Florence Thomassin, Athaya Mokonzi
Watch it on: Topic
Topic’s punk rock drama Vernon Subutex, adapted by Canal+ from the Virginie Despentes novel of the same name, is arguably the most audacious French series to hit American shores in the last few years. Starring Romain Duris as Vernon Subutex, a former record store owner and washed up titan of the Parisian punk scene who finds himself both homeless and the accidental guardian of a dangerous set of videotapes after his friend, punk rock legend Alex Bleach (Athaya Mokonzi), dies from an overdose on their last night hanging out, Vernon Subutex is as much love letter to great music as it is the epic tale of a bearded Peter Pan struggling to find a way to grow up without selling out. (NB: Lupin fans will recognize Mokonzi as the inmate Assane swaps places with to break into prison.) Surprisingly, though—thanks to a parallel storyline that follows a producer named Anaïs (Flora Fischbach) and a head-hunter called La Hyène (Céline Sallette) as trawl Southern France for different dirt from Bleach’s past—it manages also to be something of a high-octane mystery. (Think: What did Alex Bleach know, and when did he know it? but with the singer’s old punk friends-turned-corporate sellouts leading the hunt.) A tight single-season series featuring compelling performances and excellent music, Vernon Subutex is more than worth Topic’s price of entry.
One of the greatest joys inherent to Lupin comes from seeing someone like Omar Sy just absolutely kill it in the kind of frothy lead role that television — both in Hollywood and abroad — has historically handed to white men. To that end, the list that follows is for anyone looking to chase a binge of Lupin with a few more (mostly) international series in which Black men get to take on the kinds of roles the world’s far more used to seeing white dudes in.
Doctor Who (Seasons 11 & 12)
Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh
Watch it on: HBO Max
Doctor Who has been around for so long that it might seem absurd to suggest that there’s still any kind of untapped audience for it waiting in the wings. But for anyone who generally likes goofy sci-fi but who’s never felt particularly motivated by the long-running British series’ very male, very white history, I do think it’s worth noting that its most recent seasons, which saw the Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) regenerate into a female form for the first time, also saw a Black man — Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) — join her as an official, core companion for the very first time. Now, the Doctor has had Black companions in the past — Freema Agyeman’s Martha was the second main companion in the series’ modern era, and Noel Clarke’s Mickey had tagged along as Rose’s frustrated boyfriend before that — but Ryan is the first Black man to participate in the Doctor’s whole timey-wimey deal both voluntarily (sorry, Mickey) and with a real sense of wonder and joy (again: sorry, Mickey!). Moreover, he’s the first whose Blackness is consistently taken seriously as the Doctor and her “fam” (which also includes Bradley Walsh as Ryan’s adoptive white grandpa, and Mandip Gill as Yaz, his childhood friend) travel through history — most notably (if a bit clunkily) when they land in 1955 Montgomery and meet Vinette Robinson’s Rosa Parks. That his run as the Doctor’s companion ends up being the rare one that ends (warning: minor spoilers ahead) happily and of his own volition, him and his grandad taking up the cause of keeping Earth safe when the Doctor’s away—that’s icing on the TARDIS cake.
Cast: Kayode Ewumi, Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge
Watch it on: Topic
American audiences may not know Enterprice star and creator Kayode Ewumi by name, but anyone who’s spent a hot second on the internet in the past several years will absolutely recognize him the second he shows up on screen: he is the face of the Roll Safe “think about it” meme. But while the #HoodDocumentary web series that meme comes from found Ewumi playing a disaffected, mustachioed youth swaggering his way through a mockumentary, Enterprice lets him take on the character of Kazim, a clean-shaven, bright-eyed young entrepreneur from South East London just looking to make a name for himself. Fashioned as a classic two-hander — co-star Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge joins Ewumi as Jeremiah, Kaz’s best friend and co-owner of home delivery service Speedi-Kaz — Enterprice gives Ewumi an opportunity to make comedic hay of both the Elephant and Castle borough he grew up in, and the Nigerian background he shares with Kaz. (Unsurprisingly, one of Ewumi’s creative touchpoints when developing the series was Atlanta.) Some of the geographically/culturally specific jokes will go over Americans’ heads, of course — British comedy is nothing if not constantly teetering on the edge of opacity to those of us watching from across the pond — but enough of it is legible that it’s more than worth using your trial run of Topic to watch it. If nothing else, Ewumi is already making moves on his next big project, a sci-fi story for a female double-act. You’re bound to become an Ewumi stan at some point, if you aren’t already — no reason not to fire up Enterprice right now.
Cast: Fary Lopes B
Watch it on: Netflix
The only unscripted title on this list, Fary Lopes B’s two-part Netflix stand-up special Fary: Hexagone could have easily fit in the French language section above. But while Black men have a long and storied history in the American stand-up scene, within the French one? As Lopes says when recounting a Senegalese audience’s interest in recognizing him as more African than French in Part 1 of the 2020 special: “Non. Nope! Déso!!!” In part this is because stand-up itself is, in France, a fairly maligned art form. But it certainly doesn’t help that France is also, in Lopes’ words, “fundamentally not anti-racist.”
National sentiment towards immigrants in France is hardly warmer than it is in the United States — see the entire premise of Lupin, for one sharp example; see the national uproar to Lopes’ “Hello, white people!” greeting at the 2019 Molière Awards, for another — and how non-white immigrants like Lopes (and Lupin’s Assane) see themselves can’t help but be warped as a result. These truths, not incidentally, inform the main themes Lopes explores in Hexagone: Are you born with a nationality, or do you acquire it, like a language? If your identity has been shaped both by African immigrant parents and a Frenchman’s inherent arrogance, how does that affect how you interact with the rest of the world? If your Gen Z half-brother can’t convince his school friends you’re actually related, is it your duty to absolutely clown him? (Answers: The latter, confusedly and perhaps with a bit more racism than you might expect, and yes, of course.)
This all can make for some heavy comedy, sure, but as with any good stand-up, Lopes pads his thornier bits about identity and racism out with more anodyne observations about, say, travel etiquette or pop culture. (His skewering of the Game of Thrones finale in Part 2, par un exemple, is a thing of beauty.) Honestly, whether you come for the window into Black French identity, or just to get a taste of the French stand-up scene, Fary: Hexagone is more than worth a couple of hours of your time.
Sakho & Mangane
Cast: Issaka Sawadogo, Yann Gael, Christiane Dumont
Watch it on: Topic
On the one hand, it’s hardly novel to see Black actors taking the lead in buddy-cop dramas—I mean, just look at Vulture’s list of “The 25 Greatest Buddy-Cop Movies Ever,” where nearly half the entries feature Black actors in a leading role. Less common, however, is for both halves of the buddy-cop equation to be Black; go back to that same Vulture list, and you’ll be unsurprised to find that the only title to meet that bar is Bad Boys.
Look abroad, though, and the story is different: Right now, Britain has Bulletproof (streaming stateside on The CW), starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke, Senegal has Sakho & Mangane (streaming on Topic), starring Issaka Sawadogo and Yann Gael, and, if you extend the definition of ‘Black’ to include Indigenous Australians (a thorny but important question), Australia has Mystery Road (streaming on Acorn TV), which saw Jada Alberts join star Aaron Pedersen in its most recent season.
Any one of these is worth checking out, but for my money, if you’re already going to sign up for Topic to access Vernon Subutex and Enterprice (and you should), you really ought to start with Sakho & Mangane. For one thing, there’s obviously the Senegalese connection with Lupin. For another, Sawadogo and Gael are both excellent as their respective archetypes, the Gruff Elder Captain (Sakho) and Bombastic Young Firebrand (Mangane), unceremoniously flung together by Dakar’s newly installed police chief, Mama Ba (a fierce Christiane Dumont), to work the series’ first major case, the mysterious dryland drowning death of a Belgian anthropologist/subsequent theft of a local fishing community’s sacred thiath. Maybe most compelling of all, though, is how viscerally compelling Sakho & Mangane is a cinematic experience—not only does it excel at dramatizing the community’s roiling sense of intra-cultural tension and supernatural intrigue, for example, but it does so in a spectacularly visual fashion. Filtered through dusty golds, pinks, and blues, the series is shot in a gonzo kind of cinéma vérité style, fond of closeups that verge on the uncomfortable, wide angles that unmoor rather than anchor you, and dizzying continuous shots that end up being as likely to lose track of key characters as they are to follow them through a given space. This can at times make for a disorienting watch, maybe, but it’s nevertheless a rewarding one. And if you pick up even more French along the way? Well, the eventual return of Lupin will only feel the sweeter.
Turn Up Charlie
Cast: Idris Elba, Piper Perabo, Frankie Hervey, JJ Feild, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Guz Khan, Angela Griffin, Jade Anouka
Watch it on: Netflix
As Collider’s own Allison Keene noted in her full review of this breezy comedy’s first and only season, Turn Up Charlie is, like its main character, a bit of a mess. Something of a passion project for series star and co-creator Idris Elba, who has a legit background as a professional DJ, this kinda-international Netflix comedy about a personally/professionally stalled DJ named Charlie (Elba) can’t quite decide what it wants to be. On paper, newcomer Frankie Hervey’s role as Gabs, the world-weary, emotionally neglected eleven-year-old Charlie gets strong-armed by his friends David (JJ Feild) and Sara (Piper Perabo) into babysitting, suggests that Turn Up Charlie aims to be a kind of slapstick family dramedy. (Idris Elba? As a manny??? Comedy gold!) On screen, though, as Charlie’s professional ambitions start taking up more and more space, the very idea of it working as a family dramedy starts to feel absurd. That said, Elba is always a charmer, and if he can pave the way for more extremely average kinda-family comedies about hot bumbling creative dudes who love their friends, are loyal to their family, and who aren’t white, that would be great. So I say, enjoy Charlie here, and cross your fingers that even better variations on the Elba-as-himbo-comedic-hero theme will be forthcoming.
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