Shows like the Netflix French crime drama Lupin and Israeli drama Losing Alice, which arrived on Apple TV+ this week, would have struggled to find a home on U.S. television a decade ago since American viewers are notoriously averse to reading subtitles. Thanks to the streaming era, there are now a slew of foreign language shows that are easily available. "The reasons for this rapid influx are many," says Judy Berman. "Traditional TV providers, from free, over-the-air broadcasters to cable companies, served geographically or linguistically distinct national audiences. (And when pay-TV creators like HBO and MTV went global, it was through discrete overseas spin-off channels.) Streaming, by contrast, was built to scale. Netflix, whose first exclusive offering, in 2012, was the bilingual Norwegian import Lilyhammer, is currently available in more than 190 countries. Now, in addition to licensing shows and movies in dozens of languages, it produces and co-produces them all over the world; last year, Netflix launched its first African original, the multilingual Queen Sono. Multinational conglomerates like AT&T subsidiary HBO Max have stocked the digital shelves of their newly launched streaming services with programming from international sister stations. Peacock has shows from corporate parent Comcast’s Spanish-language property Telemundo. And during the pandemic, foreign-language programming has helped to fill a gap caused by production shutdowns. So far, the internationalization of TV has been a resounding success. Netflix announced in January that Lupin ... had cracked the U.S. top 10 and was on track to reach more viewers than last year’s English-language hits Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. And as part of the long-tail economy that is Peak TV, hundreds of shows from abroad have won over Americans who’ve dropped cable and now stuff their streaming queues with romantic Korean dramas or chilly Nordic thrillers or kinetic Japanese anime. What has made Americans—who are notorious for failing to learn second languages, as well as for avoiding foreign films and literature in translation—embrace this stuff? For one thing, with megacorps like Disney pouring funds into an IP-heavy TV development strategy borrowed from their movie studios, foreign-language television is starting to feel like as much of a refuge as foreign-language cinema has long been from brainless, big-budget Hollywood spectacles. Lest we get too proud of our newfound sophistication, the shift also reflects Netflix and some other services’ choice to invest in dubbing rather than ask viewers to read subtitles—a business-savvy but artistically bankrupt decision that robs audiences of the original actors’ voices."
How Lupin became a surprise Netflix hit: "The greatest trick by Lupin, a new French series on Netflix, is disguising substantiveness in plain sight," says Adrian Horton, adding: "The show is slight – five episodes of about 43 minutes (with more to come this year) – and without much press in the US, yet a week after its release is the second most watched program on Netflix, and the streamer’s first French program to crack the top 10 in the American market. It’s currently the streamer’s most-watched global program and the company has now stated that it’s set to reach 70m households within the first month, which will make it bigger than both Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. It’s not hard to see why; Lupin combines the verve of Ocean’s Eleven with the thrilling implausibility and cultural lore of the first National Treasure. Where Nicolas Cage stole the Declaration of Independence, Assane begins the series with a similarly outlandish plan: steal Marie Antoinette’s necklace, lost for 25 years and slated for auction, from the Louvre."
Lupin excels by leaning into the gentleman thief mold: "The thing I like about Lupin is that someone steals Marie Antoinette’s diamond necklace from The Louvre in the first episode," says Brian Grubb. "I suppose this is a spoiler in the most technical definition of the term, as it is a thing that happens in the show, but also, come on. The word 'heist' is right there in the episode description, and the promotional images for the show — including the one at the top of this page — feature a man in a custodial-type uniform staring at a diamond necklace with mischief in his eyes. I think we all knew that the necklace was getting stolen at some point. I’m just saying I appreciated that they got right to it. The spoiler would be me telling you how the necklace was stolen, or why, although I suspect you’ve already deduced that there was misdirection and misadventure involved. And men in tuxedos. And a creepy evil rich dude who deserves some amount of comeuppance. And you’d be correct, for the record, about all of it. But that’s what makes Lupin so fun. The show doesn’t break the mold of the Gentleman Thief genre in any substantive way. In fact, it does the opposite. It leans all the way into the mold, winking at the audience throughout, with disguises and twists."
Where are all the Black people in Lupin?: "The series casts Assane as a special Black man, a token tossed in a lily field," says Tirhakah Love of Omar Sy's character. "It makes the choice to depict other Black people as prisoners or blue-collar employees eyebrow-raising. Clearly, race exists and functions similarly in this world as it does in our own. So why all the fantastical erasure? While watching the show, I began to wonder whether Assane has ever spent meaningful time with Black people outside of his own father and biracial son. He fancies himself as smarter than the targets of his heists, yet he only seeks out White people for his team. The fence he employs to trade his swiped goods? The White dude who defended him against racist bullies at the aforementioned private school? The journalist that he seeks to help him go public with corruption within the Pellegrini family? A White author and whistleblower, Fabienne Beriot, who, in an intense conversation with Assane, dares to say that a “woman like her” is treated like trash and left at the bottom. The scene makes the series’ complete omission of Black women — who in reality, are harassed and degraded in all lanes of society — all the more glaring (and weird). Had Beroit been cast as a Black woman, her plight might have seemed more believable."