If you're reading this, you have what it takes to watch television in 2018.
Because after decades of the U.S. introducing the world to the American way of life through the lenses of international hits like NCIS even as we confined ourselves to English-language imports on PBS or BBC America (or remaking other countries' hits for U.S. audiences), Americans now get to see TV from places where English isn't the primary language.
We just need to do a little reading.
It's been nearly five years since I wrote that Sundance TV's presentation of the French drama The Returned was "more than a zombie show for those of us who'd rather read subtitles for eight hours than see one more decaying face run through with a sharp stick," and at the time, I'll admit, I still thought of it as a trade-off — an extra effort I was willing to make if something was really good.
Since then, I've spent dozens, if not hundreds, more hours watching subtitled television from all over the world — on Netflix or Amazon Prime (and lately on Sundance's streaming arm, Sundance Now), and I've come to love subtitles for themselves.
Which is good, because now it's not just content-hungry streaming services or niche cable channels that are delivering dialogue across the bottom of our screens.
On Nov. 18, HBO will premiere its first foreign-language production, My Brilliant Friend. An adaptation of the Elena Ferrante international best seller set in Naples, it will be subtitled in Italy as well as in the U.S. because the show's Neapolitan dialect apparently isn't familiar to most Italians, either.
People who read Ferrante's four-novel series shouldn't mind a little more reading, but what about other viewers? Many, like me, have been easing into subtitles for years.
In a 2015 piece for the Washington Post, writer Stephanie Merry credited Netflix's popular drug-crime drama Narcos with tricking Americans into reading off the screen. "The subtitles are stealthily delivered, kind of like a parent furtively adding butternut squash to the mac and cheese," she wrote.
I'd argue, though, that ABC's Lost did that more than 10 years earlier, and less sneakily.
In 2004, it gave us Jin Kwon, a character who spoke no English, and his wife, Sun (Yunjin Kim), who at first pretended not to know any. Playing Jin required Haverford College grad Daniel Dae Kim to learn more Korean than he'd known, since he'd moved to America at a young age. It also required the show's writers to use more subtitles than they initially thought they could get away with.
"One of the ideas that we had was if they were speaking to each other and other castaways were around, you wouldn't see subtitles," Lost cocreator Damon Lindelof told reporters in 2008. "If they were speaking to each other and they were alone, then you would. So you had the sense of the other castaways who didn't speak Korean … not knowing exactly what they were saying to each other."
Then Lost got to "Sun's flashback story, and we looked at the script, and we realized, 'Oh, my God. Forty percent of this show is in Korean,' " Lindelof said, recalling that at the time, he expected to "get nailed" by ABC over it. But "we never got that note, 'Less Korean. Do they have to speak so much Korean together?' "
If you're still holding against subtitles and their helpful cousin, closed-captioning, consider that that they:
Aren't just for drama nerds. Netflix's first Mexican "reality" show, Made in Mexico, debuted on Friday, Sept. 28, and though its participants mostly come from the Real Housewives class — conspicuous consumers obsessed with their social standing — it offers a view of Mexico City that most American TV doesn't. Which isn't to say most Mexicans would recognize themselves in it, any more than most of us (I hope) see ourselves in those table-tipping frightfests on Bravo. Made in Mexico's cast includes at least a couple of U.S. expats, and the rest occasionally speak English, but the show's primarily in Spanish.
Can introduce you to the next contemporary Sherlock Holmes. CBS's Elementary just wrapped up its sixth season and won't be back until 2019. No one seems to know exactly when (or if) Sherlock will return to PBS. But if you miss Sherlock and you're an HBO subscriber, you can stream eight episodes of Miss Sherlock on its digital platforms, including HBO Go and HBO Now, or watch it through On Demand if your provider offers it (Comcast does). A stylish Tokyo-set production from HBO Asia, it stars Yūko Takeuchi as police consultant Sara "Sherlock" Shelly Futaba and Shihori Kanjiya as Dr. Wato Tachibana. Takeuchi couldn't look less like Benedict Cumberbatch but, like his Sherlock, hers is crazy-charismatic while managing to intimidate everyone she encounters.
May help give American viewers a fresh perspective on global issues. While Florence was battering the Carolinas, I was becoming engrossed in The Swell, a 2016 Dutch-Belgian mini-series on Sundance Now about a fictional storm that leaves half the Netherlands under water, turning many of the survivors into refugees in their own country and forcing some previously unimaginable political decisions. I've written before about Occupied, a 2015 Norwegian series on Netflix that's based on an idea by novelist Jo Nesbø. It's about a Russian takeover of Norway that occurs with no pushback from the European Union or the U.S. By the time I saw the second season on Netflix this summer, Nesbø's idea resonated differently with me.
Make it harder to multitask. Shows with subtitles have definitely slowed down my knitting, but they've also helped keep me focused on what I'm watching, something that in the age of Twitter and Facebook and crossword puzzle apps isn't easy. With TV dramas becoming ever more complicated (thanks, Lost!), it's probably worth trying to maintain an attention span longer than a goldfish's.