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How foreign language TV is combating short attention spans

Increased screen-reliance during the pandemic has melted by attention span, but shows like Call My Agent! and Money Heist have kept me fully fixed on the screen, Lauren Morris writes.

Call My Agent
Published: Thursday, 1st April 2021 at 3:16 pm

We're all guilty of it. You'll slump onto the sofa after staring at a computer screen all day, stick on the latest Netflix boxset/BBC One drama/Channel 4 reality show and start watching, just to find yourself unconsciously pulling out your phone within the first five minutes.


Whether you're scrolling through Twitter, crushing candy or feeding an expensive ASOS habit, two episodes fly by and you've completely missed the major plot points. Michael Scott's cringeworthy monologues become a source of background noise and Love Island contestants turn into unfocused colourful blobs on the screen. Once in a while, you'll look up to catch Superintendent Ted Hastings grilling a bent copper whilst binging early series of Line of Duty, but then it's back to flicking through your primary school friends' baby photos on Facebook.

Multi-screen viewing is just one of the bad habits I've picked up over lockdown thanks to my ever-diminishing attention span – and it doesn't look like I'm the only one with the focussing abilities of a hamster. Twitter is rife with users complaining about attention spans shortening over the past year, with one writing, "The pandemic has rotted my attention span," while another asks: "Is it just me or since the pandemic y'all find it extra hard to stay focused?"

Constantly staring at an electronic brick with your laptop open next to you whilst the hottest TV series of the month blares away in the background isn't the most relaxing or ideal way of consuming television (especially if you're a TV journalist) – so thankfully, I've found a way to force my jellified brain to focus on the box. Three words: foreign language TV.

The world of international dramas, comedy and documentaries is worth diving into for its incredibly high standard alone and it's great to see so many French, Belgian, Korean, Spanish and Italian shows and films finally getting the recognition they deserve. Last year, Bong Joon-ho's Parasite became the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar, while shows like Spanish crime drama Money Heist and German sci-fi series Dark have received critical acclaim following their arrival on Netflix.

But there's an added bonus to binging excellent foreign-language titles – the English-speaking viewers' reliance on subtitles. Any hopes of following the plot, understanding the dialogue and getting to know the characters are pinned on keeping up with the words at the bottom of your screen, which means you've got to stay focussed for the duration.

Yes, OK – you can turn off the subtitles and listen to the dubbed over English but I find that can sometimes neuter the shows, robbing them of the fantastic performances from their original cast members. If you're able to read subtitles, then it's always worth opting for that option when it comes to foreign language films and TV.

I've spent the last few months of the pandemic diving into Call My Agent!, the French comedy everybody's talking about. Set in a Parisian talent agency, this sitcom follows a group of agents as they deal with the demands of their celebrity clients (with many French stars playing themselves), juggle their professional and personal lives, fend off attempts by the competition to poach their actors and save their company from failing after the death of its founder.

Not only is the series incredibly funny, complete with three-dimensional characters and full of inter-personal drama, but it's kept my eyes firmly fixed on the screen. Out of habit, I've picked up my phone a few times to check my emails or open TikTok before realising that I can't follow the plot audibly given my inability to understand French (my GCSE level of the language allows me to register the odd 'oui' or 'ca va', but shockingly, not any of the dialogue relating to the complex inner workings of a successful talent agency).

There are so many foreign-language series that deserve your attention for their intriguing plots, excellent cast performances and cinematic shots, but as they also require your attention if you're to follow their plots, then they're a great place to start if, like myself, you're struggling to focus on anything and everything.

Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.


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