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The Best Polish TV Series to Watch in Lockdown

22 May 2020
With all of us still in some form of lockdown during the Coronavirus pandemic, we've already gone through our list of top Polish books to read and then powered through the best Polish films, so it's almost inevitable that we'd remain glued to our screens to stave off boredom and move on to watching the best Polish TV shows. As much as we've been impressed by the calibre of Polish cinematography, the last few years have seen some top Polish shows being made, all of which are available to watch online through the big name streaming services.

We've been so impressed by some of the shows we've watched recently that we dare say Scandinavian crime fiction (or Nordic noir) has now been nudged aside by the ascent of the Polish crime series. Although some of these shows seem to retread the same thematic ground, and also suffer from excessive aerial shots of forests and landscapes accompanied by eery, melancholic music (something all too common in Nordic noir), the narrative backbone of each series is unique enough to keep an audience captivated and wanting more! Below we've compiled a list of our favourite Polish series, which you can watch online in Polish, the majority accompanied by subtitles, and even one in original English audio.

 

Belfer

A Polish high school teacher, Paweł Zawadzki (Maciej Stuhr), moves from Warsaw to a small town, and like any teacher, he needs a hobby to keep himself entertained - so he becomes a private investigator! Shortly before his arrival, a model student at his school has been murdered in mysterious circumstances (would you even watch if it wasn't shrouded in mystery?!). Zawadzki, or Belfer (a colloquial term for a teacher), feels compelled to begin his own investigation, while simultaneously having to deal with the lack of trust shown to him from the local residents. What is revealed is a web of corruption and fraud amongst the local elites. This is definitely one of the best Polish shows we've seen.

Seasons: 2 (2016, 2017)
No. of Episodes: 18
Genre: crime, thriller, action
Viewing Platform: Canal+ Player

 

Wataha (The Pack)

Originally known in English as 'The Border,' HBO seems to have improved their translation for the most recent season, updating it to The Pack - as in 'wolf pack,' a more literal translation of 'Wataha.' As this is HBO, the production values are very high, the show is amazing and English subs are a given. Set on the Polish-Ukrainian border, the plot follows an elite team of Polish border guards who combat human traffickers smuggling people into the country. Celebrating in a log cabin after a successful mission, all but one border guard, Captain Victor Rebrow (Leszek Lichota), are killed in a bomb attack. Following his recovery, he returns to work to head a new 'pack' of the border guard, with his personal aim being to discover who the killers were and what their motives are. Being the sole survivor of the attack, there is immediate suspicion from the local prosecutor that Victor is somehow connected to what happened, that he may be connected to organised crime. The show is intriguing, following Victor's personal mission to discover the truth, maintain his innocence, and struggle to cope with the internal personal conflicts within his new 'wataha'.

Seasons: 3 (2014, 2017, 2019)
No. of Episodes: 18
Genre: crime, thriller, action
Viewing Platform: HBO GO

 

1983

Now for something that goes beyond a simple crime thriller, moving into an alternate historical timeline. Take the idea that the Iron Curtain never came down, that Communist rule in Poland never ended, and is still going strong today. Yuck. We all know the story of Martial Law being imposed in 1981-83 and of the growing Solidarity Movement in Poland, but the makers of 1983 turned this history on its head - a series of terrorist attacks took place in Poland in 1983 which led the Soviet authorities to impose a police state that prevented the Soviet Union from falling apart. In present day [still] Communist Poland, Law student Kajetan Skowron (Maciej Musiał) and Citizens' Militia investigator Anatol Janów (Robert Więckiewicz) uncover a conspiracy that could potentially start a revolution. An interesting concept for anyone with an interest in Polish history that asks a big unnerving 'what if?'.

Seasons: 1 (2018)
No. of Episodes: 8
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Viewing Platform: Netflix
 

The Witcher (Wiedźmiń)

And now for something completely different. Step aside crime drama, it's time for some fantasy. The Witcher, starring Superman Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia and the curiously-exotic Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg has been hugely successful and, for the binge-inclined masses, the series has filled the fantastical void that was left after the disappointing finale of HBO’s Game Of Thrones. Newcomers to the franchise may not know much about what preceded Season 1: notably an equally-successful game and, of course, the book series that it’s all based on by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The Polish-American show follows Geralt of Rivia, a monster slayer for hire, and Princess Ciri, who possesses magical powers, as they are bound by destiny; the episodes build up various character arcs before eventually all timelines merge. Filming predominantly took place in Hungary, however, a few key Polish locations were included in the show as a homage to Sapkowski and the show's connection to Poland. 

Seasons: 1 (2019) - more planned.
No. of Episodes: 8
Genre: Fantasy
Viewing Platform: Netflix
 

Kruk. Szepty słychać po zmroku (Raven. Whispers can be heard after dark)

A hotly anticipated show in 2018, and shot entirely in 4K, Kruk is the story of Łódź Crime Division officer, Adam Kruk (Michał Żurawski) with an addiction to prescription and psychotropic drugs, who returns to his hometown where he is tasked to help in the case of a young boy who has been kidnapped. As often happens in a storyline involving 'returning to your roots', Kruk has to deal with the demons of his past, focusing on themes of institutionalised abuse. In an attempt to sway from the generic crime drama genre, elements of magical realism add a fantasy element to the show as the main protagonist interacts with other characters only he can see. Are they ghosts? Personal demons? It all adds to a mysterious background story as Kruk aims to solve the kidnapping case, and deal with his own internal struggles.

Seasons: 1 (2018)
No. of Episodes: ​​​​​​​6
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Magical Realism
Viewing Platform: ​​​​​​​Canal+ Player
 

Blinded by the Lights (Ślepnąc od Świateł)

Follow 7 days in the life of Warsaw cocaine dealer Kuba Nitecki (Kamil Nożyński), whose clients include everyone from politicians and businessmen to yuppies, celebs and hipsters. Well known, yet also unknown, his perfectly organised life begins to unravel and he wants out, his aim to escape to Argentina. Wouldn't you know it - his career acquaintances​​​​​​​ are gangsters (played by Janusz Chabior and Robert Więckiewicz) who may make leaving his former life more difficult, particularly when a notorious 'old school' gangster returns on the scene after release from prison. Nail biting stuff. The stunning cinematography helps build up the atmosphere, making this more than 'just another gangster series'.

Seasons: 1 (2018)
No. of Episodes:​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​8
Genre: Crime, Thriller, neo noir
Viewing Platform: ​​​​​​​HBO GO
 

Rojst (The Mire)

Filmed in and around Katowice (and Warsaw), The Mire, revolves around the brutal murders of a prostitute and her apparent boyfriend in a forest in 1984 Poland. Unsurprisingly, nothing is as it seems or easy to decipher for a crime drama, but the setting and title provide some big clues. Set during Communist-era Poland after the imposition of Martial Law (1981-83) with the Solidarity movement building momentum, the times were bleak, as depicted by the show's well-chosen colour palette. The Mire (a boggy marsh) itself implies the difficulty to manoeuvre​​​​​​​ in such a system, meaning any actions or movements taken will simply bog you down even more - the characters are victims to the unfortunate circumstances of the time. This is the backdrop to the show, which depicts two journalists - one an old staffer, Witold Wanycz (Andrzej Seweryn), and the other his young protégé Piotr Zarzycki (Dawid Ogrodnik) - as they investigate the crime, believing there is more to the case than the official police investigation concluded. What follows is the unravelling of a corrupt local system involving organised crime - and all this littered with personal stories dating back to the forced mass migrations to/from the 'recovered territories' following World War 2. There are only 5 episodes, but this mini-series is worth the binge watch.

Seasons: 1 (2018)
No. of Episodes:​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​5
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Viewing Platform: ​​​​​​​Netflix
 

Zasada Przyjemności (The Pleasure Principle)

Another chance to see the same scenery of the Polish-Ukrainian-Czech borderland in Poland's Bieszczady Mountains that you may have seen in Wataha (The Pack), this time going beyond the theme of human trafficking. The Pleasure Principle is a Polish-Czech-Ukrainian co-production which explores the idea of the political borders actually being a fine boundary where peoples' ethical and moral compasses become skewed. The show follows separate investigations taking place in Warsaw, Prague and Odessa after three young women are killed and mutilated in each city in a similar fashion and within a short space of time. The killings appear connected, leading to co-operation on the cases between three international police departments, and as expected, nothing is as it seems, as the story unfolds to expose a web of corrupt businessmen, politicians and organised crime.

Seasons: 1 (2019)
No. of Episodes:​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​10
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Viewing Platform: Canal+ Player
 

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