We all know that Italian is a fiery, passionate, dramatic language.
That’s exactly why embracing your inner drama queen (or king) can be a route to Italian success.
So, let this be your next big challenge with the language. After getting a handle on the basics of any language, it’s normal to want to look for a new challenge.
When it comes to Italian, the best way to become truly fluent is to book a trip to Italia and start chatting with the natives—but that might be too big of a leap, while you’re just looking for a next step.
There’s another method, though, that’s much less expensive while keeping all the cultural and linguistic authenticity. You won’t even have to leave the comfort of your couch to try it!
Watching Italian drama series is a great way to practice your comprehension skills. After all, Italians are known for having some of the best dramatic series in the history of television, as well as dramatic movies that have taken the world by storm.
And, unlike some other genres of T.V. shows, Italian dramas pull you in and keep you focused on the characters and the plots. Prepare to get hooked. After just a few minutes, you’ll realize that you’re not watching a drama to learn how to use past tense verbs, you’re watching it to see how Francesca will bounce back after la morte of her husband—and you’ll just happen to pick up the past tense on the way!
Why Learn Italian by Watching Drama Series?
Before diving into recommended drama series, let’s lay some great reasons to get dramatic on the table.
- Italians love drama — If there’s one thing that everyone has heard about Italians, it’s that they’re a very dramatic people. Even if that statement sounds a bit like a stereotype, there’s nothing wrong with feeling your feelings—and Italians make feeling feelings an art form! Italians are very passionate and very expressive by nature, and this is a huge reason why drama series are the most popular genre of television in Italy.
Italian writers and directors use the innate depth, passion and drama their country is known for to create rich, riveting drama series that keep the viewer hooked from the very first episode. Some of the most well-loved and longest-running shows on television in Italy are drama series, and you can become a part of this tradition by getting in on the trend!
- Italian immersion — The main reason most Italian language learners start watching Italian television is to immerse themselves in the language. So what makes Italian drama series a good choice for that? The answer is simple: dramas are additive!
Unlike light comedies or news broadcasts, dramas demand your full focus. You can’t find out who murdered Signora Bianchi if you don’t listen closely to the dialogue and follow the plot! And the only way to do that is to block out all other distractions and immerse yourself in the story. Soon, you’ll be so absorbed in the plot that you won’t even realize you’re learning.
- Expand your vocabulary — Admittedly, Italian drama series may be a bit more of a challenge to watch than comedies and cartoons. This is due to the fact that these are shows made (for the most part) for grown-ups, and grown-ups use more complex, grown-up language. They also wax poetic at times. While watching, you’ll undoubtedly come across some words you haven’t heard before. This is a good thing, though, because it will help you to learn words in context and to remember them long after the episodes are over.
If you have trouble following along, just write down some of the words you don’t know and look them up when the show is over (or pause the show and look them up in the moment, even if this method takes you out of the story for a beat). Then rewatch the episode without stopping and see how much more you understand the second time!
- More motivation to master the language — As I said before, drama is addictive. What better motivation is there to master Italian than knowing that, once you do, you’ll unlock the all of the secrets hiding within your favorite dramatic shows?
You’ll be able to understand everything: every plot twist, every clue, every warning, every piece of the puzzle you need to solve the crimes before the commissario (police commissioner) does.
If the above points convinced you that you need some Italian drama in your life, here are a few places where you can find Italian drama series online.
Where to Watch Italian Drama Series
- Netflix — There are always several Italian films and series in the foreign language section of Netflix. The selection varies from month to month.
- Rai — Rai is the number one television station in Italy. Their website is home to thousands of Italian shows and movies you can watch anytime. The only catch is that a few of the shows are only available in Italy, so you might have to search a bit to find one you can watch!
- YouTube — YouTube is always a good place to look for Italian videos. Just search for “Italian language drama series” and you’ll find a ton of videos you can use for practice. In some cases, they won’t be whole episodes, but you can easily find clips from all of the series mentioned below to give you a taste of the plot!
Now that you know where to look for them, here are six great Italian drama series to get you started, along with the best places to watch them.
6 Intriguing Italian Drama Series to Dramatically Improve Your Italiano
1. “Il commissario Montalbano”
“Il commissario Montalbano” is one of the longest-running Italian dramas of all time. The first episode premiered in 1999 and the series is still going strong today.
Based on a set of bestselling novels by Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri, this series follows Commissario (police commissioner) Montalbano as he solves crimes in beautiful, scenic Sicily.
While the crimes he must solve can be gruesome and dark at times, the show isn’t without moments of levity, especially as the commissioner deals with his kooky coworkers and tries to figure out how to balance his work life and a long-distance relationship with his long-time love, Livia.
Taking place in Napoli (Naples), “Gomorra” is a dark, gritty crime drama about modern day Mafiosi. It focuses on the lives of several members of a crime family, and the power struggles they face both inside the mob and outside among the rest of the world.
Critics describe it as being like the successful American series “The Wire,” due to the fact that it concentrates on the different levels of crime in the mafia hierarchy, from the hitmen on the street all the way up to the mob boss himself.
You can buy DVD collections of “Gomorra” (with English subtitles available, just in case you need them) on Amazon.
3. “Il paradiso delle signore”
Partially based on a French novel (“Au bonheur des dames”), “Il paradiso delle signore” is a romantic period drama about the lives of the workers in a department store in 1950s Milan.
The series is about not just the hopes and dreams of the store employees but also the hopes and dreams of Italy as a whole in a time when Italian culture was on the verge of huge change. This show will keep you engaged and it will help you to learn more about the history of the bel paese.
You can watch episodes of “Il paradiso delle signore” for free on the Rai network’s website.
4. “Romanzo criminale – La serie”
“Romanzo Criminale” is also based on a novel—this time a novel written by a famous Italian judge named Giancarlo de Cataldo. The story is set in Rome and is partially based on the true story of an infamous criminal organization called the Banda della Magliana that was active from the 1970s to the 1990s. If you like dark shows about drugs, violence, criminals and power, this show is definitely for you!
You can stream episodes of “Romanzo Crinimale” on Amazon Prime.
Similar to the hit American series “House of Cards,” “1992” is another cool drama series about political corruption. The series follows the lives of six people who are investigating said corruption as a part of a real-life operation known as mani pulite or “Clean Hands.”
The goal of mani pulite was to try to cut down the amount of criminal activity on the part of those in power in Italy in the 80s and 90s, and it led to an entire overhaul of the Italian political system. This series is based on historical fact, so, like “Il paradiso delle signore,” it isn’t just entertaining, it’s educational too!
At the time of this writing, you can watch “1992” in its original Italian on the streaming service Topic.
6. “I Medici”
This particular show isn’t completely in Italian, but the Italian-dubbed version is extremely popular among Italian T.V. viewers at the moment. Starring Dustin Hoffman and several other familiar faces from Hollywood, “I Medici” is about the Medici dynasty in 15th century Firenze (Florence) and it centers on the life and rise to power of Cosimo the Elder, who became the head of the Florentine republic in 1434.
The Medici family is very near and dear to the hearts of the citizens of Florence, and this show is a great way to learn about their history—not to mention the gorgeous views of the city! “I Medici” is hard to track down online these days, but hopefully you will have the ability to catch it on live Italian television.
Alright, now that I’ve told you everything you need to know about Italian drama series, I have to go see if Commissario Montalbano catches il ladro (the thief)!
Fair warning: If you decide to start watching Italian dramas, prepare to get hooked!
Jessica A. Scott is a novelist from Louisville, Kentucky. While her first love is writing, her second love is learning Italian, a goal that she has been pursuing since her sophomore year at the University of Louisville. You can find out more about Jessica and her work at www.jessicascottauthor.com.
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