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20 Best Brazilian TV Shows, Telenovelas and Soap Operas

Adding a bit of drama to your life can be a good thing.

Well, the TV kind, at least.

But more specifically, I’m talking about Brazilian telenovelas and Brazilian TV shows.

Come along as I show you how these are going to help you grasp your language essentials. Be sure to jot down these recommendations to add to your “must watch” list!

Contents

10 Brazilian Telenovelas That Should Be on All Learners’ Radars

1. “O Rei do Gado” (“The King of the Cattle” — 1996)

Since premiering on Brazil’s Rede Globo network in 1996, Rei Do Gado” has screened in 30 different countries and has been replayed in its native land twice. The drama’s sensitive portrayal of the social issues pertaining to local agrarian reforms and the Landless Worker’s Movement has always been a key talking point.

The plot revolves around a territorial land dispute among two rival farming families, the forbidden love between a drover and a “landless” member of society and the story of a woman with a mysterious past.

2. “Terra Nostra” (“Our Land” — 1999)

With an Italian name that literally translates to “Our Land,” this drama is one of Brazil’s best and most renowned telenovelas, having screened in more than 95 different countries.

The story begins in the late 19th Century, as a ship of Italian immigrants is making its way to Brazilian shores. Two passengers, Giuliana and Matteo, fall in love during the voyage, only to be separated as they arrive in their new homeland. 

3. “O Cravo e a Rosa” (“The Thorn and the Rose” — 2000)

“O Cravo e a Rosa” is a period drama inspired by William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and the Edmond Rostand play “Cyrano de Begerac.” 

Set in 1920s Brazil, “O Cravo e a Rosa” tells the story of a short-tempered, highly independent rich woman whose life is turned completely upside down as she falls in love with a poor farmer.

4. “O Clone” (The Clone — 2001)

This one features a love triangle with an unusual (and perhaps somewhat disturbing) twist. Here, a young man named Lucas falls in love with a woman named Jade, who follows the Islamic faith.

As if this cultural gap isn’t enough to complicate matters, someone creates a clone of Lucas (hence the show’s title) that also falls in love with Jade, and a love triangle ensues. 

5. “Chocolate com Pimenta” (“Pepper Chocolate” — 2003)

“Chocolate com Pimenta” is another Rede Globo telenovela set in the 1920s and broadcast extensively around the globe—most notably in Portugal, where it topped the nation’s TV ratings and was screened twice a day.

Its main protagonist is a humble girl, who managed to build herself a fortune after spending her youth working as a cleaner in a chocolate factory. As she comes face to face with all the people who humiliated her in the past, she also reveals to a former flame that they have a son.

6. “Celebridade” (Celebrity — 2003)

“Celebridade” is what it says on the tin—a show about celebrities and so much more.

A successful music entrepreneur lives a glamorous life until she hires a mysterious woman to work as her secretary. As you can imagine, there’s more to the secretary than meets the eye.

7. América (America — 2005)

This is the Brazilian telenovela’s take on the immigrant story. It’s about Sol, who’s making the dangerous journey to cross the border between Mexico and the United States, and Tião, an aspiring rodeo champion who wants to hold firm to his roots.

Will they be able to bridge the gap between their different beliefs about culture and identity and find true love in each other’s arms?

8. “Cordel Encantado” (Enchanted Tale — 2011)

Like “O Cravo e a Rosa,” this is a classic story of “man from a humble background falls in love with wealthy girl.” This is also, as the title suggests, an almost literal fairy tale—with castles, kings and all the trappings that come with it. The plot is familiar but well-done, making it a hit in Brazil when it first came out.  

9. “Avenida Brasil” (Brazil Avenue — 2012)

You could say this is a fairy tale with a dark twist. (Then again, many fairy tales have dark origins, but that’s another discussion altogether.)

“Avenida Brasil” features Rita, a young woman who was mistreated by her stepmother Carminha while she was growing up. The difference is that, instead of waiting for a prince to rescue her, she decides to take revenge on those who wronged her instead. How far will she go for that revenge? Tune in to find out!

10. “Império” (Empire — 2014)

If you like fictional dramas about the rich and powerful, “Império” might be right up your alley. The main character is José Alfredo, who finds his already chaotic life thrown into even more turmoil when a woman who claims to be his daughter (possibly from an extramarital affair) shows up.

Given that his children from his legal wife are already fighting over who will inherit his business empire, this is a rather unfortunate complication for him indeed!

9 Brazilian Drama Series You Should Watch Right Now

1. “Cidade dos Homens” (City of Men — 2002)

The film this series was based on (“Cidade de Deus” or City of God) got nominated for four Oscar awards. Granted, the movie didn’t win any of them, but it still racked up 74 awards and 46 other nominations. Pretty impressive, huh?

The show’s premise may be simple (two friends navigating life in a favela or working-class neighborhood), but the way it portrays that life really gives you an intimate and honest look into the grittier aspects of Brazilian culture.

2. “Merciless” (2014)

“Merciless” originally aired in its native Brazil from September 19 until December 19, 2014. For some reason, it’s particularly gained traction among viewers in the United Kingdom.

The original title, “Dupla Idendidade” (or “Double Identity”), foreshadows the plot quite well. The crime-thriller drama revolves around a soft-spoken, charismatic young man who lives a double life as a cold-blooded killer. 

3. “Magnífica 70” (Magnificent 70 — 2015)

“Magnífica 70” is an HBO Latin America production, making its Brazilian debut in 2015. The series’ second season wrapped up in late 2016 while the third ended in 2018. Its title, which stayed the same in English, literally translates as “Magnificent 70”this in itself is a hint about where the plot might be heading.

The story takes place in 1973 São Paulo, where we meet a bored government censorship worker who unwittingly falls in love with an actress in a movie he has to censor. He eventually finds himself in the midst of a clandestine movie scene, a love triangle and the ongoing repression imposed by the military regime.

4. “3%” (2016)

This sci-fi/drama was the first Brazilian series made for Netflix. Its first season premiered in November 2016 and consisted of eight episodes. It was enough of a hit that it got up to four seasons before ending in 2020.

“3%” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where all citizens must undertake a grueling test when they reach their twenties. The catch is, only 3% of those who begin this trajectory are going to come out alive.

5. “Carcereiros” (Jailers — 2017)

The protagonist of “Carcereiros” is a prison guard named Adriano who tries to do right by his profession.

As you can imagine, that’s easier said than done in a place full of hardened criminals. The series also tackles how Adriano’s work bleeds into his personal life and changes his relationships for better or worse.

6. “O Mecanismo” (The Mechanism — 2018)

Based on the real-life “Operation Car Wash,” this political drama revolves around a group of investigators getting entangled in a corruption scheme involving prominent officials in the Brazilian government as well as business tycoons.

The series was directed and produced by José Padilha, best known for the box-office hits “Elite Squad” and its sequel “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.” 

7. “Se Eu Fechar os Olhos Agora” (If I Close My Eyes Now)

Don’t let the rather foreboding poster fool you: this is more of a mystery show than a horror one (although it is horrific on some level).

The plot revolves around two boys who find a woman’s mutilated corpse and somehow become suspects in the murder. As they figure out more about what’s really going on, the boys find themselves racing against time—lest they become victims themselves.

8. “Segunda Chamada” (Second Call — 2019)

Teaching isn’t the easiest profession in the world, and that fact is made even more apparent in this show that features characters attempting to navigate Brazil’s public school system.

Despite the difficulties that the teachers and students face, however, there’s an undercurrent of hope that makes this show a compelling watch.

9. “Sob Pressão” (Under Pressure)

If you enjoy medical dramas, you’ll probably enjoy this Brazilian take on it. It depicts the difficulties of doctors and surgeons—not just on the job, but with their personal lives.

Amidst this chaotic environment, two individuals find themselves having to support each other and learn more about their patients as well as themselves.

Bonus: 1 Brazilian Comedy That Will Tickle Your Funny Bone

Samantha! (2018)

Let’s get into some comedy for a change! In this Netflix series, the eponymous character is a former child star who tries all sorts of ridiculous schemes (with the help of her family) to launch herself back into stardom. It’s a pretty good show to help you practice Brazilian Portuguese.

Why Are Dramas a Big Deal?

It may sound obvious, but you can’t separate a language from its people.

Telenovelas and drama series are very much a window into Brazilian society. They tend to influence daily conversations, fashion trends and are even known to shape contemporary family dynamics. So in this sense, they’re certainly an important educational resource for learning about the local culture.

Even better, they’re sure to enhance the knowledge you’ve already obtained from your favorite movies, podcasts, magazines and whatever other learning weapons you might have at your disposal.

From a linguistic point of view, watching these will also be incredibly beneficial. These shows will expose you to the native Brazilian Portuguese accent, pronunciation, colloquialisms and that natural pace of everyday dialogues.

In other words, you’ll be able to genuinely test your listening and basic comprehension skills against real-life content, which in turn will give you insight into how you’d fare if you were to communicate in Brazilian Portuguese.

Advanced learners in particular will thrive with this practical study method. Local dramas should challenge you to rely on your ability to grasp what’s being presented on the screen without the use of subtitles.

But if you’re not quite at that level, don’t fret—this is something to aspire to! Start by sourcing series that have English subtitles to them (like the series on Netflix). As you progressively improve your understanding, gradually shift your focus away from the written translations.

 

As you dive into these shows, you may find some more challenging depending on your level.

You can start small and work your way up by watching clips of these Brazilian TV shows. A program like FluentU, for example, lets you watch TV and movie clips and includes interactive captions on every video to make it easier to follow along.

So how’s that for a good drama fix? We’re sure this list will enable you to immerse yourself in the wonderful Portuguese language.

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