When you first start learning Italian or any language, there's nothing like going to the country where they speak it and practicing it by talking to the locals, but when that isn’t possible, the next best thing has got to be watching Italian TV shows.
If you’re an absolute beginner, Italian TV shows or movies can help you make out where words begin and end, the first step in understanding a language.
Then later, they're a great way to improve your vocabulary and learn the sentence structure of real conversation. It turns out to be pretty different from the “pen is on the table” textbook version.
And you're in luck as an Italian learner because Italy has produced a great many TV shows that won’t just be helpful, but also fun to watch, which is the key for fast learning.
So in this article, I’ve gathered a list of series you can get into to improve your Italian. Get the popcorn ready and prepare to have fun as you learn with this selection of the 12 best Italian TV shows for all levels.
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3 Tips To Start Learning With Italian TV Shows
Here are a few thing you need to know before you start learning Italian with TV shows.
- Even if you find a show you really like, try to pace yourself with the episodes. It’s often better to sleep on the new information learned so you can absorb it better.
- Many people recommend using English subtitles, which is fine right in the beginning. But more helpful would be to use Italian subtitles, so you don’t just get stuck reading in English and forget to listen.
- Don’t worry if at first you feel like you don’t understand everything. Just pick a TV show from the ones I’ve selected and you’ll get better without even noticing it as the story progresses.
1. The Classic: Il Commissario Montalbano
A Sicilian inspector portrayed by a fantastic Luca Zingaretti solves cases that are often outlandish and never boring. This show is funnier than can be expected from a detective show. And, while strictly Sicilian, it’s very, very Italian, too.
The books this popular series is based on are available at every major Italian airport, mostly due to its easy-to-read language and exciting plot that drives you to keep turning the pages.
The TV show is similar. Simple, exciting premises and a whole lot of episodes to catch up on, as it's been on air since 1999. This is a fantastic choice for beginners. And you can compliment the watching with something to read. Scores of people have used the Montalbano franchise to learn Italian for good reason.
2. The Thrilling: Gomorrah
This “based on a true story” SKY network show is one the most successful productions to come out of Italy. You’ll be learning on the edge of your seat. Gomorrah isn’t the easiest to understand choice on this list due to its complicated plot, fast pace and occasional use of dialects. But it is arguably the most gripping one.
My tip about using Italian subtitles is best applied here. If you want to understand what’s going on you’ll be forced to learn in no time.
Like Montalbano, this show too is based on a best-selling book which was made into a movie before becoming a blockbuster tv show. This show is about an Italy struggling to fight the evils of the mafia, a story that is grim and serious, though not without lighter moments — sort of like an actually Italian Sopranos.
3. The Wholesome: Un Medico In Famiglia
This Italian remake of an originally Spanish series ran from 1998 to 2016, launching the careers of a number of actors who have by now become household names in Italian film and tv. Its tone is like an Italian Grey’s Anatomy, this show has a cast of characters to identify with, whatever your age.
The show starts with a widowed doctor, Lele, his three kids and their grandfather moving to the outskirts of Rome. Their lives, and the show, go through many changes over the years, with the cast, including the protagonists, changing over time.
This family show doesn’t shy away from discussing serious issues that can come up in the life of any family, Italian or not. Some parts may be a little difficult to understand. But the dramatic acting and often predictable reactions make it easy to piece together what is being said.
4. The Best In Slang: Zio Gianni
Zio Gianni, or Uncle Gianni, is a comedy of errors in the vein of How I Met Your Mother or Friends, but with a helping of SNL. Your opinion on these shows is a pretty good predictor of whether you’ll like Zoo Gianni or not — it can either be hilarious or seem exhausting.
It deserves a spot on this list because of the clear language and situational plot that makes it easy to follow, as well as the heavy use of slang you can add to your vocabulary. If you think your middle-aged accountant- type uncle moving into your college dorm would have been a funny thing, this show will be just the thing for you.
Since the target audience is, like the characters of the show, college-age, this show is filled with the kind of humor they would find funny, like getting Zio Gianni to open a beer with a lighter. Like these shows usually do, this one also has a soft core with a nice message: uncool uncles can be cool, sort of. Note that there is a spinoff web-series which is not the same as the show.
5. The Notorious: The Young Pope
This show is an Italian production available in English. It was shot in Italy with mostly Italian actors, except for Jude Law in the role of a controversial new pope and Diane Keaton as his advisor.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, this show is certainly not for kids. The shots of Rome are gorgeous and the acting is as amazing as the plot is crazy.
The first Italian TV show to be nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe, this unhinged drama is not what you expect from the title. Lenny Belardo, played by Law, becomes the first American pope in the history of the papacy and comes in itching to make some pretty drastic changes to the faith. If you liked House of Cards, give The Young Pope a try.
6. The Easy Learning: Italian Talent Shows – X Factor, The Voice, Italia’s Got Talent
Talent shows generally are a great tool for learning because they follow a familiar pattern, are interspersed with rewarding segments of entertainment and don’t require much attention to understand.
The best choice of the Italian contenders would be X Factor Italy, specifically the seasons with English singer Mika in the jury, who doesn’t speak Italian well when he first appears in the show and learns the language basically on television.
Even though he makes mistakes, he’s confident and no one makes fun of the way he says things or when he mixes up words. A great lesson for anyone learning a language, especially if you struggle with the fear villain. And there’s the added bonus of listening to Italian songs on the show.
7. The After Dinner: La Repubblica Delle Donne
Paolo Chiambretti, host of a number of successful television programs, presents a show supposedly all about women, as the title, The Republic of Women, would suggest.
But this show is something different. It’s pretty challenging to describe, because, really, no one knows what is going on. People sing, dance, yell at each other, cry and laugh, sometimes dressed in fancy costumes, sometimes not.
Part talkshow, part talent show, wholly insane. It is a mess, but an entertaining one. And you won’t feel bad about not understanding because no one does. There’s really nothing like it.
8. The Daily: Striscia La Notizia
Striscia La Notizia (lit. Slithering News) is a masterpiece of political satire television, screened after the news. A changing cast of hosts takes the news of the day and recent cases of corruption, celebrity gossip and anything else controversial and dissects it with humor.
Striscia is a big name in Italian media, and has uncovered a number of massive cases, bringing about a lot of positive change in its decades on the air. And there are of course beautiful young women in skimpy dresses, dancing.
There’s a longstanding tradition of giving out the Tapiro d’Oro, or a statue of a golden anteater, to people who have done a horrible job at politics or governance. Everyone from Silvio Berlusconi to accidental celebrity Belen Rodriguez have received their own little statue, as humiliating as it is a point of pride.
Striscia la Notizia is the Guinness record holder of longest running satire television series and is one of the most watched shows in Italy.
9. The Cute: Uomini E Donne
This is a show about relationships — a dating talkshow, people come here to find partners. A bit like The Bachelor, but more focused on the actual finding of a partner rather than just entertainment for viewers.
That doesn't mean it isn't entertaining. I recommend the “over” edition, which is reserved for those above a certain age. Adorable pensioners try to woo their lady or gent of choice, dressed up and excited to meet the love of their life.
This show is great because it features real people, which means that you’ll hear all sorts of different ways of speaking Italian: fast, slow, strong dialect or none, complicated and simple speech. And you can root for your favorite characters to win the heart of their chosen partner while you learn Italian from them.
10. The Funniest: Casa Vianello
From 1988 to 2007, the legendary comedy couple of Sandra Mondaini and Raimondo Vianello showed Italy that life as a couple isn’t always easy, even on TV. A little as if the Benny Hill people directed King of Queens, this is fun for absolutely everyone.
The dialogues are typical not just for any couple, but also typical of the Italian mentality, generally, which is an important part of learning to use the language. Because are you really saying anything when you say it without bickering? The answer according to Casa Vianello seems to be no.
The longest running sit-com on Italian television, Casa Vianello may be long off the screen now. But it’s forever in the hearts of Italian couples. And will surely be in yours too, if you give it a try.
11. The Memorable Drama: L’Amica Geniale
This show is based on the incredible success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. It takes its title from the first book, My Brilliant Friend – one part in a big, bold and beautiful saga that spans decades.
This is a story about female friendship through the lifetime of two girls who turn into women. And along the way, encounter all the exciting, painful, difficult and joyful things life has to offer. This is a show you can watch and rewatch without tiring of it. There will always be something new, something you hadn’t noticed before.
The language of L’Amica Geniale can at times be fairly complicated. But you’ll find that as the plot progresses, you won’t be able to stop watching.
12. The +1: Amici Miei
Not technically a TV show, these movies are an absolute must if you want to discover Italian cult classics.
Arguably the most Italian set of films to ever hit the big screen, Amici Miei provides hours of fun and a lifetime of quotable material. The title literally means “Friends of Mine”, translated for the English title as “My Friends”.
The story follows four friends in Firenze as they spend their time trying to avoid the responsibilities of adulthood by executing ridiculous pranks.
This movie and its sequels may appear on the surface to be about meaningless fun. But a deeper message is hiding underneath all the silliness. This entry requires a pretty solid understanding of Italian. So you may want to hold on to Amici Miei for last.
Italian TV Shows: Get Watching
In this article, I’ve tried to collect a few shows that are very different from each other. So there’s bound to be something for everyone, no matter your level or TV show preferences.
Each of these Italian television shows has its own merit. And you may find that if you start one you didn’t think you'd like, Italian TV can change your mind.
So now's the time to start immersing yourself in Italian through TV. Like I said in the beginning, if you're not sure where to start, just pick one and get going. And if you still don't like it, change!
Before you know it, especially if you make time to watch some TV every day, you'll find it easier to understand Italian and to use the grammar and vocabulary you're learning.
So make and start and watch some Italian TV today!