When it comes to learning Russian, one of the best ways to learn is with materials that use the language in context, like Russian TV shows.
You can stick with more story-focused сериалы (series) including the many offerings of историческая драма (historical drama) or ситком (sitcom).
Of course, you can also find Russian-language TV in more modern genres. This includes ток-шоу (talk shows) реалити-шоу (reality shows) or телеигра (game shows).
And no matter what you choose to watch, it'll be sure to help you improve your Russian listening skills. So here's a list of the 21 best Russian TV shows for learners.
1. Russian TV Shows For Beginners
Маша и медведь (Masha and the Bear)
This children’s show focuses on an adventurous and curious girl named Masha and her kind-hearted friend Mishka who is a large bear that’s retired from the circus.
Most episodes follow Masha wanting to do something or go somewhere difficult and Mishka helping her.
The show is aimed at children so you can expect easy language and storylines that are very straightforward and easy to follow.
You can find Маша и медведь on Netflix and YouTube.
2. Ералаш (Eralash)
This long-running program is a collection of short skits aimed at children. With kids as the target audience, it’s a great place for beginners to start with clear context and easy-to-understand humor.
The show comes with the benefit of giving viewers a lot of insight into Soviet and Russian culture.
You can watch a version of Eralash made by Cornell University that breaks down each line (in Russian and English) with this link: http://russian.cornell.edu/brtf/films.htm
3. Кухня (The Kitchen)
If you ever look up what Russian-language shows you should watch, Кухня is almost guaranteed to be on the list.
This is a comedy sitcom based around a restaurant kitchen and the people who work there.
What makes кухня stand out is the cast of interesting and colourful characters and the overall fun tone that makes it a show for everyone.
The language isn’t overly complicated and it’s a great program if you want to learn how to talk about food or food prep. You can find it on YouTube with ease.
Russian TV Shows for Upper-Beginners
4. Орёл и решка (Heads and Tails)
A travel show that goes all around the world with two hosts from Ukraine. However, there’s a big twist.
One member of the team has to explore a place with about 100 dollars to spend while the other has a much, much higher budget.
So you get to see two different sides of any place they travel to.
In fact, the name comes from the phrase орел или решка (heads or tails) because the decision of how each one gets to travel is decided by a coin flip.
Since the show is about travel you can expect the vocabulary to be pretty diverse. It’s also full of explanations about food, places, and events. You’ll also pick up loads of modern Russian slang.
You can find Орел и решка on their YouTube channel.
5. Интерны (Interns)
A comedy sitcom set in a hospital and focused on medical interns. If you liked Scrubs, then you’ll like Интерны. After Кухня, this is one of the most popular Russian-language comedy shows around.
There is some medical vocabulary of course, but it’s not overly distracting. And since the focus is usually on the characters, the stories are straightforward and easy to follow even if you don’t catch every word.
6. Уральские пельмени / Ural Dumplings
Every culture has its own version of comedy and in Russia, there are a lot.
Уральские пельмени is a sketch comedy show that’s particularly good for lower-intermediate learners as it’s focused on common, day-to-day experiences rather that don’t require too much cultural or pop-culture knowledge.
You can find most of their skits on YouTube. The clip above is one of their most famous.
Russian TV Shows For Intermediate Learners
7. Своя Игра
If you’re already familiar with Jeopardy, then the set-up Своя Игра (One’s own game) will be quite easy to follow. It’s a game show where three contestants answer questions in different categories and win money. Simple, right?
What’s great about Своя игра for Russian learners is that the questions are put into clear and direct language (mostly). You also get the bonus of seeing what counts as common knowledge and trivia from a Russian perspective.
Своя игра has its own YouTube channel where they regularly upload episodes.
8. Мата Хари (Mata Hari) 2017
Based on the real-life of the Dutchwoman Margareta Zella, this Russian-Portuguese television series brings a very strange story from history to life.
It follows the heroine, better known under her stage name ‘Mata Hari’ through the early twentieth century as she struggles, becomes a dancer, meets the upper echelons of society and eventually becomes a spy during WWI.
If you like history, you’ll enjoy Мата Хари.
The language is clear and reasonably straightforward to follow. And even though it’s set in the 1910s, the words and phrases are pretty modern.
You can find the first episode here with Russian and English subtitles: Мата Хари. 1 серия. Историческая Драма. Star Media. Сериал 2017
9. Анна-детективъ (Anna the Detective)
Анна-детективъ is a fairly specific show.
Focused on a young woman who can communicate with духи (spirits) at the end of the 19th century and occasionally helps a disgraced detective exiled from St. Petersburg, it combines a lot of elements.
Most stories occur over two or three episodes, but there's an overarching plot to get invested in as well.
The story is set more than 100 years ago, but the language is quite modern except for a few expressions. It’s a great starting place for intermediate learners with clear storylines and language suitable for the intermediate level.
You can watch Анна-детективъ on YouTube with English or Russian subtitles: Анна – Детективъ. 1 серия. StarMedia. Детектив с элементами Мистики
10. Спарта (Sparta)
There’s a lot going on with Sparta.
It has a cyberpunk setting, there’s a police captain with a troubled past investigating a suspicious death, and a virtual reality game that turns out to be dangerous. If you like SF and mysteries, then you’ll enjoy Sparta.
The language used is good for intermediate learners and the actors don’t speak quickly. You can expect to learn some basic teenage slang and some terms related to gaming but nothing overwhelming.
The show is available on Netflix.
Russian TV Shows For Upper-Intermediate Learners
If you're a bit further along in Russian, then these Russian TV shows will be right up your street!
11. Шерлок Холмс и Доктор Ватсон (Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson)
You can probably guess what this series is about from the title. The famous Holms and Watson are solving crimes in London.
The vocab here can be pretty broad and specific, so it’s definitely something to start only after you have a solid foundation in Russian grammar and have a decently-sized vocab.
Coming from the Soviet era, the series is older but it’s still beloved by many across the Russian-speaking world. This is mostly because the plots are solid, the acting is good, and the mysteries are exciting.
The entire series is available on YouTube
Based on a book, Пищеблок is a magic/fantasy story that takes place in a pioneer camp (the scouts of the USSR) in the 1980s.
It has an aesthetic kind of like Stranger Things and similarly follows a group of kids unraveling a mystery with supernatural and fantastic elements.
The language is naturalistic and comes with some vocab related to the USSR's pioneering program.
13. Лучше чем Люди (Better than Us)
A Sci-Fi thriller mystery set in a world where androids exist and do work for humans. At the center of the show is the mystery of an android that managed to bypass its own programming to kill a person.
For Russian learners, this series falls squarely in the upper intermediate level. You’ll hear slang, invented terms, and mumbling.
However, the story is quite engaging and the show rewards repeated viewings.
You can watch Лучше чем люди on Netflix.
14. Эпидемия (To the Lake)
Imagine an end-of-the-world thriller set in Moscow with a disease that kind of (but not really) turns people into zombies. That’s Эпидемия.
The story takes place right on the cusp of an apocalypse, the exact nature of which you find out as you watch.
This show has a lot of natural language with shouting, cursing, and euphemism. That being said, you’ll definitely get more used to Russian spoken in stressful situations.
A bit of warning – of all the shows on this list, this one has the most violence, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you might want to skip it. It’s available on Netflix.
15. Метод (The Method)
This show follows a police investigator who acts as a sort of sanctioned vigilante who takes down ‘maniacs’ that have slipped through the justice system.
It’s both a police procedure and a psychological thriller.
In terms of language, you'll encounter a lot of police and crime-related words. This might be difficult at first, but they get re-used so often that they quickly become familiar.
You can watch it on Netflix.
16. Нюхач (Sniffer)
This drama definitely gets points for originality since as you might have guessed from the title, smells are important in this show.
It’s a mystery series with a main character who has superhuman levels of skill at smelling things and identifying different aromas.
The dialogue between characters is suitable for intermediate learners. The catch is, that the sniffer in question can go into long-ish descriptions about the smells of chemicals that can be challenging even for native speakers.
You can watch it on Netflix.
17. Троцкий (Trotsky) 2017
This 8-episode mini-series follows the numerous ups and downs in the life of Leon Trotsky and gives viewers a lesser-discussed character in the Communist Revolution.
The cinematography is artistic and experimental at times and the story often jumps around in time switching between Trotsky’s involvement with Lenin and his exile in Mexico.
Like all historical dramas, this one takes liberties with the truth, but it makes a very interesting story to watch.
18. Анна Каренина (Anna Karenina)
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is one of the retold stories in the Russian-speaking world and with good reason.
The drama, the setting, and the characters all lend themselves to great storytelling. As the creator of the StoryLearning method, I approve!
The twist this time is that it’s the story told from the perspective of Vronsky (Anna’s lover) many years after the affair when he meets Anna’s son by chance during the Russo-Japanese War.
As with most historical dramas, the enunciation is very clear and easy to follow. You can expect to encounter a lot of vocab about feelings and longing though.
The entire mini-series is on YouTube Анна Каренина. Фильм 1 (4К) (драма, реж. Карен Шахназаров, 2017 г.)
19. Екатерина (Ekaterina/Catherine)
If you don’t know, Catherine the Great was a big deal in Russian history. Coming from a royal Prussian family, she married Peter III only to overthrow him and become the Empress of Russia.
If you like history (or just interesting true stories!) then it’s definitely worth a watch.
As with most historical dramas, the language can include some out-of-date words but is mostly fine for an intermediate learner.
20. Нулевой Пациент (Patient Zero)
This is a medical mini-series that follows part of the story of HIV in the 1980s. It’s rather dramatic as it follows two doctors coming to understand the scope of the situation.
Naturally, you can expect a lot of medical terminology and dry delivery making it a challenge when it comes to vocabulary.
That being said, after the first episode and a half, you’ll be used to most of the new vocabulary.
21. Внутри Лапенко (Inside Lapenko)
This is probably the weirdest show on my list of Russian TV shows. Внутри Лапенко is a surreal sort-of sitcom that blends genres. And anything can happen!
By watching this show you’ll get a crash course in the ways that modern Russians make fun and also add to old Soviet tropes. If you like off-beat comedy, we can’t recommend this show enough.
The language is for upper-intermediate Russian learners as characters use strange expressions and talk in mixed-up natural speech.
You can watch the whole show on YouTube here –Внутри Лапенко. 1 Серия
5 Tips For Learning Russian With Russian TV Shows
The selection of Russian TV shows you have is huge, so there are some tips and things to be aware of to make the most out of it.
1. Watching Historical Dramas
There are loads of Russian-language historical dramas out there to enjoy and learn from. The spoken language tends to be mostly modern with a few historical affectations, especially with outdated titles.
However, you might also notice that anything written can often look a bit weird. You can see this in the title of Анна-детективъ which in modern Russian would be written Анна-детектив (without the ъ at the end).
It’s common practice for any text in a historical drama to be written with the old pre-reform spelling, so don’t think that your Russian spelling is suddenly bad!
2. Watch The Kind Of Shows You Actually Like
If you don’t like watching reality shows generally, you probably won’t like them anymore in Russian.
On the flip side, you learn better if you’re engaged with the content. So be sure to watch Russian TV shows you actually like. It’s one of the best ways to make sure you learn something!
3. Watch Russian TV Shows Multiple Times
A lot of language learners tend to side-step this advice but hear me out. You learn your native tongue through repetition and hearing the same things repeated to great effect.
On top of that after the first viewing, you can focus less on following the story and give more attention to how things are said, which makes it more effective for language learning.
4. Be An Active Viewer
It may sound like a bit much, but don’t be afraid to take notes while you watch Russian TV shows. Write down new words or words you just really like.
5. Have Realistic Expectations
You’re probably not going to understand everything on the first viewing, so don’t expect to.
Unless you’re really far along in your Russian language journey, then some words or expressions will be new to you and that doesn’t make you a bad learner.
One of the great things about learning with Russian TV shows is that you so often get to watch a story unfold.
And learning with a story makes what you learn to feel more real and stay with you longer. That's why I created a language learning method based on reading stories.
Russian TV Shows: Start Watching
So there you have it – 21 Russian TV shows to immerse yourself in Russian while having fun.
Now you have some ideas of what to watch in Russian. And you know how to do it right.
So all that's left to do now is to find something that piques your interest and get to watching.
With everything from historical drama to comedy sketch shows and game shows, you're bound to find something you'd like to watch in Russian.
And as always we hope you have удача из удач (the best of luck)!