1899 is Netflix's No. 1 show, but change this one setting before watching

1899 poster art
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix viewers are traveling back in time to 1899 in droves. The multilingual puzzle box thriller from the creators of Dark debuted on Nov. 17 and has already shot up to the No. 1 spot on Netflix's Top 10 list. 

If you're unfamiliar with Dark, it's a hit Netflix series hailing from Germany that was co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. It follows four families in several different time periods who are bound together in a time travel conspiracy. 

Like Dark, 1899 weaves together elements of science fiction, mystery, suspense and psychological drama. It also bears a strong resemblance to Lost, as it features a sprawling ensemble cast of characters, whose back stories are revealed in flashbacks. And since 1899 is set on a ship stratified by class, it even has shades of Titanic.

1899 is receiving mostly positive reviews from critics, earning a 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating — and we're optimistic about it getting a slot on our best shows on Netflix list. If you want to get in on the buzz, though, make sure to change your Netflix audio settings. More on that below. 

What is 1899 about?

1899 is set in the titular year, at the turn of a new century. The steamship Kerberos leaves London, carrying migrants to New York City. While the passengers have different European origins, they are united by their hopes and dreams for a better future. 

The various characters include the ship's weary Captain Eyk Larsen (Andreas Pietschmann); an English woman named Maura (Emily Beecham) who is a neurologist; a Spanish priest (José Pimentão) and his wealthy brother (Miguel Bernardeau); French newlyweds Clémence (Mathilde Ollivier) and Lucien (Jonas Bloquet); Chinese mother Yuk Je (Gabby Wong) and daughter Ling Yi (Isabella Wei); and a young pregnant Danish woman named Tove (Clara Rosager). 

The journey takes a turn when the crew receives a mysterious signal. After Captain Larsen decides to veer off-course to investigate, they discover a seemingly abandoned migrant ship. What they find on board transforms a hopeful voyage into a horrifying nightmare.

Before you watch 1899, change this Netflix audio setting

1899 is a multilingual show, with characters speaking English, German, Spanish, French, Cantonese and other languages. 

When you begin watching 1899, its audio settings may be less than ideal. In my case, it was pre-set to "English - Dubbed" with subtitles off. This was bad. 

We generally recommend that you NEVER EVER EVER watch a foreign-language show or movie with dubbed audio (unless you have a visual impairment). The knocks against dubbed audio are numerous and have been widely discussed for decades. Voiceover actors can be a bit over-the-top, words and entire lines are changed to fit a different language in the same amount of space as the original language, and nuance and jokes are often lost in translation. 

This issue has reentered the spotlight several times in recent years, as foreign language projects like Squid Game have achieved massive popularity.

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For 1899, watching the dubbed version is even more egregious due to its multilingual nature. Because the characters speak different languages, they often can't understand each other. Poor or lack of communication is actually a key element of the plot. Some scenes will make no sense if everyone is speaking English in dubbed audio. 

Netflix Audio Settings for 1899

(Image credit: Netflix)

So, make sure to change the audio setting to "English [original]." When characters speak a non-English language, the screen will display subtitles. However, if you want subtitles for English, too, you'll need to turn them on. 

1989 reviews: What critics are saying

A group photo of the cast of 1899

(Image credit: Netflix)

1899 reviews are fairly positive, resulting in a 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That's not as good as the 95% overall rating for Dark, but still good. 

Boyd Hilton of Empire Magazine calls it "an intriguing, densely layered puzzle-box mystery that defies easy categorisation but somehow works."

Decider's Joel Keller writes, "Although 1899 starts off achingly slow, there are enough storylines going on that we hope things pick up as the mysteries surrounding the Prometheus deepen."

But Elizabeth Gregory at London Evening Standard labels it "just way too much of a slog."

IndieWire's Steve Greene says, "As a team of narrative magicians working their misdirects and flourishes for the purpose of the whole rather than the parts, there’s no one else making TV quite this way."

Outlook: Should you stream 1899?

(L to R) Aneurin Barnard, Emily Beecham, Andreas Pietschmann in 1899

(Image credit: Netflix)

If you like puzzlebox shows with big casts like Lost or Manifest, you will probably enjoy peeling back the layers of 1899. 

The creators go back to the blend of sci-fi and mystery they successfully achieved in Dark and aim for an even more ambitious story. Dark's scope was fairly narrow — a few families living in modest homes in a small town. 1899 is a period piece with a sprawling ensemble, multiple languages, and a stunning ship set. 

1899 is already generating buzz and theories on social media, so you won't want to miss out on the conversation. It is an investment, though — the first season is eight episodes which clock at 50 minutes each. And the creators have plans for three seasons. 

Bo Odar told IndieWire, “Season 1 is about establishing a big theme, a big thing. Let’s see if there’s a Season 2, and then we’ll start playing with that theme, and have a resolution ideally in third season. Again it’s, like Dark, meant to be told in three seasons."

Next: We've got all things Andor, from what you need to know about the Andor finale post-credits scene to why Andor is the best Star Wars show ever.

Kelly Woo
Streaming Editor

Kelly is the streaming channel editor for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.

  • Rich 1944
    I don't have a problem with subtitles. But on occasion, I think something is in English because it starts playing like that and I find that I hate the show. When I figure out the mouths aren't moving correctly, I change to the original language and even though I don't understand it I get the correct feel when I read the subtitles and hear the voice in a foreign language.