We’ve talked about movies. We’ve discussed TV shows. But you know there’s a sweet spot between the fledgling movie obsession and the demanding TV show commitment. They call it the miniseries.
The beauty of the miniseries is that you don’t have to commit to 4-5 seasons or 30-40 episodes of TV. Most of them get end the story within one season and leave you satisfied.
So here’s a ranked list of the best mini-shows I can recommend to you.
15. The Night Of
An 8-episode story that takes a detailed look at the criminal investigation and trial that follows the murder of a young white girl with the main suspect being a Pakistani-American boy.
Agreed, the show is just four episodes down, and you can’t really finish it over this weekend, but those four episodes were so good, I had to include them on this list. Riz Ahmed plays Nasir Khan, who finds himself in the middle of a homicide investigation. We still don’t know whether he’s the killer or not, but to be honest, I wouldn’t care if they don’t reveal that in the end. The show is mainly about the investigation and the legal proceedings that follow. John Turturro, plays a street smart lawyer, who wants to help Nasir, and like always, his acting is top-notch. All in all, HBO’s The Night Of is a great crime drama that deals with law & order and race in America.
14. John Adams
A 7-part miniseries based on John Adams, of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
Adapted from David McCullough’s Pulitzer-winning biography, this magnanimous 7-part miniseries chronicles the life of Founding Father John Adams, starting with the Boston Massacre of 1770 through his years as an ambassador in Europe, then his terms as vice president and president of the United States, up to his death on July 4, 1826. Just another proof of why Paul Giamatti is one of the best actors of our times.
13. The Pacific
The intertwined stories of three American Marines during the allies’ battle with the Japanese in the Pacific during the Second World War.
This 10-part miniseries tells the stories of US Marines Sledge, Leckie and Basilone from their first skirmishes in Guadalcanal to their eventual return to American soil following Victory Over Japan Day. The team behind the classic Band of Brothers was behind this one as well. While Band of Brothers is the more popular one out of the two, The Pacific is a more grim look at the perils of war. It’s based on the books With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie.
12. The Pillars of the Earth
A story about the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, set against the backdrop of the political turmoil of 12th century England.
Based on Ken Follett’s novel of the same name, The Pillars of the Earth brings together a terrific cast that includes Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Rufus Sewell, Hayley Atwell and Donald Sutherland, is a story that spans over many years in the lives of the people in Kingsbridge. Faith, reason, superstition, family, this historical drama covers them all.
Taken is the story of three families spread over five decades and four generations and how they deal with alien abduction.
A high-school teacher stumbles upon a time-machine, and the responsibility to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
Based on a Stephen King classic, 11.22.63 is a story unlike anything else you’ll see on-screen. James Franco plays a math teacher in the present day, who realizes that the diner he goes to regularly, hides a time travel portal at the back. He ends up going to the past, in the ’60s. Then he’s tasked with preventing the Kennedy assassination. But his attachments to certain people in the past might end up costing him his mission.
9. Top of the Lake
A thriller-drama set in New Zealand, about the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old.
Top of the Lake is one of those shows that starts off pretty slow, but the stillness is actually part of the narrative. Because what’s about to follow, is anything but normal. Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) plays a detective who’s entrusted with solving the case of the disappearance of a young girl who’s pregnant. The next season, which is about a separate incident, is supposed to air in 2017.
Chronicles the life and activities of the Venzuelan revolutionary, Illich Ramirez Sanchez, aka Carlos, the Jackal.
Edgar Ramirez plays Carlos, the Jackal, the world’s most wanted man from the ’70s to the ’90s, who, in the name of Palestinian liberation, carried out assassinations, abductions and politically motivated violence. The best thing about the 3-part series is how they do not try to paint Carlos as someone who’s totally an idealist – rather they show him with all his flaws.
7. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
It’s not like there’s no magic in England; just that it disappeared. Now it’s up to two rival magicians to bring it back.
A 7-part historical fantasy mini-series adapted from Susanna Clarke’s novel about magic returning to England through the exploits of two magicians. With the Napoleonic Wars serving as the backdrop, the plot seamlessly merges magic and reality. No wonder when the book was released, writer Neil Gaiman called it “unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.”
6. Generation Kill
A story about the ups and downs of being in a particular unit of Marines during the start of the Second Iraq War.
You cannot have a miniseries list without David Simon’s work in it. Yes, the same guy who gave us The Wire, also created Generation Kill. It chronicles the first few days of a marine unit who’re part of America’s first line of attack when the Second Iraq War breaks out. It talks about uncomfortable issues within men in uniform, like the real motive for signing up for combat and the inherent conservative values within the armed forces.
5. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
A gripping HBO documentary miniseries about accused murderer Robert Durst.
Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki interviews Robert Durst, an heir to one of the richest families in New York, and talks to him about his alleged involvement in the disappearance of his wife in 1982, the murder of writer Susan Berman and the death of Durst’s neighbour Morris Black in Galveston, Texas. If you thought Making a Murderer was a piece of work, wait till you watch The Jinx. It’ll keep you glued till the last minute.
An anthology series inspired by the Coen Brothers’ classic dark comedy of the same name.
Before you go all out about how Fargo is not a miniseries, but a proper TV show with multiple seasons, let me tell you why I included it on this list. Every new season has mostly new characters and a whole new plot. The two seasons so far are thinly connected, and the next one in the pipeline is supposed to talk about people around the same area but a few years ahead. Fargo had a brilliant first season, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, they blew us away with the second one. If you haven’t watched the second season, you’re committing pop-culture crime of the highest order.
3. Show Me A Hero
A 6-part series about the housing segregation issue in Yonkers, New York in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
I had no idea that housing segregation was still a thing in America. Show Me A Hero, based on Lisa Belkin’s 1999 non-fiction book of the same name, is about the government housing segregation issue faced by the Yonkers City Council, at the head of which was newly elected mayor, Nick Wasicsko, played by Oscar Isaac. The mayor finds himself on the wrong side of the debate and tries to redeem himself. If you liked The Wire or if you’re a fan of Bruce Springsteen, don’t miss this.
2. Band of Brothers
A dramatization of the ‘Easy’ Company, a part of the 101st Airborne Division, and their exploits across Europe during the World War II.
One of the best miniseries to have ever existed is perhaps also the best war drama on screen (sorry Saving Private Ryan fans). Starting from the company’s training camp in America to the end of the war that sees many deaths and injuries within the company, Band of Brothers, is a must watch for anyone who loves a good war drama.
1. The Corner
A 6-part miniseries about a family that finds itself within the open-air drug market scene in West Baltimore.
Before being the legend that he is now, David Simon was a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and a lot of his work dealt with the drug ghettos of the town. His experience on the street led him to collaborate with Ed Burns, a cop-turned-schoolteacher. The duo came up with the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, on which this show is based. If you loved The Wire, you CANNOT miss this at any cost.
Binge like there’s no tomorrow.