The 30 Best Miniseries of All-Time

The 30 Best Miniseries of All-Time

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One and done, that’s how miniseries seasons work. It’s always so much more enriching to watch 4 different stories with different casts and themes than watching 4 seasons of the same show. So in this list, we count down the best mini-series of all time.

10. Forever

8.6

Actors

Catherine Keener, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Funny, Mini-series

Something happens in Forever episode three that I can’t tell you about. If I did it, I would spoil the show up for you. I don’t want to do this. So I will try very hard to sell you on the first two episodes, just remember, the show gets very different afterward. Both in premise, general vibe, and humor.

Here’s my best pitch: Fred Armisen. That face, that tone, that voice. How can you resist a TV show that doesn’t have many characters and yet he’s the main one.

Pitch No. 2: Maya Rudolph. She is funny, expressive, and whenever she looks at something, that thing instantly gains a lot of interest. This is the best performance of her career so far, I would wager.

9. The Capture

best

8.8

Country

United Kingdom

Actors

Ben Miles, Holliday Grainger, Paapa Essiedu

Moods

Action-packed, Binge-Worthy, Challenging

In BBC’s The Capture, a young soldier’s murder conviction is overturned thanks to submitted video evidence. But before he can enjoy his newfound freedom, a different video—this time live CCTV footage—places him at the scene of a new crime. The proof seems damning, but the deeper Detective Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger) digs into the case, the more she learns about the wider conspiracy underneath it.

The Capture is everything you’d expect from a British police procedural: intelligent, lean, and sufficiently dramatic: no extra fat and unnecessary bits to be found here as action and mystery take center stage. And although TV may already be brimming with thrillers like it, what sets The Capture apart is its eerie insight into our so-called “post-truth” era. Instead of hardened criminals, our heroes go up against deepfakes, disinformation, and 24/7 surveillance. The series lets us know that the threat manipulated technology poses isn’t mere science fiction anymore—it’s evolved into an unfortunate and unbeatable reality.

8. This Is Going to Hurt

best

8.8

Country

United Kingdom

Actors

Alex Jennings, Ambika Mod, Ashley McGuire, Ben Whishaw

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Dark, Depressing

In the dark comedy This Is Going to Hurt, Ben Whishaw stars as junior doctor Adam, who’s barely keeping it together in the understaffed and under-equipped ob-gyn ward of Britain’s NHS hospital. We see, often in sad and graphic detail, what goes on in a public hospital and the heavy toll this takes on both the patients’ and medical staff’s personal lives. It’s hard to look away, especially when Adam addresses us in the first person. 

Even more upsetting? The miniseries is based on a memoir. Former medical trainee Adam Kay wrote a best-selling book detailing his horrific time at the NHS, and now he serves as executive producer and writer of the series.

7. Unbelievable

8.8

Country

United States of America

Actors

Austin Hebert, Dale Dickey, Danielle Macdonald, Elizabeth Marvel

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Mini-series

Based on the 2015 Pulitzer-Prize-winning article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, here is one of the best Netflix productions in a while and definitely the best detective-centric show since the first season of True Detective. The eight-part drama examines the case of a 16-year-old from Washington, who claims she has been raped in her bedroom before rescinding her statement after fierce questioning of the police. Later, her initial story is substantiated by a similar incident surfacing elsewhere.

Two detectives, played masterfully by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever, refuse to assume the young girl’s guilt and embark on a relentless journey to catch the perpetrator. In addition to being a thrilling watch and insanely bingeable, Unbelievable was highly praised for shifting the attention from the abusers to the victims and making their stories heard in a true crime format. Everybody should listen closely!

6. 1994

best

9.0

Country

Mexico, N/A

Actors

Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Mini-series

Have you finished Wild Wild Country and are up for another binge-worthy documentary? If so, 1994 might be a compelling option for you to consider. Released on Netflix for the 25th anniversary of the events in 2019, most of the story would be hard to believe if it wasn’t… you know… based on facts and backed up by archival footage and interviews. As it often goes with documentaries, truth is stranger than fiction.

In 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, also known as the EZLN or the Zapatistas, declared war on the Mexican government. This happened after the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was signed into law. Incumbent Mexican president Salinas (pictured above) selected prominent reformist presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio to become his heir. Just three months later, Colosio was shot in Tijuana on live television.

1994 is a rich, informative, and fascinating account of this violent and tumultuous year in Mexican history, featuring in-depth interviews with many of those pulling the strings at the time, including former president Salinas. As the people being interviewed point out, understanding the relevance of 1994 in Mexican politics will help you understand the country’s political and economic landscape today.

5. Maid

best

9.0

Country

Canada, United States of America

Actors

Andie MacDowell, Anika Noni Rose, Billy Burke, Margaret Qualley

Moods

Mini-series

This excellent drama miniseries starts in the middle of one night when Alex, a 25-year-old, grabs her daughter and flees her home. She is chased by her abusive boyfriend but doesn’t look back. She has 18 dollars to her name.

The story is based on a real-life memoir called “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive”, where Alex’s character (based on executive producer Stephanie Land) does everything to get her daughter and herself to a safe environment. She gets a trial at a cleaning job.

Maid does such a good job at portraying the many stresses that Alex goes through: will she have enough gas? Will she find a safe place to sleep? Will she get to the cleaning job on time? And as the series progresses, the questions become different but the stress is the same – except in episode five, in which she cleans a weird house, and then it becomes an actual horror movie.

And on every other aspect, the show delivers. The cast, led by Margaret Qualley and her real-life mother Andie MacDowell, is phenomenal. Each episode is long enough to leave an impact but not too long to be melodramatic. The scenery (set in Washington state but filmed in British Columbia) is gorgeous. It’s such an all-around great show.

4. The Honourable Woman

9.0

Country

UK, United States of America

Actors

Andrew Buchan, Eve Best, Genevieve O'Reilly, George Georgiou

Moods

Mini-series, Thrilling

If you watched Homeland, you might recall that the central question was whether the main character was good or bad. In The Honourable Woman, the question is whether anybody is good or bad.

With Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Golden-Globe-winning leading role, this Netflix/BBC production centers in on Nessa Stein, the heiress to a large arms company involved in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. When her father is assassinated, Stein aims to keep the business alive by diversifying it, essentially moving it away from the war business, and is met with fierce opposition. Her life becomes even more dangerous when a secret from her past comes to haunt her.

Created by the multi-talented actor/writer Hugo Blick, the writing of this British miniseries effortlessly dodges stereotypes and easy answers and builds a balanced complexity that’s never boring. With extremely well-crafted characters, you will find yourself on the edge, never feeling completely safe with any one of them. The perfect ingredients for a top-level political thriller.

3. Escape at Dannemora

best

9.3

Country

United States of America

Actors

Benicio Del Toro, Bonnie Hunt, David Morse, Eric Lange

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Gripping, Mini-series

The story is so jaw-dropping that it almost had to be put to film: steadily sawing through pipes and cutting through walls, two convicted murderers managed to break out of a maximum-security prison in upstate New York in 2015. The elegant and realistic dramatization was released by Showtime in 2018 and directed by none other than Ben Stiller in what marks his TV directorial debut.

The protagonists of this unlikely feat included the shrewd, boss-type felon Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and the much younger, excitable David Sweat (Paul Dano). You will hardly recognize Patricia Arquette in her role as Joyce ‘Tilly’ Mitchell, a married prison employee overseeing the sewing workshop, who supported and had sexual relations with both men. She rightly received a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe in 2019, for her stunning transformation and brilliant performance.

While the pacing of this somber thriller might be a bit too slow for some, the stellar performances of the main cast are enough to keep you on the edge of your chair. It’s a cinematic TV rendition of an unbelievable story and an engrossing view inside the life and minds of disenfranchised Americans.

2. War & Peace

9.6

Country

United Kingdom

Actors

Adrian Edmondson, Aneurin Barnard, Brian Cox, Gillian Anderson

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Dramatic, Gripping

Leo Tolstoy’s most famous book, on which this was based, defies summarization but this powerful, sumptuous, and head-spinning BBC production might have done just that.

In 1805 St. Petersburg, the illegitimate son of the richest man in Russia (played by Paul Dano) finds himself at the center of his country’s downfall as it faces another Napoleonic invasion. As it follows several interconnected characters, romance intertwines with war, tragedy, and greed.

Directed by Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders), this series has it all: great acting, beautiful locations, and breath-taking action. It also stays true to the philosophical nature of the written material, capturing the glamour, deceit, and insanity of its time – as well as the sweeping scope of the original Tolstoy tome. This is TV of cinematic proportions!

1. Wild Wild Country

best

9.8

Country

United States of America

Actors

George Meredith, Ma Anand Sheela, Osho, Philip Toelkes

Moods

Docu-series, Mini-series, Thought-provoking

Wild Wild Country follows the relocation of a hippie cult from India to Oregon in 1981. You haven’t heard of Wasco Country? Nor had anybody else back then. This ghost town with a handful of god-fearing inhabitants, soon became Rajneeshpuram, the cult’s new homestead, home to a thousand disciples, and the subject of nationwide media attention. Spoiler: the town’s old residents did not think much of it.

Will there be debaucherous orgies, long-haired drop-outs, preaching and chanting? Yes. But, through historical footage and interviews with contemporaries, including Ma Anand Sheela, the power-hungry secretary of the orange-clad guru, you will also be absorbed by chemical weapons and attempted murder, one of the biggest immigration fraud case in US history, and, of course, the mysterious and not-so-mysterious ways that a charismatic cult attracts and manipulates its followers. Across six one-hour episodes, this Netflix miniseries by brothers Maclain and Chapman Way gives a captivating, exhaustive, and powerful account of one of the stranger moments in American media history.

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