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.

30. Vigil

best

8.1

Country

United Kingdom

Actors

Adam James, Anjli Mohindra, Connor Swindells, Gary Lewis

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Challenging, Dramatic

Vigil is a murder mystery/political thriller set in the depths of British waters, particularly in the nuclear-powered missile submarine HMS Vigil. When a navy officer dies and a fishing trawler disappears at the same time and place, Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is sent in to investigate the case.

While Vigil mostly dove under the radar when it first came out last year, the BBC production is drawing in new audiences as it streams on Peacock. Watching it, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t a box-office production, because it looks and sounds every bit like one. It’s got a massive budget, an epic scale, a thrilling political premise, and talented actors across the board—what’s not to love?

29. The Looming Tower

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Actors

Alec Baldwin, Annie Parisse, Bill Camp, Jeff Daniels

Moods

A-list actors, Binge-Worthy, Instructive

The incredible script for this Hulu-produced series comes courtesy of Lawrence Wright, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning book the series is based on, and Dan Futterman, the Oscar-nominated writer who gave us Capote. It is an eye-opening, semi-fictional account of how the CIA and the FBI took conflicting approaches to counteract Al-Qaeda in the lead-up to 9/11, withholding information from each other, and obstructing a unified strategy to combat terror. The disagreements between the two security services are numerous and the relationship between their staff is hostile. At the top, Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, the seasoned head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Center, while Peter Sarsgaard stars as Martin Schmidt, the chief of the CIA’s respective facility, who are both amazing. Then there’s Ali Soufan, played by Tahar Rahim, who is one of only handful FBI agents who speak Arabic back in 1998, just three years before the Towers fell. With all this testosterone flying about, the women in this show are marginalized to the fairly weak romantic storylines, but other than that the series gets a lot of stuff right. Writing, acting, and action are on point and make The Looming Tower a gripping as well as insightful watch.

28. The Underground Railroad

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Actors

Joel Edgerton, Thuso Mbedu

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

As is only appropriate for a limited series about such a horrific period in human history, The Underground Railroad isn’t meant to be easy viewing. Thanks to uncompromising direction from Barry Jenkins (the director of the Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight) and unforgettable images from cinematographer James Laxton, this approaches a level of confrontational storytelling that almost seems inappropriate for the comforts of television. But it’s essential viewing nonetheless, and Jenkins makes sure to transform this into a much stranger, more thought-provoking tale beyond the brutality of its first episode.

The Underground Railroad is speculative fiction: instead of being a historical account of the real-life network of routes to help free African-American slaves, it imagines a literal train that swiftly transports Cora (a powerful Thuso Mbedu) from one dystopian vision of white America to another. With every new setting, Jenkins doesn’t just talk about slavery; he talks about how America talks about slavery, and how the stories of these Black slaves are constantly reappropriated by white supremacists.

27. Documentary Now!

best

8.2

Country

United States, United States of America

Actors

Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Helen Mirren, Irving Azoff

Moods

A-list actors, Easy, Funny

Fans of sketch comedy, documentaries, and the always-hilarious duo of Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are in for a treat with Documentary Now!, a delightful miniseries that both satirizes and pays tribute to the non-fiction format. Each episode parodies a particular documentary and tone, bringing the comedians and their ever-revolving roster of guest stars to different eras, regions, costumes, accents, and more. 

With SNL veterans Hader and Armisen at the helm, this mockumentary is sure to amuse and impress even the most stoic among us, if not for the show’s humor, then for its sharp attention to detail and endlessly creative references.

26. Formula 1: Drive to Survive

8.2

Country

UK, United States of America

Actors

Charles Leclerc

Moods

Docu-series, Gripping, Mini-series

There are only 20 seats in Formula 1 each year, meaning that drivers are not only racing to win but to be kept on the roster. With the big stars, Ferrari and Mercedes, habitually shrouded in secrecy, Formula 1: Drive to Survive focuses more on the back of the grid. Lewis Hamilton, the five-time world champion, is rarely seen, for example, giving more room for other stories to unfold, including that of Günther Steiner, the Italian team principal of the Haas Formula One Team. That is not to say there are no big reveals. Even if you think Formula 1 is a decadent, testosterone-driven sports for rich Europeans, Drive to Survive might be welcome crash course into what makes this sport so appealing for many and might also have the potential to change your mind. If not, it is still a very well-made, slick, and engaging docuseries that will have enthusiasts and newcomers thoroughly entertained.

25. The Staircase

8.2

Country

France

Actors

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

Moods

Gripping, Mini-series, True-crime

The latest addition to the murder mini-series genre is the incredible thriller “The Staircase.” It originally aired in 2004, but the producers took the same director and allowed him to add new episodes in 2018 to complete the story. 

The plot: A famous American novelist’s wife is found dead, and he is accused of killing her. His life comes under scrutiny as everyone asks whether she died in an accident or was murdered. If you liked their other hit, “Making a Murderer,” you will love this. You should also definitely check out “The Keepers” or Netflix’s binge-worthy crime documentary, “Evil Genius.”

24. Flint Town

8.2

Country

United States of America

Actors

James Tolbert, Karen Weaver, Wayne Suttles

Moods

Docu-series, Mini-series, Thrilling

Since the 1960s, Flint, Michigan, has experienced a series of shocks. When General Motors downsized their workforce by several 10.000, the town’s population nearly halved. Unsurprisingly, it later became known for being one of the most dangerous cities in the US and for off-the-charts crime statistics. Since 2014, Flint again rose to tragic fame for a public health emergency due to contamination of its local water supply. Flint Town homes in on this perpetual state of crisis through the eyes of the local police department, who had to grapple with this dire scenario, while losing more funding year over year due to the city’s deteriorating financial situation. The few officers that are left for policing are at breaking point. The result is a gripping and rich docuseries with a host of strong characters. But it is also a brutal and sobering account of the extent to which an American city is being allowed to fail.

23. Lost Ollie

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Actors

Gina Rodriguez, Jake Johnson, Jonathan Groff, Kesler Talbot

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Lovely

The Netflix four-part miniseries Lost Ollie is a bit like if Toy Story was adapted into a live-action dramedy. You’ll recognize the premise immediately: lost toy comes to life and loyally sets out on a journey to find its kid. But stuffed in between those points are poignant moments and reflections about life, family, and being.

The film isn’t also afraid to touch on darker themes, so if you’ve always wished for a slightly more mature but still kid-friendly version of this narrative—and if you’re a fan of the likes of Paddington the Velveteen Rabbit—then you’ll enjoy Lost Ollie.

22. Industry

best

8.4

Country

United Kingdom

Actors

Adam Levy, Harry Lawtey, Jay Duplass, Katrine De Candole

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Challenging, Character-driven

Industry has all the markings of an HBO show: an abundance of sex, drugs, alcohol, and sure enough, an inextinguishable affinity for the F word. Like Succession, The Sopranos, and even Euphoria before it, it revels in its freedom to explore the nitty-grittiest parts of its subject matter and put its gruesome findings on full display. But instead of capitalism, organized crime, or teenhood, Industry incisively takes on hustle culture. 

Through the eyes of four new hires at a premier investment bank in London, we see the dangerous means people put themselves through in order to achieve some semblance of respect, recognition, or at the very least stability. Bullying is rampant, hazing is normalized, competition is encouraged, and blind loyalty is rewarded. The characters are so flawed and damaged, you’ll often find yourself rooting for their demise. But you’ll also be glued to their arcs and storylines. Will they break the cycle of abuse or continue it? Can they actually change the system from within or does that remain a utopian dream? These questions are hardly charming, but Industry has a way of making them engaging, exciting even. It fully inhabits the meanness you can and should only enjoy behind the safety of a TV screen. 

21. The Serpent Queen

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Actors

Amrita Acharia, Barry Atsma, Beth Goddard, Enzo Cilenti

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Character-driven, Dark

Despite being released amid a deluge of period dramas and biopics, Starz’s  The Serpent Queen, which follows Catherine de’ Medici’s rise from Italian servant to Queen of France, is a strong standout in today’s streaming fare. 

By balancing modern storytelling (expect poppy needle drops and fourth-wall breaks a la Fleabag) and historical realism (the costume and production design are as accurate and detailed as any thoughtful production), The Serpent Queen manages to have a genuinely fresh take on the historical drama. It’s also refreshing in its refusal to sugarcoat history’s crude ways, so despite its modern feel, don’t be too surprised to see 13-year-olds bedded and bodies graphically pulled apart by horses.

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