Television and streaming have all but taken over the screen sector, and the best miniseries are making TV even more accessible. Without the need toÂ invest in a long-term commitment, miniseries offer the same snappy storytelling, dramatic beats, andÂ satisfying payoff that traditional TV does. The bestÂ short seriesÂ have viewers hooked from start to finish,Â making sure that the story is short and sweet.
Keeping the story refined and exciting ensures that viewers remain engaged the whole way through, which is why theÂ best miniseries to watch over a weekend are often only a few episodes long. In this way, some viewers may argue that miniseries are better than traditional television, where the story can stray too far from its original concept and beloved characters often leave too soon.
Updated on August 5th, 2021 by Svetlana Sterlin:Â Sometimes, the ever-growing catalog of movies and TV shows available to viewers seems too extensive to settle on one individual option.Â When in doubt, miniseries are the perfect choice for a weekend binge. Some of the best short series are longer than a movie, but not so long that they require serious commitment.
Most streaming services now offer a comprehensive selection ofÂ great miniseries, some of which have even scored prestigious awards like Emmys, and theyÂ demand to beÂ seen by everyone, regardless of whether or not they’re a fan of traditional TV.Â The best miniseries available to subscribers on platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO MaxÂ certainly make weekend viewing a cinch.
15 When They See UsÂ (2019)
When They See UsÂ is a Netflix original series thatÂ premiered in 2019. It has a total of four episodes and follows the true story of a group of five young men who became known as the Central Park Five after being wrongly accused of attacking a woman.
This miniseriesÂ offers a much-needed take on social justice. The engaging story keeps viewers hooked from start to finish and it’s bolstered by strong, believable performances, with Jharrel Jerome winning the Emmy forÂ Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.
14 The Queen’s GambitÂ (2020)
Based on the novel by Walter Tevis,Â The Queen’s GambitÂ was adapted for the screen in 2020, almost forty years after the book’s publication in 1983. The thrilling story follows Beth Harmon, an orphan who learns to play chess and soon becomes a prodigy in the game.
This acclaimed miniseries makes the game of chess exciting for all kinds of viewers. Beth’s characterÂ arc is even more important than the chess games being played, however, and carries the story from start to finish, earning high praise for lead Anya Taylor-Joy, who is currently nominated forÂ Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards.
13 ChernobylÂ (2019)
ChernobylÂ is a five-part historical drama that aired on HBO in 2019. The seriesÂ is a dramatization of the massive disaster that struck the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, as well as its aftermath.
TheÂ disaster itself may be a well-documented historical event, but the show goes into great detail when exploring the causes and fallout of the meltdown. Viewers will find themselves more informed on the disaster’s impact on the environment and the people who lived in the surrounding areas. This is an unforgettable story made all the more effective by its huge scope and intense attention to detail.
12 UnorthodoxÂ (2020)
This four-part miniseries is based on the journey of Deborah Feldman, who authored the memoirÂ Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. In the series, a nineteen-year-old Jewish woman named Esty plans to escape herÂ home and unhappy arranged marriageÂ in Williamsburg, New York.
UnorthodoxÂ is a moving viewing experience, both disturbing and uplifting, telling an important story on a mainstream platform. It’s the first Netflix series that’s primarily in Yiddish, though it also features English and German-speaking characters. This is a must-watch that allows a worldwide audience to understand a community traditionally marginalized in Western media.
11 11.22.63Â (2016)
11.22.63Â is a miniseries that is based onÂ Stephen King’sÂ book of the same name. It aired on Hulu in 2016 and has a total of eight episodes. The sci-fi drama follows Jake Epping, a man who learns to travel backward through time.
After gaining the ability to time travel, Jake is tasked with stopping the assassination ofÂ John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, he learns that changing the course of history can be a lot more dangerous than letting the event play out. This exciting, high-stakes series is easy to binge thanks to its unusual and unpredictable story, which frequently leaves viewers on the edge of their seats.
10 The Little Drummer Girl (2018)
This British drama is based on the novel by John le CarrÃ©, which follows the travels of Charlie Ross, an actress who is recruited by Mossad to infiltrate a terrorist group targeting prominent Israelis.
For viewers who enjoy suspense and mystery,Â The Little Drummer GirlÂ is a perfect choice for adding some excitement to weekend viewing. Bolstered by incredible acting performances, beautiful costume, and set design, and a vast array of settings, this six-part series is easy to bingeÂ over a single weekend.
9 Maniac (2018)
ManiacÂ is a Netflix original miniseries that aired on the streaming service in 2018. The story is set in an alternate version of the present day, where everything looks and feels like the ’80s, but with a sci-fi twist.
The main characters, Annie and Owen,Â meet when they both sign up for a pharmaceutical drug trial and the dark comedy of the show leans heavily into its nostalgic appeal, as well as the mind-bending aspects of this drug trial. Based on the Norwegian series of the same name,Â ManiacÂ is a fun, unsettling viewing experience with stunning visuals to match.
8 The Last DanceÂ (2020)
This docuseries is an energetic insight into the basketball career of Michael Jordan. The titleÂ The Last DanceÂ is inspired by words from Jordan’s coach, Phil Jackson, referring to the Chicago Bulls’ last season together â at least as the dominant force they were until 1998.
During the 1997-1998 season, the Bulls faced pressure like never before; they were aiming for their sixth NBA title under the knowledge that their coach was being unfairly dismissed by the general manager, Jerry Krause.Â This high-stakes/high-energy series offers an inside look into the lives of some of the best basketballers of all time. Beyond being a thorough character study of Michael Jordan,Â The Last Dance also offers insight into the sport of basketball through the lens of impending disaster.
7 Big Little LiesÂ (2017-)
Big Little LiesÂ is a dramatic series thatÂ first aired on HBO in 2017. Based on Liane Moriarty’s eponymous novel, the series was originally planned to be just one season long, but after the success of the first, the creative team reunited for a second season in 2019. The series may even get a third season in the future, though it’s still categorized as a miniseries.
Set in the upscale coastal town of Monterey, California, the drama kicks off with an unexpected murder that rocks the idyllic lives of Monterey’s residents. A group of moms who all seem to share a connection to the crime must unite to defend each otherÂ as the public becomes suspicious of their involvement. Each character has her time to shine, so even without the suspenseful mystery element, this series is an engaging watch thanks to its diverse lead characters, all of whom are given career-best performances from the star-studded cast.
6 Little Fires EverywhereÂ (2020)
This suburban drama follows the intertwined fates of the Warren and Richardson families in ’90sÂ Shaker Heights, Ohio. The miniseries is based on Celeste Ng’s novel, which paints Shaker as an idyllic small town populated by privileged people. Artist Mia Warren lives a life on the road with her teenage daughter Pearl, but when the pair arrives in Shaker, Mia promises that they’ll stay for good.
Pearl befriends the wealthy Richardson children, whose mother knows more about Mia’s past than Pearl does. Meanwhile, Mia’s friend fights a custody battle for her baby, who was adopted by Mrs. Richardson’s best friend after being abandoned outside of a firefighters’ station. This thrilling, tense drama will have viewers shocked by the twists and turns as the two families’ fates become intertwined. It’s more than enough story to keep viewers enveloped for a whole weekend.
5 The Night OfÂ (2016)
The eight-episode HBO seriesÂ The Night OfÂ aired in 2016and it’s a good miniseriesÂ to watch for those who enjoy dark, gritty crime dramas. It’s one of the best short series out there with its intense, mystery-driven plot.
The Night Of follows Naz, a Pakistani-American college student who finds himself behind bars for a crime he’s not sure he committed. NazÂ becomes the prime suspect when a girl namedÂ Andrea is found murdered after spending an evening with him. All he remembers is meeting this stranger, and now he must prove his innocence. This miniseries is unnervingly timely and relevant with its legal drama, which is whatÂ gives the story so much of its sense of gripping horror.
4 ItÂ (1990)
Even though this Stephen King novel has been adapted for the movie screen to much acclaim and buzz, the two-part miniseries released in 1990 holds a special place in horror fans’ memories thanks to its performances. The story follows a group of outcast children known as The Losers Club as they’re pursued by a terrifying monster.
The monster takes the appearance of a clown, but the ominous Pennywise is far from friendly. The saga ofÂ ItÂ spans the course of decades as the entity returns to haunt the town’s residents after the kids have grown up, but the miniseries is about three hours long â making it perfect for a weekend binge.
3 The Keepers (2017)
For those interested in documentaries,Â The KeepersÂ is one of the best factual miniseries on Netflix.Â This series follows the disappearance and alleged murder ofÂ Cathy Cesnik, a nun and Catholic school teacher who disappeared in the late 1960s.
However, theÂ seriesÂ goes beyondÂ thisÂ unsolved murder case. The details of what went on inÂ her school in relation to Cesnik’s disappearance and the circumstances of her killer going undiscovered are enough to chillÂ viewers to the bone. For thoseÂ who are interested in history and true crime,Â The KeepersÂ is essential viewing.
2 Sharp ObjectsÂ (2018)
Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel,Â Sharp ObjectsÂ is an HBO miniseriesÂ full of just as much suspense and just as many plot twists as her earlier novelÂ Gone Girl,Â which was also adapted for the screen.
In Sharp Objects,Â a journalistÂ named CamilleÂ mustÂ return to her hometown of Wind GapÂ to investigate a string of heinous murders. Camille isÂ hauntedÂ byÂ dark memories andÂ the toxic relationships from her past in Wind Gap, but she agrees to go for the story. This series is dark, unpredictable, and ends just the way a good miniseries should â surprisingly and climactically.
1 Unbelievable (2019)
UnbelievableÂ is a dark crime drama that premiered on NetflixÂ in 2019. Based on real-life events, the story follows a teenager named Marie who reports her own assault,Â then withdraws her claim. As a result, she’s accused ofÂ fabricatingÂ the whole incident.
However, soon more people come forward with stories that corroborate hers, and they are just as unsettling. The eerie story unfolds as detectives begin digging further into the case, and Marie waits in fear for the scales to tip one way or the other.Â UnbelievableÂ is an unmissable series for its shocking, haunting story andÂ acclaimed performancesÂ from its leading actors.
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