Some shows end up a miniseries by being cancelled before their time, while others never even deserved to get past that stage. But TV also has a long and proud history of limited-run series that were only ever intended as such. Here are the ten best TV equivalents of fun-size candy bars.
While the seminal horror writer’s short stories are best-suited to the big screen, adaptations of Stephen King’s bulky novels tend to work better as miniseries. This paranormal coming-of-age drama brought the childhood-ending terror of Pennywise the Clown into our living rooms two nights in a row… and never left us.
9. ‘Battlestar Galactica’
How long does it take to get the artificial taste of the campy 70’s original out of your mouth? Well, four hours, according to the producers of this 2003 miniseries reboot, which successfully purged our bad memories of the sci-fi series and gave us a clean slate for what followed.
8. ‘Tales of the City’
This miniseries adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s novel about 1970’s San Francisco was one of the most faithful renditions of a book ever seen on TV. But it also did justice to the sights, sounds and significance of the city and its history. The eerily perfect casting helped… as did the disco.
7. ‘The Corner’
Without this HBO documentary-drama about life in the drug-addled neighborhoods of Baltimore,we would never have been given ‘The Wire.’ But there are many other reasons to admire this gritty six-part series. Gloomy yet sensitive, unremitting yet proactive, it set higher standards for realism on television than we had ever seen.
6. ‘Dead Set’
Zombies and ‘Big Brother’ aren’t the most natural pairing… unless you’ve seen the contestants first thing in the morning. But this British Halloween-themed five-parter married them to chilling — and hilarious — effect. It set a trend for zombie television that’s still with us, and made us question our love for reality TV.
5. ‘John Adams’
By its very nature, history takes a long time — and nothing less than this HBO seven-parter about the life of America’s second president would do to tell his story. It’s a real slog that doesn’t skimp on the period detail but is worth every penny… or dollar coin in this case.
4. ‘State of Play’
Recently remade as a movie with Russell Crowe, this British conspiracy thriller showed that, like oats, politics was best served as a serial. It ratcheted up the paranoia until there was none left… and completely blindsided us in the final episode. Not one to watch if you’re looking to have your faith in politicians restored.
3. ‘Angels in America’
Adapted from Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning plays of the same (abbreviated) name, a two-part HBO series was the perfect way to ensure that the screen adaptation didn’t butcher the scope and meaning of the epic original. And as HBO were pioneers in AIDS-themed drama, it was also the perfect place.
2. ‘House of Cards’
We’re not talking about the Netflix version with Kevin Spacey, but the British miniseries that was the inspiration behind it. Wickedly funny, deliciously cruel and a fitting satire on the Thatcher-era of Britain, it broke the mould of political TV drama… and then remolded it for generations to come.
This acclaimed version of Alex Haley’s 1976 novel ushered in a golden age of miniseries, as well as many more well-received TV sequels. The finale still holds the record as the third-most-watched TV program of all time, and it was a milestone in attitudes to and representations of American history.