The best limited series of the 21st century, ranked

From period pieces to crime dramas, these series made the most of their predetermined, one-off format.

Are there sweeter words in the age of too much TV than “limited series”? It’s a category that guarantees a minimum investment of time with a maximum return – whether it’s the weekly water cooler gossip or a delicious bite. The limited series is the perfect hybrid between a movie and a longer TV series, with intricate stories, complex characters, and just the right amount of moving parts. The fact that a series won’t return makes the narrative valuable and the ending more important than anything else, even if that means leaving things open-ended on purpose. This unique nature makes them perfect for literary adaptations, epic events and period plays.

What doesn’t fit? The ones that started out as limited series but then blew up enough to get a second season. (We’re looking at you, ‘Big Little Lies’ and ‘White Queen.’) We’ve also limited ourselves to screenplays for now (ha!), as Ken Burns will probably deserve his own ranking once he slows down and we can catch up with his prolific output. (“Wormwood” is also a borderline documentary, so it didn’t make the cut.) Even anthologies like “True Detective” and “Fargo” eventually got their start because the limited series category has never been richer or more compelling. with him now.

Now that we’ve told you what’s out, here’s what’s in.

Liz Shannon Miller, Hanh Nguyen, Ben Travers, and Christian Blauvelt contributed to this list.

28. “Hatfields and McCoys”

"Hatfields and McCoys"

In 2012, the History Channel was best known for its Hitler documentaries, but its first major scripted drama, a look at one of America’s most famous feuds starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, established the network as a newcomer in the escalating Emmy wars. It received 16 nominations and won Costner and Tom Berenger Awards for their roles. What makes “Hatfields & McCoys” stand out even today is that even though the name conjures up ideas of a certain trope, the show actually wanted to bring a human edge to the story, drawing us into the lives of these characters, making betrayals and bloodshed. the more effective it is. This is what a scripted representation of historical events should do – confront us with the emotional reality of what happened under the guise of fiction.

27. “Developers”

Alex Garland’s nebulous Silicon Valley mystery “Devs” is both an ethereal tale of sophisticated science fiction and an escapist thriller rooted in the depths of humanity. Sonoya Mizuno plays Lily Chan, a software engineer at a quantum computing company run by a reclusive genius named Forest (Nick Offerman). But when her boyfriend dies—shortly after being promoted to the company’s top-secret development team—Lily’s interest in her boss, his plans, and the power she has to carry them out becomes more pressing. Garland injects tension into the dreamlike, mysterious plot, giving the audience time to consider the magnitude of each discovery, whether it’s a private one or something larger. Rob Hardy’s dynamic cinematography brilliantly captures the contradictions in how man carves out space in nature, building on the themes of free will and determinism – and how technological progress relates to both. As the bizarre events and surreal developments pile up, the “developers” always feel at one with themselves, so you know it’s connected to something real; something you not only appreciate in the abstract, but feel in your bones. — BT

26. “The Menacing Tower”

THE RISING TOWER -- "I lost my faith" - Episode 102 - Following the simultaneous embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the FBI begins an on-site investigation while the CIA begins working on a retaliation plan.  John O'Neill (Jeff Daniels), seen.  (Photo: JoJo Whilden/Hulu)

“The Looming Tower” gets a lot of credit because it’s important. Not only is it so steeped in largely unknown historical facts that it functions as a 9/11 origin story, but the Hulu limited series from Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, and Lawrence Wright already has more big names (and Pulitzer Prize winners) in addition to the two Oscar winners. .

Yet for all its important points about responsibility, diplomacy, and bipartisan politics, the eight-part miniseries is still a human story. A complex portrait of a brilliant FBI agent troubled by his personal tendencies at work and at home. There is a story about a Muslim-American trying to reclaim his religion after it was hijacked by extremists. And there’s a man who lost a friend to a bombing and a boss to the very thing they were both fighting against. “The Looming Tower” uses a moving character study to tell its weighty story, and with great force.

25. “Losing Alice”

Blurring the line between fiction and reality is not exactly a new premise. But the way Sigal Avin weaves together all the psychological threads of this mind shaper is enough to make you believe that the formula has infinite variations. The eight-episode Apple TV+ season follows Alice (Ayelet Zurer), a director who meets a brilliant screenwriter (Lihi Kornowski) who offers her a career-changing screenplay. And so begins a dense, twisted tale of desire, creation and jealousy that plays like a slow-burning neo-noir thriller. It’s a show that offers patient, unbroken glimpses into the filmmaking process, interspersed with hypnotic, dreamlike sequences. Until the last seconds, “Losing Alice” keeps you guessing which one it really is. —SG

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