My Year of Miniseries: An Introduction

Emmys Miniseries
The cast and crew of Olive Kitteridge accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series.

I love the concept of the miniseries for two important reasons:

1. They’re compact.

Most tell a complete story  within more or less six hours, finding the perfect balance between film (short form) and television (long form). When you don’t have time in your life for 22 episodes per season but still want to dive into a good, fleshy story over an extended period, miniseries can be the perfect solution.

2. They allow me to access a classic tale without reading the book.

Yes, I realize this sounds lazy. It probably is. Trust me, I do love to read (English major!), but my tastes tend toward popular fiction and celebrity memoirs. And the older I get, the less time I have to delve into a thousand pages of dense writing (unless you’re George R. R. Martin.) The miniseries provides me the opportunity to glean meaning from and engage in an aspect of culture I’d otherwise be missing out on.

Today we’re seemingly saturated in this art form. It’s surprising that only five years ago, in 2011, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences merged the Emmy categories of miniseries and made-for-television movies due to a decline in production of both. However, thanks to the recent content boom in an ever-democratized production landscape known as Peak TV, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these micro serials (with more and more established film stars with tight schedules venturing into television for the storytelling potential) and in 2014 the Academy reversed its decision, creating the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series. There’s even been some rebranding of the model, with networks now hawking “event series,” probably to distinguish these products from the rather 1970s vibe of a term that brings to mind the epic costume dramas of the day. (And even more cunningly, to use them as sort of expanded backdoor pilots to gauge what will and won’t stick, à la Fargo’s second season pickup after FX originally toted it as a “limited series.”) No matter – as my father would say, “It’s all the same shit.”

Which brings me to My Year of Miniseries.

In the last six years since graduating college I’ve eagerly devoured dozens of miniseries in addition to my consumption of traditionally format television, ranging from timeless classics to more modern takes on the form. With Peak TV forcing me to be more discerning about how I should invest my time, I think I’m ready to go “back to basics” for a little while and double down on my classic miniseries queue before grad school consumes the next two years of my life.

With this series I intend to explore the minis I watch in 2016 as I complete them, and every once in a return to highlight some of the standouts from my last six years of viewership. Please note I tend to gravitate towards female protagonists and period pieces, although I expect to throw in a nice contemporary thriller or horror piece from time to time.

So without further ado, My Year of Miniseries: Wives and Daughters.

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