Backstage’s 6 Favorite Miniseries for Your Consideration

Photo Source: Showtime

“Big Little Lies” (HBO)
Something is rotten in the city of Monterey. An elementary school’s trivia night gala has ended in murder. A Greek chorus of gossipy parents hints that at least one of five mothers in particular has something to hide. If the setup of David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel sounds like pulpy, “guilty pleasure” viewing, that’s because it is. But as this HBO miniseries expands to tackle sexual assault, adultery, and female friendships in eye-opening ways, the murder mystery becomes a mere backdrop for thorny, all-too-relevant stories about women. Combined with an inimitably dark sense of humor and feats of editing and cinematography brilliance, it has also become the must-watch drama of the year. Viewers know that a cast led by director Jean-Marc Vallée and including Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman (both executive producers), as well as Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, and Alexander Skarsgård will deliver great acting. But brace yourself for what may be their finest work ever. For your consideration: any and every moment of their gripping, gorgeous performances. —Jack Smart

“Feud” (FX)
Watching the inimitable Jessica Lange bring to the small screen Joan Crawford, the legend of Hollywood’s golden age, is just one of the plethora of joys in Ryan Murphy’s “Feud.” The FX series overflows with yesteryear glamour, from the precisely period hair and wardrobe (all the way down to Lange’s lacquered nails) to the immaculate sets and production design. (Did TV this year get much better than that 1963 Oscars recreation?) But it all comes back to the performances. One heavyweight after the next—Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, Judy Davis, Jackie Hoffman, Alison Wright, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kathy Bates, and, of course, Lange as Crawford and a never-better Susan Sarandon as the titular quarrel’s second half, Bette Davis—delivers career-best work. Most poignant of all is the series’ ability to portray its central duo not just as demanding divas, but as victims of sexism and circumstance. Murphy’s shining achievement arrives at the series’ conclusion: an imagined moment of respect and reconciliation between Crawford and Davis that sadly never came. —Benjamin Lindsay

“Genius” (National Geographic)
Geoffrey Rush delivers his usual caliber of outstanding as the iconic Albert Einstein in the National Geographic Channel’s first scripted series. But the Oscar, Tony, and Emmy winner is only half of the “Genius” makeup, with Johnny Flynn taking on the role of young Einstein. The two illustrate the balance between the scientist’s past of brainy, adolescent cockiness and his evolution into mature scholarliness; they paint a full picture of the hot-blooded man behind the equation. (The first time we see Einstein, his pants are around his ankles and his lover is pressed against a chalkboard littered with calculations.) Built as an anthology “event series,” NatGeo intends to make Einstein the first of many notable geniuses brought to the small screen. Rush and Flynn have set a high bar for whoever follows. (Our money’s on Tesla!) —Briana Rodriguez

“The Night Of” (HBO)
You’re unlikely to find anything on TV—or film—able to induce such profuse palm sweating as “The Night Of.” From its heart-pounding pilot through its eight episodes of agonizing suspense, the miniseries never skimps on addressing grave topics encompassing the inhumanity of incarceration, consent, and race as it pertains to class and perception. Depicting a foulness that echoes its difficult-to-watch nature, the Richard Price– and Steven Zaillian–written series features a star-making turn by Riz Ahmed, as well as a remarkable return to TV for John Turturro, delivering one of the finest (albeit most grotesque) performances of his career. Culminating in a top-to-bottom satisfying finale, “The Night Of” subverts initial expectations in that it ultimately never is a whodunit mystery, but rather an unsettling story that finds its id in the ambiguity of the human condition. —Casey Mink

READ: 2 Things John Turturro Reminds Himself of Before Every Audition

“Twin Peaks” (Showtime)
You can’t teach an old log new tricks—or can you? The first iteration of “Twin Peaks” arguably invented prestige TV as we know it today. Its revival 25 years later, with director-auteur David Lynch back at the helm alongside longtime collaborator Mark Frost, delivers moments of devastating beauty intercut with camp comic relief, all pervaded by an underlying sense of dread. With Showtime’s blessing to film unfettered by network notes, Lynch has created a surreal, horrifying, and endlessly entertaining work of art. A young man watches a glass box suspended over the skyline of New York City, waiting for something—he doesn’t know what—to appear. Watching “Twin Peaks” is like watching that box, waiting for a message from another world to materialize in the ether between you, the viewer, and Lynch’s brain. Sure, it can be tough to get into (and occasionally nail-bitingly terrifying), but if you’re down for a romp through time, space, and parallel demon-universes, come through. —Rawaan Alkhatib

“When We Rise” (ABC)
On the one hand, a miniseries like “When We Rise” feels old hat in 2017. The majority of Americans support marriage equality, now a political reality, so Dustin Lance Black’s eight-part docudrama chronicling the steady rise of the LGBT rights movement is a long-overdue reminder of stories we should all know by heart. But the fact that we don’t is part of the series’ implicit mission; as much as we like to pretend mainstream pop culture has made great strides to represent diverse stories, the groundbreaking nature of a show like “When We Rise” more than justifies its presence on the small screen. Real-life LGBT activists (portrayed in many cases by LGBT actors!) are seen living, loving, and fighting for what they believe in, a rarity—unfortunately—on network TV. That “When We Rise” also swings for the fences, spanning 40 years and dramatizing everything from the AIDS crisis to Prop 8, and has a charismatic cast to back up that ambition, makes it all the more miraculous. —Jack Smart

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