Sunday, August 28, 2016

TOP TEN MINISERIES

So, as promised, this Emmy season, and after two consecutive Top Ten posts that were about feature films exclusively, for some reason, even though that is never a standard I set, I made sure than when I asked for more requests for original Top Ten Lists this time around, that it restricted to television, and I kept the requests open for quite a while, waiting for all requests and to cipher through the best, most unique, most thought-provoking and most unusual and interesting ones I could find, preferably ones that, rarely, if ever, have been done for a Top Ten List before.

My conclusion: YOU GUYS SUCK AT THIS!

REALLY, REALLY SUCK AT THIS. I got a grand total of THREE REQUEST IDEAS, and STRRRR-EEETCHING the definition of words like "Original" or "Unique" and "Television", I had TWO, that I thought we're even pliable. Top Ten Miniseries and Top Ten Police Detective Series.

Okay, I know, I shouldn't be this mean, and I get it, that some people are looking around for ideas and new things to watch but, I-eh, like seriously, these were the two you came up with? I mean, I'll do one of these if it wins, but good lord. Do you know that, since like 1950, back then when there was barely three channels and ever since, that on average, the amount of time devoted to some part of the Law and Order process on network primetime television is about 18 hours a week, and that's the low-end! That's the low estimate. I mean, "Police Detectives, gosh dang it, I can't count 'Murder, She Wrote', she wasn't technically a police detective, she was a crime novelist who solved murders-," like seriously! Do you guys think there's less television than there actually is, or something? Spoilers, on that one, if that wins, then think of the first ten cop detective shows you think of, and eight of them would probably make the list. How about "Top Ten Police Detectives of the '70s," or something just to make it a little tricky, or something?

Alright, look, I-, I know I'm being obnoxious, and I'm sorry again, but-, let's just say that I have high expectations from my audience, and, well, needless to say, in this case, I was.... I was disappointed. Maybe not angry, okay a little angry, but mostly disappointed. (Sigh) So, I decided to throw a couple others into the pool this one time. Just to give an idea on what I might be looking for, or lead you guys towards a different or a more unique Top Ten List. Maybe, you'd say, "Oh, that sounds interesting, I've never seen that one before, maybe I'll pick this one instead." Just, to push you guys towards a different idea, stuff that's more outside-of-the-box and might be more intriguing, you know. For instance, I put down "Top Ten Underrated TV Sitcom Characters". Yeah, all this talk about shows, characters! The things that make us care about what we're watching, how about ranking them, this isn't difficult, and more forgotten or strange ones at that, that maybe get pushed aside or slipped from our immediate consciousness once in a while? Or, eh, you know how I praise critics over fans much of the time, well, did you know I actually have very little respect for television critics?! No, seriously, I hate them, for many reasons, I could've come up with Ten Reasons why they were terrible! Me, complaining, something I'm sure many of my longtime readers, would recognize as a huge change-of-pace for my blog, that recently went on a curse-ladened tirade over the moron fans who tried to end Rotten Tomatoes.

(If you haven't read that post, here's the link below)
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2016/08/4-letter-words-about-rotten-tomatoes_6.html

So, me especially, riding certain critics as a whole, I bet some of you would've probably enjoyed that.

And also the best idea, the one I clearly would've voted for, and boy this is a great list idea; you have no idea, unless you really look into it too, the "Top Ten Most Landscape-Altering Times a TV Show Changed Networks"! Oh yeah, this is a killer list, seriously unbelievable list. It's got everything, a look at many different kinds of television shows, many of them groundbreaking and important, a look at the business side of television, how decisions are made and how the simplest shifts can change the future of a network, and in some cases completely change everything we know about television at that point, plus it goes into TV history incredibly well, where you really can dive in and see just how we got to the television landscape we have now by looking at how much it's shifted in the past. There's so many little things and quirks in television executive decision-making, you'd be shocked, and this is just one kind of those decision, and there's some, in hindsight, really huge ones, and many you don't think about, that- like, "Wow, had that happened, how different would television be," it's really stunning, there's such amazing potential for a great list there, but all three of those, far better and more interesting than your guys' choices. Anyway, I kept the polls open for a good while, let's do the tally and figure out the results, drumroll please!

(Drumroll starts)

And the toke board, stop!

(Drumroll ends)

TOP TEN MINISERIES  19 Votes

TOP TEN MOST UNDERRATED SITCOM CHARACTERS   11 Votes

TOP TEN REASONS WHY TELEVISION CRITICS ARE TERRIBLE   10 Votes

TOP TEN POLICE DETECTIVE SERIES  9 Votes

TOP TEN MOST LANDSCAPE ALTERING TIMES A SHOW CHANGED NETWORKS  0 Votes

And after two suggestions and fifty votes later, the one I wanted to do, the least, wins. And the best one, got ZERO VOTES! Seriously, nobody voted for the best one!?!?!? 

(Deflating sigh, holding back raising voice maniacally)

I'm not angry, I'm just very disappointed. Very, very, verr-ry disappointed. (Long pause) Miniseries, really? That's what interesting to you? You really just want me to tell you, the ten best miniseries out there? You know, I think "Pioneers of Television" did a good episode on them once, do you really...? I can literally find that episode for you guys, see: 


Support your local PBS stations, they have some great television folks. Okay, um, alright. This list, um, yeah, I didn't enjoy doing this list. For one, I haven't seen most of the big miniseries, like especially the really big older ones. And a lot of the newer ones I haven't actually seen either. I haven't seen "Roots" yet.or 'The Thorn Bird"  Or even "The Pacific", or hell, I only am now getting around to the first season of "Fargo", it looks pretty good so far, if you're wondering. It's not that I don't like miniseries, I actually do, but of all the major Primetime television genres, Miniseries, are the, well, the easiest to ignore. There's exceptions, and sometimes the genre can really be the biggest and most important part of the television lineup, but most of the time, they're...- well, they're miniseries, they come in, they hang around for awhile and then they finish and usually you forget about them. Sitcoms are the true genre of television, dramas is a genre that never goes away, Variety, both Talk and Sketch, which are now two separate categories are as big as ever and are usually live so they're more immediate, and hell, even arguably reality television is bigger, more immediate, more culturally relevant and currently, have more culturally impact than all those others. I guess Miniseries for more technical reasons have a bigger presence than TV movies, (Which is a list, I'm telling you now, I'm not doing in the future!!!!!!!!! I am rejecting that idea straight out!) but, yeah, they're kinda the easy one to forget or ignore. They're continuously airing and evolving, they just exist. I know that's changed in recent years, now that shows like "True Detective" and "American Horror Story" came in, and completely changed our idea of what an anthology series was, but even still, only rarely does the "miniseries event", really insist upon and grab the focus and attention and demand the necessity of being watched like the way the actual miniseries events of the '70s were big, and they really, really, were big back then, so big that the other networks refused to program against them, to make sure everybody saw them, huge, I'm serious, huge at the time, you-, you really just don't see that as often. There's always an exception, and miniseries do seem to be big this year, but a couple years ago, I distinctly remember writing a blog about how the Television Academy was thinking of getting rid of the Miniseries category entirely. Yeah, this blog.


And I'm pretty sure I wrote other blogs regarding it later when they reversed that decision and brough back the old modicum, of "LIMITED SERIES", you can see those blogs here: 


"Limited Series" is another term for Miniseries by the way, although there's now technicalities regarding the definition that their weren't before, but.... anyway, it's clear that I've considered and studied miniseries quite a bit, I just haven't really gotten around to seeing as many of them as I wish I had, at least, enough that I can say that I'm, confident in this list. I try to determine "best" over just, "shit I happen to like", 'cause then I'm just an asshole spewing about he likes, and that's a fan, ugh..., but, yeah I'm working with a much more limited sample than I'd prefer. (Beside "Like" is subjective, it's meaningless, tell me what's good and why, not what you like, that doesn't tell me anything.) I keep trying to watch more miniseries btw, it's not like I'm purposefully ignoring them, like, I've literally had my local library lose their copy of "Roots" three different times on me, right as I'm about to get to my turn on the waiting list for it. (Sigh) Yeah. I've definitely seen quite a few, more than I thought when I went through looking for titles I've seen, 'cause I don't have a normal Miniseries list hanging around like I do for movies, but still, this list.... Well, you guys really wanted it; it won big. (Shrugs) 

Okay, let's set a few ground rules. First of all, I'm using the definition of a Limited Series that the Emmys currently have, but I'm not gonna completely stick to it. The definition is fluid and changes quite a bit at times and it's really a guideline instead of a rule. For instance, "In Addition, any narrative series with at least two episodes and a total running time over 150 minutes, but no more than five episodes will be considered a "limited series". Yeah, that, "Five episodes thing, that would knock out quite a few of those older event miniseries, and btw, there's a secondary rule that allows for a vote by a committee to be called challenging that ruling in case a limited series goes longer than five episodes, which many do nowadays, that rule's really in place to distinguish between regular series that only have six-episode seasons, which is the minimum amount a season can have, which is why, certain seasons of "The Big C" and "Treme" managed to sneak into the Miniseries category in the past, (And I'm not counting them here, either) but the main part of the rule is the beginning part: 2 episodes, 150 minutes at least, and tells a complete, non-recurring story and does not have ongoing storylines or main characters for subsequent seasons.. 

That's to account for the new anthology series I mentioned earlier, but yeah, I'm basically using the unwritten rule, "If it was intended to be a miniseries or a limited series, than I'm calling it a miniseries." I won't be so literal with that, for instance, technically I could consider something like the first season of "24" to be a miniseries, since that really wasn't intended to be an ongoing thing and was an actual television event, like a limited series at the time,but yeah, I'd have a hard time making that argument now. (That said, the first season of "24" is the best, but the whole show's really great.) \

That said, I can really cheat here, and include a bunch of different stuff, so, just to get these out of the way, I'm not counting documentaries. Yes, some can make an argument that maybe, "The Beatles Anthology" or Ken Burns's "Baseball" is a miniseries, it's just a documentary mini-series" or somethings like that, um, no, they-, they aren't. And also, I think "original intent" is the big thing, if it was meant to be a miniseries, than I'll consider it, but any TV shows that got cancelled early and somehow stole an acting Emmy because USA Network submitted them into "Limited Series", I'm looking at you two, Jean Smart and Ellen Burstyn, "The Starter Wife" and "Politcal Animals" weren't really supposed to be miniseries and you both know that. (You too Idris Elba and "Luther") then I'm calling bullshit and disqualifying them. Also, it goes the other way around too, if you supposedly started as a miniseries but then became a series, it really better have started and originated as a miniseries. "Downton Abbey" was always a series in Britain, but submitted as a Miniseries here and won their Best Series Emmy in that category, which is fine, I'm a huge "Downton Abbey" fan, but that's,-, that's wrong. Sorry, it better have originated as a Limited Series, or at least have that be the original intent for the series before it became a regular series. 

There's one other rule I'm sorta debating about, and that is, whether I should count foreign programs that were Miniseries in their own country, but might've been originally released theatrically here in America. For instance, I'm disqualifying, "The Godfather: A Novel for Television", which is great btw, and worth a watch if you happen to see it on, it's a television edit of the first two "The Godfather" movies that puts the events in chronological order and even adds a few extra scenes that actually I think improve the story and films at times, but yeah, that was clearly nev-er the intention to make either of those films into a miniseries, but it's not uncommon for some great filmmakers to make a long epic specifically for television in their home country and then have an edited version, (Or sometimes not even edited) and that version would debut in America in movie theaters instead. I'm honestly not sure whether to count those or not, without giving anything away, (Although they would be surprises to nobody who knows me) if I did include them, there's a very good chance they would make the list. 

After thinking this through, if they were shown in American theaters, in their complete original miniseries form, then I'm gonna disqualify them; I will allow therefore for movies that were edited down from an original foreign miniseries and then introduced to America in theaters as a edited version of the miniseries to be counted, since that's the not the original film they're supposed to be introduced as. So from my perspective, I, as an American would've had to have been introduced to them, but only if the edited movie version is NOT the original version/intent that the film was meant to be seen as, 'cause if I would've originally seen the miniseries as a theatrically-released feature, then I must consider that to be a theatrically-released feature, since that's how I rank them normally. This eliminates more than a few films I've seen, and a couple big ones, the Italian six-hour epic "The Best of Youth" that came out a few years ago comes to mind, but more importantly, (sigh) the movie I ranked as the 3rd Greatest Film of all-time, Krzyszstof Kieslowski's "The Decalogue" .Yeah, you can read my CANON OF FILM post on "The Decalogue" at the link below: 


but yeah..., Spoilers, had I decided to count it, that easily would've been number one on this list, but by my own rules I'm disqualifying it; in America, it was first screened in movie theaters, in their entirety, not on television, so I consider the miniseries to be a theatrical feature film, so it doesn't count. 

Okay, I hope that helps you all know what I'm considering a miniseries and what I'm not and I think that's everything, so let's get to it. We're counting down!

THE TOP TEN MINISERIES OF ALL-TIME!(Except not really, it's the Top Ten of the ones I've seen, it's actually an incredibly incomplete list from a rather limited sample-... Please do not consider this a truly legitimate list or ranking of all-time great miniseries, like, at all. Let's just get this damn thing over with. Oh, I mean, ALRIGHT, LET'S START COUNTING DOWN!)

Number ten. Okay, like I said, miniseries have been around in some form, essentially forever. I could really go back in time and retroactively call things like "The Prisoner" as a miniseries or other cult series like that, but yeah, the term, "Miniseries", really comes out of the '70s, and unfortunately I was born in 1980-something, so that really classic style of these major epic narrative miniseries, they're just not exactly things I've gotten around to watching. I've studied their importance and relevance, and I've seen bits and pieces and know some of the tales of some of them. I started watching "Washington Behind Closed Doors" once, looked really good, I've tried to get around to "Roots", and I think I fell asleep watching "The Thorn Birds" once. I almost put "I, Claudius" on here, even though I'm only halfway through it. So, most of my knowledge on this era is more of just an awareness and studying of it, than watching of the actual films so far. I did however, see one classic, epic, important, all-star cast miniseries events from the '70s, one that changed things forever in pop culture and stretched the limits of what television could be and do, and it's a truly, great masterful miniseries.... um, unfortunately, it's, well, (sigh) "Holocaust".


10. Holocaust  (1978, NBC)



Um,-eh, look, I'll be straight with you all, I really didn't want to put this on the list, it's-, well, it's kind of a downer to even talk about or even bring up at all, nowadays, even considering how groundbreaking and important it was at the time, and it was and in many ways still is, I never hear it brought up anymore, even when you narrow down major miniseries events of the '70s, this one gets pushed aside the most often, but once you see it, you can't really forget it. The joke is that it was so powerful that it caused more changed than the real thing, and sadly that's not entirely untrue. The miniseries stirred more political interest in the event and even caused some laws to be rewritten in Germany so that more people could be convicted for their crimes, extending the statute of limitations in order to prosecute people. "Holocaust: The story of the Family Weiss" follows each member of the Weiss family for over a decade as we see how Germany disintegrates into the Holocaust after Hitler's rise to power. Spoilers, all but one of them, end up dead by the end. The secondary story follows Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty) a young German man, a family friend of the Weiss's who joins the Nazi Party and evolves from essentially a good man, who was honestly just looking for a job to inevitably turning into a mass murderer. Oddly, his is the most memorable performance in my mind, although looking back, this was another all-star cast. The movie was directed b legendary Marvin Chomsky, a legendary TV Director who has dozens of TV Movies and Miniseries under his belt, including a couple episodes of "Roots" "Attica", "Billionaire Boys Club"-, oh hey I did see that one. Huh, maybe I should on here inst-, no, no, "Holocaust" is too important and too good to leave off if you've seen it. Arguably, at the time, it was the best, most accurate and most graphic depiction of the Holocaust brought to film at the time, and that's definitely something worth mentioning.

Number nine, number nine, number nine: Okay, this will sound like I'm making it up to show how embarrassing and young and naive I was, but trust me, if you find people who knew me back then, they know I'm not kidding when I say this, but, my favorite book as a kid, was "Heidi". Yeah, that "Heidi", the Johannes Spyri one, about the little Austrian mountain girl that goes to live in the city, and then comes back, yeah, that one. And no, I'm not ashamed of it. There's been numerous attempts to adapt it to the screen, the most famous version is probably the Shirley Temple one and that's a good version, probably the most infamous was the 1968 TV movie from "Marty" director Delbert Mann and won John Williams, yes that John Williams, an Emmy for the Score, that aired on television instead of the last couple minutes of the Raiders-Jets AFL Championship, where the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final minutes to win, that nobody saw, 'cause they cut "Heidi" instead. (Sports Fans: Rule #1 Always watch 'til the end of the game, you never know what going to happen.) However my favorite was a Disney Channel miniseries. (Uh, oh boy, back then, the Disney Channel didn't just create low-rent not-as-witty-as-Nickelodeon crap to put on the air, they actually had some quality inventive series and specials, it was more of a "Little House on the Prairie"side of family programming, but still, it was good.) It got what most of the version of "Heidi" got wrong, they would always start in the middle with Heidi going from the mysterious Grandfather and almost right to her adoption in Frankfurt, trying to rush the whole story, but meanwhile, the story is how she has her home in the mountains, and we see her at home with her loving Grandfather, and then we see her taken out of her environment; that's the whole crutch of the story, the two very different worlds she lives in and inhabits. Now, I didn't end up putting that miniseries on this list, although I thought about it, although I bring it up to make a point that, many of these miniseries are based on larger novels and the great advantage of miniseries is that you can really dive into the text and expand upon it to it's fullest the way regular movies can't. That doesn't mean you can't stray from the original text if you need to but the best way to take full advantage of this medium, is to spend the extra time and hours in creating and exploring these amazing worlds that the characters inhabit, and make them seem as real and believable as anything else. Okay, it's a TV movie, so you'll probably be a little limited, but still, it can be done, even with much more fantastical novels.


9. Gulliver's Travels (1996, NBC)



My favorite book, when I was slightly older, while I still admired "Heidi" was probably "Gulliver's Travels", but my first introduction to it, officially was this '96 miniseries which aired on NBC, and was made in collaboration with Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson's Productions, and I'm surprised this miniseries doesn't get brought up more often. It's pretty clearly the defining version of "Gulliver's Travels", unless you really want to count the Fleischer Brothers movie, which, I guess is important for being the first animated feature after Disney's "Snow White..." but I really wouldn't. Jonathan Swift's novel is what most fantasy should be, it's full of action and adventure and it's purely absurd. The movie adds an extra level that the book never had where Gulliver is put on trial for competency after he arrives home, after nine years at sea, and starts talking about worlds of giants and thumbelinas and islands the sky and all these bizarre amazing things. (In the book, he actually returns four times in that span, and each time going back out to sea, this device, actually makes more sense to some extent; it's more believable that he couldn't return and got caught in this most strange of odysseys. For a miniseries the effects aren't bad and surprising hold up and feel believable. It's a fantasy, but it comes off, especially at the time as quite extraordinary. Ted Danson is completely believable as Gulliver, by far the most effective I've ever seen of somebody playing that role. This is one of the most unadaptable great novels to portray in film, and I'm surprise there's not more admiration for this film. It's not the most adult project, but for TV movies, this is kinda like the James Cameron movie I always wish he made. It's a great introduction to the novel and I bet if more people were aware of it now, it'd be a childhood classic, kinda like another great miniseries that almost made this list, "A Christmas Carol", the one with Patrick Stewart. (Which I also consider the best adaptation of that story on film as well) I gave the edge to this one, 'cause of the difficulty in adapting the material as well as the accomplish of it. This is one of the bigger TV miniseries events that I remember as a kid. Miniseries were around in the nineties, barely, although, usually they were only two-part miniseries, about the lengths of TV movies, which, during that time, weren't particularly bad ripped-from-the-headlines melodramas, slightly better than Lifetime movies, or worst case scenario, bad remakes of half-assed "Pygmalion" rip-offs that starred Vanna White as a statue of Venus. No, seriously. There's a reason TV movies and miniseries are the bastard children of the Primetime networks schedules most of the time, but this one is an exception that stayed with you. NBC did a bunch of other sorta event two-part miniseries like these, "The Odyssey" for instance, "Uprising" was a popular one, "The 10th Kingdom", which was a weird "Alice in Wonderland" re-imagining the same way "Tin Man" was a weird "The Wizard of Oz" re-imagining, only it really sucked. (What? Yeah, I said "Tin Man" was good, shut up.) but I don't think they ever really match the awe and amazement of "Gulliver's Travels". Maybe a few we're bigger in scope, but I don't think anything was as fantastic or magical or as memorable.

Number eight! It's somewhat difficult to even determine what a miniseries even is, in England, the way they schedule their shows already makes it a bit borderline to begin with. That's why they can kinda get away with taking what are really regular series over there and then making them become miniseries over here. For instance, usually when a series jumps five or six years from one season to another, that's usually when the show jumps the shark, ("Desperate Housewives", what the hell were you thinking?) but it's not unusual over there, and they quite a few shows that we'd consider "Miniseries". Some of them like "Sherlock" take root in the Prime Suspect tradition, of having a myster spread over a few movies, with a recurring detective character. Others are more traditional, luxurious costumed period pieces, "Brideshead Revisted" is probably the most famous of these, one that's so famous they recently re-did that one as a feature film, although some of their more non-traditional ones also received that kind of treatment years later, like "The Singing Detective" for instance. If I ever get around to finishing "I, Claudius", I probably would find a spot for that one. Of course, they're big bread and butter is taking some of their great novels and turning them into full miniseries as well. "Pride & Prejudice" is often listed as one of the better Jane Austen adaptations, there's plenty of Charles Dickens miniseries. "Little Dorrit", "David Copperfield", "Oliver Twist", "Great Expectations", "Bleak House", they've all gotten the miniseries treatment multiple time. So which British miniseries did I pick? Well, I haven't seen any of those, so I can't really pick them, so I went with the one I did see, the one with the cross-dressing lesbians and turn-of-the-century dildos. No, seriously.


8. Tipping the Velvet (BBC, 2002)



"Tipping the Velvet" is the most controversial pick I've got on this list, there's been nudity and sex on network programming before and BBC's standards are a bit more lax, but still this is a pretty salacious miniseries and caused a lot of controversy. Based on the Sally Waters novel and adapted by Andrew Davies, most known here for having created the original "House of Cards" miniseries that's since been adapted into the Netflix series, "Tipping the Velvet", does something that I think is really difficult in the genre, romance. Like really sexual, erotic romance, even in the best of circumstances, rarely seems believable, and it's especially difficult when you only have a few hours to establish and care about the entire series. Alright, it's only three parts, but still, that's a lot. I think it helps that it's a gorgeous erotic setting; it takes during the era of music halls in the Victorian 1890s and Nan Astley (Rachel Stirling) falls in love with a male impersonator at the show, Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes), oh-eh, I think that was actually a thing, (Internet search) yeah, that actually was a profession, female would perform act as men on stage, sometimes they were called "Mashers", although I'll be damned if I know how accurate the performances are. It doesn't really matter, this is for all-intensive purposes a Harlequin romance novel put on the screen, but then again, you can say the same things about Jane Austen's work at the time. This is definitely the most unique and unusual entry on this list and it's a great whirlwind romance about characters and a world that, frankly I, literally can't think of another piece of film that even tries to dip into this world. Controversial, sexy, a lot of fun, completely unpredictable, and an erotic beautiful world that few people have ever seen. True erotica is hard to pull off in film, and they did it in a three-hour miniseries. If more TV Movies with Joan Collins's name above the title were like this, I think they'd be better respected. The fact that it's also a landmark in LGBT literature and television, and for good reasons, gives it a few extra notches for me.

Number seven: Miniseries only have to technically be about 150 minutes long, minimum, that's only two and a half hours, and that was the typical trend of the genre when I was growing up. There were a few notable exceptions, but typically miniseries could basically just be TV movies that needed two nights to finish, basically "Gone With the Wind" only replace the intermission with the 11:00pm news and come back for the second part of the miniseries event tomorrow. This was back when networks were also more likely to put money into television movies than they are now; I don't really get why, I think they basically just thought they were a good cheap time-filler, and you can probably date that back to those wheel schedule detective series from the '70s, like 'Columbo" or "MacMillan & Wife". It took me a while to even determine that this indeed was a miniseries, 'cause a lot of people I know, swear it was a single film, and like a lot of these, you can watch them as though they really were, but Miniseries do have to air in multiple parts, that's a big requirement for me. You can edit some of them down to a three-hour feature film I guess, and if you cut out commercials it'll feel that way, but let me be clear, if they needed to spread it out over more than one night of television of Primetime television to air the thing, than it's a miniseries in my book. I've heard this one counted as a TV movie, it even says it's just a TV movie, and it took me awhile to double-check it, but I was write, this aired in Two Parts, so that makes it a miniseries.


7. Separate but Equal (1991, ABC)



I know he was a bit old at the time for the part, really, but Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall, c'mon, that's the ultimate! "Separate but Equal" is the story behind the famous "Brown vs. Board of Education" case, that desegregated the schools in the South and in turn, made Jim Crow laws in the South unconstitutional. In essence then, I guess this is a courtroom drama, although really, I never think of it as such. The miniseries has two parts, (Well, I said that already, but two parts to the film) the first is the taking up of the NAACP of the case, and then how they began building the case, and the people involved behind that. It wasn't just the single case that was brought up in regards to it, Things like the testing with the dolls for instance, the gathering of information that proved that the laws themselves didn't work, much less weren't Constitutional, basically that "Separate was not equal", which it didn't by the way. The second part I think of is Richard Kiley's performance as Earl Warren, the California governor who took over as Supreme Court Justice after Justice Vincent passed away between the first time the case was brought up to the court and the second time, and it's his influence that leads to 9-0 decision, and his fight trying to convince the judges to completely agree is fascinating. Naturally, it wasn't needed a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court to reverse the law, but his belief that a dissenting opinion shouldn't be given, to make sure the precedent was stand is actually almost if not more interesting than the first half. These are two of my favorite miniseries performances of all-time, and it sheds an even greater light on the intricacies of what we already think about regarding a Supreme Court case that we all actually think we know about through history books. If you're like me, you probably saw this miniseries in a history of political science, and I'm glad I did; maybe it helps that I'm a bit of a buff for this kind of stuff, but still, I think this one holds up. It shows the situation and the world where the case evolved, it gives us insights into the professional and personal lives of the people who fought the case and into the minute dynamics of the case and decision-making process itself; it's actually quite elaborate and finding and creating fascinating drama in the devil of details is something that's not always done well, especially not this well. It was directed by George Steven, Jr., who is of course of the great George Stevens who directed films like "Shane" among others, but he's mostly known now as a producer and even then, he's more well-known live and Special Class programs on television, he's known for the Kennedy Center Honors, things like that, but don't let mislead you, if he really wanted to be an artistic filmmaker, he's capable of it, and this is his best example of it. 

Number six: Man, I really wish I could put something else up here, other than "Holocaust" that kinda represent that classic, sweeping historical epic miniseries of old on here? Just having "Holocaust", eh,- I must have seen something else I can kinda justify to take up this spot that's like that? Big, historical, over-arching epic, that's you know, still full of tragedy but is at least a little more fun to watch!


6. North and South: Books I and II (ABC, 1985; 1986) 



Alright, this'll do. Yeah, "Holocaust" is great, yeah, it's worth watching once, I don't think I could do it again. This one, however, and, yes, I'm cheating here a bit as this is actually two miniseries, but yeah, I think I can re-watch and enjoy "North and South" once more. For those unfamiliar with author John Jakes, he's considered one of the great modern American historical-fiction authors, and he has books about, pretty much every war America's been in, and his three most famous are about the Civil War as told through the Main Family of the South and the Hazard family of the North. They're kind of a more evolved and elaborate "Gone with the Wind" essentially, but we see both sides of the battle and it's an uber-all-star cast. The first miniseries, based on the first book, takes place before the war, as both Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) and George Hazard (James Reed) meet at West Point and become fast friends and compadres, even fighting alongside each other in the Mexican-American War, and- if I try to explain everything else that happens, we'll be here all week. Just trust me, the book themselves are long and melodramatic and sprawlingly epic and so are the movies. The second one, called "North and South: Book II" which is based on the sequel book, "Love & War" takes place during the Civil War and the battles each side fights on and off the battlefields with each other and themselves, and by themselves I mean, their families. There's a lot of people in these films, and a lot of big, big actors, sometimes in just cameos. The series still ranks as the 7th most-watched miniseries event of all-time, and they eventually, eight years later, made the third book of the trilogy, from the book, "Heaven & Hell", and we don't talk about that one. The first two though, they're really good. If you want to know kinda the gist of what many of those old miniseries epics of the past not only feel like, but really went for, these big overblown, epic spectacles with multiple sprawling narratives and a who's who of the best actors alive coming together for these stories, you can do a lot worst than to start with the "North and South" films. This is eighteen and a half+ hours of finding out all the dynamics and intricacies of these two very large families, (And again, we're not including the third miniseries, which again, we don't talk about here) Miniseries were created to tell these big stories on the small screen, and this is one of the biggest and it holds up. And it's a lot more fun than "Holocaust", although normally I am more of a WWII buff as oppose to the Civil War era and you should probably watch both of these, but that said, eh, if I only have room for one, I'd much rather go down on "North and South". Have fun folks. 

Number five! Let talk about biopics. That's not necessarily a genre that's totally embraced nowadays, and no, it really doesn't have the greatest reputation. Even the best lives are hard to cram into a coherent and interesting two hour movie. For all the talk about Oscar bait, what's the last straight biopic to win Best Picture? Eh, you might be able to argue "The King's Speech" or "12 Years a Slave", but those films focused on very specific aspects and time period of their character's life, you gotta go back to "A Beautiful Mind" before a truly straight biopic won, and before that um, well, maybe "Braveheart" but that's debatable, I'd probably say "The Last Emperor" as the previous definitive one. One where you're really, truly looking at, every aspect of a person's life from the beginning to the end. Well, the thing is that it's hard to find a natural narrative with people that easily fits into a movie, people are complex, and contradictory and, you know, they're human beings. Faults and praise for all. That said, miniseries are kinda the perfect medium for biopics, for this reason, you can take the show and all the sides of the more interesting and complex figures and maybe show how much more interesting they actually are.


5. John Adams (2008, HBO)



It's very easy to simply glance over John Adams when studying our founding fathers and the American Revolution and yet, you can quite literally say that he was right there at the beginning and was literally the last one standing at the end, granted, it was only by a few hours but still.... David McCullough's biography was brought to life by HBO, beginning with Adams as a Boston lawyer, defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre until long after the republic was founded, and became the first former U.S. President to see his son become President. Yes, he's surrounded by what we think of as far more interesting and in many cases, important figures. He was Vice President under George Washington, he got Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, and then fought with him as President, along with Alexander Hamilton, and he traveled to France with Ben Franklin to fund the war, there's really a lot to his life, and much of it is contradictory, and yet was all essential in studying the American Revolution. Paul Giamatti's given many amazing performances, but this is probably the part he'll be most remember for; it's basically the role he was meant to play. This is the absolute only medium a biopic on John Adams could've been pulled off, and that's why I'm ranking this one so high. Also credit to director Tom Hooper, who parlayed the success of "John Adams" into an Oscar-winning film career, and he's got a lot to cover here as well, telling a story that's spread over fifty years on two continents and lord knows how many locations. Another perfectly cast film as well, this is the one American Revolutionary film that really strips down to the real aspects of the Revolution and the characters involved. It doesn't glamorize. I've been in Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence, and they made it look even dirtier and grindier than it actually was in that great second episode of the series, where Adams went toe-to-toe with John Dickinson over whether to actually forcefully declare independence, even though, them already meeting for a Continental Congress was indeed illegal to begin with. It's a fascinating life, and I think few people have simply glossed over John Adams since the miniseries and book came out since, and that's a true testament to a historical piece, in that it actually makes us rethink and give us a greater appreciation of our history.

Speaking of history, Number Four! Yeah, uh, "Holocaust" is not the only time World War II shows up on the list, and it was pretty inevitable.


4. Band of Brothers (HBO, 2001)



I'm probably the one ranking "Band of Brothers" low, and admittedly, I think I admire it moreso than I like it, but that said, it's-, it's still really damn good. The story of Easy Company, the 506th Parachute Regiment is regarded as one the greatest military troops in American and also one of the most successful, managing to survive nearly every major battle from D-Day on, and were one of the first regiments that would be assigned to duty in Germany, and in particular towards Hitler's famed "Eagle's Nest", which was essentially his version of Camp David. To be honest, I think it loses a few notches for me, because, I don't really get the sense of the particular characters and personalities in the series; to me they're all just soldiers and while they were a Band of Brothers, they come off as anonymous to me, but I often think that about a lot of war movies and honestly, it's kind of the point. They weren't Alvin York's or Audie Murphy, they were a team that completed some of the most amazing and dangerous missions of the most vicious of wars. And the thing I really enjoy about "Band of Brothers" is that you can kinda actually pick any episode and watch it at random and be really enthralled whether you know what happened before or not, and that's something you don't typically get with miniseries actually, that was kind of a new thing when HBO started dipping their toe into miniseries and series in general, they were stand-alone and you can catch up and not know anybody or anything and really get involved in the particular incident they were depicting. It's quite great.

Number three: There's a couple miniseries effected by the disqualification of Foreign miniseries, a few of them were by this director, who made a habit near the end of his life of having either miniseries edited down to films or movies evolve and extend to miniseries. Probably his most famous example, "Fanny & Alexander" was actually disqualified because I'm pretty sure that was intended as a feature film but evolved strangely into a miniseries. Still, I'm not sure I would've selected that one over this feature film, which I prefer both the miniseries and the theatrical version of more anyway.


3. Scenes from a Marriage (1973, SVT)



The Youtube clip is a trailer for the feature film but rest assured I'm referring to the six-part miniseries of "Scenes from a Marriage" here, it was shockingly hard to find a decent Youtube clip for the miniseries that wasn't a review of it. I've already talked about both the movie and the miniseries when I added them to my CANON OF FILM, you can read that post at the link below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/09/canon-of-film-scenes-from-marriage-5.html

Man, there's a lot of links to other blogposts of mine on this page. Boy I've written a lot on a lot of subjects. Anyway, so I won't go into too much detail here, but "Scenes from a Marriage" is one of the best and most influential of all of Bergman's work. Pretty much any movie that showcases a couple over an extended period of time is basically a reworking of "Scenes from a Marriage". Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke have said that "The Before Trilogy", particularly "Before Midnight" is meant to be compared to "Scenes from a Marriage" and that makes sense. The miniseries spreads out over twenty years in the life of a couple, from marriage, children, divorce, remarriage and re-connection. In a career of memorable performances in numberous Bergman film, Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann's greatest and most enduring characters or Johan and Marianne. In fact, for Bergman's final film project, he mad a sequel thirty years later, revisiting the pair in and where they are in life now called "Saraband" which oddly was a TV movie in Sweden originally that actually extended worldwide when it was released theatrically. Huh. I can recall a few incidents of that kind of thing happening, but usually that's it's an American TV movie that got released elsewhere with added nudity and violence, and that wasn't the situation here. If you're interested in looking stuff like that up though, you should seek out Elizabeth Montgomery's nude scenes in "The Legend of Lizzie Borden", talk about bewitching.

(Audience boos)

Oh, lighten up, she was awesome and amazingly talented, I'm just saying, we missed some parts of her career it would've been nice to have seen.

Number Two! Most of these movies don't exactly have big-named directors attached, at least in terms of theatrically-released big-named directors; it was usually actually considered a downgrade for most when they go from feature films to television directing, and occasionally the downgrade is deserving. Usually a good miniseries or TV movie might be a stepping stone to a bigger and better things for some, or they just like working in television and will work on that for most of their time. That said, I don't know if you can say that about the three films at the top of this list and their directors. For one thing, Bergman wasn't at any low point career-wise, he just felt like doing longer stories and television was a better medium for his vision. For the names at the top, they were probably some of the first big named directors to really realize the power of cable in order to help tell stories that otherwise might not be able to be told. And there's definitely no story on this list that needed to be told in the television medium more than this film.


2. Tanner '88 (1988, HBO)



"Tanner '88" is by far the strangest and most original miniseries on this list. For one thing, it's the only one that's not based on an actual event (well, sorta) or is adapted from a previous piece of art; it's completely original at the time and you can argue that there aren't too many things out there like it today. Secondly, it's the only comedy on the list. Yeah, comedy miniseries, they're rarely thought of, but they're not unheard of. Not only that, it's a mockumentary, and a mockumentary that takes place in real time at that, supposedly. Most miniseries were events that aired at dates close to each other in order to keep the event feel of the series as well as to finish the story quickly and not required audiences to come back over sporadic periods of time, but "Tanner '88" details a Presidential campaign of form Michigan U.S. Representative Mike Tanner (Michael Murphy) and slowly but surely, almost accidentally manages to find his way within an earshot of getting the nomination as he's in a three-way race with Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson as the convention draws near. Yeah, this was shot, made and aired on HBO originally, during the actual Presidential campaign, complete with cameos from some of political heavyweights of the time. You could've confused this as a documentary about an actual candidate, if you weren't familiar with some of the actors beforehand. It was created by Garry Trudeau the political satirist behind "Doonesbury" and currently has gotten back to television with the Amazon comedy "Alpha House" and Directed by Robert Altman, who won an Emmy for the series, his only Emmy by the way and he considered the miniseries his greatest work, which is saying something from the guy who made "Short Cuts", "The Player", "M*A*S*H", "3 Women," "The Long Goodbye", "Gosford Park" "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", frickin' "Nashville", man he's got a lot of masterful films. And I can't say I disagree with either, this was wa ahead of it's time. First of all, there wasn't political anything on television at the time, "The West Wing" was a decade away, So was reality television and this surreal blend of satire of political and the media swirling and coming together to broadcast the most improbable of Presidential runs...- I'm writing this in 2016, "Tanner '88" feels more relevant and maybe prophetic than ever before, and write your own topical political joke here. Way ahead of it's time, and growing more important and influential with each passing year, "Tanner '88" might just be Robert Altman's best work, and certainly analysis of his directing is complete without taking "Tanner '88" into account. The more people who seek out and find "Tanner '88", and it's available in the Criterion Collection by the way, but the more who see it, the more people will begin ranking it as one of the greatest miniseries of all-time, and you're forgiven for having missed it when it originally aired; we're only now catching up to it ourselves.

 And, now,

(Drumroll)

The Number One, Miniseries of all-um-, on this list!

(Drumroll ends)

I didn't have an obvious clear-cut number one miniseries in my mind when I was given this topic, so I had to really think about this one, so I guess in that respect this was a challenging list to figure out. What really was number one? It had to be something that's undeniably great, it had to be important, it has to be something that naturally fits into the sphere of the miniseries, one that, makes it's almost impossible for the story to be filmed and shown in any other manner, one that's both powerful and effective and legitimately meaningful but isn't necessarily beating you over the head with how horrible something is. That's a hard thing to balance really. Miniseries are big, important events and they usually, the most notable ones anyway, they carry a sweep of grandeur and importance to them, they're about something real. It's easy to just show misery and pain and the tragedy of all, but that's not enough. You gotta be able to transcend the subject matter and let the material explode. Great characters we care about, amazing performances that never let you go, performed by the best actors, given the best words and dialogue to speak. Give us a take on something that even transforms what we thought we already knew or had seen before. When I really realize that, that was the standard I was looking for, then the number one choice, suddenly became blatantly obvious to me.

(Takes out a red ribbon and pins it to shirt, sighs with a tear.)


1. Angels in America (2003, HBO)



Fine, you want to say it's just a straight stage-to-screen adaptation and point out a flaw of it's flaws in adaptation, you can, but, god damn, it's a great play, and I can't imagine anybody doing a better filmed version of it. Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winning six hours, two-part epic stage production, "Angels in America" took over a decade before being adapted into the miniseries, and like Altman with "Tanner '88", Mike Nichols, director "The Graduate" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" among loads of others, considered this his greatest career accomplishment. "Angels in America", like the plays, as oppose to a cast of dozens, only has a few major actors, but they play multiple roles as multiple stories are told circling around the AIDS crisis in 1985 New York City, and jumping from there, to literally almost seeming anywhere and anytime from the Heaven to Earth and back again. Prior (Justin Kirk) is dying of AIDS and when he needs his lover most, Louis (Ben Shankman) unlike 99.9% of every other story that starts this way, leaves him, fearing the burden of having to care for someone so ill who might not survive, and finds solace in a married Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) who's married to Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) who's trying to cure both her marriage and her husband's homosexuality by avoided it and diving into valium-inflicted fantasy worlds. Joe works with Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) the infamous real-life lawyer and Republican strategist who was McCarthy, Nixon and Reagan's right-hand man, who is also dying of AIDS. He's taken care by an African-American gay male nurse, Belize (Jeffrey Wright), neither of them get along with the other. I'm only scratching the surface of the main plot threads by the way, and don't think you know where it's goings, the "Angels" in the title, they're literal in the production. Kushner is attacking on all cylinders here and it's his writing as storytelling at his best. Looking back through all the miniseries, this isn't just the best, this is the most essential one I've seen, and one I will gladly see multiple times over. Started with the era of Roy Cohn's influence and ending after the fall of the Soviet empire, decades after AIDS was a death sentence, "Angels in America" is strangely, probably the hopeful piece of art that's come up of the AIDS crises, and it remains inspiring, tragic, funny, surreal, absurd, pretty much every possible emotion is shoved into this play, and the movie brings it all out for the world to experience. I have a lot of important and great miniseries that I have to get through, but I have a hard time imagining that something will top this, number one, for now, is "Angels in America."

Hope you all enjoyed that. It's almost time to start finalizing our Emmy predictions folks, let's get back into the swing of things. (And pick better topics next time I do this!)









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