It can be very difficult in this era of “must-see TV” to actually get around to every series that looks interesting. With so many alleged masterpieces currently out there, it would take several lifetimes to watch all of the good shows out there.
Often, even starting a show can feel like a massive commitment, with dozens of episodes to get through. The shows on this list do not have that problem. Below are some of the best miniseries, cancelled-too-soon gems, and shows in their early seasons of the past 10 years, all of which can be easily finished in a weekend.
‘The Night Manager’
“The Night Manager,” based on the John le Carré spy novel of the same name, tells the story of a former soldier turned hotel night manager who is recruited to take down an arms trader. The result is a tense, exciting thriller dripping with atmosphere and glamour. The excellent cast is led by Tom Hiddleston (“Thor”) and Hugh Laurie (“House”), whose performances drive the series forward and imbue each scene with compelling urgency.
David Tennant (“Dr. Who”) and Michael Sheen (“Masters of Sex”) play an angel and a demon whose begrudging best friendship leads them to rebel against Heaven and Hell to stop the end of times and save the world they’ve grown to love. “Good Omens” faced undue backlash due to a humorous presentation of angels and demons, but this sharp satire is a charming underdog tale with genuine heart and humor. Tennant and Sheen’s electric chemistry serves as the heart of the series, and makes for an incredibly enjoyable viewing experience.
With only six 20-minute episodes, “Crashing” is shorter than most movies. Yet, in just a little over two hours, three hilarious, touching, storylines are interwoven, following twenty-somethings living as property guardians in an abandoned hospital.
The series is written by and stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose subsequent series “Fleabag” has gained much acclaim. “Crashing” has the same wit of its predecessor, but is far less crass and explicit. The ending is a touch anti-climactic, ending two of the three narratives on cliff-hangers due to the show’s untimely cancellation, but the open-ended nature of the show’s closing adds to the charm.
It still baffles why legal comedy “The Grinder” was cancelled after only one season. The series follows an actor famed for playing an attorney on tv (Rob Lowe of “The West Wing”) who, upon the show’s cancellation, decides to work alongside his actual lawyer brother (Fred Savage of “The Wonder Years”) and father (William Devane of “Knots Landing”). The goofy premise was sold effortlessly by Lowe’s enthusiastic charisma, balanced out by Savage as the exasperated straight-man.
‘The Great Train Robbery’
“The Great Train Robbery” is a two-part miniseries that tells the true story of the eponymous 1963 robbery and the police investigation in the aftermath. The first part follows Luke Evans (“The Hobbit” trilogy) as lead robber Bruce Reynolds, as he organizes the team a la “Oceans Eleven,” and plots and executes the heist.
Part two follows the police investigation, tracking Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) as detective Tommy Butler as he obsessively tracks the robbers in an effort to bring them to justice. The antiheroes of part one are so charming and fun that viewers can’t help but want to see the robbers get away with their heist.
Sasha Baron Cohen, best known for over-the-top comedic works in films like “Borat” and “Taladega Nights,” effectively demonstrates great dramatic range in this spy drama based on a true story. It follows Mossad spy Eli Cohen in the years leading up to the Six-Day War between Israel and Syria in 1967. The story is fascinating and multifaceted, but watch for Cohen’s deft breaking of typecast to extraordinary effect.
The majority of the first episode of “London Spy” seems so confusingly like a romantic comedy, following the meet-cute and courtship of protagonist Danny (Ben Whishaw of “Skyfall”) and mysterious love interest Alex (Edward Holcroft of “Kingsmen”), that one may wonder why the series is classified as a thriller. Then, near the end of the episode, Alex is revealed have been working for MI-6 and disappears, while Danny is being framed from his murder.
From then, the series follows Danny and his mentor and friend Scottie (Jim Broadbent) as they work to figure out what happened to Alex and clear Danny’s name. The unconventional thriller is sharply written and excellently acted, weaving a complicated web of secrets, conspiracies, and questions. The ending is enormously anticlimactic and disappointing, but the journey is certainly worth it.
“The Code” is an Australian drama about a journalist and his autistic hacker brother who uncover a government conspiracy while investigating a suspicious car crash. The slow-burn conspiracy thriller is tightly plotted, focusing mainly on the unravelling of the central conspiracy and the complex relationship between the brothers.
Ashley Zuckerman, who plays the hacker brother, steals the entire series. His performance ought to have been a breakout role, had the series been bigger, and I predict he is destined for stardom. The show is worth checking out for his performance alone.
“Secret City” boasts a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and the political thriller decidedly deserves the acclaim. The show follows Australian journalist Harriet Dunkley (Anna Torv of “Mindhunter”) who works to uncover a dark conspiracy. The methodical show rests on the capable shoulders of the cast. Jacki Weaver is particularly effective as a power broker politician, and Daniel Wyllie demonstrates vulnerability while wielding power as the Minister of Defense.
‘A Very English Scandal’
The Jeremy Thorpe affair in the late 1970s is so spectacular a political scandal that it is a wonder it hadn’t been brought to the screen until 2018. But “A Very English Scandal” was decidedly worth the wait. Starring Hugh Grant (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and Ben Whishaw, it tells the story of ambitious politician Jeremy Thorpe (Grant), who is at the peak of his career as the youngest party leader in Parliament history when ex-lover Norman Scott (Whishaw) threatens to expose their liaison. Thorpe considers having Scott assassinated, leading to a farcical true story that gets more unbelievable and entertaining with every narrative twist.