Monday, June 21, 2010

Best American TV Miniseries of the Past 10 Years

Miniseries are often overlooked by most on account of their propensity for being a waste of time. They are often cheaply made and lack any of the storytelling quality that feature films possess. Over the past few decades that stigma has gradually lifted. Television networks such as HBO and SyFy (once Sci-Fi) have made making miniseries into a science; the best of which can be boiled down to four, two from HBO and two from Sci-Fi.

Frank Herbert’s Dune (Sci-Fi Channel – 2000)
“The Spice Must Flow!”
A true science fiction story if there ever was one, Dune follows the life of a Paul Atreides or Muad'Dib the heir to the House of Atreides. He has been trained in the Bene Gesserit way which among other things makes him a formidable fighter. As the heir to the House of Atreides he will be responsible for taking over one of his family’s greatest assets, and one of the most valuable things in Herbert’s fictional universe, the production of Spice. Spice is only found on the planet of Arrakis or Dune and allows for the faster than light spaceships to be piloted. Without the flow of Spice commerce between planets would be impossible. Spice and the conflicts that arise because of it are an allegory for the relationship most countries on Earth have with oil and oil rich countries. The parallels are never far from ones mind while watching Dune. The miniseries is of very high production value the fight scenes are quite impressive. The complex mythos drawn out throughout the miniseries is very rich and immersive. As one of the flagship miniseries to be aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, Frank Herbert’s Dune was quite the achievement and stands up to the test of time.

Band of Brothers (HBO – 2001)
Arguably one of the finest exampled of World War II Storytelling, Band of Brothers follows Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment as they make their way through boot camp and then onto their service in the European theater of WWII. Easy Company’s movement throughout Europe is historically accurate and incredible entertaining to watch. The characters that make up the tapestry of the miniseries well acted and are given a certain level of gravity due to them being based on actual soldiers who serviced in the war. In fact, the beginning of each part of the miniseries has a brief interview from a surviving member of Easy Company. The production value of Band of Brothers is through the roof, the sets are fantastic and the acting is superb. By the end of watching the show you are left with a definite impression and a renewed appreciation for those who served in World War II.

Generation Kill (HBO – 2008)
For those who have seen other HBO miniseries on war, namely Band of Brothers, you go into watching Generation Kill with high expectations. Unlike Band of Brothers, Generation Kill follows modern soldiers during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. Armed Forces. However, like Band of Brothers, Generation Kill follows U.S. Marines of the 1st Recon Battalion on their mission during the first four weeks of action in Iraq. It is very focused on this group of men during the initial push into Iraq. The Marines are accompanied by a Rolling Stone writer who is trying to capture the historical event for his magazine. This leads to many interesting expositive conversations between the writer, who is very much an outsider, and the battle hardened Marines. In the miniseries, 1st Recon is the tip of the spear for the American invasion forces on the ground and because of that they are first to experience the pangs of war and the thrill of battle. What makes this seven part miniseries truly interesting has to be the characters. Generation Kill is much like an extended road trip movie and road trip movies are only as interesting as the passengers in the car. Disagree? Think about it, you have characters rolling around in an uncomfortable vehicle looking for a good time in a big city they have never been to before. It’s just that the vehicle they are driving is a lightly armored Humvee with a gun turret mounted on top and instead of meeting new people along the way you… kill them. Though there are some spectacular portions of action and the location where the show was shot, (in parts of Africa in order to simulate the terrain of and structural architecture of Iraq) it’s the characters and the dialogue that goes on which brings this show to life.

Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi – 2003)
A remake of a terrible 70’s science fiction show Battlestar Galactica has changed the game for all future science fiction shows. Set in a futuristic universe where the enemy of the human race are self-aware robots called Cylons. Battlestar Galactica known lovingly by fans as simply BSG began as a three hour long miniseries. It explains how the Cylons returned to their place of origin in order to destroy their makers. The miniseries essentially begins with the annihilation of all twelve human colonies, leaving all but a few survivors. The remaining survivors led by a dying President and a would-be-should-be-retired Battlestar Captain acting as the only line of defense from the incessant attacks of the Cylon fleet. As a show the quality of the acting and stories which made up this instant classic is unmatched in the realm of science fiction. The visual effects in this series are movie quality but they just act as a backdrop for the drama of the show. The miniseries acts as a very firm basis for the ensuing TV which went on for a number of great seasons… and some really dull episodes.

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