Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten Great Mini-Series to See Before You Die

I will never apologize for my love of television. In fact, I'm sorry for those who have missed out on great moments in television like these mini-series. When they aired, it was a collective event for Americans. You talked about what you had seen the night before around the water cooler. Unlike today's segmented audiences, everyone was watching the same show, the same mini-series. 

The mini-series I've listed here, captivated us as a nation and kept us glued to a 23-inch screen in our living rooms. I realize many of you have NEVER seen, much less heard of some of these mini-series because they may have been made before you were ever born. So, don't ignore them because you think they're "dated." They are still some of the finest cinematic moments in either television or film that you will ever see.

These are my ten favorite mini-series of all time. (However, because of technical difficulties with Blogspot today [it erased half of my blog twice] I am too tired to try it a third time, so for now, I leave you with my top 5 and later on this week, I'll complete the list with the remaining five.)

Most of these videos can be rented at Netflix, downloaded at iTunes, or in many cases, borrowed from at your local library. Also, Band of Brothers is shown frequently on the History Channel and Spike. Lonesome Dove airs on AMC and CMT. 

1) Band of Brothers - 2001

It was easy choice giving this incredible awesome HBO miniseries first place. Even though it's a newer series, I think in the end it will have a lasting impact. But beyond that, the cinematic production is amazing. It's like watching "Saving Private Ryan" ten times overThis joint Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks production tells the real-life story of Easy Company (E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from D-Day to the end of the war in Europe. Everything possible was done to make the Band of Brothers miniseries as authentic as possible.Nearly all of the main cast members were chosen because they looked like the Easy Company soldiers they would portray.  

Easy Company took part in some of the most difficult battles, including the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the failed invasion of Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge, as well as the liberation of a concentration camp and the capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. But what makes these episodes work is not their historical sweep but their emphasis on riveting details (such as the rattle of a plane as the paratroopers wait to leap, or a flower in the buttonhole of a German soldier) and procedures (from military tactics to the workings of bureaucratic hierarchies).

Band of Brothers is better than Saving Private Ryan, and better than most any other war movie. There's a reason why Band of Brothers earned so many awards and so much acclaim. It takes the amazing true story of heroes and honors them by showing the bonds that were formed in the darkest of times. Having never served in the military, the mini-series is a sober reminder of the price that has been paid by so many so that we can enjoy freedom and even take it for granted. When I hear the President speak about shared sacrifice, I realize how clueless he is. Most of us, myself included, are clueless as to what shared sacrifice means. Band of Brothers is about real shared sacrifice--the kind that made our country great. Don't pass up this mini-series. It may be the reason why television was invented for something as great as this!

2) I Claudius - 1976
I was never big on Shakespeare or plays. This series is like watching a play. There's not much in the way of action, it's mostly dialogue, but so intriguing. It lures you into the world of the Caesars and a period in history with many similarities to Hitler and our present day.

This 1976 BBC production was quite successful, and memorable, for its vast cast. It told the tale of the first Caesars, from Augustus down to Nero, as seen through the eyes of the fourth one, Claudius, who was considered (to put it kindly) retarded. Derek Jacobi stars in the title role. This is a real classic and it is currently being re-made by the BBC and HBO. 

3. Lonesome Dove - 1989 

I just finished reading the book, and this is one of the few times when I can say that the mini-series (film) is as good as the book, although the book gives much greater depth and insight into the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones star as Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, aging cowboys and former Texas rangers and who organize a 2,500 mile cattle drive for one last great adventure in this excellent 1989 miniseries adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel. The best friends, who steal the herd from a gang of Mexican cattle rustlers, drive their herd from Texas to Montana, battling horse thieves, angry Indian tribes, and a renegade half-breed killer named Blue Duck (Frederic Forrest) on a mission of revenge.

The heart of the drama belongs to McCrae and Call, memorably etched by Duvall and Jones as the last of the range romantics. In the age of revisionist Westerns, this excellent cattle-drive drama nicely maintains an old-fashioned feeling while still showing the dark side of the American West. Winner of seven Emmy Awards. 

4. Jesus of Nazareth -1978
This is my favorite film on the life of Christ, even surpassing Mel Gibson's "The Passion."

This joint English-Italian production is hailed as a masterpiece and in 1978 was labeled the greatest miniseries of all time by TV Guide. Franco Zeffirelli’s life of Jesus Christ was gorgeously filmed, powerfully acted and featured a haunting performance by Robert Powell as Jesus. Michael York’s performance as John the Baptist is exemplary, and exactly how you’d imagine that the locust-eating John was. If you watch only one movie or miniseries about Jesus Christ, make it this one.

5. Roots - 1977

Based on Alex Haley's best-selling novel about his African ancestors, Roots followed several generations in the lives of a slave family. The saga began with Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), a West African youth captured by slave raiders and shipped to America in the 1700s. The family's saga is depicted up until the Civil War where Kunte Kinte's grandson gained emancipation. Roots made its greatest impression on the ratings and widespread popularity it garnered. On average, 130 million - almost half the country at the time - saw all or part of the series.

Next post: My top-ten mini-series of all time (from #6-10). Who makes the cut?


  1. I don't think I want to watch any of those! boy shows. But now I'm dying to see what 1-5 are...(have you seen HBO's 'John Adams' with Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti? I thought for sure that'd be on here!

  2. Six Ways...I feel like I've been stabbed through the heart (cue the violins). The ONLY one on the list that you could consider a "boy show" is "Band of Brothers" and it's a monumental series depicting major battles in WWII which allow us the freedom we enjoy today.

    For me, a docudrama like Band of Brothers serves to keep me grounded because all too often I can complain about the most insignificant things. Yet these soldiers endured great hardship and suffering without complaining. They toughed it out in some of the most severe weather conditions without the proper clothing or three square meals a day.
    For me, a series like B-of-B is a reminder that even on my worst days, I still have it so easy!

    As for John Adams, excellent series. Who knows, maybe it's in my bottom 5 list, yet to be revealed.

  3. I loved Band of Brothers, difficult to watch but done so well. And Roots of course incredible, and Lonesome Dove was also a favorite of both Bill and I. Haven't seen the other 2 and looking forward to the rest of the list.