We knew we were doomed to love Mildred Pierce far before we switched on our TV Sunday night to watch the first two installments. A five-part HBO miniseries based on the James M. Cain novel, directed by Todd Haynes, starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, and (in later episodes) Evan Rachel Wood? Despite our attachment to Joan Crawford’s film version, we were instantly addicted. And it got us thinking: Why do we tend to ignore TV miniseries, only to zone out when they have their moment at the Golden Globes or the Emmys? With the help from the wonderful Flavorpill staff, we’ve resolved to fill the gaps in our viewing with this list of must-see serials, from the ’70s through the HBO-dominated present.
It’s impossible to talk about TV’s best miniseries without mentioning Roots, ABC’s 1977 adaptation of Alex Haley’s novel of the same name. The story is based on Haley’s genealogy and stars LeVar Burton as his ancestor Kunta Kinte, a young man in West Africa who is captured by a slave trader (Ed Asner), brought to America, and sold at auction to work on a plantation. Although we all learn about slavery in school, Roots dramatized its affect on individuals and families — and inspired many African Americans to learn about their own heritage. Along with Asner and newcomer Burton, the cast featured everyone from Cicely Tyson and Ben Vereen to Maya Angelou and O.J. Simpson. A few sequels followed, but none were as powerful as the original.