QUESTION: What makes for a great miniseries?
ANSWER: One you find yourself binge-watching.
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but the pandemic changed the way I watch television—and the way television makes television. American made-for-TV movies are now made-for-TV series, stringing together multiple hourly episodes to tell a story in six parts, more or less, rather than one, 90-minute film.
Astute producers looking to capture audiences (and, importantly, ratings) bank on horror and supernatural themes that rope in audiences by heightening fears with a steady rush of adrenalin. It is not surprising, therefore, that these shows account for more than half of the current Top 20 rated cable miniseries, such as The Walking Dead, Shadowhunters, Van Helsing, Legion, The Magicians, and American Horror Story.
Limited series follows a different model. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, mentally and emotionally stimulating, the storylines draw (or draw from) true-to-life characters in real-life situations. 2021 has seen some compelling ones, such as Mare of Easttown (HBO), starring Kate Winslet and Jean Smart, the British psychological thriller, Behind her Eyes (Netflix), The White Lotus, the HBO satirical comedy series starring the always-amazing Jennifer Coolidge, the British crime drama The Serpent (Netflix), Ewan McGregor as Halston (Netflix), and just about every miniseries to come out of, or be inspired by, the British—notably, The Crown (Netflix) and above all, of course, Downton Abbey.
NINE PERFECT STRANGERS
Then there is the HULU original streaming series, Nine Perfect Strangers, which premiered on August 18th. This eight-part original miniseries has it all: a riveting story that’s gorgeously filmed featuring an ensemble cast that generously plays with and against one another in the kind of harmony you only get from really, really good actors: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Shannon, Luke Evans, Asher Keddie, Samara Weaving, Melvin Gregg, Grace Van Patten, and Regina Hall, in the lead roles. Adapted for television from the 2018 novel by Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers was created by screenwriter and producer David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, The Practice) and English screenwriter John-Henry Butterworth.
Nine strangers arrive at Tranquillum House, a pricey, purported health and wellness resort with a hidden agenda that’s located somewhere deep in the California foothills in the fictional rural town of Cabrillo. Run by Russian powerhouse businesswoman turned healer and mystical guru, Masha Dmitrichenko (Kidman), she has hand-selected her guests. Little do any of them know that she has, in her otherworldly way, discovered their individual struggles and secrets long before their arrival. Much like a spider weaves a web, Masha has plans that will entwine them together, and the larger the web, the more twisted and unpredictable the plot. Rather than soothe with massages and facials as you’d expect from a health resort, Masha seeks to soothe and heal with drug-spiked smoothies that free each of the nine to admit the pain and turmoil they suffer. As her unusual and unethical methods transport each guest on an emotional and psychological rollercoaster ride, Masha fails to realize she, too, harbors dark secrets she must come to terms with if she is to find the peace and courage necessary to move on.
You, too, will be on a rollercoaster for eight hours, from the beginning to the exhilarating end of Nine Perfect Strangers.