The Best Limited Series Worth Watching On Netflix

Photo: Michele K. Short / Netflix.
The question of “Seriously, what is a limited series” has been percolating for years, ever since Ryan Murphy started plundering the Emmys annually with American Horror Story and then American Crime Story. The mystery only grew in intensity with the popularity of series like 2017’s Big Little Lies, this summer’s Sharp Objects, and, finally, Maniac, which debuted on Netflix in late September 2018. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill-starring Maniac, like the previously-mentioned shows, was billed as a limited series.
With everyone hopping on the Maniac train, it’s high time we explain what exactly a limited series is. Essentially, it’s peak TV’s answer to the tired-sounding “miniseries” label of yore. As FX chief John Landgraf told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, “‘Miniseries’ is tainted. It became synonymous with this big, cheesy melodrama that would galvanize people back when the networks were in that business.” While “miniseries” are expected to be over-the-top three-night period pieces and adaptations filled with bad English accents, trendy-sounding limited series are allowed to be sexy, prestigious, and star-studded.
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So, a limited series is basically a miniseries in shiny, upscale packaging. Rather than three or four nights, a limited series can span a number of episodes, though they usually come in between four and 10 installments. The only rule is, a limited series has to actually be limited. Its story must end when its final episode ends. If the program returns for a second season, it must explore completely new territory, complete with a new cast of characters (but the same actors can stay on, just ask Ryan Murphy). The same mandate stands for any subsequent seasons.
Now that we finally understand one of Hollywood’s most mysterious terms, let’s figure out which limited series on Netflix are worth checking out.
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Watership Down

Netflix's four-episode adaptation of Richard Adams’ iconic rabbit-filled novel of the same name is a stunning bit of animation with a star-studded cast (Star Wars' John Boyega, Black Panther's Daniel Kaluuya, and Gone Girl herself, Rosamund Pike, all lend their voices). It's also a terrifying tale of relentless encroaching doom for the bunnies at the center of this story.

If you're missing the tension of The Walking Dead, try out Watership Down, which follows its rabbits as they lose their titular glen and attempt to find a safe new home.
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Alias Grace

Hulu’s fantastic Handmaid’s Tale might get all the attention, but the streaming world’s other Margaret Atwood adaptation also deserves some love. Alias Grace, Netflix's 1800s-set limited series, follows the life of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), one of Canada’s first “celebrated murderesses,” as she puts it during her six-episode saga.

While the draw of Alias Grace may be its true crime vibes, the series also manages to investigate all the ways women must try to survive in a male-dominated world, and how some of those avenues may prove to be fatal. And if that’s not reason enough to watch, know that Grace’s finale twist is so shocking, you’ll likely never forget it.
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Maniac

If any limited series on Netflix can be classified as “buzzy” right now, it’s the Cary Joji Fukunaga-directed Maniac. Technically, the series can be described as “two misfits (Stone and Hill) undergo a mental and emotional transformation during a drug trial.” Yet, that summary barely scratches the surrealist surface of what’s really going on with Maniac.

So, let’s go over some of the 10-episode series’ more notable plot points. Someone becomes a hawk! There is a depressed, grief stricken, and vengeful pink supercomputer! Crazy Rich Asians’ Sonoya Mizuno is the real queen!

If you don’t have a problem asking “What the hell is happening” multiple times during a binge, Maniac is the one for you.
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Godless

It’s hard not to have a soft spot for Godless, Netflix’s 2017 Western opus. The seven-episode limited series centers on the mostly peaceful town of La Belle, an 1800s desert town almost entirely devoid of men following a mining catastrophe. Unsurprisingly, the real drama arises when an uninvited man (Jack O’Connell) stumbles into La Belle after stealing from his outlaw father figure (Jeff Daniels, who won an Emmy for his performance). Soon enough, bloody chaos erupts.

Between Godless and Wonder Woman, which also debuted in 2017, you’ll start wondering if an all-woman utopia is what the world needs.
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Seven Seconds

One of the truest signs of feminist progress in pop culture is seeing women who are allowed to be deeply flawed — especially women of color. Netflix’s 10-episode Second Seconds, about the accidental murder of a Black boy and its subsequent cover-up, is one of television’s best examples of this fact.

Assistant DA KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a lawyer battling alcohol addiction, is the troubled hero of the story. While DJ never becomes perfect, viewers also never stop rooting for her to get to the bottom of Brenton Butler’s (Daykwon Gaines) death.
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The Sinner

With the addition of season 2, The Sinner isn’t exactly a limited series anymore. Yes, the USA drama’s second season follows an entirely new mystery — the reason Julian Walker (Elisha Henig) murdered two people — but, it doesn’t have entirely new characters. Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) is a holdover from The Sinner’s first season.

Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the first season of the Bill Pullman-led story, which was originally billed as a limited series. The psychosexual tale of Cora Tanetti (Jessica Biel) couldn’t be twistier or more addictive. The ski mask horror alone!
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Most Of The Ryan Murphy Oeuvre

Since every season of Ryan Murphy’s American stories tends to stand alone, they essentially fall under the limited series banner. There might be a little bit of Horror Story wonkiness now, thanks to the current Apocalypse crossover, but it’s not like Ryan Murphy has ever fretted about the rules — so, why should you?

Right now, the first seven seasons of American Horror Story are on Netflix, as is the first season of American Crime Story. Netflix also has a licensing agreement for ACS season 2, The Assassination of Gianni Versace. It’s just unclear when the Emmy-winning season will drop on Netflix.

And, for a few very strange reasons, we’re all still waiting for 2017’s Feud: Bette and Joan to hit the streaming service.
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