5 Must-See Drama Limited Series From the Last 5 Years

Streaming platforms like HBO Max, Hulu, and Netflix are constantly upping the ante with their shows, and limited series are no exception. They have brought a plethora of intriguing stories within recent years, some successful enough to turn into anthology series. Today, we bring you five one-season shows that are a must-watch for any TV fan!

Limited series are the perfect amount of TV to binge-watch within a day or two. Streaming platforms have made the TV show format more popular than ever, causing many series to become pop culture staples. Their short-lived nature has allowed many big A-list actors to carve out time from their busy schedules to star in these often very dramatic stories. Some ongoing shows can tend to run their course, but miniseries allow for the perfect middle ground between movies and long-running shows to tell concise, intricate narratives with complex characters. Here are five must-see limited shows from the last five years! 

Sharp Objects (2018)

The HBO miniseries Sharp Objects premiered on July 8, 2018, with the eight-episode run ending Aug. 26. The psychological thriller stars Amy Adams in her first small screen role as crime reporter Camille Preaker, who returns to her rural hometown after two young girls are apparently murdered. With a history of psychiatric issues, memories of her traumatic childhood are rekindled when she reunites with her estranged family: mother Adora, played by Patricia Clarkson; stepfather Alan, played by Henry Czerny; and half-sister Amma, played by Eliza Scanlen. Other main cast members include Chris Messina as Detective Richard Willis, Matt Craven as police chief Bill Vickery, Taylor John Smith as the brother of one of the victims John Keene, Miguel Sandoval as Camille’s editor Frank Curry, and Elizabeth Perkins plays longtime family gossip friend Jackie O’Neill. Sophia Lillis (It, I Am Not Okay with This) plays a young Camille in flashbacks and there’s also an appearance from Sydney Sweeney. Created by Marti Noxon, the show is based on a 2006 novel of the same name by Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn. It was the final work of director Jean-Marc Vallee before his death in 2021, which met much critical success, with Clarkson winning a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and the show receiving eight nominations at the 71st Emmy Awards. The intriguing narrative is definitely a heavy one, so come prepared! 

Maniac (2018)

The 10-episode Netflix miniseries premiered Sept. 21, 2018, and was created by Patrick Somerville, based loosely on the Norwegian 2015 TV series of the same name. The psychological dark comedy-drama is also a sci-fi, exploring the connection between two strangers who meet during a mind-bending pharmaceutical trial in a futuristic setting. The premise is like an extended Black Mirror episode, dealing with medical technology that tries to cure people’s mental anguish through a guided three-pill regimen — plus, to top it off, there’s an emotionally complex AI computer spearheading the scientists. Emma Stone stars as Annie Landsberg, a woman suffering from borderline personality disorder, playing opposite Jonah Hill’s Owen Milgrim, the son of a wealthy family who potentially has schizophrenia. Other main cast members include Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, and Ozark’s Julia Garner is featured in half of the episodes. The storyline is very original, fit with atmospheric sets that perfectly depict the confusing, advanced world the characters live in, and phenomenal performances by Stone and Hill in particular. You’ll never be bored with this genre-bending show!

Little Fires Everywhere (2020)

Hulu’s original Little Fires Everywhere hit the platform on March 18, 2020, lasting eight episodes that will leave you begging for more after the open-ended, cliffhanger type of finale. Developed for TV by Liz Tigelaar, the show is based on Celeste Ng’s best-selling novel of the same title, set in the 1990s Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. It explores the hardships of motherhood through the depiction of the intertwined fates of two families: the seemingly picture-perfect Richardsons and the mysterious mother-daughter Warren duo, who never stay in one place for too long. Reese Witherspoon takes the helm as Elena Richardson, a journalist married to lawyer Bill, played by Joshua Jackson, and mother to four kids: elder daughter Lexie (Jade Pettyjohn), younger daughter Izzy (Megan Stott), older son Trip (Jordan Elsass), and younger son Moody (Gavin Lewis). Contrasting her upper-middle-class background is Kerry Washington as struggling artist Mia Warren, mother to daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood). This drama-filled show — which received five nominations at the 2020 Emmy Awards — will have your eyes glued to the screen, ready to play the next episode as soon as one ends. There’s so much complexity to the characters to appreciate, especially with such great convincing performances by leading ladies Witherspoon and Washington. 

Behind Her Eyes (2021)

Behind Her Eyes is another mind-breaking Netflix series, consisting of six episodes that are based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Sarah Pinborough. Created by Steve Lightfoot, the British psychological thriller is also one with supernatural elements, which premiered on Feb. 17, 2021. The mysterious miniseries is largely contained, focusing on its four main characters played by mostly unknown actors. Simona Brown plays single mother Louise, whose world is thrown for a loop when she starts an affair with her new boss David, played by Tom Bateman. Meanwhile, his wife Adele, played by Eve Hewson, starts to form an unlikely friendship with Louise, with the story unfolding like a twisted love triangle. There are also flashbacks showing Robert Aramayo’s character Rob, Adele’s old friend who Louise must uncover secrets about. Louise is caught in their web of lies as the series progresses into darker suspense, culminating in a surprise ending that you’ll never guess is coming. The bizarre story — which explores the idea of astral projection in its plot, a similar phenomenon to lucid dreaming — is a compelling, creative breath of fresh air. Trust that you’ll be hooked on this wild rollercoaster ride! 

The Staircase (2022)

The most recent release on this list is HBO Max’s The Staircase, which its eight-episode run aired from May 5 to June 9 of 2022. This dramatized story is the fictional biopic of crime novelist Michael Peterson’s infamous accused murder of his wife Kathleen, who is found dead in a gruesome scene at the bottom of their home staircase. Colin Firth and Toni Collette give spectacular performances as the on-screen husband and wife to their blended family. From Michael’s first marriage, Dane DeHaan plays the eldest son Clayton Peterson and Patrick Schwarzenegger plays Todd Peterson; Sophie Turner plays Margaret Ratliff and Odessa Young plays Martha Ratliff, Michael’s two adopted daughters; and Olivia DeJonge is Caitlin Atwater, Kathleen’s daughter from her first marriage. Additionally, Rosemarie DeWitt is Kathleen’s sister, Candace Hunt Zamperini; Tim Guinee is Michael’s brother Bill; Juliette Binoche is Michael’s present-day lover Sophie Broussard, and Michael Stuhlbarg is Michael’s lawyer David Rudolf. Creator Antonio Campos shows the family problems that ensue from Peterson’s investigation and trial, all while a French documentary team takes an interest in telling the story. The story is engrossing, giving an extra fictional layer to the 2004 docuseries of the same title, which was created by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. It’ll certainly make you want to look more into the real true crime case behind the televised limited series!

About the Author

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Karissa Schaefer

Karissa Schaefer is a senior Journalism major with minors in Publishing and Psychology at Emerson College, focusing on all things entertainment. As she navigates the city of LA, she is a fall '22 intern at AfterBuzz TV and Better Together with Maria Menounos.