Over the last few years we’ve seen a significant rise in both season-long anthology series like American Horror Story and more recently, the episodic anthology format (as popularised by the likes of Black Mirror) has begun to curry more favour with audiences the world over.
As Vulture pointed out in its excellent article on the topic, this is due to a variety of reasons including the economic viability that streaming platforms like Netflix and NOW TV afford anthology series, as well as the fact that they offer an appealingly digestible format for audiences plagued with an overabundance of choice where TV series are concerned.
Whatever the underpinning reasons for their increasing popularity, with more and more series utilising the format and even some traditionally long-formatted shows playing around with the idea (as we’ll see later), it’s clear that anthology series are here to stay - at least for now.
For us here at bonkers.ie, watching and enjoying an anthology series is kind of akin to dipping into a book of short stories after slogging through an epic novel. It’s a refreshing experience that offers a window into a new and unique world without the time commitment demanded of other, longer series. Without further ado, here are a few of our favourites.
Let’s kick things off by taking a look at some of the best season-long anthology series.
To the uninitiated, these are TV shows that choose a story to explore for the duration of one season and then create a completely new story or theme to explore in subsequent seasons.
These shows are great for the fickle TV viewer because it means you can dip in and out of random seasons without the fear of lacking prior knowledge where narrative continuity is concerned.
Heard that the second season of your new favourite show fails to cut the mustard? No problem, skip straight ahead to Season 3! Of course, the flip side of this means that if you fall in love with the characters from one particular season, you aren’t going to see them in subsequent seasons.
American Horror Story is arguably the definitive show of the season-long anthology series revival. Immensely popular with mainstream and cult audiences alike, there are currently six seasons available with a seventh in production. The show’s title is self-explanatory in its indication of what the show is about, as each season explores various creepy and spooky tales set in the US, with each season approaching the horro genre under the lens of a new theme.
For example, in the first season of the show entitled Murder House, the narrative is concerned with a modern-day Los Angeles haunted house, but once we move on to Season 2: Asylum, we find that the action has stepped back in time to the 1960s and is set in an insane asylum, unfurling a whole new story. Each subsequent season continues in this manner, usually presenting a different time period and setting, the themes of which are; Coven (Season 3), Freak Show (Season 4), Hotel (Season 5) and My Roanoke Nightmare (Season 6).
What’s interesting about the series is that though each season explores a completely different story, the cast of actors remains largely the same from season to season with certain actors even playing multiple different roles within the same season! Sounds confusing but trust us, more often than not, it works.
AHS fans have a lot of opinions and you’ll be hard pushed trying to find two fans who can agree on which season is the best. Attentive viewers will also have fun trying to identify the tiny details in each season which link it to the others.
You can watch the first 5 seasons of American Horror Story on Netflix now.
Fargo was inspired by the eponymous 1996 film written and directed by the Coen brothers, who serve as executive producers on the series alongside series creator and writer Noah Hawley.
A blackly-comedic crime drama series, each season is set in the Minnesota town of Fargo. However, each season is set a different era, with a different story and mostly new characters and cast, although there is minor overlap. Each season shares a common chronology with the original film.
Every season so far (of which there are three) has been met with much critical acclaim. The show has been nominated for a total of 133 awards, of which it has won 32.
You can watch the first two seasons (as well as the 1996 film) on Netflix now.
Episodic anthology series offer even greater freedom to the time-strapped TV viewer, as they only require the commitment of a single episode, making for the perfect quick piece of entertainment! It’s like watching a short film in most cases. Here’s a few of our favourites:
Often dubbed the modern day equivalent of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror is a British science fiction television anthology series created by Charlie Brooker which centres around dark and satirical themes that examine modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies.
Each episode is a standalone work and each focuses on completely different characters, stories and often - realties. Episodes are usually set in an alternative present or the near future.
The series began life on Channel 4 but migrated to Netflix for its third season when it gained international acclaim. As each episode serves as its own short film essentially - existing in its own uniquely stylised universe - the quality will go up or down depending on your own preferences. That being said, all of the episodes are more or less worthwhile, with a few standing out as truly exceptional pieces of art that accurately encapsulate the cultural anxieties of modern 21st century society, in a fashion not dissimilar to the way many sci-fi films of the 1950s did for that time.
You can catch all three seasons over on Netflix now.
Beginning its life online as a web series on Vimeo in 2012, this episodic anthology series held together by a singular recurring character was picked up and made into a TV series by HBO last autumn.
The web series was created by husband and wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld. It follows a nameless NYC marijuana delivery man (known only as ‘The Guy’) as he bikes through the city to deliver his product. The stars of the show are The Guy’s various clients, with each episode offering a brief vignette into the lives of this eclectic bunch of people who couldn’t be more different from one another.
As children we are assured that everybody poops, but in the world of High Maintenance, the creators of the show want to assure you that EVERYBODY (at least in NYC) smokes weed.
Unfortunately, the HBO TV version of the show has yet to reach Irish shores, but you can catch the entire web series online on Vimeo. It’s well worth a look.
Largely based around the intricacies of modern dating, this Netflix Original comedy drama episodic anthology series (now there’s a mouthful) is set in Chicago. Each episode follows a different set of characters, with scenarios including a married couple hoping to reignite their sex life, a couple looking to spice things up with another woman and a young student taking up the vegan lifestyle after a passionate night with an activist. The cast is star studded, featuring nuanced performances from the likes of Dave Franco, Orlando Bloom, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson and Emily Ratajkowski among many others.
The show has been likened to a TV version of the Mumblecore movement, which is a subgenre of independent film characterised by naturalistic acting and dialogue (often improvised), low-budget film production, an emphasis on dialogue over plot, and a focus on the personal relationships of people in their 20s and 30s.
In this discipline, Easy wholeheartedly succeeds in creating a compelling mirror to today’s dating culture. As Jessica Toomer of Uproxx put it; “It's a brave, refreshing take on "Millennial" romance and love in this new age... one all the more satisfying because it refuses to sacrifice quality for comfort or something worth talking about for something easy.”
The first season of Easy is available to stream on Netflix now and a second series has been announced.
Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, a comedy drama series that follows Dev Shah, a commercial actor living in New York City is definitely not what you’d call an anthology series - it follows the traditional long-form episodic format that runs over several seasons - but show has been known to play around with its format to great effect.
For instance, in Season 2’s sixth episode “New York, I Love You” Ansari makes an ode to the popular short story collection film of the same name, where we are presented with a series of intriguing vignettes into the lives of ordinary New Yorkers over the course of one day. The stories intersect in subtle ways and finally at the end of the episode we return to Dev in a movie theatre. It’s a great episode which offers a pleasing retreat from the hectic life of Dev and the characters we meet in his absence are well rounded and compelling.
There are several other episodes which also successfully take the focus completely off Dev. Rather than feeling like a distraction from the main action, these interludes always introduce us to interesting and diverse new characters, whose stories we welcome.
In an era where formulaic storytelling can become stultifying, it’s refreshing to find a show that’s unafraid to take a detour from the overarching narrative to spend time on a variety of different characters and stories.
Master of None’s two seasons are available to stream on Netflix now.
If you’ve liked the sound of everything so far but you’re more in the mood for a movie rather than a TV show, why not try Richard Linklater’s Slacker? Taking the episodic format to the max, Slacker’s roving camera follows a single day in the life of an ensemble of mostly under-30 bohemians and misfits in Austin, Texas.
The film follows various characters and scenes, never staying with one character or conversation for more than a few minutes before picking up someone else in the scene and following them.
The eclectic collection of characters include Linklater as a very talkative and morally ambiguous taxi passenger, a UFO buff who insists the U.S. has been on the moon since the 1950s, a JFK conspiracy theorist, an elderly anarchist who befriends a man trying to rob his house, and a hipster woman trying to sell a Madonna pap smear.
Released in 1991, the film was selected in 2012 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The best news is you can watch on YouTube now.
Check out our last batch of recommendations.
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