The best limited series you can watch right now

Florence Pugh, wearing red, closes the door of a red car in The Little Drummer Girl.
Image: AMC

There are few things better than a show that ends when it means to

It can be nice to have a TV show in your rotation that you know isn’t ending any time soon. But sometimes, you want something with an end point in mind from its creators. Freed from the pressures of renewal and cancellation, limited series can give us some of the best storytelling the medium of television has to offer.

That’s been on full display recently, with a strong run of limited series in 2024 alone. The best TV of the year includes multiple “one and done” shows: The Regime, Baby Reindeer, Masters of the Air, and the excellent Shōgun, one of the best American TV shows in recent memory. And more are on their way: Park Chan-wook’s The Sympathizer is running through its season on HBO, The Veil and Under the Bridge just started on FX on Hulu, and even Knuckles is getting in on limited series action.

All the strong one-season shows on offer this year had the Polygon staff wondering: What are the best limited series ever that you can watch at home right now? Anthology series and shows that got cancelled after a season don’t count — we’re looking only at shows that were planned as one-and-done entities.

Band of Brothers

Damian Lewis as Dick Winters, who would lead Easy Company from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. He’s shown here about to pull the trigger on an adolescent German infantryman. Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Where to watch: Max and Netflix

A lot has changed about prestige TV in the 23 years since Band of Brothers first premiered on HBO. But no matter what trends have come and gone since then, one thing that hasn’t changed is the absolute excellence of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ World War II series.

Band of Brothers follows a regiment of soldiers, nicknamed Easy Company, from paratrooper training through their experiences in the Second World War’s European theater. The show’s depiction of war is downright hellish: a muddy, bloody, and terrifying portrait of conflict that manages to capture both the moment-to-moment imperative of survival, and the often-futile feeling of individual gun fights and victories.

All this is given incredible life by the series’ impressive filmmaking as well as its parade of recognizable faces and future movie stars. Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Michael Fassbender, David Schwimmer, Tom Hardy, Simon Pegg, Colin Hanks, Dominic Cooper, James McAvoy, and more all show up at one point or another.

Each episode starts with a real-life interview from a member of Easy Company, on which the characters and events of the series are based. It’s a jarring choice to this day, but one that helps underscore the true-to-life horrors of the show and serves both creatively and practically as a profound memorial to the soldiers themselves. The interviews also give the series a stately feel that both makes it feel right at home with prestige TV, and oddly out-of-step and unique from everything that’s come before or after. —Austen Goslin


A character stands in a golden room, gazing at something behind glass Image: FX

Where to watch: Hulu

Can a limited series survive on vibes alone? Devs supposes that perhaps, with enough sumptuous techno-religious set design and otherworldly electro-drones, you can. Luckily, the rest of Alex Garland’s 8-episode silicon valley espionage thriller also delivers. Nick Offerman effortlessly puts his dry, understated delivery to sinister effect as mysterious tech CEO Forest, a man who talks like a guru but also orders a murder the second his quantum machine is threatened. And what a machine it is: the cubic, shimmering gold set is nearly as iconic as the former Parks and Rec star.

What exactly this machine does is at the heart of the show’s mystery, as is the aforementioned murder Sonoya Mizuno’s Lily is trying to solve. Her raw, heart-wrenching performance takes many twists and turns, keeping the whole thing emotionally grounded. Though the show luxuriates in poetry readings and languid establishing shots, it’s still more than just cerebrally intense viewing thanks in particular to Zach Grenier’s menacing turn as Forest’s head of security Kenton. Few shows can so effortlessly shift from gripping hand to hand combat to ruminations on the nature of free will and back again. —Clayton Ashley

I, Claudius

A young Patrick Stewart, in Roman legionaire garb and wig, in I, Claudius Image: BBC Two

Where to watch: Acorn TV, free on Hoopla with a library card, digital purchase on Amazon/Apple

There are several reasons you should watch I, Claudius, the classic 1976 BBC miniseries, not least of which is: Have you ever wanted to see Patrick Stewart in the most bizarre Roman legionnaire wig you’ve ever seen?

Thankfully, I, Claudius’ legacy is greater than anything that curly hair could invoke in us. The series, tracing the early Roman Empire’s history through the eyes of eventual emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi), boasts a cast longer than any British miniseries you’ve ever seen, and there’s not a dud in the bunch. The tangled, intricate web of deception, backstabbing, and politicking is the blueprint and inspiration for shows like Game of Thrones and The Sopranos. Its production — both visually and in its sometimes clunky updating — is totally of its time. It’s a relic and a legend, a historical record that gave us the TV of today. —Zosha Millman

The Little Drummer Girl

Florence Pugh points a gun while wearing a large orange coat while Alexander Skarsgård stands next to her in a woody area in The Little Drummer Girl. Image: AMC

Where to watch: Digital purchase on Amazon/Apple

Legendary director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Decision to Leave) has a new buzzy mini-series out in The Sympathizer. But it isn’t his first foray into the format.

In 2018, Park’s adaptation of one of John le Carré’s best spy novels paired two burgeoning movie stars (Florence Pugh and Alexander Skarsgård) with the director’s impeccable attention to detail, creating one of the most underrated shows of the century.

A young actress (Pugh) meets a handsome stranger (Skarsgård) while on vacation. What appears at first to be a summer fling soon comes into focus as a recruitment operation — the stranger works for Israeli intelligence, and he brings the young woman into the dangerous world of espionage.

The Little Drummer Girl is a pitch-perfect match of talent and source material. Le Carré’s espionage stories are intricate and nuanced, never inclined to take the easy way out, which makes Park the perfect director to tackle his stories. —Pete Volk

Midnight Mass

Hamish Linklater as Father Paul in Midnight Mass in the middle of mass Image: Netflix

Where to watch: Netflix

While other Mike Flanagan Netflix miniseries might be more high profile, nothing stands out like Midnight Mass. At the time he released it he called the show his “most personal” work, gestating for years as he built up the clout and skill to make it.

Midnight Mass tells the story of a small, dying town suddenly inundated with miracles and weird events after a charismatic priest moves in. Flanagan imbues the story with a lot of heart, and an equal amount of pointed horror. The result is bold and clear: An ambitious piece that’s at once punching widely and landing specifically, a wonderfully imperfect and deeply personal masterpiece. —ZM

Mildred Pierce

Kate Winslet stares off into the middle distance while wearing a waitress uniform in Mildred Pierce. She holds a coffee cup and behind her a sign advertises drinks for very, very low prices. Image: HBO

Where to watch: Max

In some ways, this 2011 HBO adaptation of the classic 1940s James M. Cain novel is the classic archetype of a prestige miniseries. It’s organized around one show-stopping performance from a massive star — Kate Winslet, always riveting as Mildred. It’s a period piece, with sumptuous, glossy production values – lots of warm light and nice clothes — that are cinematic without abandoning the comforting, close-up frame of TV. But because it’s directed by Todd Haynes, it’s also gently subversive, reframing Cain’s key noir text about an ordinary L.A. housewife driven to desperation as something less heated and more patient — a post-modern, queer-coded, feminist melodrama. —Oli Welsh

Over the Garden Wall

A boy holding a frog with an upside down tea kettle on his head (Greg) and an older boy wearing a red pointed hat and a navy blue cape stand in a river in Over the Garden Wall. Image: Cartoon Network

Where to watch: Hulu

Many of the entries on this list make great watches, and allow for rewarding rewatches. But for my money, this is the only one that demands an annual rewatch. Over the Garden Wall and all its many, lyrical charms are best consumed at the onset to fall, the perfect New England Gothic to parallel the freshly crunchy leaves.

The story follows two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean) as they attempt to make their way out of a supernatural forest and find their way home. Along the way they meet a host of colorful characters — a talking bluebird and a haunted woodsman, to name only just a couple — and encounter situations both goofy and spooky. It’s perfect for autumn, or just whenever you have a free afternoon. —ZM

The Prisoner

Patrick McGoohan talks to George Baker (in a circular sci-fi chair) in The Prisoner Image: MGM-British Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection

Where to watch: For free with ads on Crackle, Plex, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, Tubi

One of the most influential TV shows ever made, The Prisoner is a fantastic 17-episode series from 1967 about a British spy held captive in a strange coastal village after attempting to quit his job. Created by star Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner comes by its reputation honestly — it’s thrilling spy-fi with a great central mystery, a strong leading performances, and an iconic line of dialogue that has lived on in pop culture history: “I am not a number! I am a free man.”

Unlike some of the other shows on this list, The Prisoner had a pretty open-ended finale — garnering some controversy — but it is well worth the watch. —PV


Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) holding up a piece of paper Photo: Katie Yu

Where to watch: Hulu

TV is often compared to movies in an attempt to elevate it; it turns out, the only thing people allegedly want more than a film is something that’s “actually more like a 10-hour movie.” FX’s Shōgun is easy to draw the comparison with, sharing DNA with a lot of war movies as much as it does smart miniseries.

But ultimately the show stands tall as exactly what it is: television, and damn good television at that. Across its 10 episodes, Shōgun builds its story methodically and exquisitely. Watching it is like tracing down a fuse only to find it’s already been lit, all glorious fireworks you couldn’t damper if you tried. Its strength comes from its elegant diffuseness, its trust of the audience, and constant awareness of how to build a story. That’s TV, baby, and damn good TV at that. —ZM

Small Axe

John Boyega sits in police academy in Small Axe: Red White and Blue Photo: Will Robson-Scott / Amazon Prime Video

Where to watch: Prime Video

It’s debatable whether Steve McQueen’s one-off anthology series about Black life in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s is really a miniseries at all, but what else would you call it? Well, a masterpiece, for one — probably the director’s best work, which is saying something. The centerpiece is the gripping feature-length courtroom drama Mangrove, but even that brilliant film is exceeded by Lovers Rock, a soulful slice-of-life ode to the Brixton reggae house party scene, and a deeply moving tribute to the power and resilience of community (with great tunes). There are outstanding performances across the series, too — particularly from Shaun Parkes and Letitia Wright in Mangrove, and John Boyega, struggling with the duality of being both Black and a police officer in Red, White, and Blue. —OW

Station Eleven

Older Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) looks down at Younger Kirsten (Matilda Lawler) in a crowded apartment Photo: Ian Watson/HBO Max

Where to watch: Max

Max’s lovely miniseries adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven came at an opportune time — close enough to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic for its story about a pandemic apocalypse to feel relevant and narratively important, but not so close that it felt “too soon.” (Beating The Last of Us to air didn’t hurt either, given the shows’ very broad narrative similarities.)

Showrunner Patrick Somerville tweaked the story and its structure, but the thrust remains the same — as the story jumps back and forth from pandemic onset to what life is like for the survivors 20 years later, a narrative emerges about community and creativity, how people make sense of trauma and crisis through art, and maintain a sense of connection and commonality by passing that art down. It’s a beautifully shot and beautifully acted limited series that isn’t about empty feel-good uplift or wallowing in apocalyptic doom — like The Leftovers, which Somerville worked on as a writer, it feels almost surreal and strangely practical at the same time as it lays out its many separate threads about characters finding purpose after a huge and unexpected upheaval. —Tasha Robinson

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Alec Guinness as George Smiley leafs through a book in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Image: BBC

Where to watch: YouTube

This BBC adaptation of John Le Carré’s famous spy novel from 1979 effortlessly outclasses the 2011 movie — even though that’s a pretty good, classy film. Partly that’s because, over seven 50-minute episodes, it has more room to untangle Le Carré’s devious plot about a mole hunt in the dog days of the Cold War, and to soak in the melancholy of the characters. Partly that’s because it’s no period piece, and it was able to capture the atmosphere of wounded, jaded patriotism at the time, on gorgeously faded 16mm film, in gorgeously faded locations. Mostly it’s because Alec Guinness’ George Smiley is one of the most perfect bits of casting in TV history: a patient, lugubrious, sad genius of spycraft whose unblinking gaze penetrates every shroud. Even Gary Oldman could never match it. —OW

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