9 brilliant TV miniseries to binge this weekend – Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+

Shogun key art of a Samurai in gold armour riding a horse with a teal and red background
(Image credit: Disney / FX)

While we certainly appreciate TV shows that span several years and feature deep, convoluted narratives with (mostly) satisfying conclusions, sometimes it is satisfying just to be told a story in one palatable bite. Shows such as Game of Thrones have made their mark by delivering hours upon hours of gripping television, but that is a major time investment and not binge-able in one weekend (for the record, the series would take three days to watch back-to-back with no break!)

So if you're in the mood for a one-and-done style series that you can start on Friday night and easily finish by Sunday afternoon, even if you take much of the weekend to enjoy the great outdoors, may we suggest you try our favourite TV miniseries? You won't find anything with a second season on this list – what you see is what you get.

Truthfully, this list has been inspired by the excellent Disney Plus series, Shogun, which has sparked many conversations here in the What Hi-Fi? office, and everyone who hasn't yet seen it is under strict instruction to watch it at their nearest convenience. Despite being a great series in its own right, the producers have recently confirmed it won't get a second season due to the source material not supporting a longer format run.

We have enlisted resident Shogun enthusiast Jonathan Evans to tell you why you should immerse yourself in this spectacular samurai epic this weekend. And eight more suggestions follow...

Shogun (2024)

Four Japanese warriors standing in a woodland area

(Image credit: Disney / FX)

Jonathan Evans, magazine editor

Now that all 10 episodes are finally available on Disney Plus, there is no better time to get stuck in to Shogun. This tale of political intrigue, betrayal, clash of cultures, love and, above all, an often bewildering notion of “honour” and what that ought to entail, grabbed me from the off. 

Set in 1600, Shogun tells the story of an English sailor who finds himself and what remains of his crew in the alien world of feudal Japan. Also in Japan, and much of the reason he finds himself marooned there, are the Portuguese – Catholic enemies of Protestant England and keen to maintain their sole-European influence in a country that has vast wealth, and a huge supply of potential converts to the faith. 

The Japanese regard this filthy (literally) foreigner as a barbarian; he, in turn, sees them as savages. And the Portuguese certainly want him dead. But he is useful to his Japanese captors, as the pilot (navigator) of his ship, which has brought with it guns and cannon that are hugely precious to the lord of the region. So they put him to work.

Which brings us to the main thread of the story: the struggle for power between warlords following the death of a unifying leader. “Our” warlord finds himself in a tricky situation: the other four members of the ruling council seem to want him dead – or at least, as out of the way as possible. He, it would seem, doesn’t see that as the preferred option. Cue politicking aplenty, back (and front) stabbing, twists, turns and some absolutely wonderful scenery and cinematography.

Much of the real political heavy lifting is subtly undertaken by some wonderfully strong female characters – who are shown as having huge influence despite the restrictions that the patriarchal and archaic system of honour and tradition inevitably brings. 

Plenty of the reviews I have read highlight the gore and violence in the series. While it is undeniable that there is a fair bit of head lopping and limb flying, and a boiling or two, I would urge you to look beyond that; it is the more human stories that really draw the viewer in. 

I struggled with the week-long wait between episodes, and waited for the last two to drop so I could watch them in one hit. If you find yourself with a free day or three, there are plenty of worse ways you could spend your time than settling down to this mini series.

Stream Shogun on Disney Plus

"But what if I've already seen Shogun?" we hear you cry. Fret not, we've rounded up a host of other excellent limited series TV shows that offer spectacular storytelling and satisfying conclusions all in the span of 10 episodes or less.

There is a range of genres on show here, with everything from suspenseful horror to World War Two epics and even an underrated superhero gem, so there should be something to suit your taste. 

Boy Swallows Universe (2024)

boy swallows universe still

(Image credit: Netflix)

Becky Roberts, managing editor

For young Eli (Felix Cameron), life is pretty tough growing up in the violent fringes of 1980s Brisbane suburbia, with an adrift father, mute brother, heroin-addict mother, drug-dealing stepfather and a loud mouth that doesn't exactly deter trouble. Based on Trent Dalton's 2018 eponymous novel, this seven-episode coming-of-age-tale of love and redemption is an emotional rollercoaster that thrives on the material's storytelling by the 13-year-old, the elements of childhood fantasy that are cleverly weaved in without compromising the harsh reality, and its all-round heartfelt performances from the committed cast led by a compelling Cameron. 

You'll laugh, you'll cry, and every inch of your being will soon root for the plucky protagonist and his tenacious clan.

Stream Boy Swallows Universe on Netflix

Watchmen (2019)

Two superheroes standing in front of a line of police in a grassy area

(Image credit: Warner Bros Discovery)

Lewis Empson, staff writer

Not to be confused with the 2009 film of the same name, Watchmen is a TV show that serves as an offshoot of the original comic book inspiration for both named adaptations. That being said, you won't need to have read the comic to get a thrill from this action-packed and yet equally thought-provoking superhero thriller.

Starring a raft of recognisable talent including Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Tim Blake Nelson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, this nine episode TV mini series spearheaded by Lost creator Damon Lindeloff is a masterclass in storytelling. Plot points develop throughout the show seemingly at random, but each thread is revealed and woven into a greater overarching story eventually in a spectacularly rewarding fashion.

Now, this is an HBO Show, so this won't be one to watch with the family – perhaps stick to the Disney Plus Marvel superhero TV shows for that, but just a fair warning. There is plenty of bone-crunching action that is delivered with stylistic flair, and as is the nature of these gritty superhero characters, a lot of the story is delivered during night time scenes – so a TV that delivers on black depths and details suits this show best.

What is most striking about this series is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's (also known as Nine Inch Nails) transcendental score. The soundtrack occupied much of my listening time on Spotify back in 2020 when I first watched the show; once you watch (and listen) for yourself you'll know why. 

Stream Watchmen on Now (also available on Sky)

The Queen's Gambit (2020)

Two characters playing an intense game of chess surrounded by a large group of people

(Image credit: Netflix)

Ainsley Walker, staff writer

The global pandemic of 2020 changed everything. As large portions of the world found themselves stuck at home for extended periods, people discovered new interests to help occupy the time. One such game that attracted a passionate new fanbase was chess. A timeless game with global appeal, millions found solace in the depth of strategies and tactics to be found with a little time and patience. 

Big professional tournaments, such as the initial stages of the Candidates Tournament (which decides who challenges the reigning world champion) took place during the Spring of 2020, whetting the appetite of fans, new and old.

One of the highlights for both hardcore and casual fans came later in the year with the release of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. It follows the story of Beth Harmon (portrayed by Golden Globe winner Anya Taylor-Joy), a fictional orphaned chess prodigy, and the trials and tribulations she faces as she navigates her way through the world of chess. 

Not only was the story gripping and the characters well cast but there was also plenty of genuine chess accuracy to satisfy even the most diehard players, thanks in part to the stellar consultants (such as former world champion Garry Kasparov) on board to ensure the series was accurate and faithful to high-level chess. The Queen’s Gambit seriously boosted the ‘lockdown chess boom’ and helped to encourage a whole new wave of players and, as an avid player, I found it excellent to witness.

Stream The Queen's Gambit on Netflix

Masters of the Air (2024)

Two pilots stand in front of a World War 2 era plane

(Image credit: Apple TV)

 While related to Band of Brothers and The Pacific, Masters of the Air is a standalone nine-part miniseries, so we are including it here. It is primarily focused on the story of the 100th Bomb Group, a unit of the US Eighth Air Force that was based in East Anglia during the Second World War.

The series takes a little while to get going and initially suffers from a similar issue to its companion pieces – the dizzyingly rapid-fire introduction of a huge number of characters – but soon hits its stride. Production delays also mean that some of the actors are better-known than perhaps was intended (the actors in Band of Brothers were relative unknowns when it first aired), and there’s something a little unsettling about seeing Elvis (Austin Butler) flying a B-17 bomber but, again, you eventually get used to this. Besides, who doesn’t relish the opportunity to watch another Barry Keoghan performance?

As you would expect from a Hanks and Spielberg production for Apple, Masters of the Air is a lush and glossy affair with exceptional 4K Dolby Vision picture quality and an enveloping Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The peak for AV fans will be episode five, which features the series’ longest and fiercest battle in the skies over Germany – make sure you turn the lights down and the volume up for that one.

As a whole, while it doesn’t quite reach the raw, dramatic heights of Band of Brothers, Masters of the Air is a must-watch for anyone with an Apple TV+ subscription. 

Stream Masters of the Air on Apple TV+

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

A haunted manor with a family standing in front split with a woman's face with a tear falling down her cheek

(Image credit: Netflix)

Alastair Stevenson, editor in chief 

Mike Flanagan has been responsible for several excellent horror limited series. This is a fact most recently headlined by his The Fall of the House of Usher mini-series. But for the What Hi-fi? team, his first big hit for Netflix, The Haunting of Hill House remains a staple favourite, both to watch at home and when testing home cinema hardware. 

Telling the story of a family renovating a haunted house, this is easily one of the creepiest limited series available. It’s also mastered incredibly dark and intentionally loaded with creepy easter eggs. That’s why to this day there’s a community of fans trying to find every ghost hidden in the series’ background. This makes it a great gauge of any home cinema setup's contrast and shadow detail.

If that alone doesn’t sell you on the series, it also uses sound to ramp the sense of looming dread up to 11. The series is full of subtle, but terrifying bumps in the night and booming jump scares that will test any setup’s detail, and ability to throw audio around the room. This makes it a brilliant option for any horror fan looking for a new limited series that will take full advantage of their home cinema setup.

Stream The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix

Bodies (2023)

Two characters look through a window with reflections showing

(Image credit: Netflix)

 Andy Madden, deputy editor

If you fancy watching a time-bending, sci-fi crime thriller this weekend, then look no further than Bodies.

This eight-part series launched at the end of 2023 and is based on a graphic novel from 2015 by DC Vertigo (a now-disbanded offshoot of DC Comics which was given free rein to create more mature content).

When four bodies are discovered by the police in the same location in four different years (1890, 1941, 2023 and 2053), it’s more than a coincidence. It’s the start of a super conspiracy that takes you on a journey down four intertwining timelines.

Once your body clock gets used to all the time travel, you find yourself immersed in the side-stories that unravel in each of the four threads. It's clever, thrilling and at times, emotional as it all plays out in front of you.

There are numerous twists and turns along the way with great performances by both Stephen Graham (Gangs of New York, Snatch, Line of Duty) as the mysterious power-hungry Mannix and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as DS Charles Whiteman.

Sonically, I wouldn’t describe Bodies as a complex sonic test for a home cinema system, but the different eras do look good in 4K. It’s not the most colourful of presentations but the fact the series favours more natural earthy tones will keep your colour balance honest. Plenty of texture needs rendering on the various costumes and there is also a lot of shadow detail in dark and dimly lit scenes that needs to be carefully extracted.

Stream Bodies on Netflix

Chernobyl (2019)

Two characters look through a window with reflections showing

(Image credit: Netflix)

Lewis Empson, staff writer

Few shows have left me feeling quite as shaken as HBO's Chernobyl. It's a harrowing nine-episode retelling of the infamous nuclear-reactor explosion and ensuing crisis management that took place in Pripyat, Ukraine in 1986. It tells the stories of workers within the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, residents of the town, scientists attempting to study the impact of the intense outburst of radiation and first responders sent to the scene of the disaster.

I'll put it bluntly, this is not a happy or uplifting show, and at times it can be hard to watch – but the craft and effort gone into telling this story simply must be appreciated. Created by Craig Mazin (who has gone on to adapt The Last of Us for HBO since), it leans into horror and suspense at times, showing irradiated victims of the disaster in gruesome detail. However, it's often what you don't see that leaves you with a prolonged sense of dread and unease, which makes it all the more effective at delivering its message. 

From an AV angle, Chornobyl is somehow both visually stunning and incredibly bleak at the same time. It is predominantly cast in hazy grey lighting and fog, meaning your TV or projector will need to be capable of delivering this dingy atmosphere without looking smudgy or smoothed over. Audio is also a key component of this series, as the underlying sense of terror is aided by exceptional audio design – if a certain explosion at the very beginning of this show doesn't make you jolt in your seat then your sound system ain't cutting it.

Stream Chernobyl on Now (also available on Sky)

1883 (2021)

Five cowboy-type characters standing in a line

(Image credit: Paramount+)

This ten-part miniseries is a spin-off from Yellowstone, but don’t let that put you off. While Yellowstone is a modern drama about a family of ranchers, 1883 is more of a classic Western that tells the story of the family’s ancestors travelling from Tennessee to Montana in the first place – and it works completely independently of Yellowstone.

The journey is savage, sad, thrilling and beautiful, with stunning cinematography that is easy to appreciate even in the Full HD and SDR presentation to which Paramount+ is currently limited in the UK (US viewers can watch in 4K HDR). The soundtrack delivers plenty of excitement, too, particularly in the occasional shocking gunfight and an unwelcome tornado cameo.

Really, though, it’s the characters that make the show, most notably gruff wagon train-leader Shea Brennan, who is brought to life by Sam Elliott in the way that only he could, and Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), the initially naive girl whose eyes are quickly opened to the brutal reality of a pioneering journey west across America’s Great Plains.

The show also stars real-life husband-and-wife country music megastars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as Elsa’s parents, James and Margaret Dutton, which is weird on several levels but somehow works.

Stream 1883 on Paramount+


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Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Lewis Empson is a Staff Writer on What Hi-Fi?. He was previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys gaming, gigs and regular cinema trips.

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