The ancient Greeks pretty much nailed it in the family drama genre, but today’s small-screen fare keeps proving that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Thanks, Tolstoy!) The characters in these miniseries are among the most entertainingly miserable.
A Place to Call Home (Acorn):
Early in this six-season Australian melodrama, you might be tempted to throw in the tea towel. While you’ll probably enjoy the 1950s milieu of an aristocratic family dominating rural, small-town life, you may initially find the characters and plot a bit simplistic. Have some patience, because everything deepens and widens as time moves on and society and personalities confront change. The heroine, a wise, beautiful nurse with a past clashes with a rich, cranky matriarch while the Downton Abbey–ish dynasty and quirky townspeople become embedded in your heart and mind. It’s like becoming addicted to potato chips laced with crack. (Six seasons)
The Legacy (Amazon; subtitles)
From Denmark, this series was produced by the same people who made The Killing and Borgen. When a renowned, eccentric artist living and working in a grand family manor house suddenly dies, her four heirs assemble from afar to divide the estate. All scarred by chaotic childhoods at the hands of their swinging ’60s mother, they’re all very different personalities with drastically different agendas, and all are equally thrown when a surprise sibling appears. (Two seasons)
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
If you can handle supernatural horror, indulge in this truly well-made, loose adaptation of the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel. Here, five siblings reunite at the mansion from which they fled in fear with their father 26 years earlier (whew, that sentence is a horror story itself). Each character has their own messed-up history, but none can compare with the one embodied by their former home. Shifting timelines tell the tale, which received critical kudos for the ensemble cast, direction, and cinematography. Oh, yeah, and haunting special effects.
Six Feet Under (Amazon) and Big Love (HBO)
These were two genius family-centered series that I loved so madly I’m thinking of a flu season plus blizzard when I can re-watch them all.
The Crown (Netflix)
Surely I don’t have to mention the brilliantly produced saga of the Windsors, the world’s favorite royal reality stars. So I won’t.