A Trend in TV Mini-Series

I must preface this blog entry by affirming how much I love short-form television series.  The so-called "mini-series" is an excellent way to tell a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Sometimes you don't need the usual 20-plus-hour seasons of episodic tales with no ending in sight -- eight hours or so are often more than enough.  Some interesting mini-series are airing right now (or are scheduled to air soon), and their themes and tone seem oddly familiar despite their divergent subject matter.

The following mini-series have drawn my attention for various reasons, but they seem to share certain common elements --powerful families, surrounded by political intrigue and scandal.  This could just be a trend as cable networks try to create a Sopranos-style hit, or it could just be the result of producers relying on those familiar soap-opera-ish stereotypes that never fail to lead to good drama (or, more accurately, melo-drama.)

The Borgias -- Showtime presents a no-holds-barred dramatization of one of history's most notorious families, with Rodrigo Borgia (played to chilling perfection by Jeremy Irons) as the corrupt patriarch who becomes the infamous Pope Alexander.  He and his children (including daughter Lucrezia, played by Holliday Grainger), whether through real crimes or through scandalous gossip and innuendo, tainted the legacy of the Church, and their story is tempting fodder for Hollywood myth-makers attracted to tabloid-worthy storylines, whether contemporary or centuries old.

The Kennedys -- Even before it aired, this latest retelling of one of America's most legendary political family sagas attracted controversy when its original home, the History Channel, decided not to air it.  It is now being broadcast on the ReelzChannel.  The casting is actually quite good -- Greg Kinnear as John F. Kennedy, Barry Pepper as Robert F. Kennedy, Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy, and Tom Wilkinson as the head of the clan, Joe Kennedy, Sr.  Critics are already claiming that the style of this newest adaptation of the historic figures' public lives takes many liberties in an attempt to be more like The Godfather than reality.

Camelot -- The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table has been told and retold countless times, and this latest version on the Starz network tries to amp up the sex and violence amid the action and sorcery.  This isn't the musical version, that's for sure.  The talented Joseph Fiennes plays Merlin and the stunning Eva Green portrays Morgan le Fay.  I'm always a fan of the fantasy saga, with Excaliber, Guinevere, and Lancelot, but can any rendition add anything new to the story?

Game of Thrones -- I don't know if I should really lump HBO's eagerly awaited adaptation of George R.R. Martin's epic to this list, but it does fit the mold of treacherous power plays and family drama.  If it stays true to its source material, this mini-series will rise above the rest and become a classic for the ages.

Although I'm calling this a current trend, this type of storytelling is nothing new.  Similar stories have captivated people since the biblical tales of King David and King Solomon, or William Shakespeare's tragedies, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and the rest.  Needless to say, the latest crop of mini-series will not be the last, whether they succeed or fail.