The Anthology Trend

Some of my favorite television shows of all time have been anthology series, the kind that had new stories and new casts in each episode. Classics of the genre include The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Crypt, Night Gallery, One Step Beyond, The Ray Bradbury Theater, Thriller, Faerie Tale Theatre, and the granddaddy of them all The Twilight Zone. Even some of the lesser ones were still a load of fun, like Tales from the Darkside, Freddy's Nightmares, Red Shoe Diaries, and Goosebumps. Even though anthology shows have always been part of TV programming (some examples from recent memory include Masters of Horror, R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour, Masters of Science Fiction, Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and Fear Itself), fans of the format are enjoying a richness of new shows.

A new twist is the season-long anthology program, which tells a new tale throughout multiple episodes, sometimes with the same cast, but often with new actors. I'm talking about American Horror Story, Fargo, Channel Zero, True Detective, American Crime, Feud, and American Crime Story. The best are still the ones that focus on a new story every episode. A good comparison is a collection of short stories (but in visual form). At its finest, an anthology show provides compact storytelling that lingers in the viewer's memory, quickly satisfying the appetite for drama, suspense, comedy, or speculative fiction.

Here are my picks for the best examples of new anthology shows out there.

Black Mirror (Netflix)
You can't go wrong with this thought-provoking series. Whether it's the first season's "Fifteen Million Merits," the second season's "Be Right Back," the third season's "San Junipero," the fourth season's "U.S.S. Callister," or the "White Christmas" holiday special, this is science fiction at its finest.

Destination 404 (Hulu)
With only six episodes, this is totally binge-worthy. Guest stars include Joel McHale and Patton Oswalt, with Mark Hamill as the narrator.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams (Amazon Prime)
Here's an ambitious new entry in the genre with excellent production values and a wonderful cast that includes Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Steve Buscemi, and Greg Kinnear.

Room 104 (HBO)
For something completely different but magnificently interesting, check out this marvelous show set in the same hotel room with a different occupant each week. From the scary to the funny to the heartwarming to the ridiculous, it's a little bit of everything.

If you haven't seen any of these, I highly recommend them. The best part is that you can jump in anywhere, pick any episode at random, and try another, and another, and another.

The good news is that more is on the way. CBS All Access announced that it will be reviving The Twilight Zone with Jordan Peele as one of the producers. I can't wait!

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