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From 'American Horror Story' To 'Black Mirror:' The 10 Best Anthology TV Series, According To Rotten Tomatoes

Collider logo Collider 5/21/2022 Tom Disalvo
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There’s no denying that we live in the Golden Age of television. The transition toward streaming and its widespread distribution has brought a slew of high-quality series, seeing many big-name actors and directors pivot toward a medium previously deemed second-tier. While the influx of quality TV primarily consists of serialized shows (think, recurring cast, and ongoing storyline), there remains an equally entertaining batch of anthology series.

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Whether it’s storylines contained in a standalone season or a collection of episodes bound by a common throughline, anthology series are unique in their changeable casts and collation of diverse stories. If you’re indifferent to series-long arcs and keener on bite-sized installments, anthology TV is for you.

'Genius': 71% Tomatometer

Devoting each of its three seasons to a different celebrated prodigy, the National Geographic series has so far chronicled the stories of Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Aretha Franklin. Drawing big names across all seasons, Genius has starred Geoffrey Rush, Antonio Banderas, and Cynthia Erivo, bringing their respective geniuses to life in nonlinear, period-set installments.

Like many anthology series, not every standalone season was a hit, with Genius’ debut Einstein boasting the highest Rotten Tomatoes score (84%), followed by the most recent Aretha (73%) and the lackluster Picasso (57%). While it averages a decent 71% overall rating, showrunners are undoubtedly seeking to up the ante when the fourth installment, based on Martin Luther King Jr., hits screens next year.

'American Horror Story': 77% Tomatometer

One of the longest-running anthology series, FX's American Horror Story has lived up to its name for ten seasons, first debuting its witch-laden installment Coven in 2013. Since then, the Ryan Murphy brainchild has scoured the horror genre for its spookiest stories, covering everything from world-ending catastrophes (Apocalypse) to bloodthirsty slashers (1984).

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As is par for the Ryan Murphy course, the series is home to some of the showrunner's most notable muses, with actresses Sarah Paulson and Emma Roberts appearing in nine and five seasons, respectively. With an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 77%, AHS withstands the scattershot tendencies of anthology storytelling, successful enough to warrant FX’s three-season renewal in 2020.

'Dirty John': 79% Tomatometer

So crowded is the true crime genre that its stories have seeped into anthological mediums, most notably in the pulpy delight that is Dirty John. Based on the podcast of the same name, each season dramatizes a well-known case of romances turning bad, the first of which, The John Meehan Story, starred Eric Bana as the titular con man to Connie Britton’s duped Debra Newell.

The show’s second outing, The Betty Broderick Story, starred Amanda Peet as a matricidal ex-wife and usurped its predecessor with a 90% Rotten Tomatoes score. Although Dirty John adds to a sometimes oversaturated canon of true-crime limited series in the likes of The Act, it received a second life when it premiered on Netflix, although there’s no word on a third season just yet.

'Love, Death + Robots': 81% Tomatometer

Although science fiction is no stranger to the anthological treatment, Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots is unique in its animated medium and sourcing of diverse directors and writers for each standalone episode. The David Fincher-produced series focuses mainly on speculative fiction, with episodes detailing dystopian futures and robot revolutions, but it’s also dipped into romance and comedy.

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With three volumes under its belt so far, Love, Death + Robots is praised for the distinctive animation style of each episode and boasts directorial heavy hitters in the likes of Tim Miller and Jennifer Yuh Nelson. In what will be his animated debut, David Fincher is set to direct an episode for the show’s upcoming season.

'Black Mirror': 84% Tomatometer

The flagship sci-fi anthology, Black Mirror, made a statement when its first batch of episodes hit screens in 2011. Since then, the Charlie Brooker series has spawned a feature-length episode ("White Christmas"), an interactive special (Bandersnatch), and found a new home on Netflix, all while setting its speculative sights squarely on the horrors of modern technology.

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Starring the likes of Jon Hamm, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Miley Cyrus across its five-season run, Black Mirror has sometimes been criticized for its hit-or-miss trajectory, with its latest season receiving its lowest Rotten Tomatoes score (67%). Perhaps the waning novelty of the series has resulted in its as-yet unrenewed status, but a spinoff of Season 4 fan-favorite USS Callister is reportedly still in the works.

'American Crime Story': 84% Tomatometer

Another anthological brainchild of Ryan Murphy, American Crime Story dramatizes infamous criminal scandals within each of its three seasons, the first of which, The People VS. OJ Simpson, retold the notorious titular lawsuit of the ‘90s. American Crime Story’s debut season earned a stack of Emmys, including one for Sarah Paulson as OJ prosecutor Marcia Clarke.

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The following installment chronicled the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace and, in a trend true to the entire series, featured performers uncannily similar to their real-life counterparts. Though the stories it revisits are diverse, American Crime Story finds its throughline in real-life events that are distinctly scandalous and American, a theme most prominent in its latest Monica Lewinsky-inspired Impeachment.

'Weird City': 84% Tomatometer

Given its track record, sci-fi seems a worthy genre for the anthological treatment, and the YouTube series Weird City is no exception. Envisioning a more lighthearted look at the oft-catastrophized future, the Jordan Peele-created anthology is more firmly planted in the utopian camp, with each episode detailing an off-kilter story within the fictional "city of Weird."

From love stories between Dylan O’Brien and Ed O'Neill to Truman Show-esque meta-commentary, Weird City follows characters on either side of the town’s "line," which divides the haves and the have-nots. Satirical and with all the zaniness that its titular adjective suggests, Weird City is a worthy addition to the sci-fi anthology canon.

'The Sinner': 89% Tomatometer

With Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) as its only recurring character, each season of The Sinner chronicles a separate criminal investigation, often focussing on the crimes of otherwise-innocent perpetrators. Initiating its "whydunnit" schema, The Sinner’s first season starred Jessica Biel’s Cora, who inexplicably murdered a stranger in the premiere episode.

Since then, the police procedural has welcomed stars Carrie Coon and Matt Bomer, who appear in seasons two and three, respectively. The Sinner’s Rotten Tomato score has incrementally decreased with its most recent installments; the fourth and final of which aired last year.

'Easy': 90% Tomatometer

Devoting each of its episodes to the loves lives of disparate Chicagoans, Easy accounts for the romance genre’s take on anthological storytelling. Across its three-season run, Easy explored romantic themes from a sexless middle-aged couple to a ménage à trois- seeking pair in Orlando Bloom and Malin Akerman.

Though each episode is a standalone story of modern romance, a few characters make recurring appearances across the show’s seasons, some even tangentially related to another character’s story. Aubrey Plaza, Dave Franco, and Emily Ratajkowski also star in the Joe Swanberg series.

'Fargo': 93% Tomatometer

The adjectives defining Noah Hawley’s anthology series Fargo are manifold, which is perhaps the source of the period-set, black comedy crime series’ success. While each season takes place in the same fictional universe and is based within the Midwest, Fargo’s installments vary in period and character.

Based on the 1996 Coen Brothers film of the same name, Fargo is mainly concerned with murder investigations, some of which have overlapped across the show’s five seasons. Perhaps boasting the starriest changing cast of any anthology series, Fargo has featured the likes of Billy Bob Thornton in its debut season, Kristen Dunst and Ted Danson in its second, and Chris Rock in its most recent fourth outing. In February of this year, the show was renewed for a fifth season.

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