The Regime Finale: The End of the HBO Miniseries and Its Sunday Night Reign

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The Regime Finale: The End of the HBO Miniseries and Its Sunday Night Reign

Are there any time slots more coveted on television than HBO’s Sunday night?

Ever since the premiere of The Sopranos 25 years ago, an HBO Sunday show meant you were going to be seeing the best of the best. It was the destination of must-watch prestige TV, from The Wire to Game of Thrones to Succession. Sunday night could make a show a success, seen most evidently with Chernobyl, the historical miniseries that took over the slot from Game of Thrones after its final season and became a surprisingly popular hit.

After the finale of the latest True Detective, The Regime took over the Sunday night drama slot with all the finishings of a classic HBO series. It comes from writer Will Tracy, who previously served as a writer on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Succession. Star Kate Winslet has become a fixture of the dramatic HBO miniseries, taking home a Leading Actress in a Miniseries Emmy for Mildred Pierce in 2011 and in 2021 for Mare of Easttown. The show has a big setting with a bold premise: witnessing the last days of an authoritarian regime in a fictional Eastern European country.

So, where did it all go wrong?

The Regime has come and gone with barely a whimper. The series premiered to less than stellar reviews, which is not a common occurrence for an HBO show. But it also comes on the heels of another major Sunday night flop for HBO last year, the buzzy mess that was The Idol from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and The Weeknd—the worst reviewed show in HBO history. 

The Regime is not as bad as The Idol in any regard. But they have similar frameworks for failure. They’re both trying to recreate something that already works for HBO. For The Idol, it was colorful indulgences in aesthetics and attempted productivity that worked so well for Euphoria. The Regime is trying to merge the comedy-in-a-serious-situation stylings of Succession with the revered HBO miniseries format.

The series got off to a frustrating start, held down by tonal inconsistencies and a cast that always felt like they were playing the most obvious interpretation of their character. Kate Winslet isn’t bad, but it feels like she was told her character was a “childlike, petulant dictator obsessed with approval” and went to the extremes of every adjective. The rest of the cast was often relegated to bantering in the background. 

There are some bright spots, Andrea Riseborough is the real star and a surprise Hugh Grant cameo gives the show life in its latter half. The setting is well imagined and there are a few tense scenes once the fighting begins that make the show feel like what it was promised to be. The second half of The Regime is much stronger, but by the time the violence and politics get interesting, the show has already spent most of its time on jokes that didn’t land. 

The finale leans all in to the tension, but just can’t make it all work since it lost sight of its characters long ago. All that’s left is the plotting and scheming and working to put Kate Winslet’s Chancellor Elena back into a new version of the status quo. The ending is an affirmation of what consequences authoritarian leaders really face (not any!), but it lacks any true reward for our time spent watching. 

With its stacked cast and smart premise, it feels so strange to watch this series flounder and fizzle out where past series have thrived. HBO turned the miniseries from a special feature into event filmmaking that rivals actual films. Band of Brothers is still one of the most expensive TV series of all time over 20 years later. HBO miniseries have been a centerpiece of the prestige era of TV, so much so that audiences knew that a miniseries from this network would be something fresh and addicting. Sharp Objects, The Night Of, Chernobyl, The Pacific: it was TV that replaced a style and scope of film that was slowly disappearing from the marketplace. HBO miniseries meant intense character work, sharp writing, and something you knew you would tune back in for week after week.

Winslet’s previous HBO miniseries are testaments to its role in the TV landscape. Mildred Pierce wasn’t just a critical success and an Emmy winner, its episodes garnered more viewers than nearly every episode of Succession. Mare of Easttown more than doubled its viewership from its premiere to its finale. She was still considered a movie star who made the leap to TV for a reason. But The Regime lacked the foundation that supported her previous ventures. HBO assumed the draw of Winslet in a familiar time slot could carry the dead weight of the show’s execution.

A miniseries used to be an event that was easy for viewers to hop on board. The rest of television was 22-episode network serials or 13-episode cable treats. Now, people are dying for a season that has more than 10 episodes on a streaming service. And that’s in addition to the fact that anything billed as a miniseries can just change its mind if people are interested (I’m looking at you, The White Lotus), and major film directors and actors are now common in television. Miniseries just don’t feel special, they feel like more of the same.

The last year has seen HBO struggle to fill its Sunday night slot with something sensational. The Idol was miserable. True Detective: Night Country was a step in the right direction in terms of prestige execution mixed with popularity, but lacked the feeling of being “appointment viewing.” With so much of HBO’s slate ending in the last year (so long to Succession, Barry, and Curb Your Enthusiasm) the network is still figuring out what its new era looks like. But HBO’s recent failures are showing that Sunday nights are not the success-makers they once were.

The Regime is so frustrating because it feels like the echo of a successful era. There’s a version of The Regime that absolutely killed in 2013. In that timeline, Winslet walked right back to Emmy gold and the show was a conversation piece that spread through word of mouth. But instead, it’s a weak satire with little to say besides gesturing back out at the world around us.

The series is ultimately about the failure of the end of a regime. Only the independent version of a dictatorship fails, the authoritarian might is just controlled by a new source. The Regime is a failure as well, ending for HBO a powerful regime that once held insurmountable meaning and success. Its weak performance makes it apparent that there is a power vacuum in the TV landscape: HBO’s throne as the prestige miniseries destination is no longer secure. But does the current TV landscape—already overflowing with streamers and eight-episode seasons—even support another challenger?

Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. Her work has appeared in Paste Magazine, the LA Times, Business Insider, Gold Derby, TheWrap, FOX Digital, The Spool, and Awards Radar. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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