HBO’s meteoric rise to prominence in the realm of original series began more than 20 years ago when The Sopranos bada-binged its way to global acclaim in 1999. Since then the pay television network has produced some of the biggest series ever to hit the airwaves with Game of Thrones, The Wire, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Entourage, True Blood, and more. These days, HBO continues to produce successful original programming, from gritty crime dramas like True Detective and Perry Mason to intelligent comedies like Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Silicon Valley, so it’s no wonder HBO remains the longest-running premium television service in the United States. Now, with HBO’s on-demand services, and the newly launched HBO Max, fans of the network have unfettered access to the company’s impressive (and robust) stable of programming. But there’s a boatload of it, so below we’ve dug through it all to provide you with our picks for the best HBO shows, so you can spend more time binge-watching and less time binge-searching.
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Raised by Wolves
From director Ridley Scott, Raised By Wolves is a dark, mysterious foray into sci-fi for HBO Max. The story follows two androids tasked with raising human children on a brand new planet where religious differences threaten to tear apart a human colony. As the androids attempt to manage peace through logic, they soon learn that controlling and guiding the beliefs of humans is difficult and extremely treacherous.
Created by: Aaron GuzikowskiCast: Travis Fimmel, Amanda Collin, Abubakar SalimNumber of seasons: 1
History and supernatural horror merge in Lovecraft Country, which follows a Black soldier who returns home from World War II and then sets off on a journey through 1950s America to find his missing father. Jonathan Majors plays series protagonist Atticus Freeman, who’s joined on his rescue mission by childhood friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle, George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance). Series showrunner Misha Green expertly blends the real-world racial terrors of the Jim Crow era for Black people in the U.S. with the dark, eldritch horrors of H.P. Lovecraft in a story that continually surprises its audience with one shocking twist after another.
Created by: Misha GreenCast: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. VanceNumber of seasons: 1
This limited series brings the world’s most renowned fictional lawyer back to the small screen. HBO’s series is an origin story of the criminal defense attorney set in 1932 Los Angeles. The series takes an edgy, noir-ish tone and gives Perry Mason a new spin, with Matthew Rhys portraying him as a low-rent private investigator digging into the influential and enormously powerful evangelical preacher Sister Alice.
Created by: Ron Fitzgerald, Rolin JonesCast: Matthew Rhys, Juliet Rylance, Chris ChalkNumber of seasons: 1
Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel of the same name, this slow-burn series starts with a seemingly straightforward, cut-and-dried murder investigation. However, that investigation spirals out of control as investigators encounter an insidious supernatural force that makes everything look different than it seemed before. Soon, the investigators begin to question everything they thought they knew. Featuring a first-rate cast of Jason Bateman, Ben Mendelsohn, and Cynthia Erivo, The Outsider is a truly gripping, supernatural crime drama that measures up to King’s novel.
Created by: Richard PriceCast: Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, Julianne Nicholson, Mare WinninghamNumber of seasons: 1
I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel’s co-production for BBC One and HBO has established her as one of the most innovative and thoughtful new creators in television. Coel created, writes, co-directs, executive produces, and stars as Arabella, a young London woman who must rebuild her life after being sexually assaulted in a nightclub. Publicly feted as a millennial icon after the success of her debut novel “Chronicles of a Fed-Up Millennial,” Arabella is struggling under the pressure of meeting the deadline for her second book. To de-stress, she meets up with friends for a night out in London, which becomes a complete blur. The next morning, she pieces together the events of the previous night, challenging social norms and the meaning of consent.
Created by: Michaela CoelCast: Michaela Coel, Weruche Opia, Paapa EssieduNumber of seasons: 1
The Plot Against America
Based on Philip Roth’s 2004 novel about an alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1940, The Plot Against America is a surprisingly timeless story when seen through a modern lens. The story follows a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey during Lindbergh’s reign. Lindbergh, a famous anti-Semite and isolationist, turns the nation toward fascism and tyranny, which the audience experiences at a personal level through the Jewish community in Newark. Creators David Simon and Ed Burns are no strangers to heavy subjects, and this one is no exception.
Created by: Ed Burns, David SimonCast: Winona Ryder, Anthony Boyle, Zoe Kazan, John TurturroNumber of seasons: 1
From Mark and Jay Duplass, Room 104 imagines what really happens at that corporate chain hotel right by the airport. This anthology series centers around a regular American motel and one particularly strange room. The stories that happen in Room 104 are funny, terrifying, heartbreaking, and everything in between. The characters and tone of the show change every week, making each episode feel like a mini-movie that brings out the interesting in the mundane. The show just aired its fourth and final season in 2020.
Created by: Mark Duplass, Jay DuplassCast: Jennifer Lafleur, Jon Bass, Jenny LeonhardtNumber of seasons: 4
What could be more daunting than adapting Alan Moore’s iconic comic series Watchmen for TV? How about making a sequel? That’s what Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) has done with Watchmen, which picks up decades after Moore’s story ended, following a new group of characters whose lives intertwine with the old cast. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 34 years after the comic, Watchmen follows Angela Abar (Regina King), a cop who moonlights as a costumed vigilante called Sister Night. The Tulsa police have been decimated by a white supremacist group called the Seventh Kavalry, forcing the remainder to adopt superhero personae for safety. After the police chief is murdered, Angela searches for the killer, uncovering a sinister conspiracy. In its willingness to challenge expectations for a sequel, Lindelof’s Watchmen proves a worthy successor to the original.
Created by: Damon LindelofCast: Regina King, Jean Smart, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tom Mison, Jeremy IronsNumber of seasons: 1
This teen drama is teen drama done by HBO. It’s steamier, darker, and deeply, deeply provocative. An adaptation of the Israeli show of the same name, Euphoria follows 17-year-old Rue (Zendaya), a drug addict fresh from rehab with no plans to stay clean and an upsetting amount of responsibility. Around her are Jules, Nate, Chris, Cassie, and Kat, each with their own identity crises and high school crosses to bear. As they struggle to make sense of their presents and their futures, the series takes a deep-dive into teenage substance abuse, sexual tension, and the anxiety-ridden life of modern high school. At times, Euphoria swings for the shock value fences but generally, it deals with serious issues with empathy and openness.
Created by: Sam LevinsonCast: Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, Maude ApatowNumber of seasons: 1
The Young Pope
Before it premiered on HBO, The Young Pope — which originally aired on Italy’s Sky Atlantic — was a subject of puzzlement or outright mockery in the media. Many thought the name implied an edgy show, one aimed at capturing the attention of young viewers. That’s a shame, as The Young Pope turned out to be one of the most bizarre, stylish dramas on television. The show follows Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law), born Lenny Belardo, an orphan from America. Pius reaches the throne thanks to puppet masters in the Vatican who hope that he will be a malleable figurehead and a young face for a modern world. Instead, he shocks the world as a zealous conservative, delivering furious invective against modernity and pushing the church back to an earlier, more arcane way of being. The show is the creation of Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino, and as such, his bombastic vision — and quirky sense of humor — is on display throughout.
Created by: Paolo SorrentinoCast: Jude Law, Diane Keaton, Silvio OrlandoNumber of seasons: 1
Big Little Lies
Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies is set in a small, affluent town where Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) and her friend Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) live in seeming bliss with their families. When Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) moves to town with her son, Ziggy, Madeline and Celeste take her under their wings, but an accusation against Ziggy — and a murder — threaten to upend their lives. Despite the mystery that opens the show, what really drives Big Little Lies is its portrayal of the lives — domestic and social — of women, the friendships they form, and the aggressions they endure. The central characters are complex, driven as much by competitiveness and arrogance as by friendship and family; Witherspoon is particularly great as the domineering Madeline.
Created by: David E. KelleyCast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zöe KravitzNumber of seasons: 2
HBO’s reimagining of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi thriller has taken center stage for the network, and for good reason. The first season of the show is centered on a futuristic theme park with some dirty secrets and a Western motif, where the wealthy can pay to experience adventure that real life could never provide. Guests — who can’t be killed inside the park — interact with robotic “hosts,” who are nearly indistinguishable from human beings. Over the following seasons — season 3 concluded last spring — the world broadens to include other theme parks and the real world. The show, produced in part by J.J. Abrams, shoots for the stars with a broad scope and a series of events that can only lead to catastrophe.
Created by: Lisa Joy, Jonathan NolanCast: Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Aaron Paul, Tessa ThompsonNumber of seasons: 4
Game of Thrones
George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” series attracted its fair share of fans when it hit bookstore shelves in the early ’90s. However, it was D.B. Weiss and David Benioff’s TV adaptation on HBO that really got the fantasy juices flowing when it debuted in 2011. Often heralded as not only one of the best shows on HBO, but also one of the best series of all time, Game of Thrones is an epic tale of royal feuds, dynastic conflict, and the struggle for ultimate control in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Throughout the show’s eight seasons, and divisive conclusion, the creators have rarely shied away from egregious violence, sex, and massive bloodshed, making it one of the most controversial, yet wildly popular shows HBO has to offer.
Created by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin (based on books)Cast: Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Peter Dinklage, Lena Heady, Maisie WilliamsNumber of seasons: 8
The Night Of
Writer Steven Zaillian (Gangs of New York, Schindler’s List) delivers some of his most poignant material in this 2016 miniseries starring British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed, who portrays a Pakistani-American student who quickly finds himself in prison after a blurry one-night stand turns into a mysterious and brutal murder. The show chronicles his descent from innocent youth to hardened inmate, with the help of Michael K. Williams (The Wire). The latter plays prison kingpin Freddy, who’s more than willing to provide his young protégé with some protection from his violent neighbors — for a price. John Turturro also delivers an excellent performance as embattled defense lawyer John Stone. Turturro’s presence provides a small sense of levity to help balance the all-too-serious subject matter of the show.
Created by: Richard Price, Steven ZaillianCast: Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Bill CampNumber of seasons: 1
David Simon is no stranger to the HBO network, having worked on The Wire, Generation Kill, The Corner, Show Me a Hero, and this New Orleans-themed drama, Treme. Set just three months after the events of Hurricane Katrina, Treme follows the eclectic mix of people living in New Orleans who attempt to repair and rebuild their lives after the catastrophic storm. Featuring some familiar faces from some of Simon’s other works on the network, the show received most of its critical praise for accurately portraying the storm-torn Louisiana city and for capturing the region’s unique culture. Like The Wire, the excellent narrative pulls the viewer in and makes it incredibly hard to look away.
Created by: Eric Ellis Overmyer, David SimonCast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Kim Dickens, Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Melissa LeoNumber of seasons: 4
When Damon Lindelof announced he intended to adapt Tom Perrotta’s novel The Leftovers into an exclusive HBO series, fans of the 2011 science fiction novel rightfully went into a frenzy. Not only did the story potentially lend itself to a compelling retelling on television, but Lindelof’s impressive career up to that point assured Leftovers enthusiasts the franchise was in good hands. While the show received mostly positive critical praise, it wasn’t without its fair share of speed bumps. Once Lindelof and his crew perfected the way in which to tell this harrowing story, however, the show really took off and ranks among the very best the network has to offer.
Created by: Damon Lindelof, Tom PerrottaCast: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Liv TylerNumber of seasons: 3
What happens when space travel becomes a commodity? The answer, quite possibly, is the unforgiving comedy Avenue 5. Hugh Laurie stars as Ryan Clark, the faux captain of the titular spacefaring cruise ship. While he’s really an actor hired for passenger morale, after a malfunction puts the ship off course and extends what was supposed to be an eight-week cruise to a three-year nightmare, Clark has no choice but to try (and mostly fail) to rise to the challenge. The panicking passengers and crew make up a diverse ensemble of hysterically cruel bastards. Josh Gad plays the brainless billionaire who owns the ship and unleashes a constant stream of bad ideas, Rebecca Front’s character has the timely name of Karen and forces herself into the role of queen of passenger complaints, and — in a brilliant casting move — the Star Trek: Voyager veteran Ethan Phillips plays a has-been Canadian astronaut who faces impending doom by trying to get into the pants of anyone he can find. Avenue 5 comes in hysterical half-hour installments and will have your gut aching in the best ways.
Created by: Armando IannucciCast: Josh Gad, Hugh Laurie, Zach Woods, Rebecca FrontNumber of seasons: 1
There’s been a glut of Harley Quinn-related media over the past few years. Along with video games and comics, since 2016, Margot Robbie has played the ruthless Joker spin-off in two live-action films, and the character has made appearances in plenty of DC’s animated features. The animated Harley Quinn series is, believe it or not, the best of them. The series opens with a final, decisive break between her and the Joker, and what remains deals with her learning to be her own woman and villain in the aftermath. Supported by her best friend Poison Ivy, Harley forms a crew composed of the hopeless theater geek Clayface, the psychic Professor Psycho (who’s persona non-grata among DC’s villains for using the wrong sexist slur too often), and King Shark, who initially just wants to do tech support. As both an animated series and one free of content restrictions in terms of language or violence, Harley Quinn is the best send-up of the superhero world since The Tick. It’s hilarious, bloody, sometimes heartbreaking, and regularly features an alcoholic Commissioner Gordon who doesn’t understand why Batman won’t hang out socially.
Created by: Justin Halpern, Dean Lorey, Patrick SchumackerCast: Kaley Cuoco, Lake Bell, Alan TudykNumber of seasons: 2
Few people outside of diehard HBO fans knew what Olive Kitteridge was before it swept the 67th Primetime Emmy’s with eight awards. Taking place over the course of four hour-long episodes, this miniseries concerns the life of retired schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge (Frances McDormand) and her husband, Henry Kittredge (Richard Jenkins). As each episode of the show focuses on a different period of their lives, viewers get an up-close and personal look at the depression, jealousy, and family tension that comes to shape Olive and those around her. Fantastic acting from everyone billed, along with an incredibly tight narrative, make this one of the best four hours of TV available on all of HBO.
Created by: Jane Anderson (teleplay), Elizabeth Strout (based on the novel by)Cast: Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Bill Murray, John Gallagher Jr., Rosemarie DeWitt, Peter Mullan, Zoe KazanNumber of seasons: 1
Chances are incredibly high you’ve heard of the David Simon-produced crime drama The Wire and need little to sway you to watch an episode of what many call the greatest television show of all time. However, if you’ve yet to introduce yourself to the likes of Jimmy McNulty and Avon Barksdale, now is the perfect time. Set in Baltimore, The Wire is a fictionalized and highly realistic take on the relationship between the city’s drug culture, the law enforcement details tasked with cleaning it up, and everybody caught in the middle. Few shows feature such tight dialogue and storytelling as Simon’s opus, making The Wire must-watch television for anyone.
Created by: David SimonCast: Dominic West, Sonja Sohn, Lance Reddick, Wendell Pierce, Idris Elba, Wood Harris, Frankie R. FaisonNumber of seasons: 5
HBO’s crime anthology True Detective burst on the television scene in 2014, taking viewers on an especially dark and twisted ride with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as the leads. Throughout eight hourlong episodes, writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga tell a harrowing tale of murder, deception, and the polarity of religion and logic. This certainly isn’t the first show to play with these thematic elements, but few programs consistently hit on all cylinders as True Detective did during its first season. Although subsequent seasons haven’t quite lived up to the first, Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) remains a tour de force in the third season.
Created by: Nic PizzolattoCast: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, Mahershala AliNumber of seasons: 3
Few television series have garnered as much critical buzz as David Chase’s The Sopranos, which aired on HBO from 1999 to 2007. During its impressive six-season run, the show consistently saw stage time during award shows, bagging 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, five Golden Globes, and two Peabody Awards. Needless to say, Chase and his crew knew a thing or two about producing high-quality television. The late James Gandolfini stars as Tony Soprano, an underboss for a notorious New Jersey-based crime family who consistently battles managing his home life and his workload. Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, and Lorraine Bracco costar in this gritty series that somehow managed to humanize the mafia.
Created by: David ChaseCast: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Nancy MarchandNumber of seasons: 6
Created and produced by Terence Winter (The Sopranos, The Wolf of Wall Street), Boardwalk Empire tells the story of Prohibition-era Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the crooks who came to power during this time. Starring Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson (based on real-life politician Enoch L. Johnson), the show depicts Thompson’s rise and his dealings with the city’s mobsters and criminal underbelly, as well as government agents and townsfolk. The show, based on the Nelson Johnson book of the same name, features several real-life historical figures during each of its five seasons (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, etc.), and paints a near-accurate portrait of what New Jersey was like in the 1920s and ’30s.
Created by: Terence WinterCast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Gretchen Mol, Shea Whigham, Bobby CannavaleNumber of seasons: 5
Sharp Objects, a miniseries based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel of the same name, is the best kind of slow burn. The eight-episode drama stars Amy Adams (Arrival, Enchanted) as one Camille Parker, a distraught reporter who has recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital and sent to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the murder of two young girls. She is welcomed back with less-than-open arms by her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), who forces her to confront some of her personal demons. As Camille searches for answers to these brutal murders, she uncovers things from her past that she had tried to forget, resulting in a narrative that’s as grim as it is mesmerizing.
Created by: Marti NoxonCast: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt CravenNumber of seasons: 1
Eastbound & Down
The first in what would become a string of HBO shows for Danny McBride, Eastbound & Down is probably the raunchiest baseball show you’ll ever see. McBride plays Kenny Powers, a former relief pitcher who was as renowned for his dominance as he is for his jerk attitude. But he loses all the money, fame, and admiration through hard-partying and complacency, burning every bridge as he founders out of the Majors. Now, he’s reduced to teaching physical education at the North Carolina school he once attended and living with his brother’s honest, blue-collar suburban family.
Created by: Ben Best, Jody Hill, Danny McBrideCast: Danny McBride, Steve Little, Katy MixonNumber of seasons: 4
Random Acts of Flyness
Created by the daring Terence Nance, Random Acts of Flyness is a show that tackles issues of sexuality, white supremacy, and the patriarchy through short, thought-provoking sketches. Recent trailers have provided a taste of what the late-night series will offer, with short bursts of eye-opening clips. “We definitely try and not to have creative no-go zones,” said Nance. “What I’m most excited about in the show is how much we engage with the irresolute.” The series looks to be a visual and audio experience unlike anything before, which, given Nance’s avant-garde approach to Sundance hit An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, isn’t particularly surprising.
Created by: Terence NanceCast: Terence Nance, Tonya Pinkins, Robert Kirk, Orlagh Cassidy, Djore Nance, Eugenia Bess, Brianna Turner, Jamil O’QuinnNumber of seasons: 1
Although it ran for only two seasons (there was also a subsequent movie), Looking burned brightly, garnering praise from critics and love from a small but enthusiastic audience. Looking is a slice-of-life series about three gay men living in San Francisco: Game designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff), artist’s assistant Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and waiter Dom (Murray Bartlett). Each of the protagonists — all of them in their late 20s or 30s — struggles with the fact that their lives haven’t turned out quite how they’ve expected. They’re disappointed with their sputtering careers and their love lives (or lack thereof), and that sense of millennial ennui runs through the show. That doesn’t mean Looking is dreary, however. As in real life, drama and laughter go hand in hand, and the characters have plenty of heartwarming moments to balance out the melancholy.
Created by: Michael LannanCast: Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, Murray Bartlett, Lauren Weedman, Russell Tovey, Raul CastilloNumber of seasons: 2
Succession is the story of the Roy family, a clan of wealthy, emotionally damaged scoundrels vying for power. Family patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) built one of the biggest media companies in the world, but now that he’s old and his health is failing, his children — Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Shiv (Sarah Snook) — all plot how best to advance their careers and maybe even secure the throne of their father’s empire. Succession bears a passing resemblance to King Lear, and like Shakespeare’s play, the show is rife with drama and backstabbing. Although the characters may seem loathsome at first glance (and maybe for a few glances after that), they are a complicated lot, which makes their squabbling all the more compelling.
Created by: Jesse ArmstrongCast: Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Natalie Gold, Matthew MacfadyenNumber of seasons: 2
The Righteous Gemstones
Danny McBride is about as much of a staple at HBO as anyone can be, and it’s because of shows like The Righteous Gemstones. The creator and star of Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals returns to the premium network as Jesse Gemstone, the heir-apparent to Eli Gemstone’s (John Goodman) empire of megachurches. Jesse, however, is not quite so righteous as his father (who is not quite so righteous as his children believe), and when he becomes the victim of blackmail, the entitled Jesse goes off the rails to set things right, bringing his equally disappointing siblings (Adam Levine, Edi Patterson) into the mud with him. This deeply satirical, hilarious show takes aim at the hypocrisy of Southern megachurches while still finding the heart to humanize the flawed, self-destructive Gemstone family.
Created by: Danny McBrideCast: Danny McBride, Adam Devine, Edi Patterson, Cassidy Freeman, John Goodman, Dermot MulroneyNumber of seasons: 1
One of HBO’s weirder shows, Animals. is also strangely one of its most brilliant. Created by New Yorkers Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano practically as a joke, Hollywood producers Jay and Mark Duplass got eyes on the amateur animators’ pilot about anthropomorphized rats living in New York City, dealing with many of the same problems human New Yorkers deal with, and signed on immediately. The series now spans three seasons, chronicling the lives of the downtrodden creatures native to Earth’s least habitable environment in an adult animated series that will make your jaw drop. The dark, irreverent comedy covers everything from rat dating and gender-questioning pigeons to bedbugs in the midst of a midlife crisis.
Created by: Mike Luciano, Phil MatareseCast: Phil Matarese, Mike Luciano, Jason Mantzoukas, Katie Aselton, Steve Zissis, Nathan FielderNumber of seasons: 3
Daily Show veteran Larry Wilmore and Issa Rae — creator of the popular YouTube series Awkward Black Girl — partnered to create Insecure, a semi-autobiographical comedy that deftly explores the black experience in contemporary Los Angeles. Rae plays a version of herself who is trying to balance her professional life and personal life while working at a nonprofit organization that benefits children of color. Yvonne Orji and Jay Ellis provide convincing, relatable performances as Issa’s best friend and boyfriend, respectively, and the show is clever and sincere enough that anyone — regardless of color or gender — can enjoy it.
Created by: Issa RaeCast: Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis, Lisa Joyce, Catherine Curtin, Langston Kerman, Y’lan NoelNumber of seasons: 4
From the brilliant mind of Mike Judge — of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill fame — comes Silicon Valley, a comedic take on the startup culture taking place in the show’s namesake region. According to Judge, the series is pseudo-inspired by events that occurred in his own life during the late ’80s while he was an engineer in Silicon Valley. The show itself follows a motley crew of programmers and entrepreneurs struggling (albeit comically) to make it in the competitive world of tech startups. Perhaps most hilarious is just how unfit for success many of the main characters seem, which gives the show a rather humanizing angle not often achieved with modern sitcoms. Even though it ended its run at the end of 2019, Silicon Valley’s sharp writing still holds up, and the acting is witty and well-timed, making this not just one of HBO’s best comedies, but one of the best shows the network has to offer.
Created by: Mike JudgeCast: Thomas Middleditch, Josh Brener, T.J. Miller, Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin StarrNumber of seasons: 6
Flight of the Conchords
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement’s comedy troupe first began when the duo roomed together in 1998 at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, but it didn’t officially burst onto the scene until the mid-2000s. After developing a bit of a following in their native country in the early aughts, Bret and Jemaine caught the attention of HBO, which signed them up to bring their comedy band schtick to premium cable. After creating Flight of the Conchords — Bret and Jemaine’s fictional folk band — the duo moves to New York City intent on finding fame and fortune. Much to their chagrin, fame, and fortune always seem just outside their reach despite their incessant attempts at stardom. The Conchords play original “folk” songs throughout each episode, which, in turn, incite some of the show’s best laughs. After watching these bumbling New Zealanders try to make it big, you can’t help but hum their tunes in your head.
Created by: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzieCast: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby, Kristen SchaalNumber of seasons: 2
Girls, a dramedy created by and starring Lena Dunham, delves into the daily experiences of a group of twenty-something young women living in New York City. Culled from actual experiences in Dunham’s own life, the show often deals with humiliating and disastrous events centering on becoming an adult, relationships, and sexuality. In addition to Dunham, Girls features outstanding performances from Adam Driver, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirk, and Zosia Mamet, each of whom battle being young (and dumb) while trying to figure out just what the hell being an adult means. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other shows that provide as real — and funny — a portrayal of human interaction and emerging adulthood as Girls.
Created by: Lena Dunham, Judd ApatowCast: Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex KarpovskyNumber of seasons: 6
This free-form web series was so successful and hilarious that HBO picked it up in 2016 and ordered six episodes, while also adding the first six seasons to its streaming platforms. Co-creators (and married couple) Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair provide pre-episode commentary, often alongside guest actors who appeared in the episode. Sinclair stars as The Guy, a New York City-based bicycle messenger who delivers marijuana all over the boroughs. The real star of the show, though, is the rotating cast of customers who call The Guy looking for some pot. High Maintenance doesn’t always conform to the typical 30-minute episode format, either, though each story is crafted with a beginning, middle, and end, even if it takes as few as six minutes. The well-crafted set includes tons of little details that you might miss on the first watch, but you’ll notice more and more with each viewing. The show also takes an objective stance toward the drug that drives its storylines, avoiding stereotypes while simultaneously creating memorable characters that you can’t help but love (and hate).
Created by: Ben Sinclair, Katja BlichfeldCast: Ben Sinclair, Max Jenkins, Helene York, Keilyn Durrel Jones, Kevin Mambo, Marisol MirandaNumber of seasons: 4
Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in this political satire about a female vice president and her attempts to make a lasting impression on the United States without getting swept up by politics in D.C. Joining Louis-Dreyfus on screen is the hilarious Tony Hale, who plays the Veep’s ultra-obedient personal assistant, Gary. With sharp, witty writing, brilliant acting, and handfuls of laugh-out-loud moments during each episode, Veep is one of the best comedies HBO has to offer. We recommend hopping on board with this show sooner rather than later, as this is political comedy at its finest.
Created by: Armando IannucciCast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy C. Simons, Matt WalshNumber of seasons: 7
Curb Your Enthusiasm
From the comedic brilliance of Larry David (who also stars in the show) comes Curb Your Enthusiasm, a somewhat fictionalized take on David’s actual life as a retired television writer and producer. What makes the show particularly funny is how nearly every scene is almost entirely improvised by the actors on screen. According to David, he writes a general outline of each episode, though the actual dialogue and conversation come right off the top of the head of the actors in each scene. If you liked the humor native to David’s Seinfeld, you’ll probably enjoy watching all 10 seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Created by: Larry DavidCast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Richard Lewis, Kathy Griffin, Sofia Milos, Ted Danson, Mary SteenburgenNumber of seasons: 10
Iraq War veteran Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) is like many people in the 21st century: His work/life balance is out of whack. He travels for work, returns home, and kills time with video games before passing out. Barry is the portrait of Information Age ennui, with the one wrinkle being that his line of work is murder. As a hitman, Barry takes missions assigned to him by a man named Fuches (Stephen Root). It’s a career that makes use of Barry’s skills but doesn’t leave him satisfied. When he pursues his latest target to an acting class, however, Barry stumbles into a new world, one that ignites his passions. Pursuing the life of an actor, he encounters some problems in his day job and tension with his boss. Barry is a superb dark comedy, and Hader’s performance is full of subtle gestures that speak to his character’s inner turmoil.
Created by: Bill Hader, Alec BergCast: Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Glenn Fleshler, Anthony Carrigan, Henry WinklerNumber of seasons: 2
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
For more than 30 years, real estate icon Robert Durst systematically dodged a series of murder allegations and pointed fingers for the disappearances of his wife, his best friend, and one of his neighbors. After seeing a Ryan Gosling-starring movie loosely based on his life reach the silver screen (All Good Things), the defiant Durst decided to reach out to the film’s director (Andrew Jarecki) and offer an exclusive interview. Over several sit-down interviews and multiple years of cooperation with Jarecki and HBO’s production crew, a six-episode miniseries was commissioned to tell Durst’s side of the story. For fans of the podcast Serial and murder mysteries in general, The Jinx is a terrific piece of storytelling and filmmaking that is sure to leave your jaw on the ground once the credits roll on its final episode.
Created by: Andrew JareckiCast: Robert DurstNumber of seasons: 1
For a decade, somebody had secretly rigged the McDonald’s Monopoly game promotion, siphoning off millions of dollars and building a vast network of co-conspirators across the United States. For the longest time, nobody noticed, until something strange stumbled across the desk of an FBI officer in the sleepy office of Jacksonville, Florida. This docuseries dives into the investigation into one of the greatest corporate heists in history and illustrates how a regular, unassuming person was able to create an enormous criminal conspiracy.
Created by: James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte, Mark Wahlberg (executive producer)Cast: Tim Adams, Mark Devereaux, Jan Garvin, Chris Graham, Rob Holm, Tom Kneir, Doug MathewsNumber of seasons: 1
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Though classified as a satirical news show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs some of the most honest and hard-hitting satirical journalism of any network television program. Each week, comedian and former The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver tackles the prior week’s most newsworthy or political happenings and deconstructs them with his signature wit (and British accent). Chock full of hilarious analogies, spot-on critique, and tight, fluid writing, Oliver’s weekly program consistently feels fresh and is, oftentimes, incredibly informative. Whether it’s the bribery scandal that rocked FIFA or the troubled system of standardized tests, there’s no topic Oliver won’t cover and subsequently shred to pieces.
Created by: NACast: John OliverNumber of seasons: 7
It’s commonplace to hear something along the lines of “the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it exists.” To see this proven true on a scale that costs still untold numbers of lives, watch HBO’s Chernobyl. Three decades after the events that some say marked the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, this chilling mini-series unveils not only the science behind the chain of events leading to the Chernobyl disaster but the lengths to which the USSR went to keep the accident a secret and the monstrous scope of the cost. With a worthy cast including Stellan Skarsgård and Jared Harris, Chernobyl is a revealing picture of hell on Earth and the criminal neglect that creates it.
Created by: Craig MazinCast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie BuckleyNumber of seasons: 1
A terminally enraged robot with a human brain. A Hollywood beauty cursed to occasionally turn into a colossal blob. An experimental pilot burned beyond recognition and harboring an ethereal alien. A traumatized woman with dozens of splintered personalities — each with their own superpower. These self-styled freaks and more make up the cast of Doom Patrol. While their name comes from a Golden Age DC Comics superhero team, this show’s heroes aren’t crime-fighters so much as they are broken misfits desperately trying to find purpose in the world. Doom Patrol is infinitely bizarre and hilarious, yet no matter how weird things get or how many fourth walls are broken, it’s arguably the most relatable live-action superhero series you’re going to find.
Created by: Jeremy CarverCast: Diane Guerrero, April Bowlby, Matt BomerNumber of seasons: 2
Six Feet Under
One of HBO’s very first original series remains one of its best. Premiering in 2001, Six Feet Under opens with the death of the Fisher family patriarch, Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins), prompting the return of his wayward son Nate (Peter Krause). Running a funeral home, the Fisher family is both uniquely capable and incapable of weathering the death of Nathaniel, and he continues to appear throughout the series in visions. Often funny, sometimes sexy, and always confronting difficult truths, Six Feet Under is a brilliant drama dealing with the one place we’re all going, and simultaneously the one place we’re unwilling to talk about.
Created by: Alan BallCast: Peter Krause, Frances Conroy, Michael C. Hall, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel GriffithsNumber of seasons: 5
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