The coronavirus pandemic has made us all become TV junkies as we wait for the OK to leave our homes and get back to normal life. Until then, I’m sure you’ve subscribed to every single streaming service you possibly can and put a TV in every room of your house so you are never not watching TV. But if that’s a bit too much, hopefully you can throw down for an HBO and HBO Max subscription, which is home to some of the best TV over the last 20 years.
If you are new to HBO, you might be looking for a good place to start. We’ve compiled some of the best shows on HBO and its new streaming service HBO Max for you to watch. There are old classics to build your resumé as a TV expert, and new shows to stay current with the series people are talking about right now. Some shows are hilarious, while others will give you some very entertaining nightmare fuel. HBO is, arguably, the best value for quality television programming. Here’s what to watch.
Looking for more recommendations of what to watch next? We have a ton of them! And if you’re looking for more hand-picked recommendations based on shows you love, we have those too.
The Wire Photo: HBO
1. The Wire
For the past couple of years, it seems like everyone has been watching and rewatching The Sopranos (we assume you’ve seen that, so it’s not on this list). This is all well and good, because The Sopranos is the greatest TV show of all time. But all this Sopranos attention seems to have come at the expense of The Wire, the second-greatest show of all time. When was the last time you saw a Wire meme? Where’s The Wire’s fan convention? It’s time for The Wire to make a comeback. Make Littlefinger Mayor Carcetti Again. -Liam Mathews
Anna Paquin, True Blood Photo: HBO
2. True Blood
If we’re being completely honest, True Blood went off the rails a bit as the show got older, but the first few seasons of the series are a great escape from the real world right now. Anna Paquin stars as a telepathic waitress, Sookie, who meets and falls for Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), a 173-year-old Southern vampire, and while we could focus on how the show was a metaphor for minorities fighting for equal rights as vampires tried to assimilate into a society determined to keep them out, the reason to watch True Blood was to see just how ridiculous things would get. The show was messy and insane, and it featured everything from werewolves and vampires to shapeshifters, maenads, witches, faeries, and mediums. And if you care about this sort of thing, there was also an intriguing love triangle involving Sookie, Bill, and vampire club owner/one-time Viking warrior Eric Northman, played by Alexander Skarsgard. -Kaitlin Thomas
Jessi Giacomazzi, Bill Hader, and Stephen Root, Barry Photo: Aaron Epstein/HBO
This Emmy-winning dark comedy shows how hilarious it can be to be a hitman. Bill Hader stars as the title character, an army vet who goes on assignment to off a dude in Los Angeles when he gets the acting bug and considers a career change in Hollywood. That means between attending acting classes with his oddball classmates and egomaniac teacher (Emmy winner Henry Winkler), he’s also coordinating mass murder with shady Eastern European mafia members. Barry’s mix of violence and absurdity somehow works seamlessly, thanks in part to strong performances from its cast and fantastic writing. It’s equal parts heart-pounding and hilarious.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep Photo: Colleen Hayes/HBO
Veep is a classic look at incompetence in government, or, given the last four years of real life, a relatively competent government. From the master of insults, Armando Iannucci, Veep stars bajillion-time Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, the aspirational vice president of the United States, as she schemes and stumbles her way to political power while her equally ambitious staff idiotically plot their own paths. Over its seven seasons, Selina goes on quite the journey, from having diarrhea at an ice cream store to becoming the most powerful person in the world, leaving a trail of F-bombs and worse behind.
Michelle Carter; I Love You, Now Die Photo: HBO
5. I Love You, Now Die
Several of HBO’s documentaries are worth the watch, but put this one near the top of your list. I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter follows the truly bizarre case of a young romance derailed by suicide when Michelle Carter allegedly convinced her boyfriend to kill himself over text. The film is wonderfully presented and offers a different angle from the headlines that vilified Carter as a black widow. Though it doesn’t absolve Carter from any fault — that would be ridiculous — I Love You, Now Die gives reasonable evidence that Carter suffered from mental conditions that led to her behavior, and also touches on something the world had never seen before: Can someone be charged with murder for sending a text message?
Brian Cox, SuccessionPhoto: HBO
Given the current climate, it’s understandable why you might have reservations about queueing up a show about the family drama of a haughty right-wing media mogul. However, Succession is actually quite a cathartic watch. Brian Cox stars as Logan Roy, the owner and CEO of Waystar Royco who ignores his declining health and doesn’t want to name a successor and relinquish his power, not even to one of his kids. What results is an intense and increasingly bizarre series of showdowns between Logan and his own reproachable brood and, of course, deliciously devious moments of infighting between the siblings and their associates. Prepare to be totally team Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) before it’s all said and done. -Amanda Bell
Courtney B. Vance, Jurnee Smollett, and Jonathan Majors, Lovecraft CountryPhoto: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO
7. Lovecraft Country
Genres, be damned! This mash-up of horror, science-fiction, social justice, drama, and humor is a wild watch, following a young Black man named Atticus (Jonathan Majors) as he searches for his father through a 1950s Jim Crow America filled with all types of monsters, both fantastical and very, very real. The series, from Underground creator Misha Green, is told in chapters, with an overarching story linking individual adventures, and metaphors tying creatures from the demented mind of H.P. Lovecraft and other horror writers to the open racism that polluted the country at the time. [TV Guide review]
Sarah Edmondson, The VowPhoto: HBO
8. The Vow
HBO digs deep into the NXIVM cult, a group that lured susceptible members into its clutches through a promise of self-help but developed into a headline-grabbing sex cult that counted Hollywood actresses like Smallville’s Allison Mack among its flock. The Vow gets first-hand accounts of what it was like inside NXIVM from those who escaped, but the bulk of the nine-episode docuseries isn’t about the weird rituals that happened behind closed doors, it’s about the frightening brainwashing techniques that drew so many people in. [TV Guide review]
Class Action ParkPhoto: HBO Max
9. Class Action Park
Snowflake kids today will never learn the thrills of going down a waterslide not knowing whether they’ll wake up in an emergency room because “safety procedures” are all of a sudden a priority. The documentary film Class Action Park takes a look at New Jersey’s deathtrap-in-disguise Action Park, a lawless amusement center built in the late ’70s that was the brainchild of eccentric entrepreneur Eugene Mulvihill. The stories of the rides are too bizarre not to be true, like the waterslide loop that lacerated riders because the teeth of previous riders were embedded in the walls or the fact that Mulvihill paid his teen employees in hundred dollar bills to be test dummies on unproven attractions. It’s a film about fear in the face of fun, and how that attitude was unique to the ’80s kid generation. HBO Max only. [TV Guide review]