It’s not TV, it’s HBO, and we are thanking our lucky stars for that. HBO at the start of their original programming endeavor wanted to be a place that was unconventional, something that would make it unique from the bland same old of network television.
Here are 25 of the best must watch shows HBO has ever produced. The list does not include miniseries like Chernobyl, Band of Brothers, and Watchmen. What were considered were shows intended to have various seasons.
25. Flight of the Conchords
Running for only two seasons in 2007-2009, Flight of the Conchords was an innocent, fun, and extremely joyous show about two musicians from New Zealand, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, and their efforts to make it big in the New York music scene.
The show had great themes from inner city life, relationships, and just trying to get by on a “musician's wage”. Rhys Darby as the dimwitted band manager Murray Hewitt and how the show would cut to a music video mid scene made Flight of the Conchords simply unique.
24. Sex and the City
At its peak Sex and the City was a great show on HBO and was the pioneer of the watercooler television show everyone just had to talk about. Eventually the show moved away from sex, relationships, and friendship and dressed all of that up with fashion, glamour, and two terrible movies. Still seasons 1 and 2 of Sex and the City is HBO at its distinctive best and what the show’s popularity did for the network cannot be overlooked.
23. The Leftovers
The spooky and critically acclaimed series the Leftovers was about a world changing event that wiped out 2% of the Earth’s population and how those who survived had to alter their lives. The Leftovers was a top 5 show in all of its three seasons.
22. The Kids in the Hall
The Canadian comedy sketch show was innovative, quirky, and off the cuff for its time. Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson were the Kids in the Hall and for three seasons on HBO and later CBS, the comedy troupe made audiences laugh all over America.
Dwayne Johnson starred in this comedy show about a former NFL player turned financial manager to players in the league. Ballers ran for 5 seasons and while not the best show to hit the HBO circuit it had its moments and is a good watch for any sports fan.
HBO’s best attempt to enter the world of sports agents and business was Arliss, from 1996-2002, Robert Wuhl played Arliss Michaels, a savvy and cunning sports agency president. The show had a cult following and cameos from over 400 sports stars and celebrities.
19. Tales From the Crypt
When one thinks of HBO, Tales From the Crypt can’t help come to mind, the 30 minute dark comedy horror show based on the EC Comics of the same name. From A caliber guest stars and directors to the fun but evil Crypt Keeper, it ran for 7 seasons and spawned two major motion pictures.
18. Mr. Show with Bob and David
Long before Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, Bob Odenkirk was on a sketch comedy show that had a link between each sketch called, Mr. Show with Bob and David. The show ran for four seasons and was highly praised for its wit and Monty Python influence.
17. Eastbound & Down
Eastbound & Down is the story of Kenny Powers, a once famed MLB prospect forced to dabble in the minors and return back home. The show is raunchy, funny, and over the top. It ran for 4 seasons and had various guest appearances.
16. The Deuce
After The Wire, David Simon came back with The Deuce, a show that revolves around the “golden age” of the 1970 adult film industry and the cast of characters that business has. The great dialogue and storytelling of The Wire is present and well worth the 3-season investment.
15. Silicon Valley
For six seasons the critically acclaimed show follows a programmer who starts a company and has to struggle with an ever-growing industry and big-time companies looking to buy him out. The show may not have had a huge audience, but it was an insightful view of the tech world.
14. True Detective
True Detective is a unique show, for three seasons, and soon a fourth, the show changes story, cast members, and has up and down reviews. The first season is some of the best television ever made, seasons 2 and 3 are mixed bags. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s performances are simply out of this world.
13. True Blood
True Blood piggy backed on the whole Twilight phenomenon and was a huge cult classic. The jury is still out if the show was a product of its time or really a “great” series. Nonetheless during its airing, it was must-see TV for the comic/ horror crowd and was widely popular.
Unlike Sex and the City, Girls is a more mature and down to Earth view of friendship, relationships, and growing up. For six seasons we follow Hannah Helene Horvath, an aspiring writer living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn trying to learn from her mistakes in life and love in New York City. The show was also a showcase to the talents of Adam Driver who is simply wonderful as Adam Sackler, an aspiring actor.
OZ was a surreal and brutal account of prison life. Taking place in an unknown city at an experimental prison, the show tackles everything we fear of the prison system, showing us prisoners rarely rehabilitate, they just try to survive. Oz is over the top but has magnificent performances and arcs, you literally feel like you're in a prison and even scarier you start wanting to pick a side.
10. Big Love
Big Love takes place in Salt Lake City and stars Bill Paxton as the patriarch of a fundamentalist Mormon family that practice polygamy. The show takes on a tabu as well as showing us the Mormon lifestyle, Big Love is gritty, it does not try to pass judgment, and ran for six critically acclaimed seasons.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm
For over 11 seasons Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, has made us laugh hard at the boredom of American social life. The series follows a retired writer and his dealings with people, places, situations, and things. Much like Seinfeld except the ridiculous and crude. Curb Your Enthusiasm is an exceptional comedy.
8. Boardwalk Empire
After the success of shows like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire takes it up a notch in story scale and production. Here we follow Enoch "Nucky" Thompson and his “rule” over what will become Atlantic City as we know it. Loosely based on historical events, Boardwalk Empire is a complex, fun, and brutal look at those who rise to power and those who are left behind as a result of it.
An extraordinary series that was cut short due to trying to keep the Sopranos on the air, Deadwood is HBO’s biggest attempt at a Western, following the trials and tribulations of a growing United States and the gold rush of the 1870s. The series has unforgettable characters and performances and really should have been kept on, but unfortunately, we only got three very well acted and written seasons. A MUST WATCH.
6. Six Feet Under
One of the best television shows ever produced, Six Feet Under follows the Fisher family, who have a unique business. A funeral home. Through death we examine life, its complexities, hardships, and yes even joy.
Before Game of Thrones, there was Rome. Taking place at the dawn of the Roman Empire, the first season follows the rise and eventual fall of Julius Caesar, the second the conflicts between Mark Antony and Octavian, who will eventually become Augustus, the first and perhaps greatest Roman Emperor.
That is just the icing, the cake is how Rome is presented, with the complexities of a growing city, the economic strife of those trying to get ahead, and the greedy politicians looking to hold onto power. Rome is unique in that rarely do we need to see thousands of soldiers battling, what interests us more is the talking, the planning, the passion for power. The show follows great historical figures but is really the view of Rome through the eyes of two very different Roman soldiers. James Purefoy’s Mark Antony is still one of the best characters in any HBO series.
4. The Larry Sanders Show
The Larry Sanders Show is a satire look at everything that goes into a Late-Night talk show, Garry Shandling is pure gold as the often-disinterested host and his production staff trying to keep it all together. The show also has an A-list cast of cameos who appeared as “guests”.
3. Game of Thrones
HBO’s biggest mega production Game of Thrones was a phenomenon, based on the writings of George R. R. Martin, it follows various characters and arcs as they battle for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.
For 8 seasons fans were gripped to their seats as they watched many characters come and go and were shocked by the end as to who survived. The final season of the series has its up and downs but, in the end, as a whole body of work, few shows will ever stand up to such an artistic masterpiece of storytelling and scale.
2. The Sopranos
The show that basically launched a network. The Sopranos proved that you could get a huge following to cable TV with great stories and characters. The mafia epic follows the life of the emotionally complex Tony Soprano and how he deals with his “two families”, the gangster one and his home life.
The first two seasons are more focused on Tony’s emotional problems, mixing in with the typical things you would find in the heavily Goodfellas influenced show on mafia life. The show from season 3 and at the peak of its cultural phenomenon matures and goes in many directions few fans thought it would. Lesser “whacking’s” and more character studies, by the time the show ends we truly see the grim life Tony Soprano has had.
The Sopranos also has one of the most talked about television endings of all time, was or wasn’t he that will always be the question, but instead of dwelling on that, enjoy the show for what it was, pure gangster gold.
1. The Wire
20 years ago, the most profound, brutal, and inspiring television show came into the homes of the United States and then the world.
There are good shows, fun shows, great shows and then there are shows that make you think about who we are and where we are going as a society and what we are doing to ourselves. The Wire is not TV, it is a thesis of urban decay, our political system, our education system, the forgotten inner city, our media, and the stupidity of the war on drugs.
Instead of watching a show about multiverses and spin offs of second-rate comic book characters, watch something that can spark a much bigger debate than a social media meme. Watch the greatest television show ever made anywhere. The Wire.