There are plenty of great shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but HBO still reigns king in the world of TV streaming. Since 1972, the ‘Home Box Office’, better known as HBO has produced dozens upon dozens of top-tier TV shows. We’re going to rank the best shows on HBO, from ‘72 to 2020 so that you can find a new series or a forgotten classic that is 100% worth viewing.
Making of Masterful Music
1. The Defiant Ones (2017)
In 2014, Apple bought Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s audio company Beats for more than $3 billion dollars. To this day, Beats is the most expensive acquisition Apple has ever made. The deal made the already-rich Dre and Iovine wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
The Defiant Ones traces the duo from humble beginnings to the highest highs of success. It also features interviews with some of the music industry’s most famous faces, including: Eminem, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Nicks, Ice Cube, and Bono.
2. The Wire (2002-2008)
The setting of The Wire may be relatively small but the scope of its story is near-endless. David Simon created The Wire after years of being a police reporter. Perhaps that’s one reason why the show seems so much more grounded and believable than its contemporaries do.
The Wire is widely hailed as one of the great epic drama series of the 21st century for the ways in which it depicts police and gang life.
True Story Drama
3. Show Me a Hero (2015)
“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” That’s the line that begins HBO’s miniseries Show Me a Hero. It’s also largely credited to author
F. Scott Fitzgerald and is associated with the follies of the American dream.
In the 2010’s, Oscar Isaac emerged as one of the great actors in the world. He starred in big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars and acclaimed dramas like A Most Violent Year, but perhaps his best performance was in Show Me a Hero as former Yonkers mayor Nick Wasiscko, who was at the time of his election the youngest city mayor in America.
Neon-Infused Drama Series
4. My Brilliant Friend (2018-present)
My Brilliant Friend is based on The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, which is a pseudonym for an unknown author. There are four 'Neapolitan Novels.’ Each season of My Brilliant Friend follows one of the books.
The series follows two friends from childhood to their elder years. Critics have given the show rave reviews for its first two seasons.
Gangsters on the Dock
5. Boardwalk Empire (2009-2014)
How can you not love Steve Buscemi in the role of a prohibition era gangster? Boardwalk Empire not only features Buscemi, but other great actors like Michael Shannon and Stephen Graham as well.
Atlantic City was a hot-bed for bootlegging, speakeasies, and other prohibition related crimes. Boardwalk Empire transports us into that world with sweeping visuals and tremendous production design.
Award Season Sweeper
6. Big Little Lies (2017-present)
Featuring an all-star cast of Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies is a nuanced drama/thriller based on the novel of the same name.Big Little Lies made waves upon release for all the big names in its ensemble cast and the twists and turns of its story. Series creator David E. Kelly followed up season one by adding the great Meryl Streep to the cast.
Death is the Family Business
7. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
What is family? What does it mean to walk in the footsteps of those who came before us? How do we begin to make sense of death? These are the questions at the heart of Six Feet Under, a familial drama of life and death in Los Angeles.
Peter Krause stars in the show alongside Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, and Lauren Ambrose.
The American President
8. Veep (2012-2019)
It’s no secret that Julia Louis-Dreyfus became one of the winningest actors of all-time for her performance as Selina Meyer in Veep. Louis-Dreyfus is no stranger to acclaim from critics going all the way back to her days on SNL, but Veep is truly her finest work.
Existential Detective Thriller
9. True Detective (2014-present)
The first season of True Detective was brought together within a perfect storm. It was written entirely by a largely unknown writer (Nic Pizzolato), directed by a major up-and-coming talent (Cary Joji Fukunaga), and featured two resurgent dramatic actors (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey). So for many, myself included, True Detective season one felt like watching a masterpiece fly out of left field.
Then there was season two. Spoilers, it’s bad, bad in a way only incomprehensible dialogue and extensive vape use can be. But then season three brought the series back to a recognizable level of prestige. Although it wasn’t as good as the first, it was still mostly riveting.
10. The Leftovers (2014-2017)
The first season of The Leftovers was okay. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. Oftentimes, when a show struggles to find its footing, it just kind of meanders along the same path until it eventually fades into obscurity. That’s not what happened with The Leftovers.
After season one, Damon Lindelof and the writers went back to the drawing board and reinvented The Leftovers. And thank God that they did, because the next two seasons of the show are some of the greatest television ever made. The Leftovers raises many of the same themes that Lindelof explored with his previous show Lost, but does so in an even more nuanced, and profound way.
Raining Cats and Squids
11. Watchmen (2019)
The original Watchmen graphic novel from Alan Moore is one of the most revered graphic novels in the world. In 2009, Watchmen was adapted as a film by Zack Snyder and it received strong reviews from critics. However, many fans of the original comics weren’t as quick to praise the movie.
Enter 2019’s Watchmen HBO series -- a bold reimagining of the universe from Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers). Perhaps the best thing about the show is that nobody really knew what it was going to be about, nor when it was going to take place in the film-world. HBO’s Watchmen was certainly a surprise, but in all the best ways.
Neon-Infused Drama Series
12. Sex and the City (1998-2004)
Sex and the City made HBO more popular than many at the time thought possible. Through its six-season run, Sex and the City was nominated for 54 Emmy Awards, and won seven.
The influence of Sex and the City on sitcoms and popular culture can’t be quantified. Sarah Jessica Parker does a great job of carrying the series in the role of Carrie Bradshaw -- an imperfect protagonist looking for love in the big city.
13. John Adams (2008)
Widely regarded as one of the most historically accurate shows ever made, HBO’s John Adams is a great lesson in reconstructing period detail. Everything from wardrobing to set dressing to hair and makeup is masterclass.
Paul Giamatti stars in the title role as the man who would become the second President of the United States. The miniseries follows over 50 years in the life of Adams from the Boston Massacre in 1770 to his death in 1826.
Neon-Infused Drama Series
14. The Deuce (2017-2019)
The most recent series from David Simon, a near ubiquitous name with HBO, follows the founding days of the porn industry. James Franco stars in a double role as two brothers, similar to Ewan McGregor in Fargo and Tom Hardy in Legend.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gbenga Akinnagbe, and Chris Bauer round out the cast of this visually vibrant HBO series.
New Jersey Mafia
15. The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Without The Sopranos, HBO wouldn’t be the juggernaut service it is today. Perhaps no show on HBO is more iconic than David Chase’s mafia masterpiece The Sopranos.
The late, great James Gandolfini stars as the titular Tony Soprano -- a violent mob-boss who also has a sensitive side. Few shows on television are celebrated more than The Sopranos, evident by the show’s 21 Emmy Award wins.
Tennessee Williams Meets Conglomerates
16. Succession (2018-present)
To say that the writing in Succession is sharp would be an understatement. Dialogue in Succession cuts like a diamond thanks to some excellent work from creator Jesse Armstrong and the show’s writing team.
Succession also benefits from a tremendous ensemble cast, including Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, and of course, Brian Cox. Casting director Francine Maisler knocked it out of the park finding such perfectly fitted actors.
Neon-Infused Drama Series
17. Mr. Show (1995-1998)
Long before Bob Odenkirk was Saul Goodman, he was making sketch-comedy with his friend David Cross on HBO. Mr. Show is a 30-minute sketch series that features some off-the-wall comedy.
The rest of the cast included: Sarah Silverman, Tom Kenny, John Ennis, Jill Talley, and many more guest appearances.
18. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)
The Larry Sanders Show deftly satirizes the late-night talk show tropes that were all too common in 90’s TV. The show stars Garry Shandling in the title role as a comedian/late-night host who juggles his personal and professional lives in front of the camera.
The influence of The Larry Sanders Show on sitcoms and late-night shows has been enormous. For anybody considering a foray into either genre, The Larry Sanders Show is a must-watch.
Tales From the West
19. Deadwood (2004-2006, 2019)
Neon-Infused Drama Series
20. Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009)
Flight of the Conchords (Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement) made their first appearance on TV in 2000. Seven years later, HBO gave the musical-comedy duo the freedom to make their own series. The result was a mixed bag of mash-up and mismatches -- but it was never boring.
Over two seasons, McKenzie and Clement created a few bonafide techno-rap-folk hits.
Dragons and Disappointment
21. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Oh Game of Thrones how I loved thee. Through seven seasons, Game of Thrones achieved some cloud-peaking highs and some deep-sea lows. But through it all, I found myself glued to the TV screen on Sunday nights desperate to see how it would all come together.
Then season eight happened -- an abominable effort that was widely panned by fans and critics. Not since Dexter had a TV show ended so poorly. But still, it’s hard to ignore the enormous impact Game of Thrones had on not just HBO, but the landscape of television.
Sitcom Like None Other
Okay, who can hate Larry David? Well besides all the characters in Curb Your Enthusiasm that is. Larry David, AKA TV’s most opinionated personality, decided to jump in front of the camera with Curb rather than stick to the pen and paper he used to co-create Seinfeld.
And what a good thing he did. For the past 20 years, Curb Your Enthusiasm has been one of the best comedy shows on television. A tenth season aired in 2020 and showed that there’s no signs of David slowing down.
It’s all semantics but this much I can tell you: The [insert adjective here] Pope is great. All of the episodes are directed by renowned Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino and he adds his signature visual flair throughout. Few shows in recent history are better looking than Sorrentino’s visual treatise on the Catholic Church.
Criminal Justice Series
24. The Night Of (2016)
There are plenty of great mini-series on HBO, but The Night Of may very well be the best of them all. The Night Of follows the story of a young man named Naz who’s arrested on suspicion of murder. Did he do it? We don’t know, at least at first we don’t. By framing the story in this way, writers Steven Zallian and Richard Price really enrapture us into the film-world.
There are strong performances abound in The Night Of from Riz Ahmed, Michael K. Williams, Bill Camp, and of course, John Turturro.
Horrific Disaster Series
25. Chernobyl (2019)
Chernobyl was a disaster of epic proportions. People died in the midst of the explosion, dozens more in the months that followed, and countless more in the 30+ years since. The air of death quite literally still radiates on those grounds.
The HBO mini-series Chernobyl recreates this disaster better than any film or show before. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, and Emily Watson star in the show and all give excellent performances.
NoHo Hitman Comedy
26. Barry (2018-present)
During his years on Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader established himself as one of the premiere talents working in comedy. Hader parlayed his name-cache into several feature film roles from 2013-2018. But when it was announced that he was going to write, direct, and star in the HBO show Barry, some fans responded with skepticism.
Barry follows traumatized war-vet ‘Barry Block’ as he transitions from a lethal hitman to an actor. At times Barry is downright tragic, at others it’s joyous and playful. But if one thing is certain, it’s that Barry is one of the best shows on HBO right now.
War Never Changes
27. Band of Brothers (2001)
The HBO epic Band of Brothers is a harrowing recreation of the Easy Company’s journey across battles in World War II. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg served as creators and executive producers of the show.
Band of Brothers is a visceral insight into the horrors of war and the bonds of fraternity that are built because of them. With a massive ensemble cast, Band of Brothers truly displays the giant scope of war.
28. The Jinx
Has there ever been anything more crazy than The Jinx? Okay, I know it’s a hyperbole to ask that, but seriously The Jinx is about as insane as filmmaking gets. Andrew Jarecki directs the series as he seeks to unravel the mystery of Robert Durst, a wealthy socialite who’s been linked to several high-profile murder cases.
What follows is a descent into the depths of Durst’s mind. It’s chilling, disturbing, yet engrossing to watch. Oh, and it just so happened to conclude with one of the most unforgettable endings in television history.
Relationship Drama in LA
29. Insecure (2016-present)
Co-creator, writer, and star Issa Rae absolutely knocked it out of the park with Insecure; a show that takes a deep dive into the contemporary setting of Los Angeles.
Insecure strikes a great balance between comedy and drama while showing us the life of the show’s two main characters, Issa and Molly. Insecure is further aided by some excellent cinematography and production design.
Follow the Blood-Stained Brick Road
30. Oz (1997-2003)
Oz is the show that started it all for HBO dramas. This uber-graphic series brings us into “Emerald City,” a carefully constructed new section of a fictional prison system.
Tom Fontana created the series and wrote or co-wrote every episode. Oz is a graphic show that isn’t afraid to delve into some deep discussions on religion, crime, martyrdom, redemption, and sexuality.
Best Shows on Netflix
HBO may be the king of TV streaming but Netflix isn’t too far behind. With dozens of original series being produced every year, Netflix has been building a catalogue of some excellent TV. In this next article, we rank the best shows on Netflix right now so you can find that next great series to watch.