Best Shows on HBO July 2020 - Featured Image

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.

Criminal Justice Series

1. The Night Of (2016)

The Night Of  •  Character Building

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

The Night Of never dumbs itself down for the viewer which results in an engrossing portrait of the criminal justice system in America.

Tales From the West

2. Deadwood (2004-2006, 2019)

Deadwood  •  Behind the Scenes

Despite being one of HBO’s most acclaimed dramas, the story of Deadwood was never concluded -- that is until the release of Deadwood: The Movie in 2019.

Deadwood ran for three seasons in its initial run on HBO and won eight Emmy Awards. Several of Deadwood’s Emmy awards were given for production design in costuming, hairstyling, and non-prosthetic makeup.


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Conclusion

Ian McShane steals the show in Deadwood, a show about laws and lawlessness in the foundational days of the American West.

Relationship Drama in LA

3. Insecure (2016-present)

Insecure  •  Behind the Scenes

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.

Best Shows to Watch on HBO

Conclusion

Insecure has garnered tons of critical acclaim through its four season run, including an AFI award for Best TV Program of the Year (2018).

Neon-Infused Drama Series

4. Mr. Show (1995-1998)

Best of Mr. Show

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.

Good Shows to Watch on HBO

Conclusion

Many modern sketch series have credited Mr. Show as one of their biggest influences.

Tennessee Williams Meets Conglomerates

5. Succession (2018-present)

Succession Season 1  •  Trailer

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Perhaps no show has ever done a better job of making us empathize with such terrible people like Succession does.

Follow the Blood-Stained Brick Road

6. Oz (1997-2003)

Oz  •  Trailer

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.

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Conclusion

The complex commentary that Oz makes on the prison system is just as pertinent now as it was in 1997.

Neon-Infused Drama Series

7. Flight of the Conchords (2007-2009)

Flight of the Conchords  •  Clip

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.

Top Shows on HBO Now

Conclusion

Flight of the Conchords turned the amp up to 11 on musical sketch-comedy.

War Never Changes

8. Band of Brothers (2001)

Band of Brothers  •  Trailer

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Several WWII vets were brought in to consult on Band of Brothers which has largely been credited as a major reason for the show’s historical accuracy.

Dragons and Disappointment

9. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)

Game of Thrones  •  Making Of

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.

Best TV Shows on HBO Now

Conclusion

Game of Thrones breathed new life into the fantasy genre, but sadly, by the end its lungs were extinguished by ice amidst the fire.

NoHo Hitman Comedy

10. Barry (2018-present)

Barry S1 E1  •  Behind the Scenes

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

With a cast as well-rounded as any other show on television, the multiple Emmy Award winning dramedy Barry is simply invigorating to watch.

Late-Night Satire

11. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)

The Larry Sanders Show  •  Trailer

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.

What Shows are on HBO?

Conclusion

Through six seasons, The Larry Sanders Show proved that it was one of the most influential comedy shows of the 20th century.

Papal Corruption

12. The Young Pope & The New Pope 

The New Pope  •  Title Sequence

Technically The Young Pope and The New Pope are different shows. How,  you ask? I couldn’t tell you. The New Pope follows the events of The Young Pope but is about a new Pope… or is it?

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.

Best TV Shows on HBO

Conclusion

The Young Pope & The New Pope aren’t perfect but whenever we can say that something great is unlike anything else, that’s usually an indication that risks are being taken and they’re paying off.

Gangsters on the Dock

13. Boardwalk Empire (2009-2014)

Boardwalk Empire  •  Trailer

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Boardwalk Empire may not be consistently amazing but much of it is great.

Horrific Disaster Series

14. Chernobyl (2019)

Chernobyl  •  Behind the Curtain

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.

Best Shows on HBO Now

Conclusion

Chernobyl is a must-watch for anyone interested in world history, nuclear power, or man-made disasters.

Sitcom Like None Other

15. Curb Your Enthusiasm 

Curb Your Enthusiasm  •  Clip

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.

Best Shows on HBO Go

Conclusion

Curb Your Enthusiasm has its highs and lows but when it’s good, it’s some of the best comedy on television.

Historical Biopic

16. John Adams (2008)

John Adams  •  Making Of

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.

BEST TV SHOWS ON HBO

Conclusion

History fans rejoice, HBO’s John Adams is an absolute treat.

Neon-Infused Drama Series

17. My Brilliant Friend (2018-present)

My Brilliant Friend  •  Behind the Scenes

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.

Good TV Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Composer Max Richter’s excellent score for My Brilliant Friend is another reason to check the series out.

Making of Masterful Music

18. The Defiant Ones (2017)

The Defiant Ones  •  Trailer

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.

Must Watch Shows on HBO

Conclusion

The Defiant Ones is the perfect documentary series for fans of the music industry.

HBO Classic

19. The Wire (2002-2008)

The Wire  •  Trailer

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.

Best TV Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Although it’s not the most technically innovative TV show, The Wire is one of the most daring and most influential.

Death is the Family Business

20. Six Feet Under (2001-2005)

Remembering Six Feet Under With Creator Alan Ball

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.

Best Shows on HBO Now

Conclusion

Six Feet Under has developed a major cult following in the fifteen years since it ended.

Existential Detective Thriller

21. True Detective (2014-present)

True Detective  •  Making Of

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.

Best Shows on HBO Go

Conclusion

It’s hard to judge any anthology series, let alone one with as many ups and downs as True Detective. But season one of the show remains some of the best television of the past 10 years.

New Jersey Mafia

22. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

How I Wrote The Sopranos  •  David Chase

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.

Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

The Sopranos is the most beloved television series about the life and loves of the American Mafia.

Neon-Infused Drama Series

23. Sex and the City (1998-2004)

Sex and the City  •  Video Essay

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.

Top Shows on HBO Now

Conclusion

There are two Sex and the City movies that continue the story of Bradshaw and her friends.

Raining Cats and Squids

24. Watchmen (2019)

Watchmen  •  Making of Featurette

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.

What Shows are on HBO?

Conclusion

Just when you think you have Watchmen figured out, Lindelof and the writing team throw another curveball,

Neon-Infused Drama Series

25. The Deuce (2017-2019)

The Deuce  •  Setting the Scene Featurette

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

The Deuce may start slow but once it picks up steam, there’s almost no stopping it.

Interdimensional Assassin

26. The Leftovers (2014-2017)

Damon Lindelof Explains The Leftovers Finale

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Justin Theroux gives a career performance in the role of Kevin Garvey, a Christ-like figure caught in the storm of a cosmological rapture.

The American President

27. Veep (2012-2019)

Veep  •  Script to Screen

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.

The similarly lauded Armando Ianucci (In the Loop, The Death of Stalin) created the series and wrote or directed many of the episodes.

Best Shows on HBO Go

Conclusion

Ianucci is one of the premiere political satirists in the world today and Veep is one of his greatest works.

Insane Docu-Filmmaking

28. The Jinx

The Jinx  •  Trailer

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.

The Best Shows on HBO

Conclusion

Any and every documentary ethics class should study Andrew Jarecki’s masterpiece The Jinx.

True Story Drama

29. Show Me a Hero (2015)

Show Me a Hero  • Trailer

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.

What Shows are on HBO?

Conclusion

The true story of Show Me a Hero is a crushing reminder of the  social injustice and financial inequality in America.

Award Season Sweeper

30. Big Little Lies (2017-present)

Big Little Lies • Behind the Scenes

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.

Good Shows to Watch on HBO

Conclusion

The first season of Big Little Lies dominated at the Emmys by winning eight awards.

UP NEXT

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.

Up Next: Best Netflix Shows →
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