HBO Max’s same-day theatrical release plan dominates a lot of conversation about the young streaming platform, but that just obstructs the fact that HBO Max is full of fantastic TV shows waiting to be discovered. As the notorious streaming wars continue to heat up, the platform has been doing its best to bring new series and additional seasons of old favorites straight to their subscribers. If anyone ever gets tired of the streamer’s massive library of movies, they can hit a button and dive into everything from classic sitcoms like Friends to recent animated programs for kids like Adventure Time.
Whether you’re looking for an HBO original, something that falls under WarnerMedia’s massive umbrella, or a licensed show, HBO Max truly has you covered. The HBO brand may be transforming, but it’s important to remember that it started as a premium channel with higher quality shows- and that sentiment hasn’t changed all these years later. Next time you’re searching for a binge-able show or an intricate world to explore on TV, consider choosing from one of the 26 best shows on HBO Max!
Put it this way: Harley Quinn ain’t a normal superhero show.
Set in Gotham City, where Harley Quinn and her long-time boyfriend, The Joker, have recently broken up, the supervillain—and sometimes anti-hero—has set out on her own in order to become one of the city’s leading crime bosses.
Voiced by Kaley Cuoco, who also serves as executive producer, Harley teams up with her crew of misfits, including Poison Ivy, King Shark, Clayface, and Dr. Psycho, to cause chaos in Gotham. She frequently battles other supervillains like Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, and, of course, The Joker, as well as Batman, and the results are often hilarious and, at times, incredibly touching.
If intense action and character-driven stories sound appealing, Warrior is definitely the show for you. Executive produced by Justin Lin and Shanon Lee, Warrior, is based on an old story idea by Bruce Lee himself. Starring Andrew Koji as the fresh-off-the-boat Ah Sahm, Warrior is set in San Francisco during the late 1870s and tells a complex story about an interesting ensemble of characters, belonging to rival tongs, the city’s police squad, and the city’s political elites, trying to carve out space for themselves in the chaotic city. What started as a two-season long Cinemax original was recently renewed for a third season directly on HBO Max.
Based on DC Comics’ version of the X-Men, Doom Patrol is a quirky, thoroughly entertaining series. While the show revels in its comic book charm, Doom Patrol isn’t the traditional superhero story as it follows a group of societal outlaws who all receive their powers under chaotic circumstances and are both physically and mentally scarred as a result. A show that isn’t afraid to delve deep into the mental states of its ensemble, Doom Patrol manages to maintain a silly quality throughout no matter how extreme or dark the situation may be.
Flight of the Concords stars the musical comedy duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as fictionalized versions of themselves as they attempt to make it as musicians in New York City. As the two struggle to get gigs or get women to notice them at parties, the show weaves in some of the duo’s hilarious songs as a way to give the audience more insight into how they are feeling at that moment. Even if you’ve never heard of the band before this, Flight of the Concords is a must-watch for anyone who appreciates low-key comedy and fantastic wordplay.
A weekly series that dives into various topics, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver has been airing on HBO since 2014. After cutting his teeth exploring political topics on The Daily Show under Jon Stewart, John Oliver has grown into the new gold standard of comedic news. The weekly format allows him to quickly go over certain events from the week, but the bulk of the episode is dedicated to relatively evergreen deep dives into various structural and cultural topics that allow Oliver to stretch his comedic chops and slowly get to the bottom of a complex subject. Whether you consider yourself a news buff or someone who is relatively unaware of what’s happening, Last Week Tonight is both extremely enjoyable and educational.
What is essentially an outrageous, over-the-top spin on the dynamic between Marty McFly and Doc Brown in Back to the Future, Rick and Morty follows the titular grandpa-grandson duo as they go on chaotic missions in space and other dimensions. Created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland, who voices both of the main characters, the show relishes in its childlike crudeness as Rick drinks and farts his way across the galaxy, but it is also capable of telling complex stories that leave the viewers with heavy hearts in addition to tears of laughter.
A miniseries about the horrific events at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, Craig Mazin’s Chernobyl is difficult to watch in all the best ways. A five-part series that focuses on the brutal cleanup efforts and the bureaucratic mismanagement that defined that moment in Soviet society, Chernobyl features some incredible performances and terrifying makeup work as it tells a deeply researched but dramatized story about one of the most brutal moments in human history.
Since Russel T Davies relaunched the classic British sci-fi series in 2005, Doctor Who has become a global cultural phenomenon. A series that stars a mysterious alien known as The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey, Doctor Who follows the character as he travels around time and space to go on adventures and help those in need. This most recent iteration of the show, broken up into various eras with different showrunners and performers playing the self-regenerating genius that give each season a distinct feel, feels like the ultimate Saturday morning viewing experience and is cheesy in all the best ways as The Doctor and his companions do everything they can to always save the day against seemingly insurmountable odds.
A star-studded miniseries set before, during, and after the American Revolution, John Adams is a thorough examination of the earliest days in American history as seen through the eyes of one of the men who helped shape the nation. Starring Paul Giamatti as the titular historical figure, the miniseries follows Adams and his wife Abigail (Laura Linney) as they navigate the tumultuous times and assume their now iconic roles in history. Based on historian David McCullough’s biography of the 2nd American President, the series is full of historical detail and doesn’t shy away from displaying some of the brutal realities of war and disease at that time.
Adapted from Candace Bushnell’s book of New York Observer essays with the same name, Sex and the City is a New York City-based romantic comedy that follows a group of female friends as they try to advance their careers and go about their love lives in different fashions. The show has a fantastic ensemble, led by Sarah Jessica Parker as a fictionalized version of Bushnell named Carrie Bradshaw, and excels whenever the four lead characters are all on stage interacting with one another. A steamy and silly show, Sex and the City feels oddly relevant as people prepare for “Hot Vax Summer.”
Rather than directly adapting Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s iconic comic series, David Lindeloff decided to tell a wholly original sequel that asks viewers what it means to be a hero. Starring Regina King as former-cop-turned-costumed-vigilante Sister Knight, a.k.a. Angela Abar, Watchmen recontextualizes the entire history of American superheroes in the battle against white supremacy as the supremacist Seventh Kavalry organization makes its presence felt in a new plot to destroy the world. Obviously reading the original graphic novel or even seeing the film adaptation will provide additional context for viewers, but the 11-Emmy winning Watchmen is a complex, unique series that can still be enjoyed by people who are not familiar with the source material.
If the dry and observational humor of Seinfeld is up your alley, then Curb Your Enthusiasm, starring and created by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, is a must-watch. Following a fictionalized version of Larry’s own life as he goes about his business in Los Angeles and later New York City, Curb puts its curmudgeonly star in a lot of awkward or silly situations that allow his unique perspective to shine through. It’s hard to describe the unique humor and sharp dialogue of the series without simply saying it’s “pretty, pretty, pretty good.”
Succession is essentially a darker, more dramatic Arrested Development. Ron Howard may not be narrating scenes, but this HBO original follows the dysfunctional Roy family as they vie for power over Waystar RoyCo, a powerful media conglomerate, once the patriarch of the family, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), starts having some health issues. The satirical and comedic show has won two Emmys for outstanding writing in a drama series and has a fantastic, award-winning ensemble that knows how to bring all of the bickering and in-fighting to the silver screen perfectly.
After the success of Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl web series, she took her storytelling skills to HBO with Insecure. Co-created by and starring Rae as Issa Dee, Insecure is a hilarious show that follows the late-20s protagonist as she tries to thrive in her work and personal lives. Both hilarious and personally heart-wrenching at moments, the show effectively explores societal and racial issues that define the experience of Black men and women in the United States.
Skins for the (even more) modern age, Sam Levinson’s Euphoria is an ensemble story about a group of high school students as they experiment with sex and drugs and start learning about love and identity for the first time. An emotionally brutal show that examines trauma and doesn’t shy away from showing how dangerous drugs can be, Euphoria enabled Zendaya to become the youngest ever-winner for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the Emmys.
A dark comedy series unlike anything I’ve ever seen, Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s Barry follows a former Marine turned hitman named Barry Berkman (Hader) as he tries to give up his old life and become an actor. Despite Barry’s best efforts, he keeps getting pulled back into the dangerous world and he is forced to balance his new ambitions and dangerous obligations. The show has a fantastic ensemble and Henry Winkler even won an Emmy award for his performance as the self-obsessed drama teacher Gene Cousineau.
Thanks to HBO, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series and the medieval world of Westeros is now just as popular as the iconic Lord of the Rings. Game of Thrones is a world-spanning adventure series that sees numerous families vie for power in a feudal, Medieval society as magical forces slowly gather in the dark. Don’t let the widespread (and fair) criticisms of the final season fool you from trying it for the first time, the show is the most awarded series in Emmy history for a reason, and I can’t recommend diving into this dark and complex world enough.
Created by, written, starring, and co-directed by Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You is an emotionally challenging and occasionally comedic show about the emotional traumas people experience after being sexually assaulted or raped. Arabella Essiedu (Coel) is a young writer who finds herself in the spotlight thanks to the success of her first book, but her life suddenly takes a turn after she struggles to remember a night out with friends and discovers that she was raped. A show that touches on everything from the impacts of social media influence to how society views male assault victims differently, I May Destroy You is one of the most unique originals to hit HBO Max.
Created by Nic Pizzolatto, True Detective is an anthology crime series that follows different investigative teams as they dive into complex and disturbing cases. With fantastic ensembles featuring everyone from Mathew McConaughey to Rachel McAdams and Mahershala Ali, each season of True Detective pushes all of its characters to their physical, emotional, and occasionally spiritual limits as they proceed with their case. Admittedly, the second season isn’t as entertaining as the other two, in my opinion, but even that middle season is better than most things on basic cable.
Right after Tim Burton’s Batman captivated the general public, Warner Brothers let animators Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski develop their own take on the Caped Crusader and Gotham City. The result, Batman: The Animated Series, is one of the most lusciously illustrated shows of all time. Not only is the art fantastic, but its Emmy-winning writing gives viewers complex, emotional stories that challenge the central hero and his rogues. The voice cast, featuring Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, is borderline iconic and defines these characters for a generation of fans.
Based on the novel of the same name by Robert Saviano, Gomorrah is a violent and riveting look at organized crime and the ramifications that it has on people in Naples. The show focuses on Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore), a member of the Savastano gang, as he tries to move up in the ranks of his organization and survive a bubbling war between various crime families. While the show is fictional, it is often praised for its realistic representation of the crime families as Saviano spent much of his career as a journalist who investigated the iconic Camorra crime syndicate.
The show that first took full advantage of HBO’s position as a premium provider with fewer restrictions, Oz is a dark and dramatic look at life inside the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility for men. A creative and twisted show that details the harrowing experiences of various individuals behind bars, Oz follows each prisoner as they adapt to their new surroundings and struggle for power with rival gangs. The sometimes disturbing show is held together by its fantastic ensemble, featuring everyone from J.K. Simmons as an Aryan gang leader who terrorizes his new roommate to future Sopranos star Edie Falco as an officer at the facility.
From the mind of political satirist Armando Iannucci, Veep is a hilarious, no-holds-barred look at Washington D.C. and the goons that run it. Following the political movements and career of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team, Veep is both crudely silly and deeply insightful into some of the motivations and personalities of people running our government. Some of the most ludicrous storylines and jokes of the show almost seem quaint now in light of the Trump years, but Veep is a must-watch series stacked with a fantastically funny ensemble.
Forget Thanos’ infamous snap, in Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers, based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, everyone suddenly discovers that two percent of the world’s population has suddenly disappeared. Following the chaotic and sometimes dangerous years that follow the sudden departure, The Leftovers is set in a traumatized and emotionally scarred world that sees everyone struggle to move on from the unexplainable event. Starring Justin Theroux as Kevin Garvey, a police officer with a unique connection to a larger spiritual conspiracy sweeping the world, The Leftovers manages to both touch and disturb its viewers as it slowly unwinds.
Most police dramas focus on the officers as they jump from case to case, but David Simon’s The Wire takes a different approach to the cop show format altogether. Taking a larger, more structural view of the city of Baltimore, The Wire spends time with members of the police department, various gangs, and dock workers to paint a full picture of the corruption and pressures bearing down on the city. Each season focuses on a different institution in the city, like unions or schools, to help the ensemble show feel a bit different from year to year as the city’s corruption slowly compounds no matter how hard people like Detective James McNulty (Dominic West) or Detective Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce) work.
Without a doubt, David Chase’s The Sopranos is one of the best television shows of all time. Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is the leader of a New Jersey crime family, but the difficulties of balancing his work and family life have driven him to start seeing a therapist. The six-season show is amusingly violent and wonderfully paced as the mafia world slowly expands and the problems Tony and his crew face become more complex, but it’s really the wonderful ensemble, with the Emmy winning duo of Gandolfini and Edie Falco at the heart of everything as Tony and Carmela Soprano, that makes the show so gripping and addictive. Sit down with some gabagool and start watching!