Over the years, HBO has been highly regarded for its prestige dramas, giving the world some of the best television shows ever created. From legacy dramas like The Sopranos, Westworld, and Game of Thrones to side-splitting comedies like Veep and Insecure, the network—and its newly rebranded streaming service, Max—has been home to many of the Sunday night appointment viewing series that enrapture audiences on and off social media. The streaming platform has gone through more than one identity change. After launching as HBO Max in 2020, it was rebranded as Max last month as part of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger.
The name isn’t the only thing that has changed over the last few months. Flagship shows like Succession and Barry have come to an end. With the merger has come the unwelcome news that multiple projects have been canceled (some in the middle or nearing the end of production) or taken off the service entirely. These include fan and critical favorites like Love Life, Legendary, Mrs. Fletcher, Minx, Gordita Chronicles, and many more. As viewers mourn the loss of their favorite shows and search for a new one to watch on (HBO) Max, we offer a list of the best shows to watch on the platform.
The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Antihero mania, HBO super-fandom, a new golden age of television—it all starts here. The Sopranos was not HBO’s first great show when it premiered in 1999, but it was the one that set the template for a generation of dark, serious, character-driven dramas on the network, from Deadwood to Six Feet Under to The Wire. Prestige TV, as it came to be called, soon spread to basic-cable mainstays like AMC and FX. So there’s a historical element to revisiting the saga of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (the great James Gandolfini), his eccentric underlings, his willfully ignorant family, and the therapist (Lorraine Bracco) he turns to after suffering debilitating panic attacks. But the show’s reputation for being capital-I important kind of undersells its pleasures. Along with the finely wrought characters and intricately woven plots, there are mind-bending dream sequences, knee-slapping wise-guy humor, and across-the-board excellent performances from a huge ensemble cast that also features Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Drea de Matteo, Steve Buscemi, and many more. All six seasons are essential; unfortunately, the 2021 prequel film The Many Saints of Newark is not. — Judy Berman
It would be sinful not to include this show, especially as the fourth and final season just came to a tragic conclusion. This series, which has been described as a “sitcom disguised as a drama,” follows Logan Roy, the chairman of Waystar RoyCo., a powerful media company that shares many attributes with the real-life Fox News. As he gets into his old age, three of his four children are hungry for the top spot as CEO. Across four seasons, there are familial betrayals, reunions, backstabbings, tears, divorces, acquisitions, and sales. But most importantly, there are awe-inspiring performances across the entire cast: veteran Brian Cox as the ruthless patriarch, Jeremy Strong as the heir apparent (and internet’s baby girl) Kendall Roy, Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy, Matthew McFayden as Tom Wamsbgans, and Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy.
Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Game of Thrones is arguably the biggest small-screen cultural phenomenon since The Sopranos. There’s a good reason the show averaged 32.7 million viewers per episode in seasons 1-7 and jumped to 46 million average viewers in its eighth and final season. It’s a thrilling watch from start to finish, with a polarizing final season. Based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, the show weaves in and out of multiple storylines about the fight for the Iron Throne on the ancient continent of Westeros. Aside from the star-making performances, the fight sequences and the fantasy aspects alone are worth investing time into this eight-season masterpiece. Though the show has received its fair share of criticism for its superfluous use of rape and violence against women for shock value, the show rarely has a dull moment, and the shocking moments are bountiful (hint: the Red Wedding is one of the most shocking moments of television). There is a reason that Game of Thrones is the second most-awarded television series in Emmys history.
House of the Dragon (2022-)
HBO knew they had a hit on their hands with Game of Thrones, and the show’s fans were clamoring for more. Enter the action-packed drama House of the Dragon. It takes place 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen and follows two best friends, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), from childhood to adulthood. Their friendship takes twists and turns as the two women go head-to-head while navigating their monarchical duties and setting their families up to have a respected legacy. There were only three dragons on Game of Thrones, but in keeping with its title, this show has a whole flight of them. House of the Dragon is a spectacle with just as many, if not more, jaw-dropping moments as the cultural phenom that came before it.
The Rehearsal (2022-)
If you think you can guess what The Rehearsal is about, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how the show unravels throughout the season. Nathan Fielder, of Nathan For You fame, at first leads audiences to believe that the show will be about helping people prepare for uncomfortable conversations by rehearsing them beforehand. Fielder’s guidance and approach make for an awkward and entertaining enough show—but things devolve quickly, to the point where it turns into an entirely new plot about halfway through the season when one of the subjects throws things off course. The Rehearsal is filled with unrelenting, stress-inducing tension, but it’s welcomed in the case of this show.
I May Destroy You (2020)
Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault
I May Destroy You, created by and starring the extraordinary Michaela Coel, is an unwavering and honest portrayal of surviving a traumatic event. The show is a fictionalization of an event that happened to Coel. In 2018, she told an audience she was sexually assaulted while working on her show, Chewing Gum. I May Destroy You follows Coel as Arabella, a writer who is assaulted in a club bathroom and goes on a self-reflective journey to find closure. It’s awe-inspiring and a fascinating watch, with light-hearted moments that add levity to such a dark topic. There’s a reason it won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology series.
Jean Smart plays Deborah Vance, a comedian who has coasted on the success of the same schtick for decades. Her world changes when she gets stuck with Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a recently-fired television writer who is out of other options. The two are paired up to help Deborah liven up her old-fashioned act to save her comedy career, the fate of which ise hanging in the balance. Although the two butt heads at first, they end up being able to work together, learn from each other, and develop a special relationship.
The Last of Us (2023-present)
A decent video game adaptation is hard to come by, but that is not the case with HBO’s The Last of Us, which expands upon the original game’s gripping story. The first season, which recently premiered its finale, is a closely adapted live-action version of Joel and Ellie’s journey through a post-apocalyptic world filled with people infected by a fungus called Cordecyps. Ellie is immune to the infection and Joel is tasked with bringing her to a rebellion group that can use what makes her immune to develop a vaccine. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey star as the protagonists, and The Last of Us also served audiences guest appearances by Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynskey, and Murray Barlett. Those who played the game will recognize some of the actors’ voices as the people who voiced characters in the game franchise, like Ashley Johnson, who voiced Ellie, and Merle Dandridge, who voiced Marlene.
The White Lotus (2021-present)
If you’re looking for a show highlighting the absurdities of wealthy people’s psyches, this is for you. Each season follows a different ensemble cast through their stay at a White Lotus resort (a Four Seasons-style place) and their egregious displays of wealth and privilege. Jennifer Coolidge stars in the first two seasons as Tanya McQuoid, alongside a stacked cast that includes Connie Britton, Sydney Sweeney, Murray Bartlett, Jake Lacy, Natasha Rothwell, and Molly Shannon (in season 1, and Aubrey Plaza, Theo James, Michael Imperioli, and F. Murray Abraham (in season 2). The beautiful locales set the tone of the show,with the first season set in Hawaii and the second in Sicily. Catch up before season 3, reported to be set at a White Lotus in Thailand.
Hannah Horvath might be the most unaware, self-aware person in the history of television. This is evident in the premiere of Lena Dunham’s Girls, when she says, “I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.” While it’s easy to hate on pretty much every character that orbits Hannah in Brooklyn in the 2010s, from her on-again-off-again boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) to her often toxic friends, Marnie (Allison Williams) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke), Girls is insightful, entertaining, and thrives in its unabashedness. (And we’ll never forget Marnie covering Kanye West’s “Stronger.”)
Search Party (2016-2022)
Search Party will take you on a ride and leave you in a completely different spot from where you originally started. The story begins with Dory (Alia Shawkat), who becomes enraptured in the search for a missing woman, Chantal, who also happens to be her former college classmate. At a standstill in her own life, which includes her child-like boyfriend Drew (John Paul Reynolds) and two close and completely self-absorbed friends, Elliot (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner), Dory sets out to find Chantal, even though they were not exactly friends. By the end of its fifth and final season, Search Party becomes a completely different show—but rest assured, the journey is worth it.
Issa Rae created and starred in this acclaimed five-season series. Rae plays the main character of the same name, a 30-something Black woman living in Los Angeles who is seeking both love and something bigger than her dead-end non-profit job. Her already successful best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) seems to have it together. Still, as the show progresses, the cracks in both their lives begin to show, and challenges arise in their friendship and relationships with their other friends, Tiffany (Amanda Seales) and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell). While the show also explores Issa’s off-and-on relationship with her boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), it is ultimately a story about the love shared between friends. Notably, the music supervision throughout the series is top-tier, with particularly delicious standout placements like Mýa’s “Case of the Ex.”
Industry, which is set to return for a third season, is a captivating watch from the get-go. The drama’s first season follows a group of recent graduates of different backgrounds working as interns at the top investment bank in London as they race to secure the handful of jobs available at the firm. Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold) is our window into this tense drama, and viewers watch as she manages to deceive and manipulate her way through the system with no regard for who she hurts in the process. The storylines of fellow graduates intertwine and sometimes collide with one another. The second season focuses on where members of the cohort ended up, how they’ve managed major changes, and the consequences of their often unsavory actions in Season 1.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives a career-defining performance as Selina Meyer in Veep. The show, which ran for seven seasons, opens with Vice President Selina and her bumbling staff, with much of the humor derived from their impressive ability to double down on every single mistake they make and find some way to make each situation exponentially worse. Ever the ambitious politician, Selina has hopes of becoming president but must wade through both her own incompetence and the misogyny upon which America was founded as she attempts to leave behind a legacy as big as FDR’s or JFK’s. Louis-Dreyfus is surrounded by an all-star cast, including Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Timothy Simons, and Gary Cole, whose chemistry elevates the comedy to the next level.
Broadway star Jonathan Groff began to find success beyond live theater in the early 2010s with a guest appearance on Glee and leading roles in films like Frozen. In 2014, he starred in HBO’s Looking, which only survived for two seasons but would become a seminal gay series and eventually tie up all the characters’ storylines in a 2016 film. In the show, Groff played Patrick Murray, a type-A video game developer living in San Francisco with his close-knit group of gay friends, played by Murray Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez, among others. People loved this show because it didn’t present tragic stories about queer characters and didn’t use their sexuality as a plot device. “It’s just an authentic part of who these characters are, how they live, and where they live,” TIME wrote in a review of the show in 2014. “Its stories are informed by the fact that its characters are gay, but not dictated by it.”
Creator and star Rose Matafeo plays Jessie, an awkward New Zealand millennial living in London and working two jobs she doesn’t care much about. In an attempt to have a bit of fun, her best friend takes her out to a club to celebrate New Year’s Eve, where a meet-cute with a handsome man (Nikesh Patel) leads to a one-night stand. She soon discovers that the man, Tom, is a popular movie star. The pair attempts to date, but terrible communication skills present hurdle after hurdle to a successful relationship. This light-hearted comedy has a fun cast of characters in Jessie’s group of friends and particularly dry humor.
Harley Quinn (2019-present)
The first DC Comics show dedicated solely to Harley Quinn reimagines the Joker’s evil sidekick if she had formed an identity apart from the evil mastermind. This irreverent comedy, which stars Kaley Cuoco as the titular character’s voice, focuses on building a world that allows Harley to be complicated. Cuoco imbues the character with warmth as audiences watch Harley evolve from Joker’s sidekick to the main character. It’s an animated series, but Harley Quinn is an adult comedy chock-full of dirty jokes and gore, and it features major development not just for Harley but some of Gotham’s less-developed characters.
Steven Universe (2013-2019)
An animated series that might just be the most wholesome adventure one could participate in on Max, this show follows a young boy named Steven as he searches for answers about his mother and his purpose in life. He’s joined by the Crystal Gems, a group of super-powered celestial beings named after actual gems (Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, etc.) who teach Steven lessons about life, family, and, most importantly, love. The episodes, initially aired on Cartoon Network, are bite-sized but packed into 10-minute episodes filled to the brim with heart. On the surface, the show is geared towards a younger audience, but it’s good for viewers of any age because of its wide, heartwarming appeal.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013-2018)
The best thing about Parts Unknown is not traveling to distant and sometimes remote parts of the world with the celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who died in 2018 while working on its 12th season—it’s his deep hatred of hipsters. Since the show aired during the mid-to-late 2010s, some of its terminology has become a bit dated, but the underlying message remains: gentrification and capitalism are causing irreparable damage to the culture at large. Bourdain is our narrator and guide as he takes the audience to destinations both popular and off the beaten path, all while giving key historical and political context about these locales. He offers an unflinching look at a wide array of cultures, experiences, people, and food. We see him do everything from hastily cooking dinner on a boat in the Congo River with no lights, a swarm of gnats, some chicken and a dash of hope to sipping on the finest of wines in the French Alps with Eric Ripert.
Sex and the City (1998-2004)
It may be a cliche to call a city a character, but Sex and the City really is just as much about New York City as it is about the four main protagonists, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis). Much has been written about the legacy of the series, based on Candace Bushnell’s column and subsequent book, in the nearly two decades since it went off the air (though that time has seen two movies, a long-running offscreen feud, a run for governor and now a spin-off, …And Just Like That). But for many viewers, it remains a time capsule of New York City life in the late ‘90s and early 2000s as much as it is a tale of love and friendship. It’s full of iconic outfits, lines, breakups and make-ups, but it’s mostly a love letter to the greatest city in the world.
Los Espookys (2019-2022)
Meet the Espookys, a group of four friends who stage “spooks” straight out of B horror films. Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), the optimistic ringleader, loves all things goth. Andrés (co-creator Julio Torres), Renaldo’s childhood best friend, was fed from a silver spoon and loves the fabulous and fantastical. Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti) is the pragmatic one of the bunch, maybe the only one grounded in reality. Tati (co-creator Ana Fabrega), Úrsula’s sister, on the other hand, exists with her head firmly stuck in the clouds. The idiosyncratic series, which ran for two seasons, also stars co-creator Fred Armisen. —Laura Zornosa
Station Eleven (2021)
Station Eleven follows a group of traveling actors and musicians attempting to regain a semblance of normalcy twenty years after a mysterious flu outbreak destroyed civilization as they knew it. Based on Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, the show premiered to great acclaim, picking up nominations for a Peabody, three Emmys, a Critic’s Choice award, and more. Over 10 episodes that spanned multiple timelines, Station Eleven explores how people foster connection through art even, or especially, in the most difficult situations.
How To With John Wilson (2020-present)
Created by documentary filmmaker John Wilson, each episode of How To starts off as a seemingly straightforward how-to video before careening into a completely different thing. Similar to Nathan Fielder’s work on Nathan For You and The Rehearsal (which makes sense, given that Fielder is an executive producer on Wilson’s show), How To sees Wilson consider all kinds of questions, from how to dispose of batteries to how to make the perfect pot of risotto. Wilson takes the viewer on a journey as he attempts to figure out the right answers by talking to real people—and ends up working through his own personal issues. Fascinating and gut-wrenching, How To is one of the most entertaining watches on Max.
The Other Two (2019-present)
The Other Two is satire at its finest. Following the striving older siblings (Drew Tarver and Heléne Yorke) of a budding Justin Bieber-esque pop star named Chase Dreams (Case Walker), the show makes fun of the most absurd aspects of superstardom. Molly Shannon and Ken Marino round out the cast in this underrated comedic triumph.
The Flight Attendant (2020-present)
Kaley Cuoco plays a disheveled flight attendant named Cassandra Bowden, who finds herself in a hotel bed with a dead man. As she tries to piece together the events leading to this moment, she realizes a more significant issue: her excessive drinking. The Flight Attendant is a story of self-discovery and self-reflection as a heavily-flawed character stumbles through unpacking her trauma. Through several carefully crafted moments, Cassie is given the grace and space to reflect on her issues with substance abuse. At the same time, she is dealing with a murder mystery, with a support group that includes her brother Davey (T.R. Knight), whom you might remember from Grey’s Anatomy; Girls alum Zosia Mamet; and the iconic Rosie Perez.
Sort Of (2021-present)
Sort Of is a sleeper hit on this streaming service and a heartwarming must-watch. Co-creator Bilal Baig plays the sardonic Sabi Mehboob, a genderqueer Toronto resident who is constantly balancing the many different identities they traverse as the child of Pakistani Muslim parents, a nanny to children whose mother was in a bicycle accident, a bartender, and a friend to 7even (Amanda Cordner)—their chaotic yet loyal best friend. We watch Sabi’s family learn to accept them and their identity (some more quickly than others), their quest to find meaningful love, and the deepening of their relationship with the children they care for.
The Wire (2002-2008)
The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad were about men. The Wire was about men operating in corrupt systems. The show about Baltimore’s war on drugs served up some of the most iconic characters in television history, from Michael K. Williams’ gunslinger Omar Little to Idris Elba’s wannabe entrepreneur Stringer Bell to Dominic West’s self-righteous and grimy cop Jimmy McNulty. But creators David Simon and Ed Burns weren’t satisfied with merely tracing the failures of their characters. Instead, they exposed the failure of Baltimore as a whole by examining in each season broken practice within policing, politics, and education. With each new tragedy visited upon a beloved character, or pyrrhic victory achieved by a would-be changemaker, audiences learn the impossibility of reforming the city’s interconnected and broken institutions. The fourth season especially, set in Baltimore’s schools, traces exactly how children fall through the cracks and offers a damning indictment of what modern American cities offer their most vulnerable citizens. Entertaining yet ruthless, comprehensive yet empathetic, no drama has ever matched The Wire in scale or intelligence.—Eliana Dockterman
Angels in America (2003)
In 2003, two generation-defining artists, Mike Nichols, and Tony Kushner, teamed up to produce a miniseries version of Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The sprawling and fantastical work defies easy summary. Early in the action, a literal angel visits a man afflicted with AIDS. The story spins out into an epic that deals with the AIDS crisis, faith, Mormonism, Judaism, politics, Reaganism, love and infidelity, hate, and bigotry. Roy Cohn, a real-life conservative pitbull lawyer, and closeted gay man, plays a major role. Nichols’ version counts among its stars Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Emma Thompson. Streep is, predictably, astonishing, but Jeffrey Wright and Mary Louise Parker also won Emmys along with Streep for their performances in the series. Impeccably acted and finding new resonance in each decade (Cohn was notably a Trump advisor), it’s a worthy adaptation of one of the great American stories.—Eliana Dockterman
Bill Hader has come a long way since his days on Saturday Night Live, cracking up while attempting to tell Weekend Update viewers about New York’s hottest club. Over the course of four seasons of Barry, which he co-created with Alec Berg, starred in, and wrote and directed much of, Hader proved both his range as a performer and his brilliance as a storyteller. Blurring the lines of comedy and drama—the show was nominated for dozens of Emmys in the former category despite its balance between laughs and gruesome murders shifting progressively toward the latter—Barry tells the story of an ex-marine and hitman trying to reform himself via in part, an acting class. With wonderful performances by Henry Winkler as his warm but narcissistic acting teacher, Sarah Goldberg as his ambitious, high-strung classmate, Stephen Root as his former boss and father figure, and Anthony Carrigan as sensitive Chechen mobster Noho Hank, it’s by turns a grim, sidesplitting, and philosophical watch that takes unexpected turns in its final episodes.—Eliza Berman
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