“It’s not TV. It’s HBO” is more than just a marketing catchphrase. It now defines HBO. The premium cable network has brought us some of the finest TV over several decades. Unlike the approach of throwing money blindly at anything that might sell that is popular these days, HBO has stuck with a curated outlook. It’s the same old quality over quantity style. And, what do you know, it works. Practically every other HBO show becomes a phenomenon. From the gritty streets of Baltimore to the epic battlefields of Westeros, the network has consistently delivered some of the best television out there. The HBO brand, however, may be in peril right now. And not because of any competition.
Warner Bros Discovery, the new entity that emerged after the merger between two entertainment giants, has changed the name of HBO Max to just Max. Since then, many have been stupefied over the decision to removae the HBO tag, which has signified quality for such a long time, and not Max, which is painfully generic.
HBO, as we know it, is alive at the moment. But who knows what the corporate overlords of the company will decide next, considering ‘HBO’ is no longer a profitable brand name in their books. Before the beloved network dies, though, let’s celebrate it by listing the top 10 HBO shows. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the top 10 HBO shows of all time (according to me, of course).
1. The Wire
Widely considered one of the greatest TV dramas of all time, The Wire depicts the interconnecting lives of various characters in Baltimore, from drug dealers and police officers to politicians and journalists. The show’s creators, led by David Simon, meticulously researched and crafted each season to provide a nuanced and realistic portrayal of life in the city. The writing is exceptional, the acting superb, and the social commentary insightful.
2. The Sopranos
A close second, The Sopranos centres around New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano and his struggles to balance his family life with his criminal activities. The show features complex characters, sharp writing, and a pitch-dark sense of humour that sets it apart from other crime dramas. James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano is for me the best screen performance ever.
This historical drama takes viewers back to ancient Rome during the rise of Julius Caesar and then Augustus. The show’s attention to detail, from the costumes to the sets, is mind-boggling, and the writing deftly weaves together historical events with fictional storylines. The ensemble cast, including Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker, and Ciarán Hinds, delivers strong performances throughout the show’s two seasons.
4. Game of Thrones
Based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy book series, Game of Thrones became a cultural phenomenon during its eight-season run. The show’s complex plot, shocking twists, and large ensemble cast kept viewers on the edge of their seats. While the final season received mixed reviews, there’s no denying the impact the show had on popular culture and the TV industry as a whole.
This dark comedy-drama follows the wealthy and dysfunctional Roy family, who own a global media conglomerate. The show features a stellar cast, including Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, and Sarah Snook, and the writing is sharp and biting. Succession’s examination of wealth, power, and family dynamics makes for a compelling (and often uncomfortable) watch.
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David’s semi-autobiographical show follows his misadventures and social faux pas in Los Angeles. The show’s unique blend of cringe humour and improvisation sets it apart from other comedies, and David’s character is both relatable and frustrating. The show has been praised for its ability to capture the absurdities of everyday life.
Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota during the late 1800s, this Western drama features a rich cast of characters and explores themes of power, corruption, and morality. The writing, led by David Milch, is lyrical and vivid, and the performances from the likes of Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant are superb. While the show was cancelled after three seasons, it remains a cult favorite among fans. There is a movie too that ties up loose threads.
This political satire stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, a former vice president who becomes president after her predecessor resigns. The show skewers the inner workings of Washington D.C., with biting wit and sharp writing. The ensemble cast, including Tony Hale and Anna Chlumsky, delivers top-notch performances, and Louis-Dreyfus’ portrayal of Meyer is both hilarious and cringe-inducing.
9. Six Feet Under
This drama explores the lives of the Fisher family, who run a funeral home in Los Angeles. The show’s exploration of death, grief, and family dynamics is poignant and thought-provoking, and the writing is top-notch. The ensemble cast, including Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall, delivers outstanding performances, and the show’s finale is widely regarded as one of the best in TV history. The show’s creator, Alan Ball, was also responsible for the critically acclaimed American Beauty and True Blood.
10. Boardwalk Empire
Set in Atlantic City during the Prohibition era, Boardwalk Empire stars Steve Buscemi as a corrupt politician and bootlegger Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. The show features a strong ensemble cast and impressive period detail, with each episode feeling like a mini-movie. The writing, led by Terence Winter, is nuanced and complex, with themes of power, greed, and morality explored throughout the series.