HBO TV Shows to Watch
Premium cable and satellite TV network, HBO, has been around since 1972. But in 1997, HBO released its first original series, Oz, and started a trend that changed the landscape of television. Then two years later The Sopranos won HBO its first Emmy Award recognition with 111 nominations and 21 wins.
What follows are what I consider to be the ten of the most phenomenal series produced by HBO, including The Sopranos, as well as nine other shows that are equally fantastic.
The Best of HBO
|Show Title||Years Running|
Bored to Death
Game of Thrones
John Adams (mini-series)
Generation Kill (mini-series)
Novelist and writer Nic Pizzolatto created and wrote the award-winning HBO series True Detective. Pizzolato is from southwest Louisiana and taught literature at several universities before pursuing screenwriting in 2010.
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring executive producers Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, season one of True Detective uses multiple timelines to follow two Louisiana detectives' 17-year-long hunt for a serial killer.
The show is phenomenal and will arguably go down as McConaughey's and Harrelson's best performances of all time.
The first season aired in early 2014. Similar to FX's American Horror Story, True Detective uses an anthology format, with each season featuring a different storyline and cast of characters.
Pizzolatto has said that the second season will feature three new lead characters. Season two will take place in California, consist of eight episodes, and will star Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn. Pizzolatto will continue writing and each episode will feature a different director.
Season two of True Detective premiered June 21, 2015 - the eighth and final episode aired August 6th. This series received mixed reviews, most people either loving it or hating it. Regardless of any opinion, one thing is for sure - the show is beautifully shot, and the ensemble cast is fantastic.
Without a doubt, the first season of True Detective is some of the greatest television ever produced. If you've somehow missed this show, you should watch it immediately. You will not be disappointed.
The Wire premiered in 2002 and ended in 2008. The gritty series consisted of 60 episodes spanning five seasons.
While the show received average ratings at the time and wasn’t nominated for major television awards, critics and fans alike consider The Wire to be one of the greatest TV dramas of all time.
Lauded for its realistic portrayal of urban life and its exploration of political and social themes, the show looked unflinchingly at all aspects of Baltimore: the city’s drug trade, seaport, government, schools, and news media.
The ensemble cast was comprised almost entirely of little known character actors who defied expectations by presenting a true range of humanity. Many of those actors went on to success in TV and film.
The Wire was created and primarily written by former police reporter and author David Simon, who said that despite its presentation as a crime drama, the show is "really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals. Whether one is a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge or a lawyer, all are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution to which they are committed."
Simon first set out to create a police drama loosely based on the experiences of his writing partner, Ed Burns, who had come up against the bureaucratic Baltimore police department during his time as a homicide detective. Simon had had similar experiences as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun, so he chose to set the show in Baltimore because of his intimate knowledge of the city.
This show is highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a connoisseur of quality entertainment.
Created by David Chase, The Sopranos revolves around New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini (12 Angry Men, A Civil Action), and his struggle to strike a balance between his personal and criminal lives.
The show premiered in early 1999 and ended its sixth and final season in 2007. Following its phenomenal success, the show was syndicated and broadcast on the A&E network in the US and internationally. Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas, Rizzoli & Isles) is Jennifer Melfi, the psychiatrist Tony begins seeing after an onset of panic attacks start disrupting his life.
Tony's wife Carmela, played by Edie Falco (Oz, Nurse Jackie), and Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), Tony's cousin and protégé, are two of the main focal points in the mobster's life. Tony spends much of his time struggling to maintain his marriage while preparing his inept cousin to rise up within the organization.
The show features plenty of additional family members, criminal colleagues and rivals in prominent story arcs throughout the series' 86 episodes.
Produced by HBO, Brad Grey Television, and Chase Films, the series was primarily shot at Silvercup Studios, New York City, and on-location in New Jersey. Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) was one of many talented executive producers involved in this ground-breaking show.
The Sopranos undoubtedly took television to the next level, changing the way we watch TV forever. What was once considered a step down from the movie business has been transformed into a legitimate art form that attracts A-list actors, directors, and producers from all corners of the globe, due in no small part to this wonderful series.
Steve Buscemi stars as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson in Boardwalk Empire, a Prohibition-era period drama series set in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At a cost of $18 million dollars, the pilot episode was directed by Martin Scorsese.
The series was picked up for an additional 11 episodes in 2009. Four years later HBO renewed Boardwalk Empire for a fifth and final season which aired in late 2014.
Boardwalk Empire received 40 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won 17 of them. It also won a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In addition to Martin Scorsese and creator Terence Winter, Mark Wahlberg and Tim Van Patten are among the show's six executive producers.
The series has received widespread critical acclaim for Buscemi's performance and those of other historical figures (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and more), as well as its authentic visual style.
Nucky Thompson is based on the historical Enoch L. Johnson, a political figure who controlled Atlantic City during the Prohibition era. Nucky interacts with historical figures from all facets of life, including mobsters, government agents, politicians, celebrities, and the common folk who idolize him.
Prohibition marked the beginning of organized crime in America and Boardwalk Empire is a compelling glimpse at what led up to a critical moment in US history.
Created by David Milch, Deadwood is an American western television series set in a gold-mining camp of the same name in South Dakota.
Deadwood aired from 2004 to 2006, with 36 episodes spanning three seasons. The show featured an ensemble cast, many of whom appear as historical figures (Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp, George Hearst, and many more).
Timothy Olyphant (Justified, Damages) stars as Seth Bullock, a former Marshall from Montana who settles in Deadwood to establish a hardware business, along with his business partner and friend, Sol Star (John Hawkes).
The series follows Deadwood's evolution from mining camp to official town, including themes of western capitalism and the fringe-style law enforcement that is associated with the period.
Milch researched the period, consulting historian Watson Parker’s book, Deadwood: The Golden Years. Parker specialized in the history of the Black Hills and the show’s production crew later used many of Parker's other papers and books as references for the series.
Milch has repeatedly stated in interviews that his intent with the show was to study the way a civilization comes together from chaos, by organizing itself around symbols (i.e. gold). The series visits a variety of issues, such as politics, immigration, ethnicity, prostitution, misogyny, and violence.
This show is truly one of the greatest period pieces ever created and is rooted in historical truths, along with its fair share of fiction. It also features one of the most beautiful opening sequences ever created. Watch this gem as soon as you are able. You won't be disappointed.
Bored to Death
Bored to Death stars three of the funniest people to appear on television: Ted Danson (Cheers, Damages), Jason Schwartzman (almost every Wes Anderson film), and Zach Galifinakis (Reno 911!, The Hangover).
Created by Jonathan Ames, the show follows a Brooklyn-based writer (also named Jonathan Ames but played by Schwartzman) who moonlights as an unlicensed private detective.
After his girlfriend Suzanne breaks up with him, Jonathan finds himself with plenty of spare time. As his career as a writer begins to flounder, he posts an ad on Craigslist, advertising his services as a private detective.
Jonathan quickly involves his friends, Ray Hueston and George Christopher, to join him in his dangerously hilarious antics. Alternately bumbling his way through bizarre money-making schemes and trying to win his girlfriend back, Jonathan is surrounded by oddball characters with their own stalled dreams and ambitions.
HBO cancelled Bored to Death after twenty-four episodes in 2011. Fortunately for all of us, HBO began the development of a TV movie in 2013. If you're a fan of dark humor and satire, you owe it to yourself to watch this show immediately!
Game of Thrones
Based on George R.R. Martin's series of fantasy novels, Game of Thrones was adapted for television by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
The series premiered in the US in 2011 and its fifth season is scheduled to air in the spring of 2015. Game of Thrones is filmed at a Belfast studio and on location in Northern Ireland, Morocco, Scotland, Malta, Iceland, and Croatia.
The series is set in the fictional lands of Westeros and Essos during a period similar to the High Middle Ages. The story interweaves several plot lines including a civil war among several noble houses for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, the fierce peoples of the North, and an exiled patriarch of the deposed ruling dynasty to reclaim the throne.
Game of Thrones was nominated for and won numerous awards, including Outstanding Drama Series for its first three seasons.
Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral, Nip/Tuck) won two awards for his role as Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf and member of one of Westeros’ most powerful families. Also in the wonderful ensemble cast is Lena Headey (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dredd) as Queen Cersei and Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Ronin) as Eddard “Ned” Stark.
Even if you aren't generally a fan of the fantasy genre, this beautifully crafted series is absolutely worth experiencing.
John Adams is a seven-part miniseries that chronicles the political career of the second U.S. President and the crucial role he played in founding the country.
Paul Giamatti (Sideways, 12 Years a Slave) brilliantly portrays John Adams and Laura Linney (The Big C, The Truman Show) plays his wife and close confidant, Abigail Adams, the woman behind the man.
The series follows Adams from the Boston Massacre of 1770 through his years as an ambassador in Europe and then his terms as vice president and president. Just as compelling are the storylines involving his wife and family as they cope with smallpox and other challenges of the time.
Directed by Tom Hooper, this miniseries is based on the book John Adams by David McCullough and adapted for the screen by Kirk Ellis.
This biopic of the first fifty years of US history and John Adams' intimate involvement was aired in seven parts in 2008. It received widespread critical acclaim and won many awards—four Golden Globes and thirteen Emmys, more than any other miniseries in television history.
Experience this breathtaking piece of American history, as well as these amazing performances from some of Hollywood's elite.
Created by an international team of British, American, and Italian producers (Bruno Heller, William J. MacDonald, and John Milius), Rome aired for two seasons starting in 2005 and ending in 2007.
Set in the 1st century BC, the show begins with Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul, during Ancient Rome's transition from Republic to Empire. This season ends with Caesar's infamous assassination and the rise of Emperor Augustus, a.k.a. Gaius Octavian.
Rome was shot in Italy and features a rich ensemble cast of characters, many of whom are based on historical figures. The main protagonists are two soldiers who are mentioned in Julius Caesar's own Commentarii de Bello Gallico: Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd).
The fictional Vorenus and Pullo witness and influence many of the historical events portrayed in the series, although some of these events are not accurate. One of the show’s strengths, however, is in the way it follows not just the rich and powerful but also the lives of common people.
James Purefoy (The Following, Resident Evil) stars as the legendary Marc Antony, and the series follows him all the way to Alexandria, where he meets the mighty Queen Cleopatra.
If you are a fan of expertly crafted period pieces, add this gorgeous show to your library.
Written in 2004 by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright, Generation Kill is adapted from Wright’s book about his experience as an embedded reporter with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the USMC during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This intense mini-series was shot over six months and grippingly portrays a year in the lives of young marines leading the drive into Baghdad.
Originally published as a three-part series in Rolling Stone, the first article, The Killer Elite, won a National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting in 2004. Wright’s story informs the series. Marines struggle with inadequate supplies, poor communication, and bureaucratic nightmares in the opening weeks of the war.
Originally aired in 2008, the series was filmed in Namibia, Mozambique, and South Africa. The look is gritty and authentic and the series opens with the Marine Recon team crossing into Iraq during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Wright wrote episodes with Ed Burns and David Simon (both of The Wire). Lee Tergesen (The Big C, Desperate Housewives) portrays Wright and Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, Battleship) plays Sgt. Brad 'Iceman' Colbert who shares the lead vehicle with embedded reporter Wright. Viewers may also recognize James Ransone from The Wire and Treme, who portrays Cpl. Josh Ray Person.
We owe it to ourselves to experience this piece of infamous recent history, and take from it a number of important lessons concerning the tragedy of war.
An Abundance of Great TV
We are living in a golden age of television, with quality writing and acting on cable, commercial networks, and public television. These HBO series are just a few of the outstanding examples of storytelling on the small screen. Leave a comment about your favorites below!
ss on April 22, 2019:
Band of Brothers???
Sam Shepards from Europe on April 10, 2016:
Loved the wire, generation kill, rome, game of thrones. True detective season 1 was great, didn't see the second.
Priyantha on February 28, 2016:
Amazing that Six Feet Under is not in the list. I can pretty much agree on the rest but SFU is one of TV's finest.
Mr. Kill Cut on January 26, 2016:
Finally, a real list. most of you can't tell, but most hbo series ain't that good. but i heard the wire wasn't that good too. and i watched the second season of true detective, it was so bad. nowhere comparable to it's first season.
i love sopranos, boardwalk empire, and true detective first season.
bored to death, john adams, and rome sounds so interesting
haven't tried game of thrones but i'm sure it's not just a hype. i've seen an episode, but we'll see.
deadwood and generation kill doesn't sound that good. i guess somewhere like the wire level.
Marissa from San Diego, CA on October 22, 2015:
Good list. Would've included Six Feet Under though.
Jess Gates on September 22, 2015:
Big love should of been on the list too!!
PShaw on August 04, 2015:
I, too, would have added The Newsroom. There was never an episode that disappointed. Gripping, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining. In my books, it would have battled The Wire for the one-two spot.
Timothy Flanigan on July 12, 2015:
in order my favorite hbo shows are the sopranos,the wire and boardwalk empire.you cannot go wrong on any of them.i also like true detective,but not as much as the other three yet.
Beverly Werner from Catasauqua on February 17, 2015:
Six Feet under and Carnivale were my favorites on HBO
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 17, 2015:
This sounds like a great selection of shows...I have seen Sopranos.
I have no tv but will see if I can find some of these elsewhere.
Angels are on the way to you this morning ps
James Packard from Columbia, Missouri on February 16, 2015:
I only wish you had listed "The Newsroom". Anything Aaron Sorkin, really. He's such a brilliant writer. Good shows here! Thanks for sharing.
Dillanger on February 13, 2015:
Wow, this is in every recpset what I needed to know.
Simon from NSW, Australia on February 13, 2015:
Some great shows, although I think Band of Brothers deserves a spot in the list. It may be quite old now but it remains my favourite show and gets re-watched at least every couple of years. There are so many good shows to choose from you could easily make a top 20!
moviesreviews on February 06, 2015:
Great review. I am a Sopranos, boardwalk empire, and Game of Thrones fan. True Detective sounds like an interesting pick based on this information.
Gerhard Homveld from South Africa on January 28, 2015:
Great list, time for me to catch up on these shows :)
Jake from NYC on January 24, 2015:
This was great , i need to start game of thrones ha ha
Seraph from Canada on January 06, 2015:
I am chomping at the bit for the new season of "Game of Thrones" I can hardly wait! I am driving myself mad with how it is going to unfold on the screen!!! Great Hub! I am going to watch a couple of these shows so I can rip myself away from HubPages for a few days, lol!
dappledesigns from In Limbo between New England and the Midwest on January 02, 2015:
I love how they have done the Game of Thrones series - it's probably the best book to TV transition I have watched.
The John Adams series is excellent as well.
Stargrrl on January 01, 2015:
I liked The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and Rome. But you left out Oz.
Stephanie on December 18, 2014:
Six Feet Under is my favorite HBO series of all time!
David Lucian from Connecticut on December 07, 2014:
Your list is pretty spot on but I personally would add The Newsroom and Entourage. If you never seen The Newsroom, the link below has a little info.
Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on December 04, 2014:
I haven't seen several of those, but I'm a huge fan of The Wire and Game of Thrones. Rome was also pretty good.
Voted Up and Interesting
Cirjan Raluca on November 27, 2014:
It's a good list of TV shows.
Jill Freeman from Pennsylvania on November 22, 2014:
Great list - although being a girl, I would have added Sex And The City, lol!
I love a good cop drama, so I'll have to try True Detective. The Sopranos has to be one of the best dramas ever filmed for TV. Very informative and well thought out list. And hey - you live near my stomping grounds!
Novalee on November 22, 2014:
I absolutely love Game of Thrones. I have been rooting for Khaleesi from day one. When she grabbed those dragon eggs from the fire, I knew she was going to be awesome. I have to say the sex scenes she had to first do were pretty intense. I felt uncomfortable. But the story line and casting was done amazingly. I can't wait to see the new season. I'm rooting for John Snow as well. Those beautiful locks are awesome!
SAQIB from HYDERABAD PAKISTAN on November 16, 2014:
Deadwood seems so interesting. Good list though
Marcelle Bell on November 15, 2014:
Love True Detective and loved Rome from a few years back. I don't watch too much TV these days so I think sometime during the holidays, I'm going to check out a series from the Library and watch it all day on a Saturday :). This hub gave me great ideas.
Dan Jacobson from NY, NY on November 15, 2014:
True Detective is a fantastic show. Nice hub.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on November 15, 2014:
Good list, and I can hardly wait for the new seasons of Silicon Valley and Veep. I miss Entourage.
C England-Rhoades on November 10, 2014:
I've been wanting to try John Adams out. Nice to see it featured here!
Sandy on July 29, 2014:
lookin for next adventure have watched game of thrones and breaking bad but nothing has been as good as sons of anarchy. any1 recommend?
KnowWhatImean on July 26, 2014:
I think Girls should have been included but maybe its too niche. It's a really clever show though. I love that you included Generation Kill - its not a show I would have normally watched, but it was Sooooo good.
Also, most of these shows are available for free on Amazon Prime now. Not Game of Thrones or True Detective - but most of the ones you mentioned.
Sima Ioana from Bucharest, Romania on July 20, 2014:
Excellent list. I love Game of Thrones, the Sopranos and Rome.
Btw, If you are looking for something similar to Game of Thrones (in terms of quality) I believe that the Vikings is a very good choice - Momo mentioned that he cannot find a show.
momo on June 16, 2014:
I can't find a show better than or even close to Game of thrones .
Shelley Watson on May 15, 2014:
Some fantastic stuff here, and other ideas that I must give time too. There is really some good shows. Thanks for your ideas. Up, interesting and useful.
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 29, 2014:
I am simply unable to watch any TV shows other than sports programming, because of my outdoors activities and time lost in commuting to my office. If this were 1970s or 80s I would be watching them.
But I am glad that I know what other people at my office may be watching.
Dianna Mendez on March 15, 2014:
I don't have lots of time to enjoy these TV shows, but your sharin here has allowed me a good view of what they are all about.
Thomas Mulrooney from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on March 06, 2014:
I do hope that the Bored to Death TV movie actually happens. I used to love that show!
I would have added The Newsroom to this list too as it's brilliant. How to Make it in America was also great, and it was a big disappointment for me when they cancelled it.
Joshua Patrick (author) from Texas on March 02, 2014:
Good call. True Detective will probably get its own Hub, now that I think about it.
Nick from MD on March 02, 2014:
True Detective should be up there too, granted it isn't even finished it's first season.
I also loved Carnivale