13 Best HBO Series of All Time
Which HBO Shows Are the Best?
When it comes to streaming and quality content, a lot of the talk tends to center around Netflix and Disney. The latter is going to be a greater part of the conversation going forward, especially after the acquisition of Fox and coming out with their own streaming service. What we all seem to have forgotten, however, is that HBO has been quietly killing the market for years when it comes to quality content production.
The American giant has consistently given the world timeless classics such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, True Detective, and Ballers, among a host of others. Unlike their aforementioned counterparts, I feel HBO doesn’t get enough recognition for all it has given us.
With so many excellent series and mini-series on HBO, it's often overwhelming, especially for a new subscriber, to decide what to binge on first. It's a good problem to have. With that unique problem in mind, I have compiled a list of some of the absolute best HBO series nobody should miss out on. Take a look.
13 Best HBO Series
- Sex And The City (1999 - 2004)
- Insecure (2016 - )
- The Wire (2002 - 2008)
- Barry (2018 - )
- Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019)
- The Sopranos (1999 - 2007)
- Westworld (2016 - )
- Girls (2012 - 2017)
- Entourage (2004 - 2011)
- The Young Pope (2016 - 2017)
- Boardwalk Empire (2010 - 2014)
- Big Little Lies (2017 - )
- Silicon Valley (2014 - )
1. Sex And The City (1998 - 2004)
If there ever was a series that inspired an entire generation of women, it would be Sex And The City. Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kirstin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon, the series follows the story of four glamorous women who manage to remain friends despite their diametrically opposing personalities and problems they face.
The comedy-drama inspired a multitude of females across the world as many saw bits of themselves in the characters they could relate to. In an era where true feminine self-expression had yet to blossom, Sex And The City also went a long way to opening up conversations about female sexual liberation and the like.
The show, also predominantly considered the series that put HBO on the map as a content powerhouse, went on to win several awards over a six-year period and cemented its place in history as one of the best series ever created.
2. Insecure (2016 - )
When the news of Issa Rae producing her first HBO series broke out, fans of the Awkward Black Girl (a YouTube Series) creator, who had gathered quite the following for herself on YouTube, waited with bated breath and a slight hint of trepidation, wondering how their closely guarded secret of a talented creator would fare in the big leagues.
They need not have to be worried in the least as Issa Rae’s part autobiographical and full-blown comedic Insecure hit the screens in a big way. Expanding somewhat on the plot for her YouTube series, Insecure tells the story of Issa, a young black girl struggling to find herself and the people and friends in her life.
The show touches on nuanced issues particularly affecting the black community, such as depression, female empowerment, relationship dynamics, and a host of personality traits, flaws, and characterizations many would identify in either themselves or others.
The show is funny, quirky, and relatable. For three seasons, the show has given audiences not only characters they love to hate, but amazing music to boot, with Issa Rae constantly using and unveiling music from underrated artists in each episode of the show.
3. The Wire (2002 — 2008)
When it comes to the police procedurals, not many shows can claim the success and the gravitas of HBO’s The Wire.
This five-season crime drama set in Baltimore follows the lives of law enforcement officers and the criminals they seek to apprehend, showcasing us both sides of the law in painstaking detail. Which side will you root for when you know they both aren't exactly right or wrong?
The show stars several recognizable faces such as Dominic West, Wendell Pierce, and Idris Elba. Despite never having won any major awards, The Wire is widely regarded by many as an accurate depiction of American law enforcement and life in American society. Unflinchingly cruel and dark in its portrayal at times, The Wire is one of the best HBO shows — a series that should have gone on a bit longer.
4. Barry (2018 -)
Barry was a pleasant surprise for audiences that did not know what to expect from a comedy about a hitman.
Starring Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, and Stephen Root in the lead roles, Barry tells the story of a disillusioned contract killer who tries to find a new life through acting. After following the targets into a theatre, our titular anti-hero is bitten by the theatre bug and looks to put his old life behind him. His old contacts, however, will not allow him to go gentle into the night.
The series currently holds an 8.1/10 rating on IMDb as well as a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has won several awards and accolades in its short two-season span. Due to its overwhelming success, the series has been renewed for a third season by HBO.
5. Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019)
Dragons and magic used to be the stuff of children’s fairy tales until HBO took hold of George R. R. Martin‘s book, A Song of Fire and Ice (more popularly known as Game of Thrones).
Right off the bat, viewers realized that this was not going to be a typical show with themes ranging from incest to regicide. The callous nature with which human life was so quickly disregarded in the show also struck a chord with everyone, seeing the death of the proverbial “good guy” just 12 episodes into the show at the end of the first season.
The impact of Game of Thrones has been immense. Considering the author has yet to complete the book series, it's quite a feat. The characters are complex in their backstories and motivations, with each character arc seamlessly blending into what seems to be the culmination of a greater story.
The show spanning over eight seasons has utilized the natural growth of its actors and actresses in telling the overall story, with viewers being treated to a plot that is as compelling as its performers. Game of Thrones also changed the way the production of serials is viewed. More serials now are willing to spend large budgets on producing episodes for television shows.
The last season might be a bit of a downer for some people, but the overall quality and scope of the saga easily topples anything else TV landscape has ever had to offer.
6. The Sopranos (1999 - 2007)
No show in the history of television has done crime and the mafia as well as The Sopranos. This iconic HBO series presents the Soprano family, led by mob boss Tony Soprano as he navigates both his family life and his criminal undertakings.
Beginning in 1997 and lasting for a decade, The Sopranos is touted as one of the best television series of all time. The characters were beautifully written and brought to life by stellar performances from actors such as James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, and Michael Imperioli, just to make a few.
The show won several prestigious awards and continues to live on and pop culture as the benchmark by which all movies and serials concerning gangsters and the Mafia usually abide by. If you're looking for some good HBO series, start with The Sopranos.
7. Westworld (2016 - )
It is now an open secret that’s when the Nolan name is attached to a project, it is more often than not going to be a commercial hit. The series follows the happenings of Westworld — a futuristic theme park in which rich vacationers are allowed to indulge in any and all of their fantasies without fear of repercussion.
The victims of these sordid fantasies are the robots within the system called “hosts” who live out a daily cycle in which they aid whatever narrative the wealthy users have requested. These hosts are subjected to a number of heinous crimes but they're incapable of harming the humans who perpetrate crimes against them, thanks to their ingenious programming.
However, unknown to the creators of the Westworld program, some of these robots begin to retain the memories of the past lives, slowly beginning to gain intelligence and consciousness. An uprising is coming, and no one is prepared for it.
After a rocky start to the acceptance of this novel idea, the show took off in a big way. It's no surprise that in an era where interest for westerns has dwindled, only Nolan could make such a series so deeply entertaining.
8. Girls (2012 - 2017)
You will not find a show with as many characters as you will love to hate as you’ll find in HBO’s 2012 comedy-drama series, Girls. Written by and starring Lena Dunham, Girls tells the story of four women who after striking a friendship in college find themselves living in New York, trying to figure out what next to do with their lives.
Told from the perspective of Hannah (the lead character played by Lena Dunham) — an entitled aspiring writer who wants a lot from life but doesn’t quite seem to know what exactly, Girls puts together a collective of girls who are as different as they are entertaining. There is the free-spirited Jessa whose life seems to be a series of events out of an adult romance novel. Then there is Marnie, a control freak who loves being the unofficial mother of the group. Shoshanna comes across as a ditzy sorority girl, but is prone to moments of thought-provoking wisdom. The male characters are also very well written, but the focus stays on the lead females for the most part.
For five years, Girls continued to entertain and hold a mirror up to a segment of the American female population that otherwise did not fall into the glamorous Sex And The City demographic.
9. Entourage (2004 - 2011)
In an era of high-flying glamorous celebrities, Entourage was a hit the moment it appeared on the big screen. Following the lives of two brothers and their friends who moved to Hollywood after one of the brothers becomes a successful actor, Entourage recounts the effects of success on each of their lives and ultimately, their collective relationship.
The show featured a lot of real-life celebrities playing themselves in episodes along with a star-studded cast that included Jeremy Piven. Entourage ran for eight long seasons before finally coming to an end in 2011. The success of the series also spawned a full-length feature film of the same name in 2015, which did not do well, but did little to tarnish the legacy that had been left by the widely popular show.
Thanks to tons of excellent offerings, Entourage usually isn't counted among the best HBO shows, but I'll let you be the judge if that. The lack of adrenaline-fueled action is more than made up by its witty dialogues and eccentricity.
10. The Young Pope (2016 - 2017)
A series about the Catholic pope was always going to be controversial and edgy. HBO’s 2016 series, The Young Pope, provided that in spades.
Starring Jude Law in a role that disturbingly seemed perfectly suited for him, The Young Pope follows the story of Lenny Berlado, the first ever American appointed as pope. Apart from his youthful age, the new pope seems not to care for old traditions and has no interest in making himself a popular icon. This obviously does not go down well with the Vatican’s old guard as they try to force the matter.
the series focuses on the day to day life of the pope as he learns the new ways while staying firm on his own set of principles and beliefs. The series ran for just one season and was widely praised for its refreshing story arc not often seen in showings about the Catholic Church.
11. Boardwalk Empire (2010 - 2014)
It was always going to be a hard task filling the large shoes left by The Sopranos, but this was a task Boardwalk Empire performed with panache.
The show is set in an Atlantic City, right at the start of the prohibition era, and follows the town's treasurer, Nucky Thompson, who seems to have his finger in every single pie, good or bad. Boardwalk Empire also tells the origin stories of subsequently well-known gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone.
The show also boasted the star power of Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Michael K. Williams, and Jeffrey Wright amongst others, all under the watchful eye of the show’s famed executive producer, Martin Scorsese.
Boardwalk Empire ran for five seasons, winning numerous award nominations as well as accolades throughout its run.
12. Big Little Lies (2017 - )
Big Little Lies came out of nowhere. This sleeper hit of 2017 had everyone singing its praises right from the get-go.
Zoning in on the idyllic beach town of Monterey, Big Little Lies peels back the perfect veneer of this little town to reveal its more insidious going-ons. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley as the show’s principal characters, Big Little Lies follows the inhabitants of this town as they become involved in a murder investigation.
The show has run for just two seasons up until now but has bagged several award nominations and won eight Emmy Awards. Clearly, HBO has the Midas touch when it comes to knowing what the audience wants. Those looking for a good HBO series will love what Big Little Lies brings to the table.
13. Silicon Valley (2014 - )
By now, we are all privy to the proclivities of the tech gurus that run Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley reminds us that it’s a lot worse than we imagined.
Created by Mike Judge, who after a brief tryst in Silicon Valley witnessed first-hand the peculiar lives of the megalomaniacs who chart our future, Silicon Valley follows the story of Richard Hendrix who after creating a powerful compression algorithm tries to build a company with the help of his friends.
He soon realizes that not everything is as cracked up as he assumes it to be and soon becomes embroiled in fights with rich corporations, egotistical leaders, greedy investors, and a host of other problems that threaten the future of his company even before it begins.
Did I miss out on any other good HBO shows? Let me know in the comments section.