As the network that pioneered the concept of premium cable — showing movies uncut and uncensored — HBO has turned out a wide variety of original programming almost since the beginning, starting with assorted sporting events, documentaries and variety shows. By the late 1990s, their original content was drawing in subscribers all on its own, and the network was quickly becoming the leader in top-quality entertainment. It began to take chances on shows that other networks wouldn’t touch, helping to push the boundaries of popular entertainment, and fostering some of the most significant shows in recent memory while also inspiring the competition to take their own chances and create their own iconic series. In short, HBO has made television better, so here’s a look at the best HBO series of all time, many of which are available to stream anytime on HBO Now.
10. True Detective
The second season didn’t get the same acclaim, but True Detective’s first season seemed to capture the attention of the entire internet with its grim and gothic tale of occult murders along the coasts of Louisiana. While Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart was a rock-solid straight man, Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle had a unique nihilistic philosophy, penned by writer/creator Nick Pizzolatto, that launched a thousand memes and became one of the most widely emulated (and parodied) characters in recent years.
9. Tales From the Crypt
A horror anthology hosted by a cackling, corpse-like puppet known as The Cryptkeeper, Tales From The Crypt would introduce each tale with a title card that paid homage to the EC Comics that it was based on. Everyone from Richard Donner, Tobe Hooper, Tom Hanks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger took turns in the director’s chair over its seven seasons. The guest stars were equally impressive, ranging from Brad Pitt to Roger Daltry, with episodes that were able to fully indulge in all the uncensored violence, gore, and nudity that premium cable allowed – which was a lot.
8. Silicon Valley
Creator Mike Judge’s scathing satire of the tech industry, Silicon Valley focuses on the struggling upstart Pied Piper, led by the idealistically-minded Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch) as he tries to take his compression software to the masses. In its recently aired second season, the show proved it was more than just one elaborate, mathematically correct dick joke, and has created crude, socially awkward characters that you can’t help but root for.
7. Sex And The City
A kind of modern, revolving-door romance based on the Candace Bushnell book of the same name, the show followed the lives of four friends and their respective outlooks on love and relationships, as narrated through a column written by Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker). The show, which aired for six seasons starting in 1998, spawned two successful feature films as well as a prequel series, The Carrie Diaries, on the CW.
6. Six Feet Under
The sometimes quirky, sometimes bleak look at the inner workings of the Fisher family, who are brought together in the wake of the death of their patriarch, Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins), the owner/operator of Fisher and Sons funeral home. Created by Alan Ball, who at the time was best known for writing the screenplay to American Beauty, the show would spend five seasons exploring themes of isolation, alienation and mortality through each character’s life-long search for happiness. It’s series finale is also widely regarded as being one of the best of all-time.
Deadwood spent three profanity-filled seasons taking an unflinching look at life around a small South Dakota mining town, run by brothel owner and pimp, Al Swearengen. A tale of historical fiction that breathed new life into the genre, it chronicled the birth of the American society as it slowly enveloped the lawless lands of the old west. We’d sign up for more in a heartbeat.
4. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David as a fictionalized version of himself, Curb‘s David has spent eight seasons strolling through life getting into huge conflicts with almost everyone that he has crossed paths with, be they a friend or a complete stranger. David built the show around a semi-improvisational format that has allowed both him and co-stars Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, J.B. Smoove, and Cheryl Hines to go to some darkly funny and incredibly absurd places. A ton of notable guest stars have gotten in on the fun as well, be they weird characters in the world of the show or exaggerated versions of themselves.
3. The Sopranos
Often credited with ushering in the new Golden Age of Television, The Sopranos spent six seasons detailing the life of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the anxiety-ridden New Jersey mob boss who tried to cope with the stresses of his life through therapy. Creator David Chase managed to build a nuanced, character-driven drama that remains one of the most acclaimed dramas of all time.
And in that it finished in third place on this list, here’s where we start to get controversial, but it couldn’t be helped and going with a three-way tie would have been a cop out.
2. The Wire
Former crime reporter-turned-showrunner David Simon and former cop Ed Burns (not that one) brought The Wire to life, using storytelling building blocks to craft a scale-model representation of Baltimore, Maryland, from the street corner to the Mayor’s office, and the dockworkers to the school system. After five seasons, it left almost no stone unturned in exploring the intricacies of life in the city, and by the end, how it was all interconnected.
1. Game of Thrones
A sprawling sword and sorcery epic (heavy on the sword, light on the sorcery), Game of Thrones is HBO’s flagship production, bringing in over 18 million viewers with each new episode, counting all repeats and on-demand viewings. With plots involving civil war, betrayal, dragons, power, and an unstoppable army of the dead told across dozens of storylines and with numerous characters, the show has pushed the limits of conventional television and become the new high-water mark for original programming.
Disagree with these rankings? Tell us how you would stack these shows and let us know if we missed any others.