HBO Max might be one of the greatest things to come out of the streaming revolution. No, this is not a paid promotion; it’s just simple logic, given that so much of television’s most compelling content of the past 25 years—from The Sopranos and The Wire to Game of Thrones and The Leftovers—originated on the “it’s not just TV” network. So having one hub to find them all (including the aforementioned titles) just makes good sense for both the network and binge-watchers looking to maximize their investments.
But HBO’s streaming arm has gotten into the original content game, too, with highly acclaimed series like Hacks, Station Elevenand The Staircase (the owl did it!). When you’re done rewatching some of the classics, here are our favorite shows streaming on HBO Max right now.
Media empires run by dysfunctional families may rise and fall, but we’ll always have Succession. While the Emmy-winning series will conclude with its upcoming fourth season, its legacy as one of the most surprising pieces of prestige TV will be felt for decades to come. At a time when TV shows about rich people, real or imagined, are in ample supply, Succession manages to stand out by being as bitingly funny as it is painfully tragic. The jet-black family dramedy chronicles the Roy family and the people/cronies/tall men who orbit them, all of whom seem to be angling for control of Waystar RoyCo, the family-run global media conglomerate—whether by succession (get it?) or more hostile means. Think of it as King Lear meets Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., only funny. (Unless you’re invited to play a game of Boar on the Floor.)
The Last of Us
The Last of Us managed to succeed where Netflix’s Resident Evil (which was canceled after one season) and other live-action TV shows based on video games failed—by being really, really good. Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and the video game’s original director, Neil Druckmancocreated the post-apocalyptic drama, in which one grizzled survivor (Peter Pascal) is tasked with smuggling a smart-mouthed teenager (Bella Ramsey) who could be the key to finding a cure for the fungal infection-fueled pandemic that has turned most of America into zombie-like creatures. Props to everyone for generating so much interest in the (very real and parasitic) Cordyceps fungus—because fungi nerds like TV, too.
Abbott Elementary creator/star Quinta Brunson (A Black Lady Sketch Show) has stirred up all sorts of accolades with this ABC series, which has somehow managed to create streaming deals with both HBO Max and Hulu. The surprise hit follows the lives of a group of teachers who are working at one of the most woefully underfunded public schools in America while doing their best to inspire their students. Yes, it all sounds very earnest—and it is—but it’s also the kind of funny we don’t see much of on network TV anymore. (Maybe that explains its multi-network streaming deal.) The series is currently airing its second season but has already managed to rack up enough awards (Emmys, Critics Choice, Indie Spirit, and beyond) to fill a school trophy case.
The White Lotus
Knowing that Jennifer Coolidge stars in both seasons of The White Lotus (the only actor to move locations with the series for Season 2) is reason enough for many people to tune in. While it was originally imagined as a one-off series from the brilliantly screwed-up mind (in a good way) of Mike White—who cocreated the sadly overlooked Enlightenment with Laura Dern, another HBO series you should check out—it has since morphed into a full-on franchise. The series dives deep below the surface of the seemingly fabulous lives of the deep-pocketed guests who can afford to stay at one of the five-star resorts of the title’s locations (first Hawaii, then Sicily, with Asia scheduled for Season 3), and the people who trip over themselves to serve their every need. Somewhere in between, murder always seems to end up on the menu.
The Sex Lives of College Girls
Mindy Kaling cocreated this HBO Max series, which puts a new spin on the teenage sex comedy—one in which the women are fully in charge. Nerdy Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet, yes, Timothée Chalamet’s sister), aspiring professional funny person Bela (Amrit Kaur), snotty Upper East Sider Leighton (Reneé Rapp), and soccer star/senator’s daughter Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) are four college freshmen randomly thrown together as suitemates with seemingly nothing in common. But as they get to know each other, and themselves, their forced cohabitation develops into a true bond—one in which there’s no such thing as TMI and a “naked party” is just one way to unwind after a long week.
Good luck trying to explain what The Rehearsal is to anyone who isn’t familiar with Nathan Fielder’s mastery of uncomfortable comedy. What begins as a series in which the awkward star/comedian attempts to help people prepare for big moments in life by rehearsing them until they get it right quickly turns into a bizarre social experiment in which Fielder himself becomes one of the key players. The less you know about it ahead of time, the better. Just know that you’ll be encountering people who responded to a Craigslist ad to take part. For more of Fielder’s weird brilliance, all four seasons of Nathan for You—another kind of meta-comedy that will force you to repeatedly cover your eyes in vicarious embarrassment—are also streaming on HBO Max.
No one seemed particularly wowed when HBO announced that Bill Hader and Alec Berg were cocreating a series in which Hader would play a hitman with a conscience who attempts to go straight. But what might sound like a played-out trope has taken on new dimensions of humor, darkness, humanity, and plain old weirdness. Barry Berkman (Hader) is a traumatized marine whose newfound apathy toward the world and the very act of living make him perfectly suited to work as a gun-for-hire. When a job takes him to Los Angeles, Barry stumbles upon an acting class led by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler, in what may be the role that finally supplants Fonzie as his most memorable), a failed but charismatic mentor. But transitioning back into the real world isn’t without consequences for Barry, who can sometimes spend an entire episode being hunted by a pint-sized martial arts master. All three seasons of Barry are streaming now, with its fourth—and final—season premiering on April 16.
Bad timing may have led to the unfortunately early demise of Avenue 5which saw filming on its second season delayed, and delayed again, due to Covid-19, but the space-set comedy from the brilliant mind of Armando Iannucci, creator of Veep (another classic streaming on HBO Max), and its even swearier predecessor, The Thick of Itis well worth your time, if only to see what could happen when space travel inevitably goes wrong. Hugh Laurie stars as the “captain” of an interplanetary cruise ship, with Josh Gad playing the role of eccentric tech billionaire/huge baby Herman Judd, whose planned eight-week tour of the galaxy turns dire when a gravitational disaster steers the ship off course. The series gets more bonkers as it goes along, and poop plays a massive part in saving thousands of passengers and crew members. Consider yourselves warned—and feel free to laugh at the inanity of it all. Loudly.
Stath Lets Flats
Jamie Demetriou—brother of What We Do in the Shadows’ Natasia Demetriou, who also stars—created this series and stars as Stath Charalambos, London’s worst real estate (aka letting) agent. While it’s woefully underknown stateside, this three-season British comedy—which ran on Channel Four in the UK from 2018 to 2021—was handed BAFTA awards for Best Scripted Comedy and Best Male Comedy Performance (for Demetriou) in 2020, if that kind of recognition is important to you. Fans of awkward comedy will make a meal out of watching Stath attempt to turn each apartment’s worst features into selling points. Or the way he treats such presumed features as a kitchen cabinet as true luxury items (“It’s all bowls, baby”).
The Righteous Gemstones
Danny McBride and HBO are whatever the new Brangelina is of television. First they teamed up for the hilariously offensive-for-offense’s sake Eastbound & Downthen there was Vice Principals. The Righteous Gemstoneswhich McBride created and stars in, is his latest effort to put forth a group of highly unlikeable people and find a way to make you like them even less but still want to keep watching. In this case, it’s a family of televangelists whose real god is greed and power. McBride assembled an all-star cast that includes John Goodman as the family’s patriarch, Adam DeVine and Edi Patterson as the Gemstone children, and national treasure Walton Goggins as Uncle Baby Billy Freeman—a child-star-turned-grifter who has given the series some of its most memorable quotes and moments.