There are TV shows and then there’s HBO. Since their first original television show entitled Oz graced the small screen in 1997, HBO has been producing some of the most intriguing fictional entertainment available on cable. Since then, their TV program has dominated the playing field with Emmy-winning, complex stories that dissect the human condition and dive into the dark abyss of our imagination. And the network continues to produce quality pieces of work regardless of rising competition.
After taking into account the long list of series the innovative network created, we’ve settled on the best HBO original shows of all time. These are the shows that have perfected the art of pulling the heartstrings of the audience with complex characters and incredible stories, finding humor in the most trying situations, and igniting action fueled by purpose. They push the HBO network into another level, lording over most other TV shows in town while influencing programs to be better.
Band of Brothers
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (the duo behind Saving Private Ryan), Band of Brothers is an accurate tale of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II. The story takes you from Operation Overlord to V-J Day and fleshes out a variety of characters, placing you into the thick hell of war. Both the horrors and heroes of battle are depicted genuinely here for a viewing experience unlike any other. The show has a gripping narrative with the sobering effects of a documentary. Without a doubt, Band of Brothers is the greatest WWII miniseries ever produced.
Premiere Date: September 9, 2001
Creator(s): Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Stephen E. Ambrose (author)
Following a hitman from the Midwest who moves to Los Angeles, getting lost in the city’s theater scene, Barry is the perfect blend of crime and comedy. Barry Berkman is played by the hysterical Bill Hader, who is surrounded by amazing talent–including Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, and Stephen Root. The character of Barry is a rather dark one, as he’s a melancholy individual trying desperately to claw his way out of a slump while killing people for a living. However, Hader is hilarious in the dark role, as the show uses brilliant methods to include crime-thriller tropes. With only two seasons to its name, Barry is already one of the best HBO has to offer.
Premiere Date: March 25, 2018
Creator(s): Alec Berg, Bill Hader
HBO is all about going beyond the common storyline and diving into more complex narratives that dissect the human condition without fear. With Big Love, HBO gives us a unique dramatic series about a polygamist who has three wives, providing us thoughtful consideration on how a family can be defined. The show takes a look at the evolution of marriage and the struggle with the concept no matter how we choose to approach it. The compelling ensemble cast benefits from the late Bill Paxton, playing Bill Henrickson, who flexes his range in the lead role. Joining Paxton is a group of wonderful actors, including Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin.
Premiere Date: March 25, 2018
Creator(s): Alec Berg, Bill Hader
Taking place at the dawn of Prohibition, Boardwalk Empire gave fans of The Sopranos a new show to chew on. However, it never suffered in the shadow of HBO’s initial gangster series, as the TV show carved out a name for itself. Starring the always-amazing Steve Buscemi in the lead role as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Boardwalk Empire soared to great heights winning several awards, including an acting trophy for Buscemi. Inspired by Nelson Johnson’s non-fiction book, the TV show gave audiences a gangster drama with pristine details, depth, and penetrating violence. It also helps to have the legendary Martin Scorsese as a producer.
Premiere Date: September 19, 2010
Creator(s): Terence Winter
Bored to Death
Revolving around a writer in New York who lives a double life pretending to be a private detective, this HBO show is a quirky noir comedy. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis, Bored to Death is well-acted, presenting us with insightful characters who are never boring. The off-beat TV comedy is far from a standard sitcom, as it’s filled with subtleties and charm that are rare in mainstream entertainment. Humor from the show often comes from the fact that the men do not want to live in the real world, which is relative for most people in the current moment.
Premiere Date: September 20, 2009
Creator(s): Jonathan Ames
The human-made catastrophe of 1986 is told through the gripping tale of the men and women who made selfless sacrifices to save Europe. This historical analysis of the nuclear accident is unforgiving and bleak, but it’s incredibly powerful. Starring Emily Watson, Paul Ritter, Jared Harris, and Jessie Buckley, Chernobyl tells a difficult story with sincerity and a creeping apprehension. Chernobyl tourism has gone up due to the popularity of the amazing series, but we recommend you stay home and watch the TV show instead of venturing off to the actual site. Chernobyl may only be in its first season, but being HBO’s highest-rated show of all time earns it a spot on this list.
Premiere Date: May 6, 2019
Creator(s): Craig Mazin
Curb Your Enthusiasm
It’s quite a feat for a TV show to stay alive for 10 seasons and not lose a step. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a series that will most likely join that exclusive club once the next season airs. The TV show follows the everyday life of neurotic TV writer Larry David and the scenarios he gets into with the people around him. The semi-improvised sitcom stars Larry David, who also helped create Seinfeld. It’s no wonder this show is called a purer version of the “show about nothing.” Even through nine seasons, the show stays as funny and vulgar as ever, never losing steam in its lengthy run on HBO.
Premiere Date: October 15, 2000
Creator(s): Larry David
Set in the late 1800s, Deadwood provides viewers with another twist on a familiar Hollywood genre. This Western set in lawless South Dakota sits beside some of the best entries in the genre thanks to its unfiltered depiction of the frontier town and its gritty characters. Not to mention it has one of TV’s most impressive ensembles, including Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, and Molly Parker. Deadwood is a perfect mix of vulgar and poetic entertainment and will go down as one of the most satisfying portrayals of the West.
Premiere Date: March 24, 2004
Creator(s): David Milch
Eastbound and Down
Following a burnt-out major league baseball player who finds his way back to his old middle school to teach Physical Education, Eastbound and Down is sidesplitting. Danny McBride is in top comedic form as the arrogant Kenny Powers and he’s joined by amazing talents, such as John Hawkes, Jennifer Irwin, and Steve Little. The obscene series is an exceptional addition to the man-child comedy genre ruled by the likes of Will Ferrel and Seth Rogen. Kenny Powers is an anti-hero who you’d never hang out with in real life, but cannot stop watching.
Premiere Date: February 15, 2009
Creator(s): Ben Best, Jody Hill, Danny McBride
Loosely based on the experiences of Academy-Award nominated Mark Wahlberg, who’s also one of the Executive Producers of the show, Entourage is a men’s version of Sex and the City. The show follows celebrity Vince Chase, played by Adrian Grenier, and his close group of friends, as they explore the Los Angeles terrain. There’s plenty of Tinseltown satire to bump up the replay value and amazing performances from Jeremy Piven, who won an Emmy for his role, as well as Kevin Dillon. The ensemble is a fun bunch to party with, giving us an inside look at what it might be like to have a famous celebrity friend.
Premiere Date: July 18, 2004
Creator(s): Doug Ellin
Flight of the Conchords
New Zealand humor has been making a splash in Hollywood lately, as many movie fans enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok. Flight of the Conchords has the same type of humor but on a smaller scale. It follows two New Zealand guitar players trying to spark their careers in New York City while on the prowl for significant others. This indie comedy is enjoyable and rewatchable thanks to its absurd nature. The slacker comedy benefits from the offbeat duo of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement playing the struggling musicians, as they give funny, endearing performances.
Premiere Date: June 17, 2007
Creator(s): James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Game of Thrones
Based on the epic fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones was a force to be reckoned with in the TV space for quite some time. It delivered complex character development, sweeping action, and political savvy in every episode. Not to mention, there are life lessons behind the stories told that resonate with everyone in spite of the fact that, at its core, the show fits into the high fantasy genre. The cast is gushing with talent, and each episode had an epic cinematic quality. It was a bold, fearless series where anything could happen and actions had consequences. Yes, the final season was unfulfilling, but Game of Thrones is still one of the best HBO has ever produced.
Premiere Date: April 17, 2011
Creator(s): David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin (author)
Creator Mike Judge knows satire and Silicon Valley is oozing with plenty of it. Benefiting from Judge’s real-life experience in the tech industry, Silicon Valley follows an engineer who’s trying to start his own company called Pied Piper. The show boasts an all-star cast of comedians, including Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, and Josh Brener. Throughout six seasons, the series manages to stay witty and fresh, utilizing its comedic cast to great effect, creating believable characters you’d recognize in the real world.
Premiere Date: April 6, 2014
Creator(s): John Altschuler, Mike Judge, Dave Krinsky
Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under is a series that deals with mortality and raw human emotions, allowing you to meditate on the different layers of existence. Running an independent funeral home in Los Angeles, a dysfunctional family deals with death and grief. However, there are still comedic moments sprinkled throughout the darkness. Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame, Peter Krause, and Frances Conroy are part of the brooding cast of this macabre series, which allows you to think about the deeper meaning of life. And this poignant TV show has one of the best endings to a series ever.
Premiere Date: June 3, 2001
Creator(s): Alan Ball
Based on the novel by Tom Perotta, HBO’s The Leftovers is about life in a small town after a mysterious global catastrophe wipes out 2% of the population. Yes, it’s somber viewing, but the series provides thought-provoking scenes and frustrating drama that holds real weight. At its core, the show is about coping with losses that are unbearable. And for those out there who can relate, The Leftovers can be a therapeutic experience. It has a bravura that is unmatched, and that’s in part thanks to its exceptional performances, bringing the book to life.
Premiere Date: June 29, 2014
Creator(s): Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta (author)
Where would television be without The Sopranos? Sure, Oz is the first HBO original show, but The Sopranos is the godfather of revolutionary HBO television. Seeking therapy to deal with the trials and tribulations of mob and family life, Tony Soprano is a crime boss looking to maintain his edge. The late James Gandolfini is an undeniable force as the New Jersey crime boss and he’s surrounded by actors who are passionate about their craft. The show has the ability to be immensely violent, funny, and moving all in the same episode. Deserving of its many Emmy awards, The Sopranos is one of HBO’s most engaging original TV shows ever.
Premiere Date: January 10, 1999
Creator(s): David Chase
Drug dealers and law enforcement are opposite sides of the same coin, and The Wire’s depiction of the relationship between the two conflicting groups is exceptional drama. But the show is much more than an intense crime series–it spins a web of realistic characters, delivering blunt commentary on America’s disturbing societal issues, reflecting hard truths through the medium of small-screen entertainment. The engrossing storytelling and incredible performances are what place The Wire at the top of the hill when you consider the most noteworthy HBO original TV shows. It’s a flawless show with flawed characters, reflecting the dark realities of our world.
Premiere Date: June 2, 2002
Creator(s): David Simon
True Detective is a seasonal anthology series led by committed actors like Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, and Mahershala Ali. The series sinks its teeth into the personal and professional lives of lawmen and criminals alike. Every scene feels sincere, allowing you to get behind the detectives dealing with the case. True Detective feels like you’re watching an indie film, as it has grit and presents characters without using a filter. You’ll wonder why all detective dramas aren’t like this after watching the first episode of season one. Sure, season two was a weak entry, but the series is book-ended by two brilliant seasons.
Premiere Date: January 12, 2014
Creator(s): Nic Pizzolatto
A profane comedy about U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer and her staff seems pretty standard on paper for an HBO series, but the show is definitely not your run-of-the-mill sitcom. With biting satire and insightful moments, Veep presents you with a refreshing look at Washington, D.C. politics. It also helps a ton to have Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the lead role at the center of it all. After seven wholly entertaining seasons, Veep bowed out as one of the best TV comedies in history.
Premiere Date: April 22, 2012
Creator(s): Armando Iannucci
Imagine a place where all of your appetites can be satisfied without a single consequence, allowing you to experience every facet of life. Westworld is an amusement park for adults where you can live out your wild west dreams and become somebody else. Based on Michael Crichton’s novel, this HBO original show takes a look at a future where terror is brimming at every corner inside an artificial world meant to satisfy your every need. The intriguing premise is just the beginning, as the actors embody their roles with a fervor you can’t deny, adding to the sincerity of the show. Visually lush and often disturbing, Westworld is a TV show you can’t ignore.
Premiere Date: October 2, 2016
Creator(s): Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, Michael Crichton (author)
10 Best OLED TVs
Now that you have a nice long list of TV shows to devour, it’s time to upgrade your home entertainment system. Check out our picks for the best OLED TVs and enhance your viewing experience.