The 19 Best HBO Shows You're Not Watching
What to watch after Barry, Game of Thrones, and The White Lotus.
You've watched Game of Thrones, you devoured Veep, and you're considering your third rewatch of The Sopranos. HBO's heavy hitters don't need anyone's recommendation—they speak for themselves. But HBO and its streaming service Max are a trove of lesser-known gems from just about every genre. From quietly heartbreaking comedies and R-rated animated series to searing dramas and soothing reality shows, there's something for everyone, even if you suspect that you've already seen it all. Read on for 19 of the best HBO shows you're not watching.
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The multi-talented Bridget Everett gets her big moment in Somebody Somewhere, a half-hour dramedy about a woman who returns to her Kansas hometown after the death of her sister. Reconnecting with a former high school classmate (Jeff Hiller) and her love of music helps break Sam out of the rut of grief and lack of inspiration she finds herself in.
For RogerEbert.com, Ciara Wardlow called the show "a disarmingly earnest portrait of loss, loneliness, and disappointment that nonetheless manages to be, above all, a tale of belonging and quiet hope."
Speaking of grief and hope, the series adaptation of Tom Perrotta's novel The Leftovers was never a major hit for HBO but still appears on countless critics' lists of the best TV dramas in recent years. Starring Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, and a formidable ensemble cast, the show co-created by Lost's Damon Lindelof catches up with humanity three years after 2 percent of the population inexplicably disappeared. The series asks how humanity responds to the unimaginable and goes to some beautifully weird and moving places to find out.
"When The Leftovers works best—wondrously, transportingly—it works beyond logic, through image and parable, like a kind of dirty-realist gospel," James Poniewozik wrote for The New York Times. "It doesn't expect to persuade you through reason; it aspires to move you to believe."
The Other Two
Since its debut in 2019, the sharp show business comedy The Other Two has been steadily gaining a passionate audience. And its premise couldn't be more timely for the TikTok age: Two older siblings (Heléne Yorke and Drew Tarver) find their own lives thrown into sharp relief when their 13-year-old brother (Case Walker) becomes internet famous overnight.
"It's the rare show that can be edgily satirical without being cynical. It takes what could be an easy punch line—kids these days!—and inverts it, finding more to lampoon in the desperation of the grown-ups muscling in on tween territory than the actual youths with their airplane album launches, their million-dollar makeup tutorials, and their lives spent online," The Atlantic critic Sophie Gilbert wrote of The Other Two's first season.
In this reality TV series, three RuPaul's Drag Race alums (Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka O'Hara) drop into small towns across the U.S. and transform regular people into queens for one-night-only drag shows.
"There's a lot to appreciate in We're Here," A.V. Club critic Kate Kulzick wrote. "Fans of Queer Eye-style makeover shows will enjoy the drag transformations and heartwarming emotional moments. Fans of Shangela, Bob, and Eureka will be happy to spend more time with these charismatic performers."
The DC comics character Harley Quinn may often be mentioned in the same breath as the Joker, but this well-reviewed, not-for-kids animated series is all about what happens after she kicks Mr. J to the curb. Kaley Cuoco voices Harley, Lake Bell voices her new main squeeze Poison Ivy, and you'll want to keep your ears peeled for dozens of star cameos.
"The biggest point in Harley Quinn's favor is that it doesn't just set Harley loose on Gotham for the hell of it," Caroline Framke wrote for Variety of the first season. "Instead, the show uses 13 episodes to tell a serialized story about Harley breaking free of the Joker's psychotic hold on her, making real friends, and learning how to be the best (worst) supervillain she can be."
The U.S. version of this supernatural sitcom is a hit for CBS, but don't sleep on the British original. Written by many of the show's stars, Ghosts has the same premise as its New-York-set successor—a woman who can see and communicate with spirits lingering where they died inherits a country house full of them—but it also has a completely different tone, plot, and set of specters.
"No scene is left un-mined for gags, with jokes that are clever and crude, often in the same breath, and an intelligence that is worn lightly," The Guardian's Rebecca Nicholson wrote. "It is one of the least demanding sitcoms on television—and one of the most charming."
The genre-defying series Search Party starts out as a story of an aimless millennial (Alia Shawkat) making the search for her missing college classmate her entire personality and ends up… well, we'd never spoil the bonkers places it ends up for you here. Suffice it to say that the show will have you invested in a group of deeply indefensible characters and gasping at its shocking plot twists—plus, it's funny.
"Even though it's a comedy and a frequently savage satire of millennial-targeted entitlement, it's also an effective thriller, with perfect cliffhangers, great pacing, and moody cinematography to match," Emily St. James wrote of the series for Vox.
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The timing of the limited series adaptation of Emily St. John Mandel's novel of the same name was eerily appropriate. Station Eleven, which began filming right before the COVID pandemic hit, is about the aftermath of a fictional deadly flu and the survivors who endeavor not just to rebuild society but to keep art and creativity alive. While its subject matter may sound dark enough to dissuade some potential viewers, the ensemble drama is ultimately about connection and finding reasons to go on.
"Grace, hope, and encouragement are foundational elements of Station Eleven that help turn what could've been a very bad idea into a profoundly cathartic experience," IndieWire critic Ben Travers wrote.
I Hate Suzie
Skip HBO's poorly received The Idol and turn instead to I Hate Suzie—and its second season, I Hate Suzie Too—for a sharper, deeper, and more scathing take on celebrity. The series stars Doctor Who's Billie Piper as a former-teen-pop-star-turned-actor (the lead and her character share some resume points, though this isn't an autobiographical show) whose life is upended after a phone hack blows up her marriage and lands her personal affairs on the cover of every tabloid.
"Piper gives an extraordinary performance," Kristen Baldwin wrote for Entertainment Weekly. "Suzie is a punishing role, requiring a constant stream of simultaneous and contradictory moods: panic and composure, repressed resentment and outward acquiescence, lingering shame and burgeoning defiance."
The Wire creator David Simon turns his sights from the drug trade in Baltimore to the adult film industry in New York in the '70s in The Deuce. James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Dominque Fishback are among the period drama's ensemble cast.
"The Deuce is a cleverly told tale of sex, commerce and the price of power, which works because it looks at the sex industry as a job, with the same problems and complaints as any other," The Guardian's Sarah Hughes said of its first season.
The Great Pottery Throw Down
If you're looking to get lost in a soothing reality competition series, you can't do much better than The Great Pottery Throw Down. Like The Great British Bake-Off, it features casts of amateurs stretching their abilities taking on new creative challenges each episode.
NPR's Linda Holmes called the series "gentle and decent and educational and serene" and praised it for "celebrat[ing] patience and beauty and the creation of things that are sturdy and will last."
It's a Sin
Over just five episodes, the British limited series It's a Sin chronicles the terrifying early spread of the AIDS epidemic from the early '80s to the early '90s through the eyes of a group of friends living in London. The devastating and poignant series was nominated for a host of BAFTAs and celebrated for illuminating that period of history for a young gay audience that didn't live through it.
"The show's five episodes are rich with texture, and the gang's ambitions, flings, and catchphrases all come to feel like your own," The Atlantic critic Spencer Kornhaber wrote. "Yet the engine of the plot is AIDS itself. It stalks stealthily in the beginning, then strikes peripheral figures, then inculcates fear and denial, and then moves in to kill beloved heroes."
Gentleman Jack is a stylized historical drama—its heroine often breaks the fourth wall to directly address the audience—but it's based in fact. Suranne Jones plays Anne Lister, a real 19th Yorkshire landowner, whose coded diaries detail her many relationships with other women.
"Gentleman Jack brightly but also quietly investigates Anne's unusual life with a winning mixture of humor and charm, giving context to modern gender politics by looking to a pioneer from the past," Collider's Allison Keene wrote.
How to With John Wilson
The docuseries How to With John Wilson is a tribute to the educational power of the tangent, especially to the curious. The eponymous filmmaker starts out each episode with a specific theme in mind, but you truly never know where he'll end up as he meets people in his quests and follows them down unexpected avenues.
The less you read about this show (which The Guardian's Rebecca Nicholson called an "empathic and lovely celebration of the characters and eccentricities that make life interesting") before you watch it, the more of a treat it is—be like John Wilson and go along for the ride.
Gone too soon after just two six-episode seasons, the Spanish-language comedy series Los Espookys follows a group of horror-obsessed friends who start a business creating terrifying experiences for their varied clientele.
Wrote Matt Zoller Seitz for Vulture, "Although the story eventually moves beyond its repetitious structure — becoming more invested in the dynamics of a group of oddballs forming a makeshift family—it's really the wry comic tone, lived-in comic performances, and quotable dialogue that make the series worth watching."
If you were one of the millions glued to The White Lotus every Sunday night, you owe it to yourself to watch one of creator Mike White's earlier efforts, Enlightened. It stars Laura Dern, who won a Golden Globe for her performance, as a corporate climber trying to rewrite her life after having a breakdown that sent her to a holistic rehab.
"I'm hardly the first person to point out how fantastic Laura Dern is, but so be it: I was blown away by how Dern is able to keep Amy on this knife's edge between maniacal optimism and seething anger, and there's no telling which direction she might go at any moment," The A.V. Club's Meredith Blake wrote of the actor's role in the dark comedy. "It's exhilarating to watch."
Murder on Middle Beach
Don't be surprised if you absorb all four episodes of the documentary Murder on Middle Beach in one sitting. And don't expect an ending that satisfies all of your questions, either. In this deeply personal series, director Madison Hamburg investigates the murder of his own mother, considering a handful of sometimes shocking possible suspects and motives.
"What the documentary does best, for me at least, is capture familial messiness, betrayals, slights and secrets. So many secrets," The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg wrote of its first—and so far only—season.
Over three seasons, the beloved comedy South Side chronicles the misadventures of two best friends and recent college graduates (Sultan Salahuddin, Kareme Young) cooking up dozens of schemes to establish themselves and move up a few tax brackets.
"South Side does something rare for TV, portraying a poor neighborhood with dry-eyed wit, favoring specificity over polemics or cliché," Emily Nussbaum wrote for The New Yorker.
And finally, another series that will scratch your true crime itch is Landscapers, starring David Thewlis and Oscar-winner Olivia Colman as a seemingly affable, unremarkable couple who were found to have murdered her parents, buried them in their own backyard, and gotten away with it for an entire decade. And yes, that really happened.
"It is a rich, generous, clever, multi-textured thing, immaculately played by all the main actors, but awards for Colman, Thewlis and the script must surely be given," The Guardian's Lucy Mangan wrote.