The 35 Best HBO Series of All Time, Ranked
The thing about any list ranking, if its honest, is that it can't go un-updated. Things change as they age. Which means that it's time—right now, in 2022—for us to reevaluate the offerings from HBO, a network that has given us too much good for our own good.
You can't help but recognize a show that redefined television with a little story about a coveted Iron Throne. How can you not tip a hat to the great Larry Sanders Show? And then there are newbies, like Euphoria, which has turned the often-melodramatic teen drama category into a cutting edge storytelling device about drug use and social pressures.
So here's the rundown, best as we can imagine it: the top 35 HBO shows, including our takes on characters like Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw—two figures who introduced the now defunct anti-hero era. We know there are always some capital-o opinions when it comes to the offerings from this beloved premium network, so sound off in the comments. But don't come at us with anti pro-Westworld takes—you know that show is off its rocker.
35. We're Here
If Queer Eye opened the door, We're Here kicked it down. Following three drag queens into communities across the United States, the docuseries chronicles how lives have been affected, in some way, by queerness. It mixes feel good optimism with a harsh dose of reality. Sometimes the world isn't ready for a drag queen, or anyone, to live truthfully. But in doing so it finds a profound truth: that's not your problem. You're here, baby.
34. Big Little Lies
In the crusade that is Reese Witherspoon's complete takeover of media, Big Little Lies marks her most nuanced performance. Based on a novel of the same name, the series followed along with the book's plot pretty closely during Season One, to winning effects. But getting renewed proved a cursed for the show. Had that second season not happened, Big Little Lies would be sitting squarely in the Top Ten.
33. The Outsider
We hate this reasoning, but if you hang in for more than two episodes of HBO's adaptation of Stephen King's The Outsider, it really starts taking off. Following the investigation of a young boy's murder, the miniseries starring Jason Bateman, Ben Mendelsohn, and Cynthia Erivo is a welcomed addition to the horror television lineup, and features masterclass performances from its major leads.
No one wants Westworld to be on this list more than Westworld. Often, that obvious reaching is off-putting. But when Westworld turns out a solid episode, it's one of the best on television. If it could just do that more consistently, it would feature higher here.
Created by Lena Dunham, the show follows four young women as they step into adulthood while living in New York City... for better or worse. They can be messy and hypocritical and privileged, but isn't that the point? Have you met a New Yorker before?! What Dunham created is a triumph, documenting 21st century women who dare to be adventurous. And what cements Girls' spot on this list is that it's a series too cool to care if we remembered it at all.
30. Band of Brothers
Put briefly: it's a miniseries developed by Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg. That's kind of all you need to know, right?
The longer version is that the war epic follows Easy Company as they enter World War II—and the 10-episode series continues to stand as one of the great combat adaptations ever. At the time, it nabbed a Best Miniseries Emmy, making it "prestige TV" before the phrase had even become en vogue.
29. The Comeback
Well. I got it! The four words are a hallmark of the Lisa Kudrow staple. But The Comeback was trendsetting in other ways; it was also one of the inaugural shows to be cancelled and then years later receive the revival treatment. Lisa Kudrow never quite got her due for the show, or the strange brand of comedy it introduced.
28. Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley nearly missed its window. Running for six seasons, the comedy continues to draw critical acclaim–and few fans—even now several years after its finale.
Nothing like a massive nuclear accident to get the family around the television, right? The 2019 miniseries was a stalwart during awards season and still (!) holds a 96 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
26. I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel's HBO series is widely seen as one of the best series of 2020. I suspect in the years to come, it will only grow in esteem. Unrelenting and impossibly brave in its discussion of sexual assault, Coel's character, Arabella, faces the truths of her assault and how it affects her job, her relationships with those closest to her, and most importantly, herself.
25. True Blood
Dark horror set in Louisiana, based around sharp-talking, sexy vampires with sharper teeth? Sign us up. The steamy premium cable drama is some of the best TV out there, and Anna Paquin absolutely shines.
24. Years and Years
This 2019 series was probably too relevant. The British program follows one family through the ups and downs of a 15-year span, often jumping in time from episode to episode—but it exists in our current timeline as it tackles a rise of nationalism and increasing fear of others. The series is a haunting collection of what-ifs, making for an occasionally uncomfortable but always rewarding watch.
Listen. Euphoria is a lot to take in. (See: dozens o' dicks.) It also will make you extra grateful to not be coming of age in the year of our Lord, 2022. When the high school-set series began, it hinged on Zendaya's performance, but as seasons have continued, its supporting cast has upped the ante. The peephole into addiction, drug access, social pressures, and growing up right now is some of the most visually stimulating and thought provoking television around.
22. Boardwalk Empire
What happens when you combine Steve Buscemi, New Jersey, and prohibition? You end up with a really great HBO show. Boardwalk Empire only falls so low because the rest of the list is so incredibly strong.
Looking is one of the first of its kind. While Queer as Folk and Queer Eye may have cleared the path, Looking looked (no pun intended) to revolutionize the way that stories are told about gay men. The series never gained a massive audience, but its reverberations are still being felt.
20. Sharp Objects
Amy Adams's psychological thriller Sharp Objects, based on a book of the same name, dominated the summer TV conversation a couple of years ago. Playing an alcoholic reporter, Adams returns to her hometown to investigate a murder and finds herself back under the thumb of her Missouri-dwelling mother (Patricia Clarkson). What follows is impossibly dark, and completely addicting.
Oz was ahead of its time. Set in a fictional men's prison, the series ran for six seasons and tackled topics that were, at the time of its 1997 premiere, too taboo for any other channel. It helped usher in a new era of television, one that skips the fluff and gets into difficult conversations.
18. Station Eleven
Placing a new series (let alone a miniseries) is difficult; the bias of newness is hard to shake. But Station Eleven deserves a call out. With standout performances from Lori Petty, Himesh Patel, and Mackenzie Davis, the series about a post-pandemic world is all about the poetry of being alive—and the bravery it takes to push through when just surviving isn't enough.
Issa Rae set out to create a show that captured a bit of her life, but what she ended up with is something entirely phenomenal: a comedic look inside the life of two Black women trying to find success after college.
16. Big Love
RIP Bill Paxton and the show that managed to corral Chloë Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Seyfried, and Jeanne Tripplehorn into one series about polygamous marriage. God only knows where we'd be without Big Love. (Somewhere far more boring.)
Bill Hader might have been strong on Saturday Night Live, but his turn on HBO's Barry is the role he was meant for. The dark-comedy follows Hader as Barry, a Marine-turned-hitman who just happened to find his bliss (or, you know, get closer to it) by joining the theater scene in Los Angeles. The dream! Just remember to always yes and...
14. Getting On
Laurie Metcalfe paired with Niecy Nash and Alex Borstein is an indomitable trio. Together, here, you have one of the most accomplished casts on television representing overworked doctors and nurses. It's a series that doesn't come up enough, and it certainly hits a little different now in 2022.
Treme had a relatively quiet run beginning in 2010, which is a damn shame because it is one of the best HBO has ever released. Following the events of Hurricane Katrina, it serves as a love letter to New Orleans; it made the city a character, with all its food, music, and culture baked into a series with a lot of heart.
Succession might have been a slow burn when it came to building an audience, but after three successful seasons, the sardonic drama—comedy?—about an elite media family is a dark and deeply addicting look into wealth and dominance. (And my God, they're awful. Comically, so.) With Brian Cox's Logan Roy, his both constantly navigating and manipulating the power hungry machinations of his children. This series might have made top 10, had it not been for Kendall Roy's rapping.
11. Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under, a dark, comedic look at death through the lens of a funeral home, has only gotten better as the years have passed. The writing is smart, the acting is stellar, and the meditation on grieving is completely cathartic. Plus, the cast is stacked: Peter Krause, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, and Dexter before he was Dexter? Damn.
Watchmen changed the television landscape in late 2019. It also, as few shows do, exceeded expectations—which, with Damon Lindelof and Regina King involved, were high. Skewering conversations on race and LGBTQ people, the television adaptation of the graphic novel eclipsed the fanfare and left viewers hungry for more. In a rare move, Lindelof bowed out, leaving us with only one iconic season. But boy was this great TV.
Deadwood is the kind of period piece that feels like it just belongs on HBO. The drama, set in a lawless mining town in post-Civil War America, is one of HBO's most recognizable exports for good reason.
8. Sex and the City
Revolutionary for its time, I couldn't help but wonder... could this list ever include Sex and the City outside of the top five? With the advent of the reboot, things get tainted a bit. Is that fair? Perhaps not. But that's the risk you take when you play with an existing story. The adventures of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte defined a generation and set up the idea that a show about women could be just a risqué as anything else on television.
7. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Improv on television? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. But former Seinfeld co-creator Larry David managed to create one of the most hilarious, unpredictable comedies by turning the focus on himself.
6. Game of Thrones
Placing Game of Thrones is difficult. The phenomenon of fanfare is hard to ignore. (But so is that very uneven final season.) If The Sopranos defined the genre of high-end television, then you have to give GoT the credit for reinventing it. The show has a following unlike anything in recent memory, as well as some of the most intense scenes we've seen on TV, hands down. If you got a problem with where it landed on the list, tell Cersei it was me.
5. The Larry Sanders Show
Garry Shandling broke the mold with The Larry Sanders Show. The series may have been a fictional talk show, but something about the way Shandling infused his natural hosting talent with the vibe of the pretend Larry Sanders is magic that hasn't been recreated. It's one of the best comedy's the network has ever released, and it's gone on to influence television series that are coming out today.
Selina Meyer predicted something that we could have never seen coming: what happens when someone absolutely bananas ends up in the highest office in the land. But more than that, Julia Louis-Dreyfus created a character that set her far apart from her Seinfeld years, proving herself to be one of the most iconic comedic performers of our time.
3. The Leftovers
The Leftovers dared to be adventurous ways that many shows shy away from: big mysteries, a controversial ending, and a crash course in just how good Carrie Coon is.
2. The Sopranos
Never has a cut to black caused so much controversy. But well beyond its shockingly ambivalent ending, the mob series set the tone for modern, elevated television. The Sopranos is responsible for prestige TV as we know it, and ultimately, no other show on this list would be what it is without its guidance.
1. The Wire
At the top of every HBO list is one of the culprits: The Sopranos or The Wire. While The Sopranos may have edged out The Leftovers, it's just impossible to beat The Wire, at least here at Esquire. The show captured the complexity of the Baltimore narcotics scene and the War on Drugs in a way that all the talking heads could never. This isn't just HBO's best series, it's one of the finest programs to ever air anywhere.
From: Esquire US