The Best HBO Shows Of All Time, According To Critics
You may have forgotten about some of these HBO gems.
As far as top TV goes, HBO is hard to beat. From “The Sopranos” to “Sex in the City,” the network has produced some original work that will go down in history as TV that audiences will adore for generations to come.
Sometimes, what creates buzz with the viewing public doesn’t strike the same chord with critics — and vice versa. On that note, here are the top HBO shows of all time, as per their ranking on Metacritic, which aggregates reviews of TV shows and other media products. Let the debate commence…
25. ‘Leaving Neverland’
Arguably the most controversial show on this list is “Leaving Neverland,” the HBO documentary featuring Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men in their 30s who allege that at the height of his fame, Michael Jackson sexually abused them over a number of years. The four-hour, two-part documentary, which was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival, aired on U.S. TV in March 2019.
24. ‘What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali’
Chronicling the incredible life of one of the biggest sporting icons of all time, the two-part HBO documentary “What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali” made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival and aired on TV in May 2019. Featuring previously unseen archival footage, the show was praised by Variety for “operating almost as swiftly and forcefully as the icon himself.”
23. ‘The Deuce’
First aired in September 2017, with the third and final season expected in September 2019, “The Deuce” tells the story of the evolution of the sex trade industry in New York in the 1970s. The semi-fictional drama stars James Franco in the dual lead role alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress — Television Series Drama for her role as sex worker Candy.
22. ‘The Pacific’
The 2010 10-part miniseries “The Pacific,” a companion piece to the phenomenally successful 2001 series “Band of Brothers,” focuses on three Marines (played by James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda) in the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII. The series won several awards, including Emmy awards for Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special.
21. ‘Band Of Brothers’
The epic 10-part series “Band of Brothers,” which first aired in September 2001, was based on prolific historian Stephen E. Ambrose’s best-selling book about an elite team of WWII paratroopers. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it won Emmy and Golden Globe awards for best miniseries — amongst many others — and features a stellar cast, including Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg, Tom Hardy and James McAvoy.
20. ‘My Brilliant Friend’
“My Brilliant Friend,” based on the first in Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan Novels series, premiered in November 2018. It tells the tale of Elena Greco and the most important friend in her life, Raffaella Cerullo (Lila), whom she met in the first year of primary school in Naples in 1950. A second season, based on the second Neapolitan Novel, “The Story of a New Name,” was confirmed in December 2018.
19. ‘True Detective’
The anthology crime drama “True Detective,” created and written by Nic Pizzolatto, made its debut in January 2014 and, as of January 2019, a fourth season was in development. Each season is a standalone narrative with new cast ensembles; the third season, starring Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as detectives investigating a gruesome crime involving two missing kids, is set in the Ozarks across three distinct time periods.
The lives of four young women living in New York City is the premise for comedy-drama series “Girls,” which ran for six seasons from 2011 through 2017. Created by and starring Lena Dunham (alongside Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet) and executive produced by Judd Apatow, it received several awards, including the 2013 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and the International Prize at the 2013 British Academy Television Awards.
The dark comedy series “Barry,” which premiered in March 2018, stars Bill Hader as a hitman from the Midwest who travels to Los Angeles to kill someone but gets somewhat distracted along the way. Ahead of its third season, the show has already picked up two Primetime Emmy Awards: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Hader and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Henry Winkler, who plays Barry’s acting coach and mentor.
“Treme” ran for four seasons from 2010 through 2013, featuring John Goodman, Jon Seda, Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown and Kim Dickens as part of its large ensemble cast of New Orleans residents attempting to put their homes and lives back together after Hurricane Katrina. It won a Peabody Award in 2011 and a slew of Primetime Emmy Award nominations for the final season, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special.
15. ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck’
Using unseen material from the Cobain family’s personal archives, filmmaker Brett Morgen allowed a comprehensive look into the Nirvana frontman’s childhood, music career and early death at age 27. Following a limited theatrical release worldwide, it premiered on HBO in April 2015 and received great critical acclaim as well as a nomination for Best Animated Special Production at the 43rd Annie Awards.
14. ‘Olive Kitteridge’
The four-part 2014 miniseries “Olive Kitteridge,” based on the 2008 novel by Elizabeth Strout, stars Frances McDormand as the title character and Richard Jenkins as her loyal husband Henry. The first two episodes were shown back-to-back on Nov. 2, 2014, and the third and fourth episodes aired back-to-back the following evening. The miniseries swept the board at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards, taking home eight awards including Outstanding Limited Series.
Satirical comedy “Veep,” which aired for seven seasons from 2011 through 2019, stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as fictional vice president Selina Meyer, leading her team through the ups and downs of U.S. politics. The show was a huge critical success and won many awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series for its fourth, fifth and sixth seasons. In 2017, Louis-Dreyfus made Emmy history; she took home her sixth consecutive win for best actress in a comedy category for her “Veep” role — the most Emmys won by a single performer for one role.
Drawing inspiration from Issa Rae’s acclaimed web series Awkward Black Girl, “Insecure” charts the awkward experiences of Issa Dee, played by Rae. It premiered online on HBO Now and HBO Go before airing on HBO from October 2016, and a fourth season is currently being developed. In 2017, the American Film Institute selected “Insecure” as one of the top 10 Television Programs of the Year, and Rae has earned two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy, in 2017 and 2018, as well as a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
11. ‘Silicon Valley’
Starring Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller (for the first four seasons), Josh Brener, Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani as five guys who form a startup in California’s tech hub, comedy series “Silicon Valley” will premiere its sixth and final season in late 2019. The show won Best Comedy Series at the 2015 Critics’ Choice Television Awards; T.J. Miller also scooped up Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
10. ‘The Corner’
Based on the nonfiction book “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood” by David Simon and Ed Burns, the six-part 2000 drama series “The Corner” charts the life of a family living in poverty in West Baltimore. In 2000, the show won Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Charles S. Dutton) and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie (David Simon and David Mills).
9. ‘The Night Of’
Crime drama “The Night Of,” spread over eight parts in July and August 2016, was based on the first season of the 2008 British series “Criminal Justice.” The late James Gandolfini was set to star in it; following his death in 2013, he received a posthumous executive producer credit. The HBO series was well-received by critics and won several awards, including Television Miniseries at the Rookie Awards and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Riz Ahmed) at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards.
8. ‘The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling’
The two-part documentary film “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” directed and produced by Judd Apatow, examines the life of comedian Garry Shandling, with his diary excerpts read by actor Michael Cera. It aired in March 2018 and was a critical success; The Hollywood Reporter called it a “worthwhile account of Shandling’s career and evolving philosophy, an insightful exploration of stand-up comedy and the comedic voice, and a sad contemplation and reckoning from those Shandling left behind and those grappling with his legacy.”
“Deadwood” fans who were still lamenting its demise in 2006 (after a three-season run) were somewhat appeased by “Deadwood: The Movie,” which is set 10 years after the end of the final season and which premiered on HBO in May 2019. The TV series features a large ensemble cast, led by Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane playing the real-life Deadwood residents Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen, respectively. Often hailed as one of the best TV shows of all time, “Deadwood” won eight Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe.
6. ‘Game Of Thrones’
The TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” has to go down in history as having one of the most hotly anticipated TV finales of all time. (And then, after it was aired, one of the most divisive.) Whether you loved or loathed the final episode, which aired on May 19, 2019, you can’t deny that “Game of Thrones” captivated millions throughout its eight-season run. It’s one of the most awarded TV shows ever, with almost 300 wins across all the major ceremonies, including the Emmy Awards, the Golden Globes and the BAFTA Awards.
“Enlightened” is one of those unlucky shows that was a huge hit with critics but fell flat with TV audiences; its low ratings led to its cancellation in March 2013 after two seasons. However, the series should be judged a success for Laura Dern, who played the lead role of Amy Jellicoe (“a woman on the verge of a nervous breakthrough,” according to its tagline) — she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress — Television Series Musical or Comedy in 2012.
4. ‘The Sopranos’
It may not be No. 1 on Metacritic, but viewers (and reviewers) in their droves put “The Sopranos” firmly at the top spot — not only of HBO shows, but of all TV shows ever made. Running for six seasons from 1999 through 2007, its portrayal of the struggles endured by New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) as he tried to balance family life with organized crime made it one of the most awarded TV shows of all time.
3. ‘The Wire’
Crime drama series “The Wire,” which starred Wendell Pierce and Dominic West and ran for five seasons from 2002 through 2008, was underrated at the time (it didn’t win any major television awards, and its ratings were average at best) but is now widely accepted as one of the best TV shows of all time. Each season focuses on a different institution in Baltimore, Maryland (e.g. the illegal drug trade in season one) and how it relates to law enforcement.
2. ‘The Leftovers’
Supernatural drama series “The Leftovers,” based on Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name, aired from 2014 through 2017. It focuses on the aftermath of the “Sudden Departure” of 2% of the world’s population, following the lives of those who were left behind, and stars Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston. On top of great critical acclaim and a huge cult following, “The Leftovers” won Most Exciting New Series at the 2014 Critics’ Choice Television Awards.
1. ‘The Larry Sanders Show’
Often hailed as the best sitcom ever made and credited with influencing a long list of successors, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Office” and “30 Rock,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” based around a fictional late-night talk show, aired from 1992 through 1998. The show’s collection of major awards includes three Primetime Emmy Awards, two British Comedy Awards, a Satellite Award and a BAFTA Award.