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Max (previously 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) makes good sense for both the network and binge-watchers looking to maximize their investment.
But HBO’s streaming arm has gotten into the original content game too, with highly acclaimed series like Hacks, Station Eleven, and 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.
Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York
This four-part docuseries, based on Elon Green’s book Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York, looks at the murders of several gay men in the early 1990s. Set against the backdrop of rising homophobia during the AIDS crisis, director Anthony Coronna’s doc talks to the family members of those killed and the LGBTQ+ community advocates who pushed law enforcement to investigate the deaths happening in their community.
The Other Two
Chasedreams (Case Walker) is a 13-year-old internet icon whose overnight rise to global stardom has become the sole focus of his mom (Molly Shannon). Chase’s older siblings, however, are having a much harder time finding success. Brother Cary (Drew Tarver) is an aspiring actor who can’t even land the part of “Man at Party Who Smells Fart,” while sister Brooke (Heléne Yorke) is just trying to figure out who and what she wants to be. While the series, which was cocreated by former SNL head writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, premiered its third season in May, it has somehow managed to fly largely under the radar. But just wait. In the not-too-distant future, people will be talking about The Other Two the way latecomers to Schitt’s Creek did about that pop culture comedy phenomenon a few years back.
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, with its recently concluded final season serving as a brilliant crescendo of all of that dark weirdness mixed in with a little time jump. Barry Berkman (Hader) is a traumatized marine whose newfound apathy toward the world and the very act of living makes 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 spend an entire episode being hunted by a pint-size martial arts master. All four seasons of the Emmy-winning series, each one better than the next, are available to stream in full.
Love & Death
Elizabeth Olsen seamlessly transitions from part-time superhero to cold-blooded seductress in this retelling of the story of Candy Montgomery—a churchgoing wife and mother who turns murderous after having an affair with a fellow parishioner (the always excellent Jesse Plemons). If the plot sounds familiar, that might be because it’s based on the true story of a murder that took place in Texas in 1980. Or perhaps it’s because Hulu got there first with its own limited series, Candy, starring Jessica Biel as the femme fatale.
Media empires run by dysfunctional families may rise and fall, but we’ll always have Succession. The Emmy-winning series concluded its four-season run on May 28, but its legacy as one of the most surprising pieces of prestige TV will be felt for decades to come (especially after what happened at Shiv’s wedding … then “Connor’s Wedding,” not to mention on the balcony or in the hand-hold seen ’round the world). 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 Druckmann, cocreated the post-apocalyptic drama, in which one grizzled survivor (Pedro 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.
White House Plumbers
Real-life political corruption doesn’t necessarily make for great comedy—unless you put the subject in the hands of the brilliantly demented minds behind Veep. Emmy-winning writers Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck reteamed with Emmy-winning writer-turned-showrunner David Mandel to offer up this fun satire of the Watergate scandal. Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux star as E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, respectively, and show how two of Richard Nixon’s closest allies inadvertently killed his presidency. Though there’s a slapstick nature to it all, the story also sticks pretty closely to the actual history of the scandal—which only adds to the absurdity.
A Black Lady Sketch Show
In 2015, Robin Thede made television history when she was named head writer for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore—making her the first Black woman to hold the head writer position on a late-night talk show. Four years later, she revolutionized the TV landscape once again when she gathered up a group of her funniest friends—including Ashley Nicole Black, (future Abbott Elementary creator) Quinta Brunson, Gabrielle Dennis, and Skye Townsend—and created A Black Lady Sketch Show, the first sketch comedy written, produced, and starring Black women. The series, which has brought such A-list names as Angela Bassett out as guest stars with its no-holds-barred humor, just aired its most recent season; all four seasons are available to stream now.
Costello Jones (Daisy May Cooper) is an aspiring novelist and working-class mom who isn’t always successful at making ends meet for herself and her wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Iris (Fleur Tashjian). So Costello is regularly forced to call upon her violence-prone—but wealthy—gay best friend, Selby (Jack Farthing), to unstick them from whatever jams they’ve managed to get caught in. The series is billed as a black comedy, which it definitely is, although the moments between the levity are sometimes so dark and raw that even the frothiest bits carry weight. This darkly nuanced and sometimes surreal meditation on class, sex, dysfunction, and the varying definitions of “family” makes for a compulsively watchable series.
Abbott Elementary creator/star Quinta Brunson (A Black Lady Sketch Show) has garnered all sorts of accolades with this ABC series and even managed to create streaming deals with both 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 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. The series has just two seasons under its belt 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) 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 show you should check out—it has since morphed into a full-on franchise. The series dives below the surface of the seemingly fabulous lives of 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 Thailand 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.
I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel is a creative force of nature who delivered on what she promised with the title of this limited series, which she created, wrote, directed, and stars in. Arabella (Coel) is a Londoner living the millennial dream with a thriving writing career, thanks in part to her celebrity as a social media influencer. But Arabella’s Insta-perfect life begins to unravel when, after a night out with friends, she begins to recall—in fragments—being sexually assaulted. Eventually, the need to piece together exactly what happened to her, and who did it, consumes her completely and the past comes knocking at her door.
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’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. 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 be aware 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 Max.
Bad timing may have led to the unfortunately early demise of Avenue 5, which had 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 It, is 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 the new Brangelina of television. First they teamed up for the hilariously offensive-for-offense’s sake Eastbound & Down; then there was Vice Principals. The Righteous Gemstones, which 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. The black comedy’s first two seasons are already streaming in full, but you’ll want to catch up before the third season premieres on June 18.