The best TV dramas on HBO Max

The best TV dramas on HBO Max

Clockwise from left: The West Wing (Screenshot), Euphoria (Photo: Eddy Chen), The Sopranos (Photo: HBO), Gossip Girl (Photo: The CW), The Wire (Screenshot)
Clockwise from left: The West Wing (Screenshot), Euphoria (Photo: Eddy Chen), The Sopranos (Photo: HBO), Gossip Girl (Photo: The CW), The Wire (Screenshot)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular show? Follow the links in each slide to coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as shows come and go.

Access to an array of films spanning the history of cinema (including the alternate history where a global pandemic didn’t prevent you from seeing Godzilla wail on King Kong in a movie theater) is HBO Max’s primary selling point. But the steepest price point in streaming also brings you the nearly complete archives of programming from the service’s namesake, along with selections from its sister channels and the Warner Bros. television library. Whether you’re ready to delve into the classics of Davids Chase, Simon, and Milch; catching up on Succession and Euphoria between seasons; or seeking an escape to a fantastical television getaway like Westeros, Newport Beach, or the Bartlet White House, these are The A.V. Club’s picks for the best TV dramas on HBO Max.

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Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

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Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle

The first seven episodes of Big Little Lies were as much an exercise in harnessing star power as they were a look at what lies beneath the Williams-Sonoma catalog cover that is the lives of rich Monterrey women. The David E. Kelley series, a mostly faithful adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel, was also intended to be a limited one, but who could resist the opportunity to see the Monterrey Five again? Few did, though season two was ultimately less focused and rewarding than the first outing. [Danette Chavez]

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Big Love

Big Love

During Big Love’s five-season run, it built a legacy as one of television’s most complex studies of American family life, letting viewers into the three family rooms of fundamentalist Mormon Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton). The show worked to shine a light on the day-to-day of practicing polygamists, which included Bill’s three wives, each introduced with a somewhat exaggerated personality. First wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) filled the roll of sitcom mom. Second wife Nicki (Chloë Sevigny) teetered on sociopathy, often driving the drama of the show. Third wife Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) was Bill’s midlife crisis personified. To the credit of the writers, though, those roles were established so they could be dismantled episode after episode, as viewers learned the backstory and motivation of each woman. Eventually, the show portrayed the characters’ differences in a more nuanced way that also revealed their similarities. [Becca James]

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Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire

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Photo: HBO

HBO’s return to the world of New Jersey gangsters, shaken with period drama details and served with a twist of Martin Scorsese’s aesthetic. Created by The Sopranos alum Terence Winter and based on the book by Nelson Johnson, Boardwalk Empire traced the rise of American organized crime through the Prohibition era, via the activities of Atlantic City Treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi in his most multifaceted performance). There are gunfights, political corruption, wild parties, fancy suits and dresses—everything you’d expect from a show about the Roaring ’20s, and then some.

Although Boardwalk Empire never achieved the pantheon level of the shows it was clearly trying to emulate (at one point characterized as an amalgam of every HBO show ever), its breadth and depth means there’s plenty of intriguing things going on at any given time. The cast is the richest ensemble on a cable drama since Deadwood: highlights include Michael Kenneth Williams as savvy gangster Chalky White, Michael Shannon as zealous prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden, Kelly MacDonald as Irish housewife-turned-criminal conspirator Margaret Schroeder, and a breakout performance by Jack Huston as mutilated veteran Richard Harrow. And while often accused of dragging on the narrative front, every season—and the series as a whole—has a novelist’s attention to detail, building to satisfying and often gut-wrenching conclusions. [Les Chappell]

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Carnivàle

Carnivàle

After the death of his mother and the loss of his family farm, a young man (Nick Stahl) joins a traveling carnival and begins a journey across the Southwestern United States amid the ravages of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. But there’s more to Ben Hawkins and the carnival’s troupe than meets the eye, and Carnivàle follows his struggle to understand and accept the meaning of his mysterious magical powers. Meanwhile, a preacher in California (Clancy Brown), begins going through a similar transformation, experiencing the same bizarre visions and displaying supernatural abilities. Soon enough, the two find themselves caught up in an eternal struggle between good and evil with apocalyptic implications. [Matt Gerardi]

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Deadwood

Deadwood

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Graphic: Karl Gustafson, Photo: Warrick Page/HBO

From our list of the best TV series of the ’00s:

The earliest TV-drama hits were Westerns, so when HBO unleashed David Milch’s Deadwood on the world in 2004, it seemed at first like the latest in the channel’s long series of TV genre-reclamation projects. Instead, the series quickly abandoned the Wild West archetypes of its first handful of episodes and turned into a show about how communities come to be, how civilization springs from blood and gold, and how chaos is imperfectly knit into order. Featuring grandly theatrical dialogue, at least five dozen major recurring characters, and an unforgettable lead performance from Ian McShane, Deadwood was the temperamental Milch’s love letter to such timeless virtues as common decency, free societies, and creatively deployed profanity. Though the series only lasted three seasons and never reached a natural endpoint, the seasons are so packed with Milch’s richly humanistic view of the world that they trump 10 seasons of more common shows.

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The Deuce

The Deuce

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Photo: Paul Schiraldi

At a time when new voices flood an ever-changing media landscape, it’s downright refreshing to watch television veterans showcase their well-honed craft on a proper scale. The Deuce felt so fully formed right out of the gate because co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos knew exactly what they wanted to say and exactly how to say it without even a minor stumble. Following the rise of pornography in the early 1970s, The Deuce uses the sex industry as a microcosm for the nascent detrimental effects of late capitalism—the spread of gentrification, the rise of automation over human labor, the government’s co-option of mob interests for public policy, and as always, systemic institutional dysfunction. Yet like all Simon projects, The Deuce never once feels like a lecture, but rather an entertaining glimpse into the past during a time of massive social upheaval, when sexual freedom broke through to the mainstream like a wrecking ball (though, the first season convincingly argues, stratification persists even when the culture slowly welcomes the marginalized and the downtrodden). Aided by career-best performances from James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, not to mention a hall-of-fame supporting cast that includes half a dozen Wire alums, The Deuce presents a panoramic view of a zero-sum world, complete with winners and losers who don’t know where they stand. Most importantly, the series always feels indebted to the unique rhythms of daily life, in which misery never exists without joy, and struggle without celebration. [Vikram Murthi]

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Enlightened

Enlightened

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Photo: HBO

There has never been a show quite like Enlightened, and there probably never will be again. Mike White and Laura Dern’s two-season cringe drama asks a unique question: What if it were possible to take television’s beloved antihero format and, instead of exploring the consequences of selfishness and violence, use it to investigate what happens when a broken person tries to make good? The result, anchored by Dern’s career-high performance as Amy Jellicoe, is awkward, funny, and often astonishingly moving, a compassionate and merciless examination of how difficult it is to do the right thing; how every choice, however well-intentioned, has a cost; and how those costs can still be worth paying. [Zack Handlen]

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Euphoria

Euphoria

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Photo: HBO

If you want to gauge the unequivocal acting chops that Zendaya has honed over the course of her young life, you needn’t look any further than two scenes within the inaugural season of Euphoria. First, there’s the gut-wrenching moment in the episode “Made You Look,” where young addict Rue tearfully pleas for her friend/dealer Fezco (Angus Cloud) to supply her with more drugs. Then, head to “The Trials And Tribulations Of Trying To Pee While Depressed” and meet Detective Bennett, a chain-smoking high-school sleuth determined to uncover the truth about her best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer) and ruthless playboy Nate (Jacob Elordi). You’ll soon find that her skillful grasp of both dramatic and comedic material speaks to a range that she merely hinted towards previously. Rue is every bit a disaster and brilliant, enigmatic and an open wound, and Zendaya gifted audiences with such a lived-in portrayal that Rue resonated as one of the rawest characters of the year. Whatever the season threw at her—recovery, young love, depression, fear, joy, rage, or alarming apathy—Zendaya handled with spellbinding flair. [Shannon Miller]

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Everwood

Everwood

This heartfelt drama begins by sending famed New York City neurosurgeon Dr. Andy Brown (Treat Williams) and his children Ephram (Gregory Smith) and Delia (Vivien Cardone) to the mountains, fulfilling a wish of their late wife and mother. What begins as a multi-generational fish-out-of-water story eventually chronicles the soapy intermingling of three families that have come to call Everwood, Colorado home: The Browns, yes, but also those of the burg’s husband-and-wife doctor-mayor power couple, the Abbotts, and friendly waitress/next door neighbor Nina Feeney (Stephanie Niznik). Perpetually overlooked during its four season run, Everwood deserves to be remembered among the Gilmores and the Creeks that defined the non-supernatural wing of programming on the Frog, if not for the names it introduced to the primetime pantheon (creator Greg Berlanti and Abbott siblings Emily VanCamp and Chris Pratt), then for the facts that fussy Dr. Harold Abbott (Tom Amandes) is a damn enjoyable TV character and Ephram is written as one of the most genuinely miserable-little-shit teenagers ever put on screen. [Erik Adams]

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Game Of Thrones

Game Of Thrones

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Photo: HBO

Game Of Thrones defined the last decade of television, for better or worse. HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic A Song Of Ice And Fire blew open television production values and turned once-niche books into the most Emmy-awarded series of all time and [the 2010's] true “smash hit.” But while the show’s most iconic scenes and memorable characters will forever remain in the cultural zeitgeist, its final seasons struggled to resolve Martin’s unfinished story cleanly, held accountable by the same social media conversation that had built the show into a phenomenon. At its fiery peaks, few shows in the decade burned brighter, but the icy reception to its finale reflects its struggles to measure up in a decade with so many of TV history’s finest endings. [Myles McNutt]

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Gentleman Jack

Gentleman Jack

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Photo: Matt Squire/HBO

Whatever expectations we might’ve had for a new BBC period drama, Gentleman Jack handily upended them. The HBO co-production, written and directed by British TV veteran Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley), cuts an odd, refreshing figure in the television landscape, much like Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) does as she power-walks around 19th-century Halifax in her top hat, collecting rents, dressing down shady businessmen, and steaming up sitting rooms in pursuit of Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle). The real-life Lister’s journals portray a passionate, difficult woman with a remarkably modern grasp of herself and her sexual nature, and Wainwright works a similarly eccentric confidence into nearly every level of her production: the knowingly over-the-top music; the dynamic camerawork and snappy editing; the smart, saucy script. Not only is Gentleman Jack America’s introduction to the force of nature that is Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster), but also it serves as a multigenerational survey of British TV talent. To name just a few, Rundle, Amelia Bullmore, Gemma Jones, and Gemma Whelan (a.k.a. Yara Greyjoy) all turn in superb performances, helping to make this series as multifaceted and as boldly subversive as its namesake. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl

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Photo: The CW

Gossip Girl depicted its characters’ excessive power and wealth as a double-edged sword, but it still cast their Upper East Side ecosystem in an aspirational light, thanks to the audience surrogates in the Humphrey family. Dan judged how easily everything came to his more affluent classmates, all the while dating and loving the poster girl for their consequence-free lifestyle, Serena Van Der Woodsen (Blake Lively). His sister Jenny (Taylor Momsen) lied, cheated, and stole in order to gain the respect of queen bee Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester)—though there was never a chance of that happening. There were no “very special” episodes, and when a character learned a lesson, it wasn’t one they learned for good. The show was covered in “white people problems,” as every possible dilemma the Upper East Siders encountered could be solved with money, status, and a little bit of charm. Whether it was a hand-waved attempted rape or stealing a dress worth five figures from the home of a “friend,” the characters of Gossip Girl did nothing on a small scale. [LaToya Ferguson]

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In Treatment

In Treatment

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Photo: HBO

In Treatment moves in increments. It’s a show where a character writing her big secret on a note and then handing it over to her shrink is treated with all the momentousness of the smoke monster showing up for the first time on Lost. The show’s central conceit – two people sitting in a room and talking – is inherently stagey, a throwback to the kinds of small-scale dramatic anthologies that made up much of the so-called golden age of television, and it doesn’t so much progress as it inches forward, bit by bit, until the characters look up and realize the place they’re standing is so far away from where they started out. The best TV often feels like some sort of novel, full of characters who go on long emotional journeys, but In Treatment often feels like a grouped collection of short stories, waging battles for the psyche on an infinitesimal scale that only later reveals itself to hold so, so much. [Emily VanDerWerff]

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John From Cincinnati

John From Cincinnati

There hadn’t been a surfing show for a long time before John From Cincinnati, yet [David] Milch brought surfing back to television in the unlikeliest possible fashion. But it wasn’t just surfing that made John From Cincinnati such unlikely TV fodder, even for HBO. It was also rather nakedly a show about spirituality, a subject that has never gained much traction on American television. As if all that weren’t enough to scare potential viewers, the show boasted a title seemingly designed to chase away the few viewers it didn’t confuse into a stupor. Who was John From Cincinnati? What was John From Cincinnati? And what kind of a name is John From Cincinnati for a television show about a depressed Southern California surfing town? It’s as if Milch and co-creator/novelist Kem Nunn couldn’t wait for the actual premiere of John From Cincinnati to confuse and disappoint audiences (especially those seeking a surf-world Deadwood), so they figured they’d get a head start with a maddeningly cryptic, counterintuitive title. [Nathan Rabin]

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The Leftovers

The Leftovers

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Photo: Van Redin

Never before has a searing drama about the emotional toll exacted by personal trauma on a global scale been so damn funny. Honest, idiosyncratic, and soulful, the weird and wonderful world of The Leftovers imagines the fallout from 2% of the world’s population disappearing without a trace—and the disparate ways those remaining try to make some sense of such a capricious and inexplicable universe. The first season faithfully adapted Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, but once it left its source material behind, the series became a marvel of erudite storytelling: As meditative and moving as a funeral, as gripping as a thriller, and funnier than most comedies. A TV series that successfully comes to grips with the divine? God, what a show. [Alex McLevy]

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Luck

Luck

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Photo: HBO

What is it about? That’s an almost impossible question to answer without spoiling much of the series’ later episodes, but it is about horse racing, yes, and it is about trying to find your way to a second chance. It’s also about seeing a wonderful cast tear into [David] Milch’s dialogue and move gracefully through Mann’s technically austere world. (Milch, as in every series he’s created, heavily rewrote each episode, while [Michael] Mann was responsible for the look and editing of every episode, though he only technically directed the pilot.) Dustin Hoffman, as “Ace” Bernstein, reminds you why he was such a highly acclaimed actor for so very long. Nick Nolte gives his very best wounded, grizzled veteran of life’s hard knocks as a novelistic character—a man who seems only capable of opening up to horses. Four gamblers hanging around the edges of the track are united by an unexpected moment, then become both a Greek chorus commenting on the action and a part of it. And while this is a very male-heavy ensemble, Kerry Condon stands out as a woman trying to become a jockey. [Emily VanDerWerff]

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Men Of A Certain Age

Men Of A Certain Age

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Photo: TNT

From our list of the best TV of 2011:

It’s easy to miss why Men Of A Certain Age was such a revelatory television program. The audience necessary to keep it on the air never materialized, and TNT canceled the program without much of a second thought, despite the massive critical outcry designed to save it. The series doesn’t seem that impressive at first, either: It’s just a show about a bunch of guys in their 50s, examining their lives and loves, right? But Men’s eye for perfectly telling details and exact, precise character moments allowed it to tell small stories that seemed huge, little tales of middle age that became universal in their specificity. There were better shows than Men Of A Certain Age, but none that did what it did as well.

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

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Screenshot: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

HBO became television’s most daring network by producing shows unlike those the medium had ever seen before, but it burnished that reputation by producing shows unlike those HBO had ever seen before. Alexander McCall Smith’s beloved No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book series didn’t seem to lend itself to an HBO adaptation, given that the network’s brand still rested on a foundation of dark antiheroes, neo-noir, and auteurist westerns. Detective Agency, which chronicles the sleuthing adventures of Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott), Botswana’s pluckiest gumshoe, doesn’t remotely fit that profile. It has crime, punishment, and human frailty, but it’s of the sort involving a client like Happy Bapetsi and a mysterious man who introduces himself as her estranged father, a case known around the agency as “The Case Of The Dubious Daddy.” [Joshua Alston]

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The OC

The OC

Just as the flannel-wrapped softies of Nirvana and Pearl Jam would give way to more outwardly heart-on-sleeve Pacific Northwest sounds of Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse, so too would the furrowed brows of West Beverly Hills High School give way to a more sensitive class of teen dreams. The haves of Newport Beach—and their adopted have-not son, Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie)—were no less immune to physical altercations, substance abuse, and double crosses, but they approached these perils with a pop-culture-damaged wink and a Barsuk Records-issued song in their hearts. [Erik Adams]

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Oz

Oz

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Photo: HBO

Call it the “proto-prestige drama.” The series, from Homicide: Life On The Street creator Tom Fontana, premiered on July 12, 1997. Oz centered on the various, nefarious inmates of Emerald City, an experimental unit within the Oswald State Correctional Facility. It was just as notable for its huge cast as it was for the frequency with which it dispatched core characters, something we see today on The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones. One of the first to die also broke a major, unspoken TV rule on his way out: The premiere depicts several days in the life of the show’s ostensible protagonist, inmate Dino Ortolani, before ending that life in fiery fashion at the episode’s conclusion. (Killing off the main character in the first episode was a taboo Fontana had fantasized about indulging during his network days.) With such bold moves, Oz wasted no time finding its footing, but it eventually lost its way—and well before the musical episode. Despite diminishing returns, Oz garnered favorable reviews and strong enough ratings to last six seasons. And yet, as demonstrated above, it’s not the first series that comes to mind when we think of some of the best or most ambitious programming. But for a while, Oz was both of those things, sometimes even at the same time. [Danette Chavez]

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Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under

From our list of the best TV series of the ’00s:

It might be easy to magnify Six Feet Under’s occasional mid-run plot stumbles into worse flaws than they actually were, but the bumpy moments shouldn’t overshadow the real pathos that this five-season HBO drama delivered. Playing the unwilling heir to his family’s funeral home, Nate Fisher was often unlikeable, but the shitstorms that followed him around made him a hero just the same. Delicate performances from the many women in his life buoyed the show: Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, and Lili Taylor offered some of TV’s most complex female characters. A nuanced gay couple (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick) broadened the show, too. And though it could seem soapy at times, no other drama featured Six Feet Under’s depth of plot and talking dead people.

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The Sopranos

The Sopranos

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Photo: HBO (Getty Images)

From our list of the best TV series of the ’00s:

The depiction of evil in storytelling has been complicated ever since Lucifer became the breakout character in Milton’s Paradise Lost. It would be a mistake to say all 86 episodes of The Sopranos are a commentary on the relationship between storytellers and their wicked characters, but that was definitely on the mind of show creator David Chase. Over the course of its six seasons, the series followed the misadventures of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a charismatic multiple murderer who uses psychotherapy to help him balance his relationships with his wife and children, and to deal with the stress of his position as a powerful figure in the New Jersey mafia. Chase and other writers used Tony’s dual life as means to examine consumerist culture, the lasting impact of violence, Italian-American identity, and dozens of other themes. With a strong cast anchored by Gandolfini’s brilliant leading turn, each season served up soap opera, mob intrigue, and surrealist digressions, all tied together by the main character’s quest for self-realization. The dark inevitability of that quest’s end will be forever debated by fans, but one lesson is clear: having sympathy for the Devil doesn’t make him any less monstrous, no matter how much we might wish otherwise.

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Southland

Southland

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Photo: TNT

From our 2013 list of shows to binge over a long weekend:

Southland charged through the everyday lives of cops in some of L.A.’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, gathering gravitas over five seasons (and two networks, and two cancellations). In the grand tradition of gritty cop shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide (and, yeah, The Wire), it brings the ugly and the beautiful together with an unblinking eye.

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Succession

Succession

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Photo: HBO

It’s not a particularly original or subtle story Succession is telling—one of the Lear-like Roy siblings might as well have been named “Regan.” Rather, it’s in the execution of tyrant Logan’s children jockeying for control of his kingdom that makes Succession’s tragi-comedy so captivating. There’s Jeremy Strong’s dead-eyed dialogue delivery, Sarah Snook’s perfectly calibrated Lean In feminism and impossibly silky blouses, and Kieran Culkin’s turn as a slimy, horned-up “disruptor” with a heart of gold—plus the tinkling piano score that pours a high gloss on all their bad behavior. Succession doesn’t just get the details right; mirroring the capricious world of media and its greedy overlords, it also makes sweeping plot turns that build to climaxes as bloody as Macbeth. Second best to eating the rich is watching them eat each other. [Laura Adamczyk]

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Tell Me You Love Me

Tell Me You Love Me

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Screenshot: Tell Me You Love Me

From our list of binge-worthy single-season series:

A prelude to its even better In Treatment, here’s HBO’s original attempt to build a series around therapy (in this case, couples’ sex counseling) without the intrusions of mob life that made The Sopranos so successful. Here’s another series HBO renewed before pulling the plug, this time because creator Cynthia Mort was unable to find a direction for season two. That’s probably because season one tells such a self-contained story, one that can try the patience but ends beautifully—particularly when it comes to Ally Walker and Tim DeKay as middle-aged parents who haven’t had sex in over a year. Their story alone is worth watching the show for, as is Jane Alexander’s performance as the therapist.

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Treme

Treme

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Photo: HBO

David Simon’s searing, empathetic look at New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina often bit off more than it could chew, but it remains a gorgeous testament to how the rebuilding of a city doubles as a rebuilding of its culture. An aesthetic pleasure more than a narrative one, the show remains singular in how it luxuriated in the city’s musical, culinary, and artistic traditions as it also dissected the sacrifices of committing wholly to them. [Randall Colburn]

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The West Wing

The West Wing

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Screenshot: The West Wing

The West Wing was born out of Aaron Sorkin’s own rose-colored view of government. The first few seasons are written in direct and defiant response to the demoralizing liberal administration of the late ’90s—a White House embroiled in a sex scandal in 1998, and a gridlocked Congress partially shutting down in 1995. Sorkin’s President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, was in some ways the anti-Clinton—an academic from New Hampshire who came unwilling to politics, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who first wanted to be a priest. Where the Clinton administration and the government tactics of the end of the 20th century inspired cynicism, The West Wing exhorted idealism. Around Bartlet, Sorkin created a group of lovable and nerdy political operatives—the policy wonks, speechwriters, and personnel who showed up to work every day out of a strong and almost pathological sense of public service. [Sonia Saraiya]

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The Wire

The Wire

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Screenshot: The Wire

From our list of the best TV series of the ’00s:

Taking full advantage of the generous breadth of the television format—and HBO’s commitment to ambitious, form-expanding programming—The Wire unfolded like a great American novel, trusting viewers to pick up on the intricate connections between seasons, characters, and myriad details. Starting as an impressively scrupulous, evenhanded depiction of the Baltimore drug trade, the show opened up into an ever-expanding portrait of a city, one weakened institution at a time, from the unions to the schools to the newspaper business. At every turn, Simon and his crack team of writers (including crime novelists George Pelacanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane) revealed how the corrupt and often grossly incompetent acts of the powerful consistently preyed on the city’s most defenseless residents. Rooted in Greek tragedy, this grim series was mitigated by moments of profound redemption, a penchant for gallows humor, and an abiding respect for the quietly heroic men and women who try to make a difference.

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