The 40 Best TV Shows on HBO Max (That Aren’t HBO)

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The 40 Best TV Shows on HBO Max (That Aren’t HBO)

Like HBO Max itself, our picks for the best shows on HBO are a hodgepodge. From sweeping romance to brutal animation to hilarious 2000s-set comedies, Max’s combination of various Turner cable properties, DC TV shows, Cinemax, and Warner Bros-produced series has provided a strange but worthwhile group of scripted and unscripted viewing.

Our list would be twice as long, though, if we included all of HBO’s great series, which are also a part of Max. So if you’d like to check them out, you can peruse our ranked list of HBO Series here. But while HBO series have all been in one place for a long time, the content on Max has not. So below are 40 of our best bets for what to watch on this mega-conglomerate streaming service that run the gamut—enjoy!

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40. Love Life

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Created by: Sam Boyd
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Zoë Chao, Peter Vack, Sasha Compère
Original Network: HBO Max

Watch on HBO Max

Look, I can’t really defend my decision to binge all 10 episodes of HBO Max’s first original series. But what I can tell you is that the show is compulsively watchable, much like every romantic comedy that you love even though deep down you know it’s not a great movie (here’s looking at you, 27 Dresses).

Anna Kendrick stars as Darby, a would-be museum curator who we meet as a young twentysomething (the wigs at this stage of Darby’s life are bad). Each episode—blessedly only 30 minutes each which is absolutely part of the show’s appeal—follows Darby in a certain year of her life and in a different romantic relationship. The conceit of the show is that we are all in a few relationships before we find the one and that true happiness cannot be found in another person, you have to figure that out for yourself. (Special shout out to Zoe Chao, who is fantastic as Darby’s best friend Sarah.) The series deftly chronicles those rocky years in your 20s when your career, your friendships, and your relationships are all in flux, and it has some interesting things to say about parenthood and figuring out your relationship with your parents as an adult.

Love Life has been picked up for a second season where viewers will follow a whole new protagonist, this time someone who thinks they’ve found their soulmate, only to discover they were wrong.  And we just might just end up loving it.—Amy Amatangelo


39. Aqua Teen Hunger Force

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Created by: Dave Willis, Matt Maiellaro
Stars: Dana Snyder, Carey Means, Dave Willis, Matt Maiellaro, George Lowe, C. Martin Croker, Andy Merrill, Mike Schatz
Original Network: Adult Swim

Watch on HBO Max

For a certain type of TV watcher who was college-aged in the mid-aughts (me), Aqua Teen Hunger Force was a mainstay for humor and references among friend groups. The bizarre Adult Swim cartoon heralded a new kind of television comedy, one that leaned heavily into surrealism and pure silliness. Starring a trio of anthropomorphic beings—Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad—who are also roommates, the show has some vague allusions to crime-fighting superheroics and galactic unrest, but mainly it thrives on augmenting mundane daily routines into the ridiculously hilarious. (Let’s also never forget their neighbor Carl, a rare human on the show, whose one-liners remain the actual best.) The extremely long-running series reached its apex early on, and though its legacy is that of a time capsule for the jokes and comedy aesthetic of a network leaning into a new frontier of weirdness, it still holds up as one of the strangest, funniest series Adult Swim ever made. “Drivin’ in my car, livin’ like a star / Ice on my fingers and my toes and I’m a Taurus.” —Allison Keene


38. Search Party

Created by: Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, Michael Showalter
Stars: Alia Shawkat, John Reynolds, John Early, Meredith Hagner
Original Network: TBS

Watch on HBO Max

Search Party initially captivated us when TBS aired the entire first season in five days. It’s the story of a New Yorker named Dory (Alia Shawkat) who becomes obsessed with a missing college classmate because she herself is feeling so lost and floundering in her own life. Her support system—a kind of a wet rag boyfriend and two very self-centered friends—isn’t terribly interested in indulging Dory’s quest to find the missing Chantal, but they get unwittingly sucked in (along with the audience). It’s a weird combination of comedy, drama and mystery, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Search Party carries its charm into its subsequent seasons through a scintillating evolution from mystery to horror. From a neon sign that reads “slay” and an eerie synth jingle to a painting of a dead man and a play about Charles Manson, it’s littered with half-frightful, half-funny details; the episode titles (“Murder!” “Suspicion” “Obsession,” etc.) might’ve been culled from the poster for one of Hitchcock’s classics. Indeed, if the first season’s search for Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) once reminded me of Vertigo, the second completes the connection: Dory (Alia Shawkat) and Co. are the series’ Scottie Fergusons, unraveled not by the chase, but the capture. Though I want to put on my Stefon voice and say, this show has everything—the relentlessly funny John Early, as the fast-unraveling Elliott Goss; a Marge Gunderson figure on the characters’ trail; a guest arc for J. Smith-Cameron; scatological humor, awful pseudonyms, primal screams—the fact is, that everything is working in felicitous harmony to underscore Search Party’s most elemental fear: Seeking, and ultimately locating, the thing we thought would make us happy, only to discover that it’s not what we’d hoped. —Matt Brennan


37. Pretty Little Liars

Created by: I. Marlene King
Stars: Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Holly Marie Combs, Lucy Hale, Ian Harding, Shay Mitchell
Original Network: Freeform

Watch on HBO Max

Pretty Little Liars, which premiered in 2010 on what was then called ABC Family, a Christian-slanted, conservative basic cable channel that has since embraced an older, more progressive audience under the name Freeform. The show was created by I. Marlene King, who’d go on to be showrunner for all seven seasons, but was known at that time mostly for writing the coming-of-age Now and Then, the Lindsay Lohan vehicle Just My Luck and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. Based on the series of YA novels by Sara Shepard—from which the show’s plot would eventually drastically depart, in a Song of Ice and Fire vs. Game of Thrones kind of situation—PLL follows four teens living in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Rosewood as they navigate both the rigors of pubescence and an all-seeing, malevolent force known as “A,” who has something to do with their murdered best friend and erstwhile leader, Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse).

Despite lasting long past the point at which it could’ve cleanly bowed out, Pretty Little Liars stayed compelling (and very lucrative) throughout the better part of a decade, able to balance its teen soap opera tendencies with smart character development and a genuine affection for the world it’d created. That tight-rope walk extended to the many genres it tipped between, helmed by such serialized television veterans like Norman Buckley, folks who’ve stuck around seemingly forever because they’ve got an inherent agility to the way they put together an episode. It helped that Pretty Little Liars was so adaptable to an array of fans, each watching for very different reasons. This was partly due to the series’ overarching mystery, which eventually became an eternally forking mess of mysteries: Who is “A”—but also why is “A,” and what really happened to Alison, and what kind of juicy corruption lies beneath the shiny veneer of the Liars’ suburban hometown? —Dom Sinacola


36. Snowpiercer

Created by: Josh Friedman, Graeme Manson
Stars: Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Mickey Sumner, Alison Wright, Iddo Goldberg, Mike O’Malley, Sean Bean
Original Network: TNT

Watch on HBO Max

The most unsettling thing about watching a show about a post-apocalyptic future during a pandemic is that even the most random details hit a little too close to home. At one point during TNT’s new series, Snowpiercer, head of hospitality Melanie (a perfectly cast Jennifer Connelly) asks one of the train’s conductors, “Do you remember fresh air? Do you remember going for walks?” to which he responds, after a thoughtful pause, “Rain. I miss the sound of rain.”

The premise for the series is that in the not-too-distant future, climate change has taken a turn for the worse, and scientists attempting to counteract the damage humanity has enacted upon our planet accidentally freeze the world instead. A supposedly forward-thinking “visionary” named Mr. Wilford predicts the coming disaster, and builds a train 1,001 cars long that will house all of Earth’s last remaining citizens, circling the globe without an end in sight. As is the case with society itself, the train is divided into various classes—first, second, third, and the tail—each defined by varying degrees of privilege and poverty. The story is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, originally published in 1982; Oscar winner Bong Joon-Ho adapted it into a star-studded, big-screen action flick in 2013 (see: Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, and Song Kang-Ho).

In place of Bong’s Hollywood action hero Evans, the TV series enlists Hamilton star Daveed Diggs as Andre Layton, the reigning leader of the mistreated “tailies” section of the train. Instead of a more straightforward rebellion pushing Evans’ Curtis from the tail to the front of the train, the series takes advantage of its multi-chapter format to present a complex web of lies, false identities, and complicity.

It’s important to note here that when Bong’s film was released in 2013, the world was a much different place. Snowpiercer, the movie, felt prophetic, like a warning of what could happen if humans continued to allow capitalistic impulses guide our decisions. But the TV series isn’t prophetic. It’s a mirror. What happens when there is less to learn from the allegory than from reality itself? When simile becomes metaphor? It’s not that the society we live in is like the fictional world of Snowpiercer; it’s that the society we live in is Snowpiercer. —Joyce Chen


35. Miracle Workers

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Created by: Simon Rich
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan, Karan Soni, Jon Bass, Sasha Compère, Lolly Adefope, Steve Buscemi
Original Network: TBS

Watch on HBO Max

It feels like a miracle that Miracle Workers got a second season on TBS (and later a third on HBO Max), but the fact that it’s as funny and strange as creator Simon Rich’s first oddball take on the afterlife should have comedy fans praising the heavens. Its follow-up, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages, is so far its best and sets its hilarious cast in another setting well-worn by comedies with a British pedigree: The Middle Ages. Breakout Geraldine Viswanathan is a Shitshoveler—literally, it’s her last name—whose dad (Steve Buscemi) and local layabout prince (Daniel Radcliffe) are always getting her into something … when she’s not breaking the mold by trying to, say, read. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a good touchstone here, with everything from old-timey doctors to executions getting a light satirical jab. The humor is quick, witty, and understated, made even more unique by the brilliantly offbeat deliveries of its stars. If ever there was a show that felt like an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine turned into a series, it would be Miracle Workers, which continues to be both one of the smartest, sweetest, and delightfully dumbest shows on TV. —Jacob Oller


34. Banshee

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Created by: Jonathan Tropper, David Schickler
Stars: Antony Starr, Ivana Milicevic, Ben Cross, Hoon Lee, Frankie Fiason
Original Network: Cinemax

Watch on HBO Max

Cinemax’s long-overlooked and ultraviolent drama Banshee comes at viewers like a firestorm. The name comes from its rural Pennsylvania setting, where a town in Amish country that is besieged by drug dealers becomes reliant on the heroics of an ex-con jewel thief posing under the assumed identity of a slain local sheriff. As the “sheriff,” Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), hides from a brutal crime lord, he reconnects with a lost love (and the crime lord’s daughter) Anastasia (Ivana Milicevic), who is also living under an assumed name and identity. With the help of wary partners Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison)—who soon become as family—this ragtag group battle a charismatic local kingpin and eventually get dragged into tribal land disputes, tussles with the Aryan Brotherhood, and more. It’s high-octane action all held together thanks to the strength of its cast, but while the interpersonal drama is good, the show truly hinges on some really, really crunchy violence. There are lots of guns, fountains of blood, and some excellent heists, but also some of TV’s fiercest women and most inclusive casts (especially for the early 2010s). If you can stomach it, Banshee is beautifully, brutally filmed and a gloriously wild ride. —Allison Keene and Kenny Herzog


33. Home Movies

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Created by: Brendon Small, Loren Bouchard
Voice Cast: Brendon Small, H. Jon Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky, Janine Ditullio, Paula Poundstone
Original Network: Adult Swim

Watch on HBO

Home Movies, Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard’s UPN/Adult Swim cult masterpiece, is a foundational work (alongside Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) for modern animated comedy. The chatty, surreal-yet-conversational mundanity of the world’s kid filmmaker and his surroundings warped Beavis and Butt-head-era alt-animation while lowering the divide between high and lowbrow. Coordinating its meandering monotone jokes with its equally static-yet-kinetic Squigglevision/Flash visual style, Home Movies’ clever improvisations laid the raw groundwork for the deadpan quasi-stoner cleverness that Bob’s Burgers pushed into the mainstream. It even has H. Jon Benjamin crushing every muttery word that traverses his crackly pipes. Sad, smart, savvy, and filled with classic bits you’ll be repeating to your friends until your entire social circle can recite a Franz Kafka rock opera, Home Movies is a classic depiction of childhood’s bittersweet strangeness.—Jacob Oller


32. Adam Ruins Everything

Created by: Adam Conover
Stars: Adam Conover
Original Network: truTV

Watch on HBO Max

Adam Conover’s explainer series isn’t a traditional sketch show, but Conover’s deep experience with sketch comedy informs so much of what his show does in every episode. Like Drunk History, Adam Ruins Everything uses sketch comedy as one aspect of a larger comedic concept, one that doesn’t quite follow in the anarchic, pure sketch mold of Monty Python, Mr. Show or Kids in the Hall. That doesn’t diminish how funny these sketches can be, of course.

But the show is also educational. It’s one thing to make your brand Adam Ruins Everything. It’s a whole other thing to be confident enough in that brand to run an episode ruining guns in America just before (at the time it aired) Thanksgiving. “The conversation we always have with the network is, ‘What is going to grab the most attention?’ What is going to announce, ‘Hey, Adam Ruins Everything is back and it’s better than ever?’” EP Jon Wolf told Paste in our oral history of how the team builds each ruin. “Guns” was an episode, series star and creator Adam Conover explained, that they never thought they’d be able to do, as inherently divisive as it is in this country. “We’ve been writing this show for four years, we really have the ability to make an argument that everybody in America can watch, but that still dispels common misconceptions and still does some good in the discussion.” And readers: They pulled it off, not just hitting the biggest bugaboos for the right and the left, but devoting an entire, carefully constructed act to the disproportionate care white people’s feelings have been given historically, from both sides of the divide, and the deadly disadvantage that has put Black Americans at for centuries. What other comedy show could ever? —Alexis Gunderson and Garrett Martin


31. Three Busy Debras

Created by: Sandy Honig, Alyssa Stonoha, Mitra Jouhari
Stars: Sandy Honig, Alyssa Stonoha, Mitra Jouhari
Original Network: Adult Swim

Watch on HBO Max

Three Busy Debras, an absurd parody of suburban privilege, bears many of Adult Swim’s hallmarks. It’s short, it’s ridiculous, and it couldn’t really exist on any other network. Despite those surface similarities, it offers something that Adult Swim has openlystruggled with for its entire history: it’s made by women.

Created by Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari and Alyssa Stonoha, who have performed live under the same name for years, Three Busy Debras is as surreal as you’d expect from an Adult Swim show. Its 12-minute episodes are basically short films that weave together two or three different comedy sketches built on a similar theme, with scenarios that are based in something resembling reality but always spiral out into absurdity. At the heart of this weirdness are the three Debras themselves, played by Honig, Jouhari and Stonoha. Dressed all in white, living in immaculately clean suburban homes that are practically identical from the outside, and all driving Escalades, the three Debras are busy with endless brunches where they laugh wildly at each other’s stories without actually listening to them. It digs deep into the vacuousness of these artificial suburban lives, as well as the selfish isolation of wealth and privilege, manifesting a clear political identity that’s both very timely and a bit weightier than the typical Adult Swim show.

Yeah, you can call Three Busy Debras a cartoonish reflection of bourgeoisie anti-suburb displays like American Beauty or Desperate Housewives, which try to flatter and pander to the very audience they’re supposedly satirizing. That’d be selling the show short, though. It’s not just criticizing the culture it parodies—there’s not much skill or inspiration in that, after decades of similar TV shows, movies, and punk music videos. It takes on not just suburbia and the media that depicts it, but targets the socioeconomic conditions that created them—as well as our history-long subjugation and diminution of women—with a gleeful, nihilistic absurdity, wrapped around a core of weary indignation. And then it even makes fun of itself when it seems like it’s getting too close to a message. The Debras themselves might be afraid of their own humanity, but Three Busy Debras tacitly indulges in it. —Garrett Martin


30. Raised by Wolves

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Created by: Aaron Guzikowski
Stars: Amanda Collin, Abubakar Salim, Winta McGrath, Niamh Algar, Travis Fimmel
Original Network: HBO Max

Watch on HBO Max

There are no wolves in Raised by Wolves, but the ambitious HBO Max series from writer/creator Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) raises a handful of kids, plenty of hell, and the bar for meaty sci-fi TV. Starting simply enough—with two factions of survivors, whose religious war has demolished Earth, landing on the only other inhabitable planet the species knows about—Raised by Wolves builds out an in-depth sci-fi world through the language of a survival story and the inherently human question of the soul. Even if Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) only directed the first two episodes, his maverick touch is felt throughout the confident show.

There might not be a bloody battle or alien confrontation in each episode, but the drama is compelling and built of character-driven moments. That makes the action, when it does happen, intensely exciting and anxiety-ridden. With such finite scope, each moment of possible loss is heavily weighted and gorgeous to look at. While rustic and detailed in its production design, the variety of visuals go from Tatooine’s desert starkness to hyper-glitchy simulation interfaces to war-torn Earth cities in flashbacks. Each new development, nicely metered-out in doses of mystery, plotting, and payoff, is a natural occurrence cropping up as we run our hands through the series’ dense texture. Don’t worry, that’s all part of the Scott/Guzikowski vibe: honestly-performed, slow-burn devotion to themes nestled into a pulpy shell.

Smart and crunchy rather than sleek and slick, Raised by Wolves won’t be for everyone. It’s tragic, thought-provoking sci-fi that works through its problems rather than relying on big flashy twists. But for those itching for something unabashedly weird and devoted to its own rules, the show won’t disappoint. Deceptively intimate, the story of repopulation—and the war for humanity’s future—is a family drama living inside a honed genre universe. It’s a world built to last and a show built for fans of Scott’s particular brand of imperfect, muscly fence-swings. —Jacob Oller


29. The Flight Attendant

Created by: Steve Yockey
Stars: Kaley Cuoco, Michiel Huisman, Zosia Mamet, T. R. Knight, Michelle Gomez
Original Network: HBO Max

Watch on HBO Max

The Flight Attendant, based on Chris Bohjalian’s 2018 novel of the same name, is a taut, crisp whodunit, darkly comedic and wildly suspenseful. The eight-episode series is also a true star turn for Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), who shows off a much broader range than she ever had the opportunity to on her long-running CBS comedy. A bubbling, popcorn thriller, the cliff-hanger ending to each episode entices you to keep going; it’s HBO Max’s best reason yet for subscribing to the streaming platform.

Cuoco stars as Cassie Bowden, who jet sets from international destination to international destination. When she’s not in the sky for Imperial Airlines, she’s flying high as a party girl who drinks to the point of blacking out, is fond of one-night stands, has a gold lamé dress at the ready in her carry-on luggage, and sustains herself on a breakfast of Diet Coke and pickles. She’s a train wreck, but a train wreck who gets to work on time, is kind to children and animals, and loved by her friends. And after a whirlwind encounter with the dashing Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) on a trip to Bangkok, might be on the hook for murder.

The entire story truly rests in Cuoco’s capable hands. Her knack for comic relief is securely intact, but she also easily dives into the depths of Cassie’s terror and uncertainty. Her journey is our journey. Her terror is our terror. She may be an unreliable narrator, but she’s a highly entertaining one. —Amy Amatangelo


28. The O.C.

Created by: Josh Schwartz
Stars: Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Ben McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Melinda Clarke, Rachel Bilson
Original Network: FOX

Watch on HBO Max

Welcome to The O.C., bitch. This Fox teen soap simultaneously celebrated and mocked the genre it brought back to life in the mid-2000s. Full of inside jokes, yet featuring a compulsively watchable story of two boys who become unlikely best friends and the girls who love them, the series quickly became can’t-miss television. The show also helped popularize several acts—like Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and The Killers—among a whole generation of high-schoolers, thanks to creator Josh Schwartz and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas. —Shaina Pearlman and Amy Amatangelo


27. Doom Patrol

Created by: Jeremy Carver
Stars: Diane Guerrero, April Bowlby, Alan Tudyk, Matt Bomer, Brendan Fraser, Timothy Dalton, Joivan Wade
Original Network: DC Universe

Watch on HBO Max

The third-tier answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Doom Patrol has learned plenty from its scrappy counterpart, taking as much away from that franchise’s ragtag group of space pirates/superheroes as it does the DC series with a senses of humor. The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow and Cartoon Network’s hyper, strange, and hyper-strange Teen Titans Go! have been dark horse TV success stories, with the latter earning its own (very fun!) movie and the former improving consistently over the course of its four seasons. Doom Patrol carves its own tonal niche, balancing the self-referentiality of Go!, the tragedy of Titans, and the ridiculousness of Legends

Bolstered by Fraser’s easy charm and some knockout acting by Dalton, Doom Patrol stakes its claim as DC’s best live-action streaming option—simply because it understands and subverts expectations with its unique mix: It’s not just funny, it’s not just sweet, and it isn’t afraid to push the boundaries on either.

Elasti-Woman has gross-out slapstick thanks to her malleable physiology and at the expense of her vanity. Negative Man can stop functioning any time the mysterious force within him decides, leading to plenty of limp, full-body flops. Robotman can’t even move his mouth as profane reactions stream from his stoic face. Robotman and Negative Man’s physical actors—Riley Shanahan and Matthew Zuk, respectively—do plenty of fun pantomime to help out the famous voices behind the tragic bodies. And it’s all funny—even funny at the expense of its characters’ tragedies, which are handled so well that the show may even squeeze out a few unexpected tears. —Jacob Oller


26. Looney Tunes

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Created by: Warren Foster, Tedd Pierce, Michael Maltese
Voice Cast: Mel Blanc, June Foray, Arthur Q. Bryan, Bea Benaderet, Stan Freberg (and many more)

Watch on HBO Max

The cunning but cosmically stupid Wile E. Coyote tries to kill and eat his ultimate prey, the nonchalant rocket bird Road Runner, by throwing dynamite at him. Of course his scheme backfires and he ends up stuck to the lit explosive. He jumps into a lake, and an inch before he hits the water, he blows up. My six-year-old daughter laughs so hard and long that it reverberates through the walls, filling our home with joy. As an unhealthily obsessive Looney Tunes fan who grew up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Marvin The Martian as my babysitters, I can’t describe how happy it makes me to share these legendary cartoons with the next generation. And, it has high definition and digitally remaster clarity that blows my childhood’s fuzzy VHS-quality TV signals out of the water. The Looney Tunes Collection, now available on HBO Max, gives me that vital opportunity of pop-culture generational bond. The new streaming service offers a big and impressive chunk of Looney Tunes’ best, from the black-and-white 1930s Merrie Melodies days, all the way to the last theatrical shorts from the 1990s. So grab your little one, turn on HBO Max, and laugh your ass off. —Oktay Ege Kozak


25. Beartown

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Created by: Linn Gottfridsson, Antonia Pyk, Anders Weidemann 
Stars: Ulf Stenberg, Miriam Ingrid, Oliver Dufåker
Original Network: HBO Max (US) 

Watch on HBO Max

Through five episodes, the limited Swedish series Beartown tells the story of Peter Andersson (Ulf Stenberg), a retired NHL player who returns to his hometown (Bjornstad, which translates to “Beartown”) with his wife and two children to coach the semi-professional hockey team. Bjornstad is a failing, dilapidated town steeped in Nordic misery, and the hockey team is a perfect reflection of the people: sad, old, and almost hopeless. Andersson, who comes with his own tragic burden—his young son died while he lived in North America—decides that the only way he’ll continue is if he can coach the junior team. There, he can utilize the talents of Kevin Erdahl (Oliver Dufaker), the son of his former rival, a prodigious talent who spends hours outside his home on the cold winter nights, slapping puck after puck into a net hung with targets.

There’s an almost Robert Altman-esque vibe to many of the scenes, in the sense that overlapping conversation and seemingly improvised bits of dialogue add credibility to a party scene, or a locker room speech, or the chatter of parents in the stands. Through these methods, director Peter Gronlund establishes a wonderful flow that nearly goes unnoticed amid the story and the drama, but that is essential to the world-building which seems to capture a viewer so effortlessly. And it should come as no surprise that the hockey scenes are also executed extremely well, which is quite an effort considering that this is only a “sports” show in the loosest sense.

This ingredient and all others cohere seamlessly, and you’re left with a show that transcends noir even as it elevates it. It’s clear that noir generally—and Scandi-noir specifically—hold a special appeal to modern audiences, and it’s clearer still that in the race to pump out as many as possible, some of the vibrant energy of what makes it special has been lost. There is no serial killer in Beartown, there is no religious iconography, no mass conspiracy, no last-minute twists to justify hours of uncertainty. There are only human beings, lost in a landscape, subject to the nightmares and redemptions that have plagued and absolved us from the start, and from which we’re called upon to rise even as the earthly world extends its cold, familiar shackles. —Shane Ryan


24. Samurai Jack

Created by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Voice Cast: Phil LaMarr, Mako, Greg Baldwin
Original Network: Cartoon Network

Watch on HBO Max

The original run (2001-2004) of Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series about a ronin stuck in the dystopian future was a masterpiece—stylistically, the closest thing the 21st century has seen to Kurosawa. Unbelievably, Tartakovsky later outdid himself with a 10-episode conclusion to Jack’s saga. The hallmarks of the series remain; every frame is perfect, the action sequences rock, and there’s a fair amount of cartoonish light-heartedness. But the move from Cartoon Network to Adult Swim created the opportunity to get darker, and Jack took full advantage. We find Jack trapped in a Sisyphean situation, immortal and seemingly doomed to fight Aku’s oppression forever. And unlike Camus’ imagination of that tragic Greek king, Jack is decidedly not happy. What has followed is an elegant exploration of finding hope in perseverance, purpose in apparent futility, and strength in legacy. Oh, and more blood than Cartoon Network ever would’ve allowed. (Be sure to check out Tartakovsky’s fascinating Primal miniseries as well.) —Zach Blumenfeld


23. Key & Peele

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Created by: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
Original Network: Comedy Central

Watch on HBO Max

We still miss Key & Peele. By we, I don’t mean just myself or Paste, but society as a whole. And by “miss” I don’t mean we reflect fondly upon the show, which made us laugh and exists no more, but that our culture literally feels its absence, all the more glaring in the country’s depressing racial climate. Not every sketch was political, and not every sketch was a hit, but at their best, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele hilariously attacked issues few other comedians or shows would dare to touch. They used comedy to become a vital part of the national conversation. —Garrett Martin


22. Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy

Created by: Raw Television
Stars: Stanley Tucci
Original Network: CNN

Watch on HBO Max

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is a six-part series that’s been a quiet blessing in a sea of other new series. Tucci explains the concept in the opening of every episode: “I’m Stanley Tucci,” he says, as if he’s welcoming us into his kitchen. “I’m Italian on both sides, and I’m traveling across Italy to discover how the food in each of this country’s 20 regions is as unique as the people and their past.” Sign me up. Throughout those six episodes, Tucci gallivants to Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany, and Sicily.

Inarguably the best part of the show, Tucci spends the majority of his program admiring the many, many facets of Italian cuisine. Upsettingly, we cannot taste anything he stirs, sears, or serves, but Tucci does offer us a whiff of his delicacies. His narration whips a meal into words, so detailed that it’s nearly tastable. “Have a smell,” Tucci flirts, while inching a tub of Milanese butter towards our noses. Juicing lemons over crisped, tender Florentine steak… it’s easy to feel the meat melt in your mouth, even though it’s not actually. Sure, a TV show is a medium of entertainment based in listening and watching, but Searching for Italy has found a way to enchant every sense. In times like these, Stanley Tucci is keeping us fed, jolly, and well-traveled.

Searching for Italy finds Tucci in the role he was meant to play: the Italian American wanderer, full of spirited reactions and excitement for life. —Fletcher Peters


21. Luther

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Created by: Neil Cross
Stars: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Steven Mackintosh, Indira Varma, Paul McGann, Saskia Reeves
Original Network: BBC One

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Idris Elba as a sad, violent and genius detective, tracking down the weird serial killers of London? It’s a formula that should work, and does. “You care about the dead more than the living,” John Luther’s estranged wife accuses him. She’s right. The detective chief inspector is consumed by his cases, and a months-long suspension seems to have done little good for his mental health. Luther is nothing short of mesmerizing, slicing through suspects with the angry efficiency of a man on the brink. His already tenuous grasp on civility and basic sanity is tested further by the mind games of a woman (The Affair’s Ruth Wilson, seductive and threatening) he knows to have killed her own parents. Psychological sparring aside, this is Elba’s show, so white-hot is Luther in his rage and determination to overcome it. “Do you not worry you’re on the devil’s side without even knowing it?” wonders the tormented cop. Luther’s dread is palpable and contagious. —Shane Ryan and Amanda Schurr


20. The Alienist

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Based on the novels by: Caleb Carr
Stars: Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning
Original Network: TNT

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The Alienist is not a crime show for the faint of heart. The ambitious TNT series, absolutely the most lavish that the network has ever produced, is also brutal. Based on Caleb Carr’s novel of the same name, the story focuses on an unlikely trio in 1890s New York—“alienist” (a proto-criminal psychologist) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), society illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), and an ambitious police secretary, Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning)—who find themselves collaborating in pursuit of a serial killer, attempting to understand the mind of someone disturbed enough to commit these heinous acts. The series’ atmosphere is a cut above, both in the way it details the gilded finery of a clueless upperclass alongside the depressing grime of forgotten street dwellers who are preyed upon by a killer. It is spooky, haunting, and engrossing, though it does take it a few episodes to really get going. But for crime show fans, it’s a worthwhile watch for both its binge-worthy central crime as well as the personal reveals of its troubled characters (plus, Teddy Roosevelt makes an appearance!) —Allison Keene


19. David Makes Man

Created by: Tarell Alvin McCraney
Stars: Akili McDowell, Alana Arenas, Isaiah Johnson, Ade Chike Torbert
Original Network: OWN

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Expectations are the last thing you should be bringing into OWN’s first original teen-centric series. David Makes Man transcends expectations. It transcends genre. It just… transcends. Much of this transcendence is due, of course, to creator Tarell Alvin McCraney’s particular line of naturalistic poetic genius. If you’ve seen Moonlight or High Flying Bird or Choir Boy, the fact that young David Young’s story both defies easy description and delivers deeply human realness on every page won’t be a surprise. But while David Makes Man would be excellent no matter how it traveled from McCraney’s imagination to OWN’s screen, the version we get to watch rises to exceptional thanks to the presence of two things: Akili McDowell’s astounding work as teen hero David (a.k.a. DJ / Dai), and the textural shimmer of the team’s dreamy, innovative visual style.

So much of David Makes Man depends on the inner churn David experiences as he tries to balance the daily struggle to survive life in the Ville without falling into the drug-dealing world that got his deceased father-figure killed, the academic expectations that seem to exist in a vacuum at the magnet school he buses to every day, and the quotidian social pressures to fit in and not be weird (slash, not be embarrassed by his corny-ass mom) that every middle-schooler in human history has had to face. More often than not, McDowell is asked to communicate that tightrope walk with just his eyes, or his balled fists, or his quicksilver mask of a school-day grin. It’s so much, but McDowell delivers every detail with such heartfelt naturalism that it’s hard to remember David isn’t real. It’s genuinely astounding. —Alexis Gunderson


18. The Knick

Creators: Jack Amiel and Michael Begler
Stars: Clive Owen, André Holland, Jeremy Bobb, Juliet Rylance
Original Network: Cinemax

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Even though The Knick was conceived by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, and even though every episode of it is filled with fantastic acting performances (Clive Owen should have won a lot of awards for his work as the drug-addicted megalomaniac, Dr. Charles Thackery) and incredible attention to period detail of this early 1900s hospital, the success of this series falls squarely in the lap of Steven Soderbergh. By allowing him to direct, shoot, and edit each installment, he turned The Knick from just another medical drama into something far more artistic. Even when the most gruesome medical procedures were playing out on screen, Soderbergh’s use of color, lighting, and camera movement made it so you couldn’t look away. And that was essential, as the show’s exploration of the early days of mental health, the disgraced ideas of eugenics, and the rise of black Americans into the medical field always made this show a cut above. —Robert Ham and Allison Keene


17. The Honorable Woman

Created by: Hugo Blick
Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Philip Arditti, Lubna Azabal, Andrew Buchan, Eve Best, Lindsay Duncan, Janet McTeer, Tobias Menzies
Original Network: BBC Two

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Led by Golden Globe winner Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sharp-edged, vulnerable, thrilling performance as Nessa Stein, a businesswoman and philanthropist suddenly embroiled in a mess of family secrets and Middle Eastern intrigue, The Honorable Woman is the perfect (if bleak) binge. Its eight episodes set the lure early and reel one in by increments, until the truth bursts forth with stunning force. Strong turns from Stephen Rea and Janet McTeer don’t hurt, either. —Matt Brennan


16. Happy Endings

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Created by: David Caspe
Stars: Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans, Jr., Casey Wilson
Original Network: ABC

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File Happy Endings under the dreaded “canceled too soon” category. Happy Endings could have and should have lasted far longer than three seasons, but sometimes the TV gods are cruel. Based in Chicago, the ensemble comedy had a pretty simple premise (“a group of friends in their early 30s hang out in the city”), with the clever twist that one of them (Elisha Cuthbert’s Alex) leaves another at the altar (Zachary Knighton’s Dave) in the pilot. They try to remain friends, hence the titular happy ending, and it adds a pretty strong “will they or won’t they” element to the show. But ultimately what made Happy Endings so great was the chemistry among its six leads. Sometimes “friends hanging out” is the only situation you need for a comedy to work. Also worth noting: this show doesn’t get nearly enough props for one of the least stereotypical portrayals of a gay character on a sitcom; Adam Pally’s Max is basically no different from Peter, the character he’d go on to play on The Mindy Project. He’s a goofy frat bro who just happens to be attracted to men, and that’s just one of the ways Happy Endings managed to subvert the standard sitcom formula, while still adhering to it. —Bonnie Stiernberg


15. Gomorrah

Created by: Roberto Saviano
Stars: Marco D’Amore, Fortunato Cerlino, Salvatore Esposito, Mario Pia Calzone
Original Network: Sky Atlantic

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There’s no such thing as a bad time for an American fan of crime drama to discover Gomorrah, the incredible Italian series first broadcast on Sky Atlantic. There are a thousand-and-one ways to praise this show, all of them legitimate, but let’s start here: Roberto Saviano, whose novel spawned the 2008 film that spawned the eventual series, created something so brutally real that the actual Camorra—the Italian mafia based in and around Naples—planned to have him killed. This necessitated a five-man police team to provide around-the-clock protection and, eventually, his temporary self-exile from Italy.

Where the film shattered you, though, the show envelops you in the story of two singularly great characters: Gennaro Savastano (Salvatore Esposito), the soft scion of a prominent mafia clan who transforms into a merciless leader, and Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore), one of the clan’s enforcers and the one responsible for making Genny into the kind of man who can thrive in their savage environment. Both actors transcend superlatives, and following the evolution of their characters is the chief joy of this series. The production is stellar, the minor characters are riveting, the acting is uniformly tremendous, but ultimately this show is about Genny and Ciro, their friendship, their hatred, and their eventual reunion that culminates in the third season. Together, Esposito and D’Amore have the kind of chemistry that comes around maybe once in a generation, and are worth the price of admission alone. The fact that everything else in the show is of the finest quality is the proverbial icing on the cake, but the principle duo is what makes Gomorrah timeless.

If Gomorrah’s characters spoke English, it would already enjoy pride of place in the pantheon of great crime dramas, side by side with The Wire, The Sopranos, and any other classics you can name. A Neapolitan dialect and the requisite subtitles will keep it out of the U.S. mainstream, but it deserves to be featured among the best of the best. —Shane Ryan


14. Adventure Time

Created by: Pendleton Ward
Voice Cast: Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Hynden Walch, Niki Yang, Tom Kenny
Original Network: Cartoon Network

Watch on HBO Max

There is a world where the Adventure Time creative team is content with rehashing its brand of surreal, candy-infused tomfoolery ad nauseam. Luckily, this is not the world we live in. Indeed, Pendleton Ward and Co. have spent the latter half of this magnificent and groundbreaking series’ run not only stretching the bounds of the show’s weirdass sandbox, but actively working to push the characters forward. More than anything, Adventure Time realizes that to avoid change is to become tired and stagnant. Thus, rather than adhering to the typical “floating timeline” structure of most animated programs, the show has allowed its characters (be it a human child, a stretchy dog, a peppermint butler, or a bubblegum princess) to grow and develop, often in ways that are more heartbreaking and dramatically potent than anything a prestige cable drama could throw out. Never was this sensibility more apparent than in Stakes, the eight-part miniseries that went a long way towards exploring the backstory of vampire Marceline, one of Adventure Time’s most beloved, mysterious, and tragic characters. Throughout its run, Adventure Time remains the strange, yet endlessly innovative little gem that fans know and love. —Mark Rozeman and Allison Keene


13. Doctor Who

Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Stars: Too many to count in almost 900 episodes.
Original Network: BBC One

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The longest-running sci-fi series in TV history, Doctor Who is a bit of a unicorn because it has a built-in ability to reboot itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to keep the show going. After 26 seasons, the show signed off in 1989 and an attempt to revive it in the ‘90s failed. However, in 2005, Russell T Davies successfully relaunched the show with Christopher Eccleston as the time-traveling and regenerating alien, known as the Doctor, and Billie Piper portraying his human companion, Rose Tyler. Since then the series has reset itself a few more times, with David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker—the first woman to ever play the Doctor—all taking turns piloting the TARDIS. Along the way the show went from being a British classic to a global phenomenon beloved by audiences of all ages as the series proved its greatest strength isn’t its ability to reinvent itself, but its capacity to find the human stories in a show that regularly features aliens while transporting viewers through time and space. As Whittaker prepares to depart the show and a new Doctor takes over, Davies is set to return for the first time since stepping away in 2009. While not every series is literally built to reboot, it’s clear that Doctor Who would not have lasted as long as it has if there wasn’t also a need for the stories it’s telling. —Kaitlin Thomas


12. Wallander

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Created by: Richard Cottan, Peter Harness, Richard McBrien
Stars: Kenneth Branagh
Original Network: BBC One

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Kenneth Branagh is marvelous in this moody procedural based on the novels of Henning Mankell, and the original Swedish film adaptations. A police officer on southern Sweden’s picturesque coast, Branagh’s Kurt Wallander must solve a run of freakish crimes. He’s also up to his grizzled scruff in the throes of an existential tailspin, which makes, say, the image of a 15-year-old girl seeing him, panicking, and setting herself on fire an even tougher trauma to process. Branagh gives an aptly measured, introspective performance, a man who observes everything, but can’t make sense of anything anymore, the very least of which is himself. Wallander is a study in visual contrasts: saturated color schemes, dramatic plays of shadows and light, extreme changes in focus. It’s an artful complement to the detective’s largely internal struggle, which also includes issues with his adult daughter and Alzheimer’s-afflicted dad (David Warner, exceptional as ever). —Amanda Schurr


11. Pushing Daisies

Created by: Bryan Fuller
Stars: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth
Original Network: ABC

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Bryan Fuller’s whimsical romantic comedy is one of the most unique shows to ever grace cable television. The series follows Lee Pace as a pie-maker with the gift to revive dead things for one minute, after which he must either let it die again or have something (or someone) die in its place. In spectacular TV fashion he uses his gift to help a local private detective (Chi Mcbride) solve murders, along with his revived childhood love (Anna Friel) who he can never touch again without killing her forever. Kristen Chenoweth rounds out the supporting cast as Ned’s co-worker, who of course gets a few musical ballads to sing along the way. This fairy-tale romantic comedy is distinct for its bright saturated color palate and fantastical approach to the murder mystery. The series has garnered a passionate cult following since its cancellation, and remains one of the most wonderfully funny and charming shows to ever have been made. —Leila Jordan


10. It’s a Sin

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Created by: Russell T Davies
Stars: Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis
Original Network: Channel 4

Watch on HBO Max

From the beginning of It’s a Sin, the show’s ending is foreseeable. And yet it’s impossible to resist hoping for a different outcome: in a 1980s London plagued by AIDS, maybe these gay men we’ve come to know and love can make it out of the epidemic unscathed. Maybe government officials—and, inherently, the rest of the world—will take notice of the crisis as it unfolds and try to do something to help these men. But, no; Russell T. Davies’ limited series is a tragic, albeit masterful, retelling of the AIDS epidemic.

The main group—including the fashionable Roscoe (Omari Douglas), sweet Colin (Callum Scott Howells), guardian angel Jill (Lydia West), and lanky Ritchie (Olly Alexander) at the forefront—forms in and around London, at clubs, bars, apartment parties, becoming a larger and larger group of friends as they do. Then they’re crashing in an apartment together, tossing around witty nicknames and cups of tea.

It’s a Sin explores the HIV/AIDS illness as it unfurls in gay clubs and communities around the city—though it never villainizes or blames them for the crisis. Despite being a series almost entirely about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, It’s a Sin does not dawdle in statistics or tragedy. By energizing the show with a spirited cast, a storyline about growing up, and plenty of scenes that follow the joy of their kinship, Davies has created a tale that can entertain while still spotlighting an imperative point of discussion. —Fletcher Peters


9. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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Created by: Andy Borowitz, Susan Borowitz
Stars: Will Smith, James Avery, Janet Hubert-Whitten, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali
Original Network: NBC

Watch on HBO Max

There are few ‘90s sitcoms as iconic as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which took a lanky rapper exploding with charisma, wrapped him up in a fish-out-of-water comedy about a poor kid from Philly moving in with his rich cousins, and grew him into the platinum Hollywood star we know Will Smith as today. As much an examination of Black class differences in the early ‘90s as it was a comedic vehicle for Smith’s slapstick swagger—not to mention the deeply catchy theme song—The Fresh Prince has proved itself to have considerable cultural staying power; old episodes having been in near-constant over-the-air rotation on nearly a dozen networks since the series entered syndication in 1994. In joining the HBO Max ranks, the series is more accessible than ever, but while purists will be happy to have all six seasons available at the touch of a button, longtime fans are likely to find even greater pleasure in getting to skip right over the tonally unsettled first season to get straight to the later seasons where things really gelled. Life is short! You don’t have to suffer through watching an elastically dancing Will Smith teach Tatyana Ali how to rap (poorly), or play drums (more poorly still), unless that is truly your heart’s desire! With HBO Max, the Fresh Prince power is finally yours. —Alexis Gunderson


8. The Other Two

Created by: Chriss Kelly and Sarah Schneider
Stars: Heléne Yorke, Drew Tarver, Case Walker, Ken Marino, Molly Shannon
Original Network: Comedy Central

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Comedy Central’s charming, hilarious series The Other Two follows adult siblings Brooke (Heléne York) and Cary (Drew Tarver) as they try to figure out their own lives in the wake of their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) becoming an overnight YouTube sensation. Though Brooke and Cary support Chase (who is not, yet, an obnoxious internet star) they want to have careers that stand on their own. But they can’t help but get pulled into Chase’s orbit, making sure others aren’t taking advantage of Chase for their own gain while acknowledging they might be doing that very thing. The Other Two is darkly funny and real, as Brooke and Cary struggle to find success and exist on the outskirts of the vapid world that wants to make Chase an industry unto himself. It is one of the funniest series on TV as well as one of the smartest. Creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider understand the modern fame machine better than most, exposing truths in some of its most hilariously audacious scenes. It also has coined one of the best and most useful catchphrase: “In this climate??” —Allison Keene


7. Hacks

Created by: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, Jen Statsky
Stars: Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder
Original Network: HBO Max

Watch on HBO Max

Hacks follows 25-year-old writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as she tries to get her comedy career back on track after losing her job due to a bad tweet. Her journey takes her to Las Vegas, where she reluctantly starts writing material for Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a comedy veteran whose life is much like the china she collects: beautiful to behold, but cold and empty within. Deborah fills her life with work due to the absence of a personal life, which she’s eschewed ever since her husband left her for her own sister decades ago.

The show is a traditional odd couple pairing. Ava is bisexual, a Bernie supporter, and a chronic oversharer—in essence, your classic media depiction of a Millennial. Deborah is brash, saying whatever she likes regardless of how others feel, and surrounds herself with gaudy opulence. Over the course of the series, they realize just how similar they are. Both of them are career-obsessed, more than a little self-centered, lack a personal life and, in the words of one side character, they’re “both psychotic bitches.”

Smart and Einbinder deftly pull off this two-hander thanks to their respective talent and excellent chemistry. Smart is at her peak here, moving from hilarious in one scene to quietly heartbreaking in the next. Deborah can be truly unlikable at certain moments, but the sensational Smart plays her with such subtlety and warmth that you still care about her—even though she has live fish pumped into her man-made lake.

With a strong cast and some stellar directorial choices, Hacks is a necessary addition to your watch list. —Clare Martin


6. Ghosts

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Created by: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard, Ben Willbond
Stars: Everybody above along with Charlotte Ritchie, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Lolly Adefope, Katy Wix
Original Network: BBC One

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A delightfully smart and funny comedy from the Horrible Histories troupe, Ghosts follows a young married couple from London, Alison and Mike (Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who are suddenly blessed with the inheritance of the vast country estate known as Button House. Huzzah! Except it’s basically falling apart and is also full of ghosts. Not scary ghosts, mind you, but quasi-friendly, somewhat annoying, very needy ghosts who only Alison can see and hear after she nearly dies in an accident.

Despite the disaster that is Button House, Alison and Mike work together to try and make the best of it, since they can’t afford to leave. The ghosts, meanwhile, come to rely on Alison and begin to thrive with her there, all the while making extraordinarily funny references to their respective time periods and occasionally hitting us with gut-punching moments of pathos. The comedy somehow manages to stay grounded while simultaneously being hilariously over-the-top, incorporating some truly great physical humor alongside expertly calibrated performances. You can’t help but love everyone and root for them, which makes Ghosts an uplifting and uproarious delight. —Allison Keene


5. Batman: The Animated Series

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Created by: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm
Voice Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Loren Lester, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin
Original Network: Fox Kids

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Batman: The Animated Series is a triumph of artistic design, source material appropriation and impeccable casting. The mixture of brooding gothic and grandiose art deco architecture has forever come to dominate the visual conception that fans have of Gotham City, just as surely as Kevin Conroy is the voice you think of in your head when someone says "Batman," even if you don’t know the actor’s name. I needn’t even get into Mark Hamill’s legendary role as The Joker—appreciation for his vast voice acting talents has only grown in recent years as fans revisit Batman: The Animated Series and the Arkham Asylum series of games. On some level, you can even thank this show for the Suicide Squad film, given that it introduced audiences to Harley Quinn for the first time, before she made the jump to the pages of the comic. In terms of specific episodes, it’s hard to go wrong. There’s a surprising amount of evolution over the course of the two shows—Dick Grayson in particular grows into a young adult, sheds the cape and cowl of Robin and leaves the role after coming into conflict with Batman, reemerging as the hero Nightwing. It’s a very satisfying transformation, in a show that pretty easily surpasses all other animated superhero tales. —Jim Vorel


4. Friends

Created by: David Crane, Marta Kauffman
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
Original Network: NBC

Watch on HBO Max

Nevermind new content; the HBO Max brass believe that reruns of this Gen X mega hit that Millennials and Gen Zers love (and love to hate) will be a deciding factor for many subscribers. And they’re right. More than a quarter century since its premiere, people still debate whether Ross (David Schwimmer) cheated on Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) or if they “were on a break.” Fans also still care about Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica’s (Courteney Cox) wedding, have memorized all of Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) songs beyond just “Smelly Cat,” and want to know what happened when Joey (Matt LeBlanc) was hiking in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo. —Whitney Friedlander


3. The West Wing

Created by: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen, Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing, Joshua Malina
Original Network: NBC

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Television’s quintessential political drama began in the Clinton era, soldiered on through Bush and 9/11, and ended in the earliest days of the Age of Obama. Weirdly, the show’s political climate was more stable than reality itself. And maybe that was its appeal. The West Wing showed us government not as it was, but as it could be—a White House run by quippy, tireless, big-hearted public servants who believed in governing with decency. President Josiah Bartlett would give any of his real-life counterparts a run for their money. —Nick Marino


2. Pride and Prejudice

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Created by: Andrew Davies
Stars: Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth
Original Network: BBC One

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Horse riders make their way through a 16mm-colored countryside, Colin Firth makes his way into a lake, and Austen makes her way onto TV in what remains the definitive adaptation of Austen’s work for the screen (the breathtaking opening three minutes of Joe Wright’s 2005 film adaptation aside). The music bounces from scene to scene with curlicue youthfulness. The acting prods the lines around it with sly good cheer. Through it all, the spirit of the adaptation by Andrew Davies can be found in his describing it so: “Let’s have Elizabeth on a hillside seeing these two tasty blokes galloping along, and something about them makes her skip down the hill.” And, for the implicit back and forth that inspires (let alone what follows), we follow, too. —Evan Fleischer


1. The Office (U.K.)

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Created by: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis
Original Network: BBC Two

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Ricky Gervais’ immortal Britcom deserves full marks for establishing this comedy franchise that killed the laugh track and introduced us to a hilarious bunch of paper-pushing mopes. The series that is not just synonymous with the use of the mockumentary format on TV (see also: Modern Family, Reno 911!) but it is also the tightly compacted, more cynical, but still hysterical original version of the long-running, Emmy-winning American spinoff Before there was Steve Carell’s Michael Scott and endless “that’s what she said” jokes, there was Ricky Gervais’ equally clueless David Brent and his fantastical dancing. Before there were John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s adorable Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly, there were Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis’ star-crossed Tim Canterbury and Dawn Tinsley. And, of course, before there was Rainn Wilson’s assistant [to the] regional manager, Dwight Schrute, there was Gareth Keenan—Mackenzie Crook’s retired Territorial Army member, who is both obsessed with his slightly senior workplace status and his one-sided friendship with his boss.

This is the U.K., after all, so there’s only two six-episode seasons, a Christmas special and a reunion episode. But its short run was truly pitch-perfect. —Nick Marino and Whitney Friedlander



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