New Shows on HBO Max

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New Shows on HBO Max

While HBO got it’s start as a repository for movies months after they left the theaters (although its very first broadcast in 1972 was of a hockey game), the world’s first satellite channel set itself apart from competitors with its original programming. With the launch of HBO Max as a hub for all things Warner—HBO, DC, TCM, Adult Swim, Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Network, Sesame Workshop, Looney Tunes and Caroonito—the network has only stepped up its release of Max Originals to the point it can be hard to keep up with it all. Hopefully none of these will get pulled by new management anytime soon.

Here are 10 of the biggest new shows on HBO Max:

1. The Last of Us

Release Date: January 15, 2023
Creators: Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann
Stars: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey
Genre: Sci-fi, horror
Paste Review Rating: 9.5

Watch on HBO Max

You wouldn’t think puns would work as connective tissue between characters in any television series, let alone a brutal post-apocalyptic drama, but it does just that whenever 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) throws them at 50-something Joel (Pedro Pascal) throughout the first season of The Last of Us. In a world as dark and dangerous as the one viewers see onscreen, measured humor goes a long way. Humor is one of the many tools that series creators/writers Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (designer of the videogame the series is based on) use to build layered characters to tell a heartbreaking, yet inspiring story filled with loss, hope, determination, and redemption. And it all revolves around Ellie and Joel. Pascal positively shines as Joel, perfectly balancing the physical aspects of the role with an emotional heft that’s hard to pull off in a character who is a man of action and few words. But the breakout star of The Last of Us is Ramsey. The actor, who was a scene stealer as Lady Mormont in Game of Thrones, is a wisecracking badass and certain to be a fan favorite. Together, the duo make a team that’s easy to root for and more importantly, care about. Complex characters combined with stellar acting, a wonderfully paced story, and an emotionally engaging plot make The Last of Us a brilliant series that is now the template all other videogame-to-TV adaptations should follow. —Terry Terrones

2. Velma

Release Date: January 12, 2023
Creators: Charlie Grandy
Stars: Mindy Kaling, Glenn Howerton, Sam Richardson, Constance Wu
Genre: Animation, comedy
Paste Review Rating: 5.8

Watch on HBO Max

Scooby-Doo and Mystery, Inc. have been reinvented across the mediums of television and film for over 50 years. After decades of entertaining children by solving mysteries, now seems a more appropriate time than ever for those meddling kids to get that grown-up reinvention. With Velma, showrunner Charlie Grady and executive producer Mindy Kaling attempt to solve the mystery of retooling the gang for a mature audience, while adding depth to the most one-dimensional 2D-animated characters in history. Sadly, they’re a few clues too short from unmasking a serviceable series. Velma tells the origin story of the brainiac behind every mystery, Velma Dinkley (Mindy Kaling), a smart and pushy teenage South-Asian sleuth in the making, on the search for her missing mother, Diya Dinkley (Sarayu Blue). While the incredible animation and a talented voice cast keep things entertaining, Velma’s inconsistent tone and humor prevent it from unmasking a darn good show. While it’s (barely) able to function as a Scooby-Doo show without the talking Great Dane present, you can’t help but strongly feel his absence. —Rendy Jones

3. House of the Dragon

Release Date: August 21, 2022
Creators: Ryan Condal, George R. R. Martin
Stars: Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, Rhys Ifans, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Sonoya Mizuno, Fabien Frankel, Milly Alcock, Emily Carey
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Paste Review Rating: 8.0

Watch on HBO Max

The big question facing House of the Dragon, HBO’s new Game of Thrones prequel, was what version of its predecessor it would take after. Would it be the brilliant first seasons, with great characters and even better plot, or the woeful supernova implosion of the end? The good news is, they chose the right path here in letting George R.R. Martin’s gripping story of the Targaryen dynasty carry the heaviest weight. The ambition is in all the right places, with a terrific cast (led by Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen and Emma D’Arcy as his daughter and heir Rhaenyra) who are allowed to put their efforts into selling the political intrigue at King’s Landing. Matching the breathless plot of early Game of Thrones is an impossibly high bar, and one this show doesn’t quite clear, but it’s nevertheless a very good effort, full of tension, heartbreak, and those rare moments of pure triumph, that will delight fans of the Song of Ice and Fire universe and fare nicely even among those who just appreciate a great story. That word, “story,” is essential here, and it’s a massive sigh of relief that the creators know it. —Shane Ryan

4. Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin

Release Date: July 28, 2022
Creators: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Lindsay Calhoon Bring
Stars: Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Zaria, Maia Reficco, Malia Pyles
Genre: Teen Drama
Paste Review Rating: 8.6

Watch on HBO Max

When Alison DiLaurentis uttered one of her most iconic lines, “It’s immortality, my darlings,” during Season 1 of Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars, the series was just a freshman teen drama. Now, three spinoffs and almost 200 combined episodes later, the Pretty Little Liars franchise feels immortal. This newest addition to the PLL canon, which includes failed spin-offs Ravenswood and Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, leaves Rosewood (and Freeform) behind to thrust us into the world of Original Sin. The HBO Max series introduces us to Millwood, Pennsylvania, a town much different to the Rosewood we once knew. Taking place 20 years after the tragic death of social outcast Angela Waters nearly tore their community apart, we follow a new group of Little Liars as they fight to uncover what happened in 1999, and why a new “A” (an anonymous, all-knowing tormenter) has come to make them pay for it. Of course, it wouldn’t be Pretty Little Liars if each Liar wasn’t harboring their own secret. Pulled together by another horrible tragedy (people drop like flies in Millwood), pregnant teen Imogen (Bailee Madison), cinefile Tabby (Chandler Kinney), ballerina Faran (Zaria), delinquent Noa (Maia Reficco), and tech-nerd Mouse (Malia Pyles) join forces to uncover their parents’ secrets while attempting to keep their own close to the chest. Even though it’s only been three years since the Pretty Little Liars universe met its unceremonious end, Original Sin dares to ask: “Did you miss me?” And the answer? A-bsolutely. —Anna Govert

5. Rap Sh!t

Release Date: July 21, 2022
Creator: Issa Rae
Stars: Aida Osman, KaMillion, Jonica Booth, Devon Terrell, RJ Cyler
Genre: Music Comedy
Paste Review Rating: 8.8

Watch on HBO Max

Issa Rae’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Insecure is a story about a fledgling girl rap group in Miami formed by two estranged friends from high school, Mia (KaMillion) and Shawna (Aida Osman). In Rap Sh!t, Shawna is actually trying to make a go at a career as a rapper, but she’s resistant to falling into the same traps as her peers (namely rapping about sex, men, drugs, and money). But things aren’t taking off with her socially conscious raps, and she “sells out” by turning to her friend Mia, a stripper who amassed a huge social following from her sexual OnlyFans account. A girl group is born, much to the disappointment of Shawna’s law school boyfriend Cliff, who definitely has dreams of becoming Barack Obama (in a great bit of casting, actor Devon Terrell who plays Cliff previously played Obama in the film Barry). The eight-episode HBO Max series is a natural successor for Rae’s artistry: she created the show though she does not appear in it, but featured rapping as a cornerstone trait of her character on HBO’s Insecure. The series hits a lot of the same themes as Rae’s first show (female friendship, career fulfillment, existentialism) but relocates them into the different, vibrant locale of Miami, which is as important to the story as Los Angeles was for Insecure. Rap Sh!t is unapologetic in what it is and who it’s for, and TV is better for it. —Radhika Menon

6. The Rehearsal

Release Date: June 15, 2022
Creator: Nathan Fielder
Stars: Nathan Fielder
Genre: Comedy
Paste Review Rating: 9.0

Watch on HBO Max

Is the character “Nathan Fielder” a sociopath? I ask this question in the kindest way possible. Obviously, the “Nathan Fielder” we see onscreen, in his breakout Comedy Central series Nathan for You and in his new HBO series The Rehearsal, is an act, exaggerating the comedian’s real-life personality for laughs. And there are aspects of this character that are likable: he’s always been trying to help and connect with people, however misguided, manipulative, or ethically dubious his methods are. But said methods are often misguided, manipulative, AND ethically dubious — and also really frickin’ funny. What’s mind-blowing about The Rehearsal is how it makes it clear Fielder’s actions on-screen aren’t so much improvised as they are thoroughly scripted before he even meets the real people he’s messing with. HBO’s generous budget has gone to recreating houses and businesses down to the most minute detail for Fielder to rehearse in… and then for the real people involved to rehearse for their big social situations. This set-up inevitably draws comparisons to Charlie Kaufman’s infamously confusing movie Synecdoche, New York, about a director making a play that simulates an entire city in real time. There are so many different levels of real world interactions, rehearsals for said interactions, rehearsals FOR rehearsals, and generally unnecessarily convoluted planning that much of the laughter comes from how much it will make your head spin. I have no clue if The Rehearsal can sustain itself for more seasons or if this is just one of those shows that’s gonna have to be a miracle one-and-done. Either way, perhaps the best analysis of the experience is given by one of the actors working for Nathan in the show itself: “It’s weird, but fascinating.” —Reuben Baron

7. Irma Vep

HBO Max Release Date: June 6, 2022
Creator: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Ravi Nandan, Hallie Sekoff, Stuart Manashil
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating: TV-MA

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In the ’90s, director Olivier Assayas made Irma Vep, a movie that was ostensibly about making a movie. Its film crew attempted to remake the 1915 serials known as The Vampires, with Assayas simultaneously offering a critique on the French filmmaking industry. Now, in collaboration with HBO and A24, Assayas is revisiting Irma Vep as a limited series with Alicia Vikander portraying the iconic Irma Vep. In some ways, this new iteration is a sequel to the earlier film, featuring many of the same characters portrayed by new actors. But while the series is very aware of its past, it has new things to say, especially when it comes to the striking personalities that clash during film production. Is it a sequel? Is it a remake? Either way, its unique approach makes Irma Vep a truly fascinating series. —Max Covill

8. The Time Traveler’s Wife

HBO Max Release Date: May 15, 2022
Creator: Steven Moffat
Stars: Rose Leslie, Theo James
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV-MA

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Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The Time Traveler’s Wife was an instant bestseller, a cross-genre smash that combined popular elements of science fiction and romance to create something that felt as though it existed in a space all its own. Full of tortured romance, star-crossed characters, and a sensitive hero who just happened to spend a lot of time falling out of the sky naked, it’s a novel that is laser-targeted to appeal to the part of us that enjoys stories where love is often synonymous with pain. Now a prestige television adaptation has arrived on HBO, landing smack in the middle of broader cultural conversations about female agency, autonomy and duty. Will audiences still swoon for its story of destiny, soulmates, and ride-or-die romantic loyalty, even when your partner doesn’t necessarily seem worthy of that sort of devotion? Or have we grown tired of love stories based on unspoken power imbalances and tragedy disguised as aspiration? Is the answer somewhere in the middle? I genuinely don’t know. The Time Traveler’s Wife, in its broadest strokes, follows Henry DeTamble (Theo James), a man whose unique genetic disorder means he often comes unstuck in time, falling through to different points in the past or future. He usually (but not always) sticks to traveling in the years in which he is alive, and often manages to interact with himself along the way. But he cannot choose when these “attacks” of time travel happen or where he will go when they do, and though he eventually makes it back to the place he first left, he also cannot control how long that journey takes. Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) has grown up knowing—and loving—Henry, since he’s been time traveling to visit her since she was six. (She told everyone he was her imaginary friend.) When they meet as adults in their 20s, she’s thrilled to see him again, but he doesn’t know who she is—since, for him, his visits to the clearing behind her house are still in his future (even though they are in her past.) She also knows they’ll be married one day, as well as plenty of other snippets about how other aspects of their lives have turned out despite none of them having happened for her yet, and if this all gives you a headache, well, trust that you aren’t alone. —Lacy Baugher Milas

9. We Own This City

HBO Max Release Date: April 14, 2022
Creators: George Pelecanos, David Simon
Stars: Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector, Josh Charles, McKinley Belcher III, Darrell Britt-Gibson
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV-MA

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Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton, We Own This City showcases not only the corruption within a unit of the Baltimore Police Department but the tireless work of the FBI agents who broke the real-life scandal in 2017, and the Department of Justice lawyer that tries to repair one of the most corrupt law enforcement agencies in the country. Even though it has some issues, David Simon’s latest work is a captivating by the story of how a criminal justice system has failed its citizens. Provocative, powerful and with first-rate performances, We Own This City is the next generation of The Wire fans have long craved. —Terry Terrones

10. The Staircase

HBO Max Release Date: May 5, 2022
Creators: Antonio Campos
Stars: Colin Firth, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Dane DeHaan, Olivia DeJonge
Genre: Thriller
Rating: TV-MA

Watch on HBO Max

Michael Peterson was a writer who may or may not have murdered his wife Kathleen in Durham, N.C., in 2001 by bludgeoning her with some object, possibly strangling her, and throwing her down the stairs after she died. He was convicted at trial and served eight years in prison before a judge granted him a new trial, and in 2017 he took an Alford plea and no longer faced any threat of serving further jail time. Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn’s task with dramatizing this event for HBO’s The Staircase (starring Colin Firth as Peterson and Toni Collette as Kathleen) was to recapture this immediacy after two decades and with a layer of fiction standing between the crime and the televised product. Firth and Collette are “good,” I guess, and so is the rest of the cast, from Michael Stuhlbarg as the defense attorney David Rudolf to Sophie Turner as Margaret Ratliff, but there is just nothing here to draw interest, much less sustain it, and good actors with no material are like jugglers having to pantomime the balls. In two words, this is dull fare. The first episode treats the crime itself as worthy of fascination all on its own, and moves at a snail’s pace, confident that each small moment will captivate. This is the kind of show that makes you wonder if we’re nearing the end of the true crime era; the beats have become so predictable, and the artistic effort behind it so minimal, we’re running on murderous fumes. —Shane Ryan