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The 23 Best TV Shows to Stream on HBO Max Right Now

Ellen Gutoskey
Michaela Coel stars in I May Destroy You (2020).
Michaela Coel stars in I May Destroy You (2020). / Natalie Seery/HBO

HBO Max, WarnerMedia's massive streaming offering, is looking to rival Netflix and Disney+ when it comes to your free time. To help you narrow down your watch list, below are 23 must-see TV shows on the service for every type of fan. (If you're in more of a movie mood, we've got some recommendations on that front, too.)

1. Mare of Easttown (2021-)

Kate Winslet made a splash as small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan, who tries to keep focused on a murder case while coping with a number of personal issues. Evan Peters and Jean Smart co-star.

2. I May Destroy You (2020)

Michaela Coel’s semi-autobiographical magnum opus (so far) follows a writer grappling with the trauma of sexual assault and its impact on other parts of her life. It’s impossible not to be affected in some way by the rawness and realness of the show, and it’s also impossible to finish watching without thinking Coel—who wrote, produced, co-directed, and starred in it—is a once-in-a-generation storyteller and all-around genius.

3. The White Lotus (2021-)

Mike White returns to TV with a satirical dramedy miniseries set at a ritzy Hawaiian resort. While you can always count on the likes of Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon, and Steve Zahn to elicit big laughs, you’ll probably keep up a steady undercurrent of giggling (especially the type of nervous giggling that comes with secondhand embarrassment) at all the societal missteps and personal sabotage that goes on between spit-take moments.

4. Hacks (2021-)

Hacks tells the story of an unlikely, begrudging, tumultuous creative partnership between a cranky older stand-up comedian (played by Jean Smart) and a sardonic up-and-coming comedy writer (played by Hannah Einbinder), both of whom are flailing professionally and personally beneath the surface. It’s riotous, witty, and even heartwarming—and well worth the watch if only so that you can join the masses screaming about how much they love Jean Smart.

5. Chappelle's Show (2003-2006)

Stand-up comic Dave Chappelle proved himself one of the most nimble and adept sketch performers of his generation with this short-lived but highly acclaimed Comedy Central series. From Black white supremacist Clayton Bigsby to the dark side of Wayne Brady, Chappelle's Show showcased the comedian's unique blend of comedy and social commentary.

6. Banshee (2013-2016)

Before he was Homelander on The Boys, Antony Starr was convict Lucas Hood, who pretends to be the newly-arrived sheriff in a Pennsylvania town ruled by an Amish crime boss. This pulpy, witty action drama originally aired on Cinemax, but you can catch all four seasons here.

7. We’re Here (2020-)

Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley—all alums of RuPaul’s Drag Race—travel to small towns across the nation to teach “drag daughters” the art of drag in this non-competitive Max Original reality series. Each episode is chock-full of personal growth and glitter, and culminates in a drag show. It’s basically a fusion of Queer Eye and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s just as entertaining as you’d expect that to be.

8. Gossip Girl (2021-)

The Gossip Girl reboot features enough trademark elements from the original show (The Met steps, Kristen Bell’s voiceover, very bad behavior, very good fashion, a presumably astronomical music-licensing budget, etc.) to entertain anyone who misses Blair, Serena, and the rest of the Upper East Siders. And this cast, led by Jordan Alexander, Whitney Peak, Thomas Doherty, and a few other relative newcomers, are captivating—and catty—enough to entice a whole new generation of Gossip Girl fans.

9. At Home With Amy Sedaris (2017-)

At Home With Amy Sedaris is an absurdist cross between an at-home talk show and a sitcom. In it, Sedaris teaches viewers how to do a variety of crafting, cooking, and home improvement tasks, interspersed with visits from her neighbors, friends, and an eclectic selection of guest stars that includes Michael Shannon, Rose Byrne, and Neil Patrick Harris. Everything about the series is surprising, bizarre, and hysterical, from the poorly-executed how-to lessons to the house itself, which looks like it could be made of gingerbread.

10. Doctor Who (2005-)

Russell T. Davies resurrected this BBC sci-fi classic for a new generation. As the time-traveling Doctor, Christopher Eccleston was followed by a succession of new actors, including fan favorite David Tennant and current (but soon-to-be-outgoing) Doctor Jodie Whittaker. You can jump into the TARDIS with all of them on the service.

11. Lovecraft Country (2020)

Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors are unforgettable in this drama about a Black man looking for his father in the 1950s. Produced by J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, the show blends the horrors of Jim Crow-era America with horrors inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional stories.

12. His Dark Materials (2019-)

HBO carved out a niche in big-budget fantasy with Games of Thrones and continues to pursue that genre with His Dark Materials, based on the series of novels by Philip Pullman. Young orphan Lyra (Dafne Keen) navigates a multi-dimensional world full of anthropomorphic animals. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) co-stars.

13. Euphoria (2019-)

In Sam Levinson’s Euphoria, teenagers struggle to ground themselves amid drug addiction, new sexual experiences, family troubles, and a slew of coming-of-age issues. Zendaya leads a cast of extremely talented young actors—Maude Apatow, Hunter Schafer, Sydney Sweeney, Jacob Elordi, and more—who make the series a must-watch.

14. A Black Lady Sketch Show (2019-)

Drinking anything while watching A Black Lady Sketch Show is a dangerous game—every single sketch is spit-take-level hilarious. Robin Thede executive produces and stars in the series, which also features Ashley Nicole Black, Quinta Brunson, and Gabrielle Dennis, with guest appearances from celebrities like Angela Bassett, Laverne Cox, and Insecure co-creator/star Issa Rae (who is also an executive producer on A Black Lady Sketch Show). It's the first sketch comedy series entirely created by and starring Black women, and sketches cover contemporary culture without ever straying into stale or trope-y territory—take, for example, this parody of “stans” through the lens of a 21st-century retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

15. The Sixties (2014)

For anyone wishing that some enterprising production company would sum up the 1960s in America in a straightforward, easily digestible (but not boring) docuseries, we have good news. CNN’s The Sixties, produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone, covers the Vietnam War, the assassination of JFK, the civil rights movement, the space race, and more in 10 riveting episodes. And since 1968 was such a landmark year, there’s even a four-part spinoff series called 1968: The Year That Changed America, which is also streaming on HBO Max.

Wishing CNN would make similar series for the decades that followed? They did: The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, and The 2000s are on HBO Max, too.

16. The Flight Attendant (2020)

Based on Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the same name, The Flight Attendant chronicles the alcohol-addled misadventures of a flight attendant (Kaley Cuoco) who finds herself tangentially involved in a murder that might have ties to something even more nefarious. Rosie Perez, Zosia Mamet, Michiel Huisman, and Michelle Gomez co-star.

17. Wallander (2008-2016)

This BBC version of the Swedish series—based on Henning Mankell’s crime novels—stars Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander, a flawed investigator trying to solve murders and find meaning in his life at the same time. It’s slow-burning, a little gritty, and perfect for fans of Luther, Broadchurch, and every other gritty British crime drama series. Oh, and Tom Hiddleston is in it, too.

18. Looking (2014-2016)

Heaps of critical acclaim weren't enough to keep HBO from pulling the plug on Looking, but low viewership is no reason to skip its two existing seasons (plus a 2016 television film that serves as the series finale). It chronicles the lives of three gay friends in modern-day San Francisco: video game designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff), artist Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and sommelier Dom (Murray Bartlett). Groff delivers the type of nuanced, earnest performance that his fans have come to expect from him in every role, and you’ll probably find yourself torn between wanting to binge-watch Looking all in one sitting and making it last as long as you can.

19. United Shades of America (2016-)

In this docuseries, comedian W. Kamau Bell paints a comprehensive portrait of the nation and its issues by interviewing the most unexpected people in the most unexpected places. He rides along with a New Jersey cop, explores the LGBTQ+ community in Salt Lake City, talks with people living along the U.S.-Mexico border, and even sits down with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Bell does his best (and his best is very good) to approach every topic with good-natured humor and highlight important takeaways for viewers, making United Shades of America an engrossing, illuminating watch.

20. Love Life (2020-)

This Max Original follows Anna Kendrick’s Darby as she navigates a string of relationships in her mid-twenties. The show captures the slightly desperate, slightly confusing nature of trying to find a sense of belonging in modern-day New York, and Kendrick’s characteristically candid humor is a perfect match for the passionate, vulnerable, self-deprecating Darby. It features Strangers star Zoë Chao in the “best friend” role—another top-notch performance for her perfect record—and a voiceover by Lesley Manville, whose even-keeled delivery gives the series a quirky storybook vibe.

21. Friends (1994-2004)

Friends wasn't off Netflix for long before it became available on HBO Max, but it probably felt like an eternity for anyone who plays the classic sitcom on a continuous loop. All 10 seasons are now available on the service. With the reunion special newly added, there’s no better opportunity to watch the lives of Ross, Rachel, and the rest of the gang unfold for the first—or 40th—time.

22. Barry (2018-)

Bill Hader takes on a tired genre—the reluctant hitman trying to go straight—and turns it on its ear in this alternately hilarious, darkly disturbing, and poignant comedy-drama. As Barry Berkman, Hader tries to distance himself from his violent occupation by pursuing acting. His life becomes divided between his thespian dreams and the whims of his handler, Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), and his sometimes-rival NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan).

23. Nathan for You (2013-2018)

If you're a fan of surrealist improvisational comedy in the vein of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, Nathan for You provides plenty of it. Writer and star Nathan Fielder is Nathan Fielder, a man willing to do whatever it takes to help ailing businesses succeed—even if it's not at all what those businesses want. One Fielder start-up, a “parody” coffee house dubbed Dumb Starbucks, made national headlines in 2014.

Do you love television? Do you spend most weekends lounging on the couch binge-watching your favorite TV shows? Would you like to learn some incredibly fascinating facts about the best series of the past 20 years and the people who made them? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Viewer: A Miscellany of Streaming Bingeable Shows from the Last 20 Years, out October 19!

A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2021.