There’s a reason HBO is so often a major contender at the Emmys each year — it has an amazing knack for creating a home for phenomenal and influential TV shows. The network’s long history of great, groundbreaking TV means that even if you watch a lot of HBO, there’s probably plenty you haven’t seen.
20. “Tales from the Crypt”
A mix of dark comedy and “Twilight Zone”-esque horror, it’s hard to deny that “Tales from the Crypt” had an influence on the resurgence of great horror TV shows we’ve been experiencing lately. It’s a bit dated and a bit goofy, but “Tales” also still feels like a unique combination of elements. Plus, Crypt Keeper puns.
19. “The Leftovers”
If there’s something writer Damon Lindelof can get to in his series, it’s the emotional struggles of his characters. “The Leftovers” is all depression and melancholy after the “Sudden Departure,” where 140 million people disappeared in a Rapture-like event. The people left behind are still trying to make life work, and their struggles capture humanity in an extraordinary circumstance.
18. “Mr. Show”
Bob Odenkirk and David Cross created an often weird sketch comedy show whose influences are still felt today. It’s a bit of a cult comedy that has a unique voice and a willingness to push the envelope. “Mr. Show” also pulled in many great comedians who’ve since become much better known.
17. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”
John Oliver has mostly become known for his angry but hilarious rants against Donald Trump. But “Last Week Tonight” manages to find the jokes in the news every week, and offers that helpful bit of Jon Stewart-esque “No, you’re not crazy, this is really happening” absurdity that can make it a little easier to cope with what’s happening in the world.
16. “True Detective”
Though it struggled in its second season, “True Detective” benefits from star-studded casting and a willingness to let flawed characters breathe on screen. Especially in the first season, strong dialogue and believable performances catapult “True Detective” beyond the usual crime drama to become something special.
15. “Sex and the City”
Telling the stories of four women in New York, “Sex and the City” broadened portrayals and storylines for women, and was often hilarious in doing so. The show was nominated for 50 Emmys during its six-season run and took down seven, and managed to spawn two movies after the fact.
Lena Dunham’s comedic look at New York Millennials trying to figure out their lives is consistently funny and off-beat, while digging into territory that other comedies might stay clear of. Though its critical reception can sometimes be fraught, the show also manages to tap elements that feel like part of the Millennial experience.
13. “Flight of the Conchords”
An off-beat comedy about two New Zealanders trying to make it as a novelty band in New York, “Flight of the Conchords” is full of awkward jokes and awesome songs. It’s consistently hilarious and completely weird. Also, Jemaine Clement spends half of one episode playing a great David Bowie.
12. “Six Feet Under”
“Six Feet Under” is about death and trying to figure out life. Mixing drama with dark comedy, it’s one of those series where the characters (living or dead) get under your skin. Though its subject matter means there’s plenty of sadness, the efforts of a family to find themselves and carry each other through are always resonant as well.
11. “The Night Of”
“The Night Of” tells a depressing story of how easily life and the American legal system can get out of control. One bad night and protagonist Naz finds himself arrested for murder, thrown into the prison system and fighting for survival. “The Night Of” is a powerful look at how the effects of Naz’s arrest ripple out to other people in his life.
Sure, it took a while to get rolling, and maybe fans predicted every single twist. But “Westworld” is full of cool characters, robots achieving sentience, and people dying horribly. And don’t forget the many power-grabs, political machinations, and robot uprisings.
You could call this “The Al Swearengen Show” and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. “Deadwood” dives into the Western with a phenomenal cast, some genuinely funny writing, and a lot of frontier not-quite-legal drama. Life is not great in the Old West, but at least it’s interesting to watch.
8. “Band of Brothers”
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced this 10-episode, character-driven account of an American paratrooper company in World War II. It’s desperate, horrifying and hopeful by turns, capturing the conflict with an incredibly human look inside it.
Issa Rae pulls comedy and relatability out of a host of topics, like struggling to figure out what she wants out of life, dealing with her career and her love life, and the expectations that come with being a black woman. The show adds perspective to the tough realities of modern life, while constantly being very funny.
A comedy about a clueless (vice) president just trying to get by was more of a cute idea last year. That said, “Veep” has a killer, hilarious cast and fast, funny writing, which is why it has won 12 Emmys (with 42 nominations) over its five seasons. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in particular is always phenomenal, but it’s the speed and viciousness of the writing that makes “Veep” so fun.
5. “The Larry Sanders Show”
Another landmark comedy, Garry Shandling’s series helped set the table for shows like “30 Rock,” while also cementing HBO’s place as a leader in quality TV. The series’ satirical look behind the scenes of a fictional talk show is also hilarious in its own right, and garnered three Emmy wins and 56 nominations over six seasons.
4. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
After “Seinfeld,” co-creator Larry David went on to star in this series that’s pretty much about always feeling awkward and dealing with annoyances. Everything about the show, from its tone to its improvised nature, elevates it among comedies. It’s mostly funny because it feels like a slightly funnier version of real life.
3. “The Sopranos”
It’s almost 20 years old, but there’s a reason “The Sopranos” is still regarded as highly as it is. The story of Tony Soprano trying to figure out his life, deal with his family, balance a ruthless mobster business and take care of ducks helped kick off our current age of great television.
2. “The Wire”
“The Wire” isn’t just a crime drama about the drug trade in Baltimore; it’s the story of the city itself. The legendary show finds layers in its subject matter, and nothing is simple or cut-and-dried for its characters. Its cast is also amazing, filled with talented actors who lend their characters even more nuance and depth.
1. “Game of Thrones”
“Game of Thrones” starts with zombies, moves on to dragons, and is full of people stabbing each other in the back for years on end. Now we’re about to have a dragon-backed all-out war and a ton of important characters are probably going to die. When you like a show to make you sad in a pretty exciting way, “Game of Thrones” stands ready.