The most highly rated TV series on what used to be HBO Max, plus what's arriving in October.
Meara IsenbergAssociate Writer
Meara covers streaming service news for CNET. She recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she wrote for her college newspaper, The Daily Texan, as well as for state and local magazines. When she's not writing, she likes to dote over her cat, sip black coffee and try out new horror movies.
Max has launched in the US, replacing HBO Max but still delivering HBO to the streaming masses. Fans of prestige series like Succession and The White Lotus will find them on Max, and viewers can tune in to Max originals like Hacks and The Sex Lives of College Girls.
Here are the highly rated shows you shouldn't wait to watch, plus this month's new releases. And here's more on Max, which unites the HBO Max and Discovery Plus libraries.
Our Flag Means Death, season 2 premiere (2022- ): Comedy. The show is loosely based on the true adventures of Stede Bonnet, a pampered aristocrat who abandoned his life of privilege to become a pirate.
90 Day Fiancé, season 10 premiere (2014- ): Reality. Season 10 features two familiar faces and six new couples.
Doom Patrol, season 4, part 2 premiere (2019- ): Superhero. In the series' final episodes, the Doom Patrol meets old friends and foes as they race to defeat Immortus and get back their longevities.
30 Coins, season 2 premiere (2020- ): Spanish-language horror. Exiled to the remote Spanish town of Pedraza, Father Vergara is an exorcist haunted by his past -- which unleashes a horrific evil on the community.
The Gilded Age, season 2 premiere (2022- ): Drama. The series begins in 1882 with young Marian Brook moving from rural Pennsylvania to New York City after the death of her father to live with her thoroughly old-money aunts, Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook.
Best HBO & Max original TV series
At time of writing, these TV shows all score at least 70 on Metacritic.
The Last of Us (2023—)
This TV adaptation of a popular video game follows hardened survivor Joel (The Mandalorian's Pedro Pascal) and spunky teen Ellie (Game of Thrones' Bella Ramsey) as they face human and not-quite-human dangers in a postapocalyptic world.
The White Lotus (2021—)
What was initially a limited series was so good HBO renewed it for a second season. The satire about guests at a fancy resort gradually unveils the darker edges of its picture-perfect postcard. The White Lotus features an ensemble cast, including Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, Steve Zahn, Molly Shannon and more hilarious people, who make this series soar. If that wasn't enough, a murder mystery with the big reveal waiting till the very end will keep you thoroughly entertained.
Following the life of television chef and cookbook writer Julia Child, this drama doles out a generous serving of humor and charm (and delicious-looking food, of course). Sarah Lancashire is endlessly watchable as the famed American cook, who paved the way for future cooking shows with her long-running series The French Chef. All eight episodes of the season are available on the streamer now, and it's dishing out at least one more season.
Euphoria's second installment is on Max now. This visually stunning series has garnered its fair share of fans, and it's not hard to see why -- the absorbing performances, cinematography and exploration of mature topics make this show shine. If nothing else, stick around to see Dune star Zendaya, who plays teenager Rue.
The Staircase (2022)
A dramatized miniseries that draws in part from a 2004 documentary of the same name, HBO's The Staircase is an enthralling take on a true-life story with fleshed-out characters and an all-star cast. Colin Firth stars as Michael Peterson, a novelist and husband to Kathleen (Toni Collette), who is found dead under suspicious circumstances. You'll want to tune in to see what happens next. Sophie Turner, Dane DeHaan, Parker Posey and others also lend their talents to the drama.
Irma Vep (2022)
In this captivating limited series, Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, 2018's Tomb Raider) plays Mira, a young movie star who takes a role outside her normal blockbuster -- a criminal gang's muse in a remake of real-life French silent film The Vampires. The HBO show is based on a cult 1996 film of the same name, and both are directed by Olivier Assayas.
Station Eleven (2021-22)
With Station Eleven, post-apocalyptic TV fans are in for a treat. The show's nonlinear storytelling will keep you on your toes, and well-conceived characters add to the appeal. As most of humanity succumbs to a flu-like virus, a young girl named Kirsten and an adult named Jeevan take shelter from the scourge. But from there, the show immediately launches 20 years into the future, which opens the story up to new dramatic turns and keeps us guessing at the past. It's really good TV, and it will likely satisfy those who don't typically opt for post-apocalyptic stories.
Mare of Easttown (2021)
Small-town detective Mare Sheehan investigates the murder of a young woman, but Sheehan's own life is marred by personal struggles, including a divorce and the death of her son.
Following the events of 2021's The Suicide Squad, this DC spinoff catches up with Peacemaker (John Cena), our towering, costume-clad protagonist who's just been released from the hospital. Peacemaker believes he's a superhero, but with his oft-repeated phrase about attaining "peace, no matter how many people I have to kill to get it," the title doesn't really suit him. The show establishes Peacemaker's next steps -- he isn't returning to prison, but instead taking part in a black ops mission that will (again) get his hands dirty. The show often lands its jokes, and you'll especially enjoy its entertaining supporting cast.
Somebody Somewhere (2022–)
Like feel-good shows? Somebody Somewhere is a great option you may have skipped over. In the first episode, 40-something Sam, living in her Kansas hometown and dealing with a recent loss, strikes up a friendship with a co-worker. Authentic, funny, with glowing performances, the half-hour series is the perfect thing to wind down to.
Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max
Our Flag Means Death (2022—)
In this comedy set on the high seas, Rhys Darby plays Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat who abandons his cushy life and family to become the captain of a pirate ship. Spoiler: He hilariously bumbles through the gig. Game of Thrones fans may spot Hodor actor Kristian Nairn hanging out among the crew, and the series also stars Taika Waititi as Blackbeard.
The Rehearsal (2022—)
Nathan Fielder, best known for his Comedy Central show, Nathan For You (and cringe comedy), writes, directs and stars in this new HBO series. In the show, the comedian goes to extraordinary lengths to let people rehearse moments before they happen. In the first episode, Fielder helps a man prepare for a confession to a friend, and builds an exact replica of the bar they're planning to meet at (the attention to detail is incredible). After planning for any outlandish thing that might happen, we see how the real exchange between the two friends plays out. Bizarre and truly fascinating, The Rehearsal should get some time on your screen.
Rap Sh!t (2022—)
A half-hour comedy series from Issa Rae (the star and creator of HBO's acclaimed series Insecure), Rap Sh!t introduces two former friends from high school. Shawna is an aspiring, socially conscious rapper, and Mia is a make-up artist and single mother who works multiple jobs. By the end of the first episode, the young women (now in their 20s) have reconnected and filmed a mesmerizing rap video that takes off on the internet. The show's protagonists are phone-obsessed, constantly checking up on social media and recording videos, and it impacts the viewing experience in interesting ways.
The great Jean Smart rightfully takes the spotlight in this acclaimed comedy-drama series. Throwing iPads into swimming pools and delivering withering looks, Smart plays Deborah Vance, a legendary Las Vegas comedy diva who must face the prospect of appealing to a younger audience or disappearing into obscurity. She's partnered with Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a young and equally snarky comedy writer, to freshen up her material. Perfectly balancing its biting insight into how the comedy business treats women, with the warmth of an odd couple buddy comedy, Hacks is one of the best originals to come out of HBO Max.
Starstruck is a classic screwball comedy, starring the lovably goofy Rose Matafeo. She plays Jessie, a twentysomething Londoner who parties it up on New Year's Eve, then later discovers she had a one-night stand with Tom Kapoor, a celebrity played by Nikesh Patel. Follow Jessie as she juggles odd jobs, from cinema worker to nanny, and her blossoming relationship with a film star that involves no high jinks whatsoever. Watch out for scene-stealer Minnie Driver as Tom's agent in this witty, neatly crafted comedy package.
The Sex Lives of College Girls (2021—)
Mindy Kaling co-created this dramedy about four 18-year-old girls who start their freshman year of college together in Vermont. Equipped with distinctly different personalities, the college newcomers navigate love and sex in their own ways. The show is funny, easily bingeable and bolstered by the chemistry between its female leads. A contemporary teen comedy showcasing messy experiences, relatable characters and raunchy jokes.
I Hate Suzie (2020—)
I Hate Suzie sees Billie Piper team up once again with Secret Diary of a Call Girl writer Lucy Prebble. The result is a frenetic tour de force of ideas, steered by a vulnerable performance from Piper. She plays the titular Suzie, an actress who, moments after winning a part in a Disney movie, discovers she's one of the victims in a celebrity phone hacking scandal. Each episode explores a stage of trauma, tackling the question of how compromising leaks both upend and perhaps liberate a person's life. Amid the ruthless satire is a wonderful friendship between Suzie and her manager Naomi (Leila Farzad).
The Righteous Gemstones (2019—)
This outrageous series highlights a highly dysfunctional family of famous televangelists called the Gemstones. In the show's first season, a member of the family is blackmailed, and ridiculous antics ensue. John Goodman stars as the family patriarch, Eli, and Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine also commit to the bit, pulling off an absurd and addicting black comedy. The second season of the show just wrapped up, and HBO has already renewed the series for a third.
From the minds of the gang behind Horrible Histories comes Ghosts, a sitcom that manages to become better and better with every episode. The ever-reliable Charlotte Ritchie (Feel Good, Call The Midwife) stars as Alison, a woman doing up the old mansion she inherited with the help of her amateur builder husband. On top of money problems, their reno plans aren't helped by the ghostly residents who want the house to themselves. If you're on the look out for purely light-hearted viewing, Ghosts delivers a high gag rate, a talented comedic ensemble and even an endearing arc of friendship. Most of all, it's gleefully silly.
The Other Two (2019—)
The sibling rivalry is strong and primed for hilarity in this comedy from a couple of Saturday Night Live writers. Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider tell the story of Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorker), siblings in their late 20s who struggle with the sudden rise to internet fame of their 13-year-old Justin Bieber-channeling brother. Molly Shannon is a treat as their mother, Pat, ushering her children through open doors to success. Once you get over the gimmicky premise, The Other Two's pop culture satire and surprisingly heartfelt storylines are a winning combination. Schitt's Creek fans should give this a look.
This satirical show follows the family controlling the world's biggest media and entertainment company, whose members become embroiled in a battle to take over as their father's health declines.
Search Party (2016-22)
Search Party caught the eye of HBO Max, shifting to production with the streamer in its third and fourth seasons. The latter is arguably its best yet, taking the story of four, clueless millennials to even greater extremes, including a bizarrely brilliant Susan Sarandon cameo. But we begin when twentysomething Dory becomes an amateur detective to track down a missing woman she barely knew in college. Really, she's searching for something else: herself. Equally conceited are her boyfriend Drew, the scene-stealing Elliott and the hilariously blonde Portia. This oddball show somehow creates the perfect cocktail of dark humor, mystery and insane characters. A collector's item that won't come around very often.
It's a Sin (2021)
The best TV show of 2021 might already be here. It's a Sin follows a group of young gay men living in London during the '80s, just when HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed. This unique look at the early stages of what became a death sentence is handled with creator Russell T Davies' trademark irrepressible joy for life. The warm, empathetic characters continue to live their lives to the full, flitting between bustling share houses and local bars to the beat of a popping '80s soundtrack. Fast-paced, stylish and eye-opening, with a prevailing sense of hope, It's a Sin is a soaring triumph for everyone to fall in love with.
In the words of CNET reviewer Richard Knightwell: "2020 sucked. You got up every morning and it all was all just a tiny bit worse. But every now and then a ray of sun would appear through the clouds. One of those bright spots was Betty, a fly-on-wall-style tale of skateboarding teens in a balmy New York. Utterly real and breathlessly dreamy at the same time, HBO's TV follow-up to the indie hit Skate Kitchen painted a picture of young women facing the world head-on, pushing off and gaining speed and reducing obstacles into things waiting to be jumped over while looking cool. My baby daughter turned one while this show was on, and I can't wait to plonk her on a skateboard. I hope she finds a Betty crew of her own."
This black comedy takes us from London to Newcastle, Australia, following the misfortune of a woman who loses everything after the untimely death of her husband (don't ask how he died). Broke and desperate, Sammy is forced to return to her hometown with her son and daughter, where she soon discovers she isn't exactly a popular resident. The cringe factor is strong as Sammy does everything in her power to return to London, with some standout moments when she reunites with her bickering brother.
In Barry's opening scene, SNL alum Bill Hader casually leaves a hotel room that contains a dead body. The actor plays hitman Barry Berkman, who isn't happy with life or his unconventional profession, but his path is altered when he travels to Los Angeles and gets roped into performing in an acting class. Barry features plenty of violence and a deeply troubled protagonist, leaning into the "dark" part of its dark comedy designation. But it's also really funny, and there are three seasons to binge. At the very least, you'll want to tune in for truly great scenes between Hader and his acting teacher, played by Henry Winkler.
The Flight Attendant (2020-22)
This compulsive thriller starring Kaley Cuoco is one of the best new shows to come out of HBO Max. Cuoco plays Cassie, a reckless flight attendant who sleeps with a passenger on a wild night out. She wakes up in Bangkok with barely any memory -- and a dead body in bed with her. With the ghost of the deceased helping her piece things back together, she sobers up and takes on the mystery of what happened. Watch out for a fantastic title sequence, as well as a surprisingly dark psychological layer. But mainly enjoy the amusing combination of an inept detective bumbling through the world of cold killers.
Mind Over Murder (2022)
Award-winning filmmaker Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation, In the Same Breath) directs this fascinating docuseries about the 1985 murder of 68-year-old Helen Wilson in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska. There's a lot to the story -- six people were convicted for her murder and exonerated 20 years later. In the first episode, we learn about the impact of these events on Wilson's family and the Beatrice community. The show also introduces Burt Searcy, a former policeman who decided to launch a private investigation into the case.
Harley Quinn (2019—)
Harley Quinn is an adult-oriented animated series that centers on the baseball bat-wielding antihero. Kaley Cuoco voices the mayhem-prone Harley, who in the first episode breaks up with the Joker and tells him she's going to replace him as the top villain in Gotham. The hilarious, action-packed show also features characters like Poison Ivy, and three seasons are available to binge. It premiered on the DC Universe streaming service before moving to HBO Max.
Adventure Time: Distant Lands (2020-21)
Two years after Adventure Time ended, this four hour-long special came along, and it's a brilliant treat for fans of the animated series. The miniseries nails the spinoff brief, introducing new characters and expanding on the Land of Ooo universe, while remaining true to its source material. Its heroes Finn and Jake, his magical doggo pal, set off on new adventures, along with Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen and BMO. The hourlong format is a nice way to change up and add to the exciting storytelling. A surprisingly emotional ride packed with every ingredient that made the original so beloved.
Tokyo Vice (2022—)
Season 1 of Tokyo Vice, a crime drama based on a book by journalist Jake Adelstein, has slickly stepped on to Max. Set in Japan in the late 1990s, this noir follows an American journalist (Ansel Elgort) who eagerly joins the staff of a major Japanese newspaper. A world of grisly murders, neon nightclubs and powerful crime bosses awaits.
We Own This City (2022)
This well-reviewed crime miniseries comes from David Simon and George Pelecanos, who've also worked together on The Deuce, Treme and The Wire (which Simon created). It's directed by King Richard's Reinaldo Marcus Green. Based on a nonfiction book written by a Baltimore Sun reporter, the absorbing, six-episode show explores police corruption through a story about the Baltimore Police Department's Gun Trace Task Force.
With its fifth and final season, this Italian crime drama based on a true story has carved itself a place among the great mafia shows. It stands out for its realistic portrayal of the Naples underworld, following a clan's internal power struggle after its head is arrested. With a dark, claustrophobic atmosphere and believable characters, Gomorrah is a refreshing and complete piece of TV.
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