7 HBO Shows That Stand Out Among the Rest

HBO has been around since the seventies, bringing in top quality television series from varying genres that caters to thousands of people. It has brought us tears, chills and action from a range of quality shows. It seems that with the current hype in productions, such as Game of Thrones and True Blood, people have become more interested, bringing them into the already popular HBO family. With its publicity and growing popularity, it is only fitting to look back at the best HBO series.

7. Girls

hbo girlsWith only two seasons aired so far, Girls has already established itself as a smart and engaging comedy about four women living in New York. I know what you’re thinking, another Sex and the City with Carrie Bradshaw parading through the city with her Chanel handbag and infamous Manolo Blahnik’s? Wrong. Girls is almost the opposite. Produced by Knocked Up’s Judd Apatow as well as the star Lena Dunham (who also writes and directs the show), Girls follows Hannah and her friends through their struggles, trying to make it both individually and professionally, within New York. Riddled with humour, sex and real emotion, Girls reflects the struggles and hardships that friends go through which breaks new ground in this genre. The humour in this show is relatable to a wide audience as the writers capture moments that everyone has experienced in their life. Ever had an awkward fight with your boyfriend or sexual fantasies about another person? Girls  showcases this in a believable and humourous way. Not just for women either, this comedy will even make the hardest of Hell’s Angels chuckle, something that Lena Dunham needs to be commended on. Girls should be on your must watch list.

6. True Blood

hbo true bloodTo be honest, True Blood would have been closer to number one on this list if it wasn’t for the last two seasons. Seasons one to three were outstanding, mixing horror, humour and drama. But now it seems that the show has been caught within its own hype and strayed too far away from its roots. The show takes place in a world that has recognised the existence of vampires and brought them into society. With the help of manufactured blood (Tru Blood) vampires no longer need to feed off of humans. At the beginning of the series, True Blood was a love story between vampire Bill Compton and the main character Sookie Stackhouse. Now the series has turned into mayhem with alliances broken, losing the love that the audience had for these characters. For what it’s worth, True Blood does bring the audience in and makes them care for the characters. Sookie Stackhouse may become annoying at times, but with the help from other characters such as Eric Northman or Bill Compton, she becomes tolerable. Lately, more and more supernatural creatures are being added to the mix which does drag away from the vampire plots. I guess it is the mix of drama with the supernatural that makes this show so interesting and brings me back every time a new episode has aired.

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm

hbo-curb-your-enthusiasmWriter of Seinfeld, Larry David stars as himself in a comedy about himself. Well, a fictionalised version of himself. Much like his previous show, Curb Your Enthusiasm is essentially a show about nothing. Larry rambles and complains about situations that occur in everyday life, bringing in the same narcissism that Seinfeld offered. What makes this show so funny is simply that. It is almost an R rated version of Seinfeld with Larry David producing the same humour that Jerry did. The simple story lines are outlined by Larry beforehand with little script, leaving room for majority of the show to be improvised. The camera follows Larry as he goes about his life as a semi-retired TV writer who is trying to keep occupied in his day to day routines. Larry David is a character that you love to hate. He always seems to be doing one thing right, yet three things wrong. His crazy antics and his voiced opinions deliver clever humour that will leave you laughing for hours. Having completed over eight seasons, Curb Your Enthusiasm has become just as popular as Seinfeld proving that Larry David is still full of ideas about nothing.

4. Boardwalk Empire

boardwalk-empireBoardwalk Empire brings together the lavish life of the roaring twenties with luscious parties, quick tempo jazz music and an abundance of alcohol despite the laws on Prohibition. Screen legend Martin Scorsese is one of the many producers of the show, who’s talent was used to direct the pilot, setting the scene for the other directors of the show to follow. Boardwalk Empire takes the audience to Atlantic City. It follows the main character Nucky Thompson, (half politician, half gangster) who not only owns the city but the people within. He uses his political empire as well as bootlegging and gambling to add to his enormous wealth. The show includes fictionalised versions of historical people from the era such as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio and Meyer Lansky who interact with Nucky on a personal and business level. Boardwalk Empire brings in movie quality sets with expert script writing that establishes the Prohibition era on your TV. One thing that HBO has started to do a lot of is bloody and nudity, which you will find plenty of in Boardwalk Empire. The violence in the show mimics that of the era, further building upon the scene that the clever script writing has created. It is a gangster show, so the violence can be confronting at times. Casting comedian Steve Bruscemi stars as Nucky Thompson might seem odd at first glance, but when he channels his darker side from his roles in Con Air and Reservoir Dogs, you know that the choice was right. Boardwalk Empire pushes the boundaries for quality television with it’s violence, production value and its script.

3. Entourage

entourageEver wondered what a the life of a world renown movie star entailed? Entourage follows Vinnie Chase and his three childhood friends in their journey through stardom in Hollywood. Produced by Mark Wahlberg, the show has been stated to have been loosely based on his early career as a film star. What makes the characters in Entourage so loveable, besides the fact that they are written so well, is that you want to be in their position. Money is just an object to the characters, buying expensive cars, luxurious houses and spontaneous holidays without thought. Not only does this show offer the dream of riches, but every episode the characters win you over with their humour, charm and their friendship. Friendship is a key theme to the series and no matter what, it is always more important than any of their possessions. Having this theme flow throughout each series makes the characters more believable, and is what makes Entourage stand out against other Hollywood celebrity shows. Although all the characters are funny in their own way, the one character who stands out the best is Ari Gold played by Jeremy Piven. His loud, obnoxious humour with his over abundance of obscenities makes a truly unique character that the audience will either love or hate. With Entourage having completed its eighth and final season in 2011, TV almost hasn’t been the same since.

2. Game of Thrones

game of thrones If you haven’t watched Game of Thrones yet, then you are missing out on one of the best shows on TV with a high production value, an excellent script and outstanding visual effects. Based on the George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones is an epic story that follows powerful families as they fight for command over the kingdom, and cleverly interweaving several plot lines underneath. Kings try to overthrow other kings for more power, wars are waged and mythical beasts are cleverly introduced into the series. With such detail included, the world that is created has a rich history and lore, allowing the place to feel almost real. Although you might come to find one character as your favourite, the show will twist and that character might not be as favourable anymore. This is one aspect of Game of Thrones that makes it so gut-wrenching annoying, yet so exciting at the same time. It makes you count down the days until the next episode, a trait that not many shows deliver. Game of Thrones has already created a fan base with the novels, and with the HBO series close to finishing its third series, more and more people have jumped aboard. Once again we are shown that HBO can bring movie-like quality onto the TV with Game of Thrones being one of the most watched shows on air at the moment.

1. The Sopranos

the sopranosStruggling to choose between first and second place comes the HBO powerhouse at number one: The Sopranos. An expertly written crime drama, The Sopranos follows Tony Soprano, an Italian-American crime boss that runs his operation within New Jersey. The show is not just about mob violence and shoot outs like you’d expect from a crime drama. The Sopranos has depth. The plot delves into Tony Soprano’s personal issues as well as problems with his family as he tries to keep on top of his business. Tony has a mother that wants to kill him, a teenage son and daughter that are growing up, a wife that doesn’t trust him and a business that is ever changing. Tony is forced to see a psychiatrist to relieve his stress, which raises the question to himself: how much can a mob boss tell a psychiatrist? It is this amount of depth to the story that allows The Sopranos to stand out not only against other crime shows, but other HBO shows in general. James Gandolfini’s role as Tony has allowed him to be recognised as a legendary character withing the crime genre, much like Marlon Brando with The Godfather. With twenty one Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes, The Sopranos has shown the world that it is one of the best shows ever created.

Without a doubt, HBO has delivered more than seven great television series over time, and will continue to do so. It is obvious to see that HBO deserves the popularity it has created with its fans having a high expectation for every new series. If you haven’t delved into any of these series yet, or have been wondering whether they are good enough, go watch them. Thank me later. Don’t have HBO? There are Direct TV deals that include HBO for very reasonable prices. There’s really no excuse not to watch these amazing shows.

Do you have any further suggestions or disagree with the placing?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Misagh

    This is a well written piece, however, was The Wire intentionally excluded from the list or are you yet to discover it?

    • Dale Barham

      Agreed, I was counting down the list and saying to myself ‘where is the Wire?’

      However I can’t argue with any of these being included on the list, except maybe True Blood … it could have been a Top 8 though!

    • I agree, The Wire and Deadwood could easily replace True Blood and Entourage on this list. I’m hoping the author hasn’t seen them before and gets to enjoy them from the start!

    • Nicholas Devin

      I had only seen a few episodes of The Wire and Deadwood. I thought that they were good shows, but I hadn’t watched enough of them to include them in the list. I know of other people calling The Wire the best HBO show, so I might give it another watch.

  2. Cheers for the list, I’ve seen most of them. My most recommended HBO show is one that was cancelled for no good reason. Deadwood! Amazing show.

  3. I’ve only seen a few shows on this list, mostly because I don’t have HBO. I used to, but it got to be too expensive.

  4. Jeana Husted

    Girls is a great show. HBO knows how to pick their pilots.

  5. Kevin Licht

    I think for me there wouldn’t be room in the list for the half-hour comedies. I do believe the argument of best HBO drama generally goes between The Sopranos & The Wire. I myself waiver back and forth between the two. The Wire has a much different pacing than perhaps any show out there and it does take some patience, while the Sopranos is relatively accessible.

    Oz is a show I’ve started watching a little bit of on HBOgo. I think many tend to forget Oz was the beginning of the monster run of great Dramas HBO has run throughout the years.

    • Kevin Licht

      By the way, for a good read I do recommend TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s book “The Revolution was Televised”. It has a lot of good backstory on some HBO shows (Oz, Sopranos, The Wire, & Deadwood).

    • Nicholas Devin

      I did know of The Wire being a highly regarded HBO series. It does sound really good from what I have heard, so I am going to give that a watch as well as Deadwood.

  6. Nathaniel Williams

    I’m currently half-way through True Blood’s second season. It’s trashy, good fun but one of HBO’s best? I dunno…

  7. Jordan

    True Blood was originally based off novels, wasn’t it? Do you know how faithful or not the tv show is to the books, or whether the books have finished being published?
    Interesting article by the way 🙂 I hadn’t heard of many of those shows!

    • Nicholas Devin

      True Blood did stray away a bit from the novels, but I only read the first one. Different characters appear and the plot lines are different. I think they are still being released too so the series isn’t over yet.

  8. I’m not sure how good of an idea it was to make a list of the best HBO series without having seen (or included) The Wire, Oz, or Six Feet Under – which should be numbers 2, 3, and 4 on the list. Deadwood should also be here, somewhere. The Sopranos is rightly the obvious choice but the rest are questionable. Maybe it’s just a taste thing?

    • Nicholas Devin

      I guess it comes down to personal choice and taste. I admitted to not seeing The Wire or Deadwood, so they weren’t going to be on the list.

  9. Getter Trumsi

    Agree, except, not a fan of Girls. At. All.

    • Nicholas Devin

      Six Feet Under was a good show, but I do think that there are better HBO shows out there. The writing in Six Feet Under was great in saying that though.

  10. I like this list! Definitely need to watch Girls, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones, and you’ve made all of the shows sound worth watching.

  11. Sam Everard

    I know it’s been mentioned already, but I feel like The Wire and Six Feet Under are two pretty huge omissions, being two of the best written and performed TV shows in the history of the medium. That said, picking only seven shows from a network as prestigious as HBO is no easy task!

  12. Nick Santoro

    I have a few thoughts. First of all this is a great list. I haven’t watched the wire or deadwood so I can’t really complain about their omissions. I also agree that Girls isn’t just for girls; it is hilarious! (also, their is no non-creepy way for a guy to say “I watch Girls”). A few hbo shows not on this list that you should try are Bored to Death, The Newsroom, and Veep. They are all very funny and smartly written.

    • Nicholas Devin

      I really liked Bored to Death. I thought it was a clever show, but it’s been cancelled so I couldn’t really compare it to the other comedies on the list.

  13. Michelle Webb

    Great list, nice first article

  14. Robert Humphrey

    I really enjoyed this article. It’s quite difficult to pick only 7 HBO shows that stand out because HBO tends to be consistent with their high-quality viewings. I may question the inclusion of “True Blood” because, as you stated, the last couple seasons were not quite up to par. For that reason I may have left it off. But all in all, great choices. I do want to throw “Oz” into the ring, though. It’s of course personal preference at this point, but “Oz” laid the ground work for a lot of these shows, especially “The Sopranos.” The content of that show and the things that were depicted revolutionized television as we know it. The last season of “Oz” was not the best and the rest of the series was pretty much spectacular with a few questionable episodes. I just wanted to talk “Oz” up a bit. I can see where the unevenness of the series may not warrant a spot on this list, but the show did do amazing things for television.

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