HBO Turns 50: Its 50 Best Shows, Ranked
The television landscape looked quite different on November 8, 1972, the day HBO, also known as Home Box Office, launched and cemented its status as the oldest and longest continuously operating subscription television service.
At the time, there was little fanfare or press. The inaugural telecast was an NHL game between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks from Madison Square Garden, and immediately following was Paul Newman and Henry Fonda’s Sometimes a Great Notion. HBO was off and running.
The network continued to be a TV pioneer in the decades since. It was the first television service to be directly transmitted and distributed to individual cable systems. The first to push so many boundaries and talk so honestly. HBO created the blueprint for premium channel pay television services. And the stars, viewers, awards, and history-making followed.
Here we look back at HBO’s vast library of series and miniseries and rank the Top 50 to date.
Loosely based on executive producer Mark Wahlberg’s real life, this comedy revolves around actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his best friend/manager Eric Murphy (Kevin Connolly) as Vincent begins to ascend the Hollywood ladder. Plenty of laughs are generated by the misadventures of Vincent, Eric, Vincent’s older brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) as they mingle with the rich and famous. However, Jeremy Piven steals the show as Vincent’s abrasive, foul-mouthed agent, Ari Gold (“Let’s hug it out, bitch!”). Plenty of guest stars also help keep things lively. It was nominated for 26 Emmys and won six, including three for Piven.
Kate Winslet landed her first Emmy for her terrific portrayal of Mildred Pierce’s title character, a Depression-era mother whose name is synonymous with self-sacrifice. Struggling after her straying husband walks out, Mildred finds a foothold in the restaurant business, and her success allows her to spoil (or is it smother?) elder daughter Veda (Evan Rachel Wood). With gorgeous cinematography and a meticulous attention to period detail, the five-part drama from 2011 explores that fascinating, toxic relationship as Veda grows from a bratty child into a narcissistic, hateful adult — and Mildred keeps on giving.
Def Comedy Jam
Russell Simmons’ trailblazing, sometimes controversial hit showcased up-and-coming Black stand-up comics who had the freedom on HBO to be freewheeling, profane and hysterically funny. Among them: Bernie Mac, Jamie Foxx, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, Tracy Morgan, and Kevin Hart. Host Martin Lawrence kept the fun going with barbs aimed at celebs in the audience.
Viewers danced their cares away with this beloved, charming musical fantasy series from the Jim Henson Company, which lasted for 96 episodes. It showcased four different species of singing anthropomorphic creatures: the cave-dwelling Fraggles and Doozers, furry Gorgs, and the Silly Creatures of outer space. The high-energy children’s show was so popular, it spawned multiple reboots, including its latest, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, which premiered in January 2022 on Apple TV+.
Following the success of the original U.K. version of The Office, Ricky Gervais made audiences once again squirm in delight as star and cocreator of this poignantly funny comedy about a wannabe star on the fringes of show business. Gervais won a 2007 Emmy as Andy Millman, a pompous “background artist” whose acting ambitions shrivel while appearing as an extra on TV shows and movies. This allows A-listers including Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, and Daniel Radcliffe to appear as guest stars, often showing unflattering sides of themselves. Eventually, Andy learns fame isn’t all that when he pitches and stars in a successful sitcom that the network then butchers, leaving him more humiliated than when no one knew his name.
Eastbound & Down
This homerun of a sports comedy, starring and cocreated by funnyman Danny McBride, only lasted four seasons, but it led to even more great McBride-starring HBO comedies like Vice Principals and the network’s current hilarious jewel, The Righteous Gemstones. In Eastbound & Down, however, McBride played Kenny Powers, an MLB pitcher who finds his career going stagnant and must return to his North Carolina hometown as a substitute gym teacher at his former middle school. It is obnoxious and original, McBride’s signature style.
“What the hell did I do?… Killed them all, of course.” NYC real estate scion Robert Durst — a suspect in multiple murders — muttered that “confession” into a hot mic while in the bathroom just after being interviewed for The Jinx. It was later revealed the statements had aired out of order and minus context, but they were a true-crime jackpot when spoken at the end of this six-part docuseries in 2015. And before that, the eccentric, slippery multimillionaire had already proved to be a subject you couldn’t look away from.
Mr. Show With Bob and David
Fans of Better Call Saul and Arrested Development might not even realize that the respective stars of those shows, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, cracked brilliantly wise in this 1990s sketch comedy series. While it only produced four seasons and 30 episodes, it remains an era touchstone, famed as an early proving ground for writing/performing alums including Sarah Silverman, Jack Black, Tom Kenny, and Mary Lynn Rajskub. And a la Monty Python, the bits fed into each other, with many sketches — about a crazy lie detector test, sitcom audition, and a clumsy Mt. Everest climber — still memorable comic gold.
This dark, atmospheric and haunting psychological thriller from director Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies) is an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s (Gone Girl) novel. It tells the story of reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams, never better), an alcoholic recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital who returns to her Missouri hometown to investigate the murders of two young girls. After arriving, she is once again under the critical eye of her mother, socialite Adora (Patricia Clarkson, also exceptional). It’s a tough watch but hits hard, largely thanks to Adams and Clarkson, whose clashes are riveting. It was nominated for eight Emmy Awards and marks the last project Vallée directed before his death last year.
The Righteous Gemstones
Creator and star Danny McBride brings viewers the story of a televangelist and his family as they work to maintain their status in the midst of controversies and struggles. With John Goodman as lead pastor Dr. Eli Gemstone and his two sons Jesse (McBride) and Kelvin (Adam Devine), the storylines bring comedy to the tragedy that their ministry has become.
The Kids in the Hall
Smart, eccentric, bonkers. This groundbreaking sketch series, exec produced by Lorne Michaels, went places Saturday Night Live wouldn’t dare during its five-season run (the final two on CBS late-night). The Canadian comedy troupe of the same name (Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson) were as committed when embodying secretaries and prostitutes — or a Chicken Lady and Flying Pig — as they were while playing gay icon Buddy Cole, the resentful Headcrusher, “evil” Simon and Hecubus or chatty child Gavin. And as seen in their 2022 Prime Video revival, their chemistry is still unrivaled.
Tales From the Crypt
Like most anthologies, the episodes of this horror series vary in quality, but they also serve as a showcase for some outstanding talent on both sides of the camera. The cast includes Bill Paxton, Joe Pesci, John Lithgow, Kirk Douglas, Catherine O’Hara, and Patricia Arquette, while Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks, and William Friedkin directed installments. Most entries offer plenty of dark humor, graphic violence, and diabolical fun.
After the success of the Emmy-winning 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, which followed a U.S. Army infantry regiment fighting across World War II Europe, HBO again worked with executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for this equally compelling and acclaimed 10-part companion drama that moved its focus to the actions of the U.S. Marines Corps in the Pacific theater. Given the vast expanse of the fighting in the Pacific, the series took a different creative approach from its predecessor, primarily following three real-life Marines from different regiments — Robert Leckie (portrayed by James Badge Dale), Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), and John Basilone (Jon Seda). With its action largely drawn from Leckie and Sledge’s memoirs, and with incredible Australian location shooting used to re-create famous battles like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, The Pacific proved to be a worthy follow-up to Band of Brothers in its emotional engagement and was perhaps an even greater technical achievement. It won eight Emmys, one more than Brothers, including for Outstanding Miniseries.
Aaron Sorkin brought together an extraordinary cast of characters led by Jeff Daniels as lead anchor Will McAvoy to tell the tale of the inner workings of a television newsroom. With stories exploding around every corner, the cast was able to put a personal face on the men and women who strived for excellence in a harshly competitive media landscape. Also featuring Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, and Sam Waterston, The Newsroom was nominated for six Emmys during its run, with Daniels taking home the only win for Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the 2013 Emmys.
Tracey Ullman’s Show
Legendary comedian Tracey Ullman’s sketch comedy series hilariously offers a glimpse of British life for its inhabitants, both everyday folks and famous people. In addition to a variety of sketches in each episode, Ullman also impersonates an array of public figures including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Angela Merkel, and members of the British royal family. The viciously funny show was nominated for three Emmy Awards.
The Night Of
College student Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed) hooks up with a woman who is found murdered, and he is accused of killing her. John Stone (John Turturro) is the lawyer who defends him. It’s a simple premise, but this tense and riveting crime drama expertly keeps you guessing for the duration. The two leads are exceptional, as is the writing by Richard Price (The Outsider) and Steven Zaillian (The Irishman), and the conclusion is devastating. It was nominated for 13 Emmys and won five, including Ahmed for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series.
After The Wire, David Simon shifted his gaze and told the story of life in another great American city, New Orleans. This drama takes its name from a neighborhood in the city and begins three months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, telling the story of a variety of residents trying to rebuild their lives, homes, and culture. While not as impactful or lasting as other HBO series, it’s powerful, moving and full of great performances from the likes of Khandi Alexander, John Goodman, Kim Dickens, Rob Brown, and many more.
Angels In America
A decade after playwright Tony Kushner’s sweeping two-part “gay fantasia on national themes” took Broadway — and the Tony Awards — by storm, director Mike Nichols assembled a heavenly ensemble for his flawless adaptation. Set against the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the surrealistic epic ties together a closeted Mormon lawyer (Patrick Wilson), his pill-addicted wife (Mary-Louise Parker), his secretly ill, right-wing boss Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) and a gay couple (Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman) dealing with one’s recent HIV status. Over six gorgeously framed episodes, these seemingly disparate characters encounter one another, an unctuous angel (Emma Thompson) and the ghost of alleged Communist Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep) as they each wrestle with not just morality, but also their mortality and the precious gift that loving someone else can be. No wonder it flew off with 11 Emmys, including acting statues for Parker, Pacino, Streep, and Jeffrey Wright, who would go on to star in HBO’s Westworld.
Inspired by the 1973 sci-fi flick of the same name, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy created this highly stylized, dystopian series that became an instant hit for HBO. An outstanding cast including Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, and Ed Harris brought to life a futuristic theme park where humans can play out their Wild West fantasies with robotic hosts. After four seasons, Westworld continues to keep viewers navigating a complex, dizzying maze of narratives about AI’s potential consequences for humanity.
The most lauded miniseries in Emmy history — with 13 wins — tells the tale of the founding of the United States through the life of its tempestuous, ambitious, and visionary second president. What is central to the tale is Adams’ loving bond and partnership with his wife Abigail, and both Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney won Emmys for their stellar work in the seven-episode series. As TV Guide Magazine’s Matt Roush wrote at the time, “John Adams emerges from the pages of history as a dynamic hero of ideas in this dazzling TV event.”
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
The British expat insists that his impactful Sunday night show is comedy not journalism, but it’s easy to imagine 60 Minutes infused with a wacky sense of humor as his rapier wit and righteous anger unpacks issues ranging from miners’ safety to voting rights and nuclear waste. The result: Seven straight Emmy victories as Outstanding Variety Talk Series.
The Larry Sanders Show
Just three months after Johnny Carson ended his historic run on The Tonight Show, former frequent guest host Garry Shandling debuted his merciless showbiz satire about a fictional late-night show and its neurotic host, Larry Sanders. “No flipping” was Larry’s catchphrase whenever his show went to commercial, but critics and viewers flipped over the unsparing behind-the-scenes look at how his celebrity guests (ranging from Jim Carrey and Ellen DeGeneres to Carol Burnett) behaved — often badly — when the cameras were off. Tensions between Larry and the network, and conflicts involving temperamental producer Artie (Emmy winner Rip Torn), much-abused sidekick Hank “Hey now!” Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor) and the writing/producing staff generated memorably biting comedy. In the final season, the network threatens to replace Larry with Jon Stewart — who less than a year later would begin his own iconic reign on The Daily Show.
I May Destroy You
This 2020 limited series starring British screenwriter/actress Michaela Coel might just destroy you, but that’s a good thing since there’s hilarious comedy and heart-stopping drama in the story of shaken novelist Arabella Essiedu (Coel) dealing with the trauma of having been raped. Of course, Arabella would have an easier time with the emotional aftereffects if she had any memory of what actually happened. As she pieces together the events of that fateful London night, expect to be drawn in by the mystery equally with Coel’s jaw-droppingly stunning performance, which truly reveals a new TV star is born.
Born from creator/star Issa Rae’s acclaimed web series Awkward Black Girl, the comedy takes us inside life for nonprofit employee Issa Dee (Rae) as she tries to make a difference in the world and make the most of her busy Los Angeles life. While Issa is the core of the series (with her frequent but effective talks to her image inside her bathroom mirror), the show also explores the close female friendships in her life, primarily corporate lawyer bestie Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji). While they both experience romantic ups and downs, it’s their closeness as friends that’s often put to the test throughout the show’s five seasons and is the true love story of this series.
Essentially a teen drama, this new addition to the HBO stable could also be considered a cautionary horror tale for parents. Because the scary, ugly truth of youth is tapped like a keg in Sam Levinson’s gritty look at life among a posse of mostly unsympathetic high schoolers. And while it’s easy to focus on the harsh realism — drugs, drinking, sex, bullying, online malfeasance, violence, gender, and identity issues, and excessively self-indulgent school plays abound — there is also a startling beauty in the performances. Years from now, double Emmy winner Zendaya’s heartbreaking Rue, the addict trapped between her disease and a hopeful romance with a trans classmate (an equally astounding Hunter Schafer), and Jacob Elordi’s amoral jock Nate will surely be considered youth television’s icons of the era, the Brandons, Brendas, Dawsons, Paceys, and Serena van der Woodsens of Gen Z.
The late, great Bill Paxton introduced the world to what life was like as the patriarch of a fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah that practices polygamy. Having three wives — played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin — along with three homes, seven kids and a twisted, dark family background, this dramatic exploration of an uneasy subject was a brilliant and emotional look at the bonds between one’s family, relatives, and society. Despite the subject, we still walked away rooting for the Henrickson family.
An insightful, scornful and merciless parody of Silicon Valley culture and tech bros, it is no surprise that Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill) was a driving force behind this comedy. It cleverly skewers the ego, privilege and cluelessness that are often associated with its subjects, including a group of guys trying to strike it rich with a startup called Pied Piper as well as various CEOs, investors and tech billionaires. A cast of extremely funny people led by Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Matt Ross, and Martin Starr keeps the laughs coming. Nominated for 41 Emmys during its run, it won two.
Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) returned to HBO to create this sexy, gory vampire fantasy/drama that’s based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris. Set in the fictional rural town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, it chronicles the life of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) as she begins a relationship with vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). An allegory for civil rights, there’s plenty of beautiful people, supernatural creatures, family drama, and small-town shenanigans. It’s all somewhat bizarre, but highly entertaining.
This meticulously realized miniseries tells the human stories behind 1986’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion in the then-Soviet Union. At the center is brilliant ethical scientist Valery Legasov (a real person played by Jared Harris), tapped to spearhead the seemingly impossible cleanup of the deadly, radiation-spewing, smoking ruin. To prevent more casualties (and a future repeat of the accident), he battles politicians trying to cover up the incident’s seriousness and death count. One touching storyline features a brave young firefighter and husband who suffers from radiation poisoning; his tale is a tribute to all who died and the loved ones they left behind.
Prestige television as we know it today was in its infancy when this prison drama created by Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Street) debuted. Set at the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility, Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) struggles to keep control of inmates in Emerald City, an extremely controlled environment in an experimental unit of the prison. The outstanding ensemble cast of guards and inmates includes Eamonn Walker, J.K. Simmons, Lee Tergesen, Edie Falco, Dean Winters, and others. The series is brutal, violent, shocking, and unforgettable. It’s no surprise Oz, which was nominated for two Emmys, helped put HBO on the map as a place for serious, quality television.
The White Lotus
Creator, writer, and director Mike White’s hilarious, piercing. and occasionally shocking dramedy about rich people and those who cater to them was one of 2021’s biggest surprises. The Season 1 setting is a luxurious White Lotus resort in Hawaii. It follows various guests and staff members over the course of an eventful week, demonstrating the peculiar demands and foibles of the extremely wealthy. All the while, viewers wonder who is in the coffin being loaded onto an airplane in the opening moments of the first episode. The entire cast is superb, but the standouts are Jennifer Coolidge as a woman trying to make peace with the death of her mother and Murray Bartlett as the resort’s manager. The White Lotus won 10 Emmy Awards, the most of any series this year. Season 2, set in Italy, started airing last month.
Big Little Lies
Who was murdered at the elementary school fundraiser — and whodunit? Those are the riddles wrapped in a yoga mat at the start of this drama series about the secrets and lies within a group of women in wealthy Monterey whose children are in the same first-grade class. Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, Season 1 flashes back to the first day of school where we meet the possible victim and killer played by a dream cast: Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, and Shailene Woodley. More twists happen in Season 2, including the casting of superstar Meryl Streep.
Mare of Easttown
A sensation after its April 2021 premiere, this searing and ultimately wrenching crime drama starring Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a detective in Easttown, Pennsylvania, investigating the murder of a teenage girl, is enthralling from start to finish. In addition to being an effective whodunit with plenty of suspects, the limited series captivated with its portrayal of Mare’s challenging life living with her mother (the fabulous Jean Smart) and grandson along with the relationship with her new partner, the young and inexperienced Colin Zabel (a charming Evan Peters). Of the four Emmys it won (out of 16 nominations), three went to the deserving cast: Winslet, Peters, and Julianne Nicholson, who plays Lori Ross, Mare’s closest friend.
When this crime drama anthology premiered in 2014, it felt like nothing else on TV. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as mismatched cops in Louisiana investigating a serial killer with links to the occult, and taking place over different time periods, Season 1 features a dark, disturbing, and twisty investigation that takes viewers to isolated, mysterious, and dangerous locales. Seasons 2 and 3, set in California and the Ozarks, respectively, aren’t quite as good but still offer plenty of intrigue and boast stellar casts. Season 4, starring Jodie Foster, is in production.
Creator David Milch’s (NYPD Blue) profane, violent, dirty, and critically acclaimed Western is set in Deadwood, South Dakota, and features a large ensemble cast fronted by Timothy Olyphant and a spectacular Ian McShane, whose saloon owner Al Swearengen is one of TV’s most colorful, memorable characters. It pulled no punches in its depiction of life in that particular place and time, deservedly receiving 28 Emmy nominations and winning eight, including Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Walter Hill for the pilot episode).
Created by a brilliant and brave Lena Dunham when she was only 25, this dramedy centers on four young women living in New York City: Hannah (Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). Their trials and tribulations, including the volatility of their friendship, are poignant, compelling and often very funny. During its six-season run, Dunham received nonstop attacks on her body and criticism for often appearing nude in the show. The series received 19 Emmy nominations, winning two, including one for the late Peter Scolari, who played Hannah’s father. Girls also served as an introduction to Adam Driver, who shines as Adam, Hannah’s aloof, passionate and charismatic on-again, off-again boyfriend.
There’s nothing else quite like this staggeringly unique, hauntingly poignant supernatural drama, a peerless series that takes your breath away. Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta and created by the author and Lost’s Damon Lindelof, it’s about people coping with a global event that resulted in 2% of the world’s population simultaneously disappearing. Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon lead the cast, with the latter delivering a performance for the ages. You won’t be able to forget it.
Band of Brothers
More than 20 years later, this visceral 10-episode tour of duty with Easy Company in World War II remains the benchmark for war dramatizations and stories of bravery, camaraderie and sacrifice. HBO2 still airs the miniseries from executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg almost every Memorial Day, affording us another chance to hold our breath throughout the winter siege of Bastogne. The stirring technical triumph earned seven Emmys, including one for the casting of its massive ensemble, which features Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Cudlitz, and Neal McDonough, to name just a few.
Seen by creator Damon Lindelof as a remix of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comics on which it was based, this stunning and acclaimed nine-episode superhero drama certainly did justice to its beloved source material, while breaking new ground of its own. The series is set 34 years after the events of the comics and devises its own fascinating alternate historical timeline that also manages to comment on our own real-world history. With Watchmen’s widespread critical acclaim, popularity with audiences, and 11 Emmy wins — including Outstanding Limited Series and an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie win for Regina King — it would have been easy, and probably expected, especially with a different creator and network, for Watchmen to have gone on for more seasons, and perhaps risk diminishing its stellar reputation. But Lindelof left as showrunner after the nine episodes, stating that he had completed his intended story, and, to HBO’s credit, it has honored his creative integrity, confirming that there are no future plans for the series to continue without his return in some way.
This period crime drama executive produced by Martin Scorsese and created by The Sopranos’ Terence Winter livened up the gangster story by shifting the focus to 1920s Atlantic City and casting Steve Buscemi in the lead as kingpin Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. Boasting an impressive supporting cast (Michael Shannon, Michael K. Williams, Bobby Cannavale, Kelly Macdonald) and excellent production design (it looks expensive), it is more than just another story of a made guy. There’s politics, Prohibition, gambling, government agents, and plenty more to keep things interesting and fresh. It was nominated for 57 Emmys and won 20, including for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for Scorsese.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David can’t seem to do anything right, and as far as fans are concerned, that’s a pretty, pretty, pretty good thing. Alongside wife Cheryl David (Cheryl Hines) and best friends Susie Greene (Susie Essman) and Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin), the improvised structure of the show lends itself to hilarious situations that have — for 11 seasons and counting — allowed Larry to prove there’s no misunderstanding too awkward and no antic too wild.
Viewers have loved to hate the Roys, arguably the most notorious family on scripted television, since the series premiered. The dysfunctional (putting it mildly) and filthy rich family own global media and entertainment conglomerate Waystar Royco. Patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) is getting older. His kids, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Siobhan (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck), are screwups, leaving Logan uncertain about who should replace him, and when. The backstabbing, plotting, and bad behavior make for drama you can’t look away from. They might be awful human beings, but they make for perfect television. Succession has already amassed a whopping 48 Emmy nominations and 13 wins.
One of the 21st century’s funniest shows, this sharp, hilarious, and all-too-real political satire follows Vice President Selina Meyer (the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team as they work (and mostly fail) to leave a lasting legacy she can be proud of. The supporting cast, featuring the likes of Tony Hale, Gary Cole, Anna Chlumsky, Kevin Dunn, Matt Walsh, Clea DuVall, and many others, is amazing. You’ll laugh until you hurt. Louis-Dreyfus deservedly won six consecutive Emmys for her performance, and the series won a total of 17 from 68 nominations.
A marvel of tone, Alec Berg (Seinfeld) and star Bill Hader created this extremely dark crime drama that is also incredibly funny. Somehow it manages to perfectly balance black comedy, shocking violence, and serious drama, becoming something that is unlike anything else on television. Hader is sensational as the title character, a hitman who becomes fixated on starting an acting career and leaving contract killing behind. Sarah Goldberg and Henry Winkler are just as good as his girlfriend and acting teacher, respectively. Its three seasons have generated 44 Emmy nominations, including wins for Hader and Winkler.
Sex and the City
The tale of Manhattanites Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) was born from Candace Bushnell’s lifestyle column in The New York Observer. Over six seasons, HBO’s series followed the ladies’ exploits through relationships (both casual and serious), personal and professional triumphs and tribulations, countless cosmopolitan cocktails, and a whole lot of really expensive designer shoes. It was groundbreaking, iconoclastic TV, and one of the big reasons to get HBO in the late ’90s. Its influence on pop culture can’t be understated, and lackluster movies, spinoffs, and changing attitudes can’t dim the zsa zsa zsu of its original run.
Six Feet Under
The Fishers comprise one of television’s most memorable dysfunctional families. Patriarch Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins) dies in the pilot, leaving the rest of his grieving family to try to operate their Los Angeles funeral home: mother Ruth (Frances Conroy), sons Nate (Peter Krause) and David (Michael C. Hall), and daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose). The acting is sensational, and the dark but funny melodrama was nominated for 53 Emmys, winning nine. It also has, arguably, the best final episode in TV history.
Game of Thrones
The fantasy series, adapted from George R.R. Martin’s sprawling A Song of Ice and Fire series, became a household name when it debuted in 2011. For eight seasons, fans watched as warring factions of houses such as the dragon-trained Targaryens, the noble Starks, and the cunning Lannisters vied for control of the Iron Throne. Though the final season left a conflicted divide among viewers, the show’s sweeping stories and breathtaking battle scenes helped cement it as a pop culture juggernaut.
Frequently ranked as one of the best series of all time, creator (and former police reporter) David Simon’s crime drama with a large ensemble cast probes institutions in Baltimore by examining the illegal drug trade, the port system, city government, education, and the news media. Its deep dive into urban life is gripping and heartbreaking, and remains all too relevant today. The entire cast is stellar, especially the late Michael K. Williams, who plays stickup man Omar Little, a man with a code.
It’s been 15 years since the series concluded and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” played through the final scene, but the legacy of David Chase’s masterpiece still looms large today. The saga of New Jersey crime boss/waste management consultant Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) rocked the TV landscape when it debuted, and its reputation has only improved in the time since. Gandolfini is spectacular as the bad guy you hate to love (“What kind of person can I be, where his own mother wants him dead?”), and Edie Falco is his equal as Tony’s wife Carmela (“What’s different between you and me is you’re going to hell when you die!”). Complicating Tony’s life is an ensemble of engrossing characters, from Tony’s drug-addicted nephew Christopher (Michael Imperioli) to his conflicted shrink (Lorraine Bracco) to his overly entitled children (Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler). The series expertly alternates between Tony’s work and home lives, and it remains a titan of the small screen. Of its 112 Emmy nominations, it won 21, including two for Outstanding Drama Series.