Best HBO Max shows in December 2022

Jennifer Coolidge in White Lotus season 2
(Image credit: HBO)

The best HBO shows bring prestige TV from past and present to the screen of choice. HBO Max is our top pick among the best streaming services, thanks to an excellent library of great content culled from WarnerMedia's archives — including almost every HBO original of the last several decades.

The best shows on HBO offer something for everybody. Watch dramas like Succession, fantasy epics like House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones, comedies like Veep and Hacks, gripping documentaries and stand-up specials. And more new titles come out every month. And you can save big with HBO Max's $1.99 Black Friday deal.

Many of the best HBO shows are critical darlings as well, and we've collected the HBO Max shows with 100% Rotten Tomatoes ratings. So, Tom's Guide has compiled a list of the best shows on HBO, so you don't get lost endlessly browsing through the catalog. 

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HBO Max (opens in new tab) is our favorite streaming service because of its excellent, large library, which includes all of HBO's prestige series, like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and The Wire. Plus, the service has its own originals like American Pickle and The Flight Attendant. HBO Max costs $15 per month but they added a plan with ads that's just $10.

The best shows on HBO Max right now

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The White Lotus

The lifestyles of the rich and terrible are on display again in season 2 of Mike White’s resort dramedy. The sun- and booze-soaked action moves from Hawaii to Sicily, where another White Lotus resort  “welcomes” a new set of guests. The one holdover from season 1 is Jennifer Coolidge’s kooky Tanya McQuoid, who arrives with assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) in tow.

The other wealthy deplorables include married couple Cameron and Daphne (Theo James, Meghann Fahy), their friends Ethan and Harper (Will Sharpe, Aubrey Plaza) and a father, grandfather and son trio (Michael Imperioli, F. Murray Abraham, Adam DiMarco). Overseeing their stay is manager Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore as Valentina), who will undoubtedly be put to the test by many demands and highly inappropriate behavior. 

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Abbott Elementary

Broadcast network sitcoms haven't gotten the kind of buzz and praise that visited Abbott Elementary in years. Yet, this mockumentary sitcom is just as fresh as What We Do in the Shadows. (If you're wondering why the first season of this currently-airing ABC series is on HBO Max, it's because it's a Warner Bros. co-production.)

We primarily see things through the eyes of the earnest and overeager second-grade teacher Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson, also Abbott's showrunner), who rubs all of her fellow educators the wrong way. Still, she brings a lovable energy to the character, even when she's absolutely on the wrong side of a debate. All of Abbott's cast of teachers are fantastic. One of the more interesting arcs of the first season is that of Principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James), whose social media obsessions often threaten to derail the underfunded school. - Henry T. Casey

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House of the Dragon

If you still have a bad taste in your mouth from the end of Game of Thrones, you’re not alone. The final season … hell, the final two seasons were reviled by pretty much everyone, including myself. HBO is hoping to erase all that ill will by once again enlisting the participation and blessing of author George R.R. Martin and by going back in time. Way back. In House of the Dragon, winter isn’t coming for nearly two centuries. 

The prequel draws from Fire and Blood, Martin’s history of the Targaryen family (Daenerys’ ancestors). Specifically, the first season focuses on the events leading up to the Dance of the Dragons, an appropriately fiery and bloody civil war that pitted family members and their dragons against each other. With King Viserys (Paddy Considine) aging, he must name an heir and shocks the Westeros nobility by selecting a woman, his daughter Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). As a result, a different game of thrones is set off — one that will ultimately lead to House Targaryen’s downfall. And after you read about House of the Dragon finale delivered the fireworks we’ve been waiting for all season, let's talk about House of the Dragon season 2. - Kelly Woo

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Regina King as Angela Abar / Sister Night in Watchmen

(Image credit: Mark Hill/HBO)

Don't let the past confuse you. Yes, there was a previous adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen — and it was not good. HBO's take on the legendary graphic novel, though, is excellent. While it definitely uses parts of the story from the graphic novel, showrunner Damon Lindelof breathes new life into the books by addition. This story takes place 34 years after the original Watchmen, and springs off of a white supremacist attack in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Regina King impresses in the starring role of  Angela Abar/Sister Knight, but Watchmen is a fantastic ensemble series, with great performances from Jeremy Irons (as Ozymandias) and Jean Smart (as Laurie Blake).  — Henry T. Casey

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Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on Harley Quinn season 3

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Now back for its third season, the adult animated series Harley Quinn is continuing its run as the best comic book-related show or movie of the past few years. And this season it's even bringing in one of the minds behind one of DC's better movies, as The Suicide Squad director James Gunn voices himself. 

But the core of this show is still about Harley Quinn's life post-Joker. Season 1 saw Quinn go through a seemingly never-ending breakup, and season 2 saw her branch out in Gotham, meeting Batgirl, and dealing with more drama from the city's villains as she tries to climb the ladder to super-villainy. Hilarious and at times dark, Harley Quinn is one of the very best HBO Max shows. – Henry T. Casey

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The Rehearsal

Nathan Fielder's latest out-there idea is for all the over-preparers among us. This time, the host of Nathan For You is finding people worried about big moments in their lives. Fielder is giving them the chance of a lifetime, to simulate that moment out an unreasonable number of times before it happens. He's even made impossibly-accurate replicas of the situations where the events will happen in a warehouse. Loving, touching and awkward, The Rehearsal is easily one of the best  shows on HBO Max. – Henry T. Casey

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Barry season 3 finds the titular hitman-turned-actor in a state of ennui. After the bloodbath at the monastery, he’s gone back to contract killing and his quest to transition to acting has seemingly failed. Meanwhile, girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) has seen her star rise since their showcase; she’s signed a deal to write, direct and star in a semi-autobiographical series for a streaming service. As for acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), he’s still reeling from his girlfriend’s death, his arrest for her murder and subsequent release and the knowledge he’s gained about Barry’s true identity. — KW

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Jean Smart could read a geometry textbook and I’d watch. Fortunately, the writers of Hacks gives our Emmy-winning queen much better material for her role as stand-up comedy legend Deborah Vance. Her zingers are as sharp as ever in season 2, which sees Deborah hitting the road to test out a new act in clubs across the country. Along for the ride is millennial comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), who has helped Deb refresh her jokes for younger audiences. Their relationship has settled into some harmony — though they’re still constantly needling each other — which is threatened by the looming revelation that Ava sent a slanderous, tell-all email about Deborah to TV producers. It’s a ticking time bomb that could blow up the entire tour. – KW

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The Staircase

Before Serial, before The Jinx, before Making a Murder, there was The Staircase. The true crime documentary series chronicled the case of novelist Michael Peterson, who was accused and later convicted of murdering his wife Kathleen (he claimed her death was the result of her falling down the stairs). French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade had extraordinarily intimate access to Peterson, his family and his legal team, which made the resulting footage so enthralling. 

Now, The Staircase is getting fictionalized in a star-studded docu-drama. Colin Firth stars as Michael, with Toni Collette as Kathleen and Sophie Turner as daughter Margaret. The documentary crew are characters, too, since the series is less of a whodunnit and more of an examination of how storytelling affects subjectivity. – KW

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The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age poster

(Image credit: HBO)

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes sets his new period drama in the opulent era of the title, 1880s New York. New money is flooding the city, but looked down upon by old wealth. Leading the latter’s charge against the grasping mushrooms is snobby socialite Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski). Her well-defined world order is threatened by the arrival of new neighbors, the filthy rich industrialist George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his ambitious wife Bertha (Carrie Coon).

Into this social war enters Agnes’ orphaned niece Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson). She may have old money in her blood, but she and her friend, aspiring Black writer Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), have dreams that don’t fit into the established system. — Kelly Woo

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John Cena in Peacemaker on HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO Max)

The DCEU is following Disney Plus' lead, giving a spinoff show from James Gunn's The Suicide Squad. And while the movie had so many interesting misfit villains to choose from, nobody should be surprised to see that it's WWE champion John Cena's Peacemaker who got the call to extend the DC Universe to HBO Max. 

The series follows Peacemaker as he leaves the hospital we saw him wind up in, to a life continuing to work with Amanda Waller's agents (yes, Steve Agee and Jennifer Holland) are back for this round. The Peacemaker series will also follow that Marvel-on-Disney Plus tradition of showing us more of these characters' personal lives, as we meet Peacemaker's dad, a curmudgeon (played by Robert Patrick) who doesn't respect his son at all. — Henry T. Casey

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Station Eleven

Philippine Velge and Mackenzie Davis in Station Eleven

(Image credit: Ian Watson/HBO Max)

The premise of the new limited series Station Eleven may seem like it was inspired by the current pandemic, but in reality, the show is adapted from an extraordinarily prescient 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel. A deadly flu kills 99 percent of Earth’s population, wiping out civilization as we know it.

Twenty years later, a roving troupe performs the works of Shakespeare for small communities of survivors. The Traveling Symphony ensemble, which includes Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis), is committed to spreading theater, music and culture, even if the world is in shambles. But they still grapple with what’s happened to them and to society. It all feels so vividly, achingly similar to the current moment. Can art make sense of catastrophe? Station Eleven tries and succeeds. - Kelly Woo

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Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts

Emotional cast reunions seem to be something HBO Max is specializing in. The streamer made everyone laugh and cry with the Friends reunion; now, they’re doing the same with the Harry Potter movie franchise. 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 2001 release of The Sorcerer’s Stone, the special brings together cast members and director Chris Columbus to talk about the magic of their magical film franchise. (J.K. Rowling also shows up, FYI.) Of course, the primary draw is seeing the three leads — Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint — together again. They’ve all continued working, so it’s not surprising to see them all grown up. But it is nice to see the warmth, camaraderie and genuine delight they feel for one another. – KW

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The Sex Lives of College Girls

Poster for The Sex Lives of College Girls

(Image credit: HBO Max)

The provocative, salacious title is the first joke of the comedy series created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble. Don’t expect softcore porn or smut; do expect a witty and warm coming-of-age story about college freshman forging new paths in young adulthood.

Four young women move into a suite at the fictional Essex University in Vermont. Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) is a star athlete and senator’s daughter, Leighton (Renée Rapp) is a closeted legacy, Bela (Amrit Kaur) is a comedy nerd and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet, Timothée’s sister) is a a smart scholarship student. The suitemates embark on individual journeys of self-discovery — which, yes, does include sex and romance. But The Sex Lives of College Girls is also about friendship, parental expectations, class, anxiety and all the complicated issues that come with growing up. – KW

The Sex Lives of College Girls season 2 debuts on Nov. 17, 2022.

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The cast of Succession on the season 3 poster

(Image credit: HBO)

The lifestyles of the rich and the Roys are once again on display in the third season of Succession, the premier example of the genre “wealthy people who are fascinating in their horribleness” (see also: The White Lotus). All of the Roys are awful — and I love each and every one of them. The story picks up where it left: the immediate aftermath of Kendall throwing his father under the corporate bus for the cruise line scandals. Of course, this means war, with both Logan and Kendall attempting to marshal the troops aka their family members to their side. Shiv and Roman have their own agendas, per usual. The new episodes bring in some fresh faces, Alexander Skarsgard and Adrien Brody. Bring on all the tall men!  – KW

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The Other Two

The comedy about fame was never a huge hit when it aired on Comedy Central, so a lot of people haven’t even heard of it. Now, the show has moved to HBO Max, where I hope it can find more of an audience because it’s genuinely funny. To catch you up, it follows two siblings — gay aspiring actor Cary (Drew Tarver) and former pro dancer Brooke (Heléne Yorke) — after their younger brother, Chase (Case Walker), suddenly become a YouTube-famous singer. Season 2 finds mom Pat (Molly Shannon) bringing in the big bucks as a daytime talk show host. Cary is working as the video host of a gossip segment and has a boyfriend. Meanwhile, Brooke scours TikTok, looking for a rising star she can manage. Are they famous? Kinda, sorta. Are they happy? It’s complicated. – KW

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Take Notting Hill, center it around a Fleabag-style hot mess and you've got this endlessly charming romantic comedy. Jessie (Rose Matafeo) is a twentysomething New Zealander who's living in London and working odd jobs as a nanny and a cinema clerk. On New Year's Eve, she meets a handsome stranger who turns out to be movie star Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel). Their one-night stand becomes something more, though misunderstandings and obstacles get in the way. – KW

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The White Lotus

The cast of White Lotus

(Image credit: HBO)

Mike White returns to HBO, a decade after he created Enlightened for the network, with a new satirical comedy set at a lush, decadent resort. On the surface, it’s paradise; but darker things are happening behind the scenes. Resort manager Arnomd (Murray Bartlett) and his team of quirky employees welcome a new round of oddball guests, played by a dream cast including Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Jake Lacy and Alexandra Daddario. The show is the perfect vehicle for the creator's signature blend of comedy and drama, realism and eccentricity — and The White Lotus season 2 just began airing. – KW

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Mare of Easttown

Kate Winslet stars in Mare of Easttown, one of the best shows on HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO)

If you liked Broadchurch, Mare of Easttown will be right up your small-town murder alley. Kate Winslet deploys an excellent Pennsylvania accent as Detective Mare Sheehan, who is investigating the death or a teen mom. The case seems to involve every person in her orbit, since everyone in the area knows or is related to everyone else. Oh, and Mare's personal life is in shambles. There's nothing new or groundbreaking here, just well-written and well-performed work that will keep you absorbed every Sunday night. — KW

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Made for Love

Cristin Milioti in Made for Love on HBO Max

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Cristin Milioti starred in one of Black Mirror's best episodes, USS Callister, and her new HBO Max comedy has a similar vibe and theme. She plays Hazel, who flees her tech billionaire husband Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen) after learning he's implanted his latest tech gadget in her head. It essentially creates a "network for two," so that couples can share (and monitor) each other's every thought and feeling. Yeah, super messed up. Hazel runs away, back home to her estranged father (Ray Romano), but escaping isn't easy when Byron can read her mind. – KW

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The Flight Attendant

Kaley Cuoco starts in The Flight Attendant

(Image credit: The Flight Attendant/HBO Max)

Kaley Cuoco spreads her acting wings in this dark comedic thriller, playing a hard-partying flight attendant named Cassie Bowden. On a flight to Bangkok, she meets a handsome first class passenger, Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) and ends up spending the night with him. When she finds him murdered in the bed next to her, a hungover Cassie freaks out and runs. That puts her in hot water with both law enforcement and shady business figures. 

The zany, mile-a-minute plot twists make The Flight Attendant an easy binge. But it's the depth of the writing and appealing characters (including Cassie's BFF Annie, played by Zozia Mamet) that make it one of the best shows on HBO Max. — Kelly Woo 

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Lovecraft Country

Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett in Lovecraft Country on HBO

(Image credit: HBO)

The HBO horror series comes from executive producers Jordan Peele, and J. J. Abrams, so you know the supernatural scares will be very real. Much like its HBO sibling Watchmen, Lovecraft Country is a racial commentary.  The show is set in the segregated Jim Crow era of the United States of the 1950s and the characters face all sorts of monsters — both the supernatural kind and the racist human kind. 

Lovecraft Country centers on Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), who embarks on a road trip with friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to search for his missing father. Along the way, they encounter vampire-like creatures and menacing cops. The show balances a fantastical tale with the (still) dangerous reality of being Black. — Kelly Woo 

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Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in Euphoria

(Image credit: HBO)

Say it with us: Zendaya, Emmy winner. The rising star is the youngest winner ever of the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series category and she beat out the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Laura Linney and Olivia Colman. She did it with her raw, nuanced, sensitive portrayal of Rue, a recovering drug addict who returns home from rehab to try to navigate "regular" high school life. She forms a bond with new girl Jules (Hunter Schafer) and their roller coaster relationship takes place against a backdrop of sex, drugs, bullying, assault and identity issues. — Kelly Woo 

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The cast of Friends

(Image credit: NBC)

No one told us life was gonna be this way. It hasn't been our day, our week, our month and it sure hasn't been our year. You may not be able to see your friends due to the pandemic, but at least we can all see Friends. Everyone wailed and gnashed their teeth when the beloved sitcom left Netflix at the top of 2020. Now, it's the centerpiece of HBO Max's content. Relive Ross and Rachel's first kiss (and infamous "break"), every Thanksgiving episode and "PIVOT!" These Friends will be there for us in these quarantine times. — Kelly Woo 

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Game of Thrones

Sean Bean as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones

(Image credit: HBO)

Winter is coming. Well, technically, winter already came and went over the course of eight years on HBO. But now is the perfect time to watch it for the first time if you're new to HBO Max or revisit it if you're a longtime HBO subscriber. Even if you haven't seen the series before, you probably know quite a lot about it — Game of Thrones is one of the last pieces of monoculture around. Millions of viewers couldn't stop talking about the bloody battles for the Iron Throne, Daenerys Targaryen's dragons, how the Lannisters pay their debts and the brutal misfortunes of House Stark. Even complete newbies probably heard about the disappointing finale. Still, focus on the well-told, well-made, well-acted journey and you'll enjoy a fantastic ride. Plus, now that the Game of Thrones prequel series is here — here's everything thing you need to know before you watch House of the Dragon. — Kelly Woo 

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Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

You don't need to know how to do the Carlton to know it's not unusual to fall in love with a show as much as America fell in love with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Will Smith (playing a character of the same name) is the too-funky-fresh teen who lived in West Philadelphia until his mom got scared when he got into a fight, and sent him to live with his auntie (Viv) and uncle (Phil) in the hoity-toity neighborhood of Bel Air Los Angeles.

Throughout the series, the show found humor in exploring class differences and Will's fish-out-of-water situation, as he charms his way through prep school and other upper class opportunities. While the series will mostly make you laugh, you'll tear up when Will asks "Why he don't want me?" — HTC 

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The O.C.

If you've never started this guilty-pleasure teen soap, now's a good time to get familiar. When bad boy Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) gets taken in by the Cohen family, he's a little too rough around the edges for the scene, despite everyone's individual drama. Ryan quickly makes friends with Seth Cohen (Adam Brody), who's too fast-spoken for his own good, and the two become trouble magnets to a high degree.

The boys quickly develop girl problems with Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) and Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson), and the latter's antics often steal the show and become memes for their time. Peter Gallagher anchors the series as "Sandy" Cohen, the patriarch who's also the moral compass of the series. And you'll keep hitting Play on new episodes, not just to see how Seth and Summer bicker, but to hear the crooning Phantom Planet song "California," one of the best opening themes. — Henry T. Casey 

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Doctor Who

Doctor Who has everything you'd want in a quarantine binge: Adventure. Sci-fi. Humor. Aliens. Monsters. History. Romance. British accents. And HBO Max has 12 seasons of time traveling goodness (from the modern era revival), so you can settle down with a cup of tea and enjoy the Doctor's adventures for many hours. 

Each of the five Doctors in the revival era (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and Jodie Whittaker) all bring unique takes to their regenerated version of the character. The show can often be deeply silly, but also extremely clever and creative. More than that, it's so positive and humane — comfort food at a time when the world really needs it. — Kelly Woo

Disney Plus will be the home for future Doctor Who seasons in the U.S. and other international markets outside of the U.K. and Ireland.

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Stellan Skarsgård and Jared Harris look from a rooftop in Chernobyl

(Image credit: HBO)

If you shied away from watching the award-winning limited series when it first came out, it's time to buckle up your grownup pants. Not only is it one of the best HBO Max shows, Chernobyl is a timely piece of extraordinary art that resonates with what's going on in the world right now. Chernobyl is a truly harrowing tale of disaster and death, compounded by gross negligence of higher-ups, the hesitance and save-face tactics of government officials and a political culture dominated by egos, lies and secrecy. Yes, we all want to escape with mindless entertainment, but it's also important to use the lens of history to synthesize the current events around us. — Kelly Woo 

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Kelly Woo
Senior Writer

Kelly is a senior writer covering streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.

With contributions from