10 best HBO shows of all time you can watch on Max right now

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Ever since HBO was founded in 1972, creating the “premium cable” model that so many other channels sought to imitate, it's been known for providing a high caliber of television. And you can watch all the best HBO shows on Max right now, which tops our list of the best streaming services

Over the years, HBO has developed an impressive catalog of TV shows, many of which are now regarded as all-time classics. By virtue of being outside the world of basic cable and able to subvert rules of what could be shown on television, HBO was a pioneer in tackling storylines that were more risque, violent, or off-color, attracting audiences looking for something different than the same old family sitcoms or police procedurals on the main networks. 

From drama to comedy and everything in between, these are the 10 best HBO shows of all time that you can watch on Max today. And for more options see our list of the best Max shows and best Max movies right now. 

The Sopranos

The Sopranos cast posing away from the camera at a restaurant

(Image credit: HBO)

Outside of The Godfather, The Sopranos is probably the best showcase the Italian-American mob community has ever had. The series revolves around Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the head of a New Jersey mob family who begins the show disconcerted by the fact that he’s suddenly having panic attacks. 

That he goes to a psychiatrist in spite of all the stigma surrounding mental health in his community reflects the central struggle of show: Tony is a man caught between two worlds, trying to be a better man than his predecessors, but consistently giving in to his baser instincts. Is he capable of change? Or is a man doomed to play out the same trauma of past generations? Because of this moral complexity, Tony is one of the more interesting protagonists on television, even when we find his actions utterly repulsive.

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With Deadwood, HBO gives audiences a Western by way of William Shakespeare. Timothy Olyphant’s steely-eyed Seth Bullock arrives in Deadwood – an unincorporated mining town in modern-day South Dakota – to find an essentially lawless community. The owner of the local brothel, Al Swearingen (Ian McShane), is the preeminent figure in town, lording over his dusty fiefdom as he sees fit. 

As Deadwood grows, its problems and disputes become proportionately larger, and it finds itself in need of an honest lawman to keep chaos at bay – and Seth Bullock, despite his protestations, might be the best man for the job. Although Deadwood was unceremoniously after just three seasons, the show has a devoted fanbase and is widely considered one of HBO’s best dramas.

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Game of Thrones

Best HBO Max shows: Game of Thrones

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Based on the sprawling epic by George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones redefined what fantasy television was capable of. It revolved around the political machinations of several different ruling families in the fictional world of Westeros, many of which were willing to do pretty much anything to maintain power, including, for example, murdering a whole bunch of people at a family wedding, of all places. 

Although its legacy was somewhat tarnished by a weak final season, for the majority of its eight-season run, it was unmatched in terms of both quality and the hold it had over pop culture. In a television landscape increasingly dominated by binge-watching, Game of Thrones was one of the last shows that could be considered “event television,” water-cooler entertainment at its finest.

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Succession season 3

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Whoever said that your protagonists ought to have at least a few redeeming qualities certainly hadn’t met the Roys of Succession. A scheming, underhanded troupe of emotionally malnourished borderline sociopaths, each member of the Roy family would be the villain in any other show. 

But here, we’re mesmerized by their political machinations as they fight for control of the family business, a media conglomerate founded by the Roy patriarch, Logan (Brian Cox), a man who seems to survive entirely out of spite and lives to pit his children against one another. It’s a dark comedy filled with broken people, and we eat up every second of it.

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The Wire

Wendell Pierce as Detective Bunk Moreland and Dominic West as Detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire

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Alongside The Sopranos, The Wire was an effort from HBO to explore different facets of crime with nuance and empathy. But where The Sopranos focused on an Italian mob family, The Wire looks at the problems facing inner-city Baltimore. Each season casts a critical eye at different aspects of the city administration and infrastructure, from the police department to the local government. 

It’s a scathing, unflinching indictment of the kind of systemic decay that hurts urban communities. The Wire also served as a launching pad for several talented young performers, including Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, and the late Michael Kenneth Williams.

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Six Feet Under

Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause in Six Feet Under

(Image credit: Alamy)

HBO shows are no stranger to pitch black comedy, and the channel has Six Feet Under to thank for setting them down that path. It takes place in a funeral home, for one thing, surrounded by a funeral home family reeling from the death of their patriarch. 

Peter Krause plays Nate Fisher, the eldest boy who has inherited the family business, but Six Feet Under features a murderer’s row of strong actors that includes Michael C. Hall, Lauren Ambrose, James Cromwell, Jeremy Sisto, and Frances Conroy (among others). The show is laced with acerbic humor as the family attempts to navigate a world that is profoundly touched by death – it’s no coincidence that every episode begins with one.

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Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David and a dog in Curb Your Enthusiasm season 11 episode 1

(Image credit: John P. Johnson/HBO)

During the early days of Larry David’s career, he mostly stayed behind the camera. On the hit show Seinfeld, his unique sense of humor is felt in every episode, but rarely seen. Curb Your Enthusiasm, on the other hand, puts David front and center in all his anti-social, cantankerous glory. He plays himself, a middle-aged TV showrunner just trying to make it through life in Los Angeles without alienating too many of his friends. 

So much of the show’s comedy revolves around rules — spoken and unspoken, social conventions and internal, deeply held beliefs — many of which David clings to with all his might, while others he refuses to follow, to the consternation of everyone around him. As a man of principle, even when it would be so much easier for him to just go with the flow, David stands unmatched.

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Bill Hader in Barry season 3

(Image credit: HBO)

Even back when Bill Hader was on Saturday Night Live, doing sketch comedy with the primary goal of making people laugh, many of his characters had a manic glint in their eyes that hinted at inner darkness. So it’s no surprise that he would choose as his breakout directorial effort Barry, a dark comedy starring himself as an emotionally repressed hitman with dreams of becoming an actor. 

The thing that makes Barry stand out so much is that it is willing to go to genuinely dark places – it’s not a comedy with occasional gallows humor, it’s deeply disturbing with gifted comic actors capable of making you laugh in spite of everything. Hader is at his best as a performer here, and he’s able to draw out incredible work from his supporting cast, especially Henry Winkler, for whom this show is a career highlight.

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Julia Louis Dreyfus as Selina Meyer in Veep

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As a satire of the political world, Veep is almost too good. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in rare form as Selina Meyer, an extremely self-involved narcissist with eyes on the White House. Ss she begins the show, she’s merely the vice president — hence the title — and a running gag in the early seasons is how rarely she actually crosses paths with the president.

She’s surrounded by a gaggle of supporters, who range from ambitious to sociopathic to wildly incompetent. Offering a glimpse into the world of our highest-ranking public officials that many Washington insiders confirm is incredibly accurate, it’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying.

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Boardwalk Empire

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire

(Image credit: HBO / AJ Pics / Alamy Stock Photo)

Set during the Prohibition era in Atlantic City, Boardwalk Empire stars Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, a local politician who has his hand in the burgeoning bootlegging industry. The line between respectable public figure and local gangster is continually blurred as the crime world expands in New Jersey during the early 20th century. 

Although Buscemi is the lead of the show, he has a top-notch crew of supporting performers, including Michael Shannon, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Graham, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Jack Huston – among many others. The show was a massive hit when it was on the air, eventually earning 20 Emmys over the course of its five seasons.

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Audrey Fox is a features editor and film/television critic at Looper, with bylines at RogerEbert.com, The Nerdist, /Film, and IGN, amongst others. She has been blessed by our tomato overlords with their coveted seal of approval. Audrey received her BA in film from Clark University and her MA in International Relations from Harvard University. When she’s not watching movies, she loves historical non-fiction, theater, traveling, and playing the violin (poorly).