I like Max, but it’s missing one obvious feature for Discovery Plus shows

Max logo on a television set
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery/Shutterstock)

When HBO Max became Max, I was actually pretty chill about it. Certain friends, of course, still bemoaned the mashup of HBO Max and the popular Discovery Plus content into the three-letter mononym. They yelled that WBD was stepping on the HBO brand and legacy, while I couldn't really be bothered to get upset.

But now that it's here, I've had time to play around with Max. (I even tried to enjoy The Idol, which was a failing effort.) I've agreed with some of the most frequently-seen complaints I've heard about Max. Yes, the decision to file writers and directors into the "creators" label shows a lack of care for the creative process. Yes, having every show that begins with "The" listed at T in alphabetically-sorted views is silly.

Above both of those issues, though, Max is missing an obvious feature. And it shows how little audience patterns are understood and how we watch many of Max's shows that were added from Discovery Plus.

We don't watch HBO and Food Network shows the same way

(R to L) Guy Fieri pats down the forehead of a cook in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives

(Image credit: Food Network)

Speaking on the behalf of couch potatoes everywhere, there are (mostly) two different ways to watch TV. I'm either glued to my screen with intent, leaning forward, or relaxed and casual as I lie back to decompress. I'll use either style as I watch the best Max shows, as Max definitely has content for both.

The former is often associated with HBO shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire, which have long-term arcs that you follow with bated breath. The latter is associated with Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Dr. Pimple Popper, and other unscripted programming that's been brought over to Max in the move.

The Sopranos cast posing away from the camera at a restaurant

(Image credit: HBO)

Narrative-focused shows require sequential order, and only some 'reality' programming — say, your Vanderpump Rules — fits that kind of "watch it in chronological order" habit. But a lot of reality TV is something I've just happened to watch because I was channel surfing. 

Yet, Max — like Discovery Plus before it — didn't really offer anything catering to the latter approach of watching TV. Instead, you see every episode, sorted by season and episode. And that reveals a flawed way of streaming reality TV.

Max needs 'channels' and shuffle buttons

The Peacock channels menu

(Image credit: Peacock)

Over on Peacock, one of the best streaming services, you can see that others figured out half of what Max needs. The Office, one of the most popular shows of the last I don't know how long, may be offered in chronological order under the TV Shows tab. But there's also a Channels tab.

There, you can fine programmed, linear "channels'" dedicated to specific shows or series. Peacock offers Law & Order, Dateline 24/7, Vanderpump Rules and — of course — The Office channels. 

And, if you don't like a certain episode? A Shuffle button could help randomly select another one.

Some of these channels show programs in chronological order, but they all take the work of out your process, dropping you in instead of asking you to select an episode. And at the end of the day, that's all I can ask for.

I'm not saying chronological sorting is wrong for some TV; I'm just saying the other half is also welcome and needed. And, if you don't like a certain episode? A Shuffle button could help randomly select another one. WinAmp and iTunes proved shuffling was good for music decades ago, but how has TV not caught up?

Outlook: Max is just getting started

To double-check my work here, I went into the still-there Discovery Plus to see if that app knew how to handle its own shows. Surprisingly, even Discovery Plus didn't let you jump to a random episode or casually turn one on.

Hopefully, though, enough people will ask for something like this. Max is less than a month old, and only has time to grow.

More from Tom's Guide

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.