HBO has been home to some of the best and biggest television shows over the past couple of decades. The network has racked up countless Emmy nominations, and its shows frequently appear on many critics’ best-of-the-year lists (mine included).
But many people never see those shows. HBO is a premium channel in cable packages, and subscribing has never been cheap. Even now, with its standalone app, HBO is among the most expensive streaming options at $15 a month.
But with most people stuck at home during the coronavirus outbreak, HBO is making almost 500 hours of programming free for a limited time. All you need to do is download the HBO Go or HBO Now app on your streaming device.
Some of HBO’s biggest shows (“Game of Thrones,” “Westworld”) are staying behind the paywall, but there are still plenty of good options. And, as someone who’s had access to HBO for the last 15 years or so, mostly by mooching off my parents’ account (thanks, Mom and Dad!), I can help you break down which shows, docuseries and documentaries are worth your time.
What it’s about: A retired NFL player (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) becomes a financial manager for current NFL players, and hilarity and drama ensue. Co-stars Rob Corddry as one of Johnson’s co-workers, and John David Washington as one of Johnson’s clients.
How many episodes: 5 seasons, 47 episodes
You should watch it if: You need something to fill the sports-shaped void in your soul, or you’re a Rock completionist. The show is sort of a guilty pleasure in the same vein as, say, “Entourage,” with super-rich people doing lots of super-rich people things. (Yes, I realize comparing an HBO series to a different HBO series isn’t very helpful if you’ve never had HBO before. But, I mean, you know what “Entourage” is, right?)
What it’s about: A former Marine turned hitman (Bill Hader) ends up finding meaning and purpose in an acting class and tries to chart a new course in life, with often disastrous results.
How many episodes: 2 seasons, 16 episodes
You should watch it if: You want a good dark comedy, emphasis on dark. The show is consistently hilarious, but has plenty of shocking, violent scenes. It’s also one of the best-acted shows on television. Hader is incredible, and his supporting cast — including Henry Winkler as his acting coach and Anthony Carrigan as a well-meaning mobster — is just as good. It’s also one of two shows on this list that’s still ongoing, though production on its third season has been delayed by coronavirus.
The Case Against Adnan Syed
What it’s about: A docuseries that explores the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of Adnan Syed, a case made famous by the podcast “Serial.”
How many episodes: Four episodes
You should watch it if: You’re a true-crime buff who wants to revisit one of the biggest podcasts ever. The docuseries puts the focus mostly on Lee, whereas the podcast spent most of its time on Syed’s story.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
What it’s about: A documentary about disgraced businesswoman Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, which promised to reinvent blood testing but was basically just a scam.
How many episodes: Just one, as it’s a two-hour documentary
You should watch it if: You’re fascinated by cult-of-personality figures and con artists. Among the investors in Theranos was former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
What it’s about: You know those Monopoly promotions McDonald’s occasionally runs? They were rigged throughout much of the 1990s. This docuseries explains how.
How many episodes: Six episodes
You should watch it if: You liked “Tiger King,” but want something a little more high-brow. The docuseries looks at the crime from both sides, interviewing the FBI agents and McDonald’s employees who investigated it and many of the figures who perpetrated it.
What it’s about: Co-created by Mike Judge, this series follows a group of tech bros trying to make it in the cut-throat world of Silicon Valley startups.
How many episodes: 6 seasons, 53 episodes
You should watch it if: You’re a fan of past Judge shows like “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill.” The humor in “Silicon Valley” bounces between high-brow and low-brow, but it’s consistently pretty funny.
Six Feet Under
What it’s about: The drama follows a family running a funeral home in Los Angeles.
How many episodes: 5 seasons, 63 episodes
You should watch it if: You have a morbid fascination with death. Or if you like well-written, well-acted dramas. If you can make it to the end, the show’s finale is considered one of the best in TV history.
What it’s about: A mob drama that also serves as the starting point for the Golden Age of Television.
How many episodes: 6 seasons, 86 episodes
You should watch it if: You like mob movies, or just good TV in general. Tony Soprano helped set the anti-hero archetype that would be used in so many other series, from Walter White in “Breaking Bad” to Don Draper in “Mad Men” to Dexter Morgan in “Dexter.”
What it’s about: A dramedy (more on the comedy side) following a tyrannical media mogul and his family. The characters are loosely based on Rupert Murdoch and his family, aka the owners of the Fox News empire.
How many episodes: 2 season, 20 episodes
You should watch it if: You like watching terrible people being terrible to each other. None of the show’s characters is remotely likable, and yet you can’t help but feel sorry for them. Credit for that goes to the writing, which is some of the best on television. It’s also the other show on this list that’s still ongoing, though, like “Barry,” production on its third season has been delayed by coronavirus.
What it’s about: Sexy vampires in rural Louisiana.
How many episodes: 7 seasons, 80 episodes
You should watch it if: You like vampires. A lot. The series overall is pretty pulpy, and most critics had soured on it by its last few seasons, but there’s still some fun to be had if you’re into the genre.
What it’s about: A comedy that follows fictional vice president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the cast of scoundrels who surround her.
How many episodes: 7 seasons, 65 episodes
You should watch it if: You like watching terrible people being terrible to each other. Though Louis-Dreyfus is at her best in the series, Selina Meyer is an unabashedly awful person, as are pretty much all of her aides. Notably, the show never identifies which party Meyer belongs to, so don’t let politics scare you off of this show.
What it’s about: A sprawling drama that examines, among other things, crime, policing, education, labor unions and journalism in mid-2000s Baltimore.
How many episodes: 5 seasons, 60 episodes
You should watch it if: You want to watch one of the best TV series of all time. Or you want to shut up that person who keeps telling you to watch this series, which is one of the best TV series of all time. It’s got a massive cast full of memorable characters, and though its run ended in 2008, its themes are still incredibly timely and relevant.
The 15 most iconic cars in movie and TV history
Gallery: The 15 most iconic cars in movie and TV history
The DeLorean - “Back to the Future”
The Batmobile - “The Dark Knight”
Aston Martin DB5 - James Bond
Mach Five - “Speed Racer”
Ecto-1 - “Ghostbusters”
Pontiac Trans Am - “Smokey and the Bandit”
Ferrari 250 GT California - “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
The Mystery Machine - “Scooby-Doo”
General Lee - “The Dukes of Hazzard”
Christine - “Christine”
KITT - “Knight Rider”
Herbie - “The Love Bug”
The Shaggin’ Wagon - “Dumb and Dumber”
The Flintstones car - “The Flintstones”
The War Rig - “Mad Max: Fury Road”