GAME OF THRONES (2011)
8 seasons / 73 episodes
The granddaddy of all fantasy/adventure series, this is the most expensive, most successful television series of all time. It is incredible and I highly recommend it, but it’s not for everyone. It takes place in an ancient fantasy world, has dragons and frozen zombies, a ton of violence and nudity, and is dark and intense. BUT, for those of you who don’t mind all of that, there is no better show, as the characters and stories are absolutely addictive, and you cannot beat the production values (each episode is like a movie). If you can bear it, Game of Thrones is un-missable.
3 seasons / 29 episodes (so far)
Now that Better Call Saul has wrapped up, if you ask me what the best current show on television is, it’s Succession, a show about the head of a billion-dollar media empire and his ambitious adult children, each eyeing to be their father’s eventual successor. Ostensibly based on the real-life Murdochs or Trumps, Succession is a cold-blooded and foul-mouthed ode to the most morally bankrupt and grossly narcissistic people in the world and I can’t get enough of it. The writing is absolute genius, and even if you think the last thing you’d ever want to do is spend time with people like this, the way showrunner Jesse Armstrong turns them all on each other is black comedy gold.
SIX FEET UNDER (2001)
5 seasons / 63 episodes
One of my all-time favorites. Back in the day, we made sure to be home on Sunday nights for every new episode of this show about a dysfunctional family who operates a funeral home in Los Angeles. It’s not easy to talk or think about death, but this show does it with humanity, honesty and a good dose of humor. Don’t worry, it’s not all about death, but it reminds us that death is a part of life, and there’s no running from that, so we may as well face it head on. Great characters and great family drama, too.
THE SOPRANOS (1999)
6 seasons / 86 episodes
The classic and still the king. This is the show that ushered in the golden age of television, David Chase’s brilliant series about a New Jersey mob boss that many cite as the best show in television history. But Tony Soprano, played by the late, great, James Gandolfini, is like no mob boss we’ve seen. He’s sensitive, struggling with his mental health while trying to balance family and work, like any other suburbanite. But don’t let his sensitivity fool you, he’s still hardcore and this series is as much Goodfellas as it is Ordinary People. Gandolfini is the star, but Edie Falco steals the show as his wife, Carmela. Bada bing!
5 seasons / 43 episodes
This isn’t an HBO original, but it may as well be, considering how good it is. Southland was the best show NBC had in years, but the network cancelled it after just one season (and they wonder why streamers are killing them). TNT then picked it up for 4 more seasons, but they also didn’t appreciate it fully, and cancelled the best thing they’d ever had too. Luckily, Southland lives on in streaming and you can catch all 5 seasons of this underappreciated gem on HBO MAX. It is one of the best cop shows ever made with one of the best casts. I mean, it’s got Regina King as a kick-ass detective, need I even say more?
THE WHITE LOTUS (2021)
1 season / 6 episodes (so far)
Yes, this show is all you’ve heard and more. Season one was addictive and I can’t wait for season two. Catch up now on this show set in a tropical resort that focuses on several guests who all are navigating their own unique dramas. From the mind of Mike White, there is drama and comedy, camp and mystery, plus a cast to absolutely die for, from Murray Bartlett to Steve Zahn to Connie Britton to the brilliant Jennifer Coolidge, who has never been better (and that’s saying something).
2 seasons / 18 episodes
This is a show I still miss dearly, it should have gotten much more love when it was on. It’s a wonderful show about the lives of a group of gay friends living in San Francisco.
4 seasons / 36 episodes (so far)
While seasons 2, 3 and 4 are definitely more style than substance, there’s no denying the electric imagination and ambition in this series, especially season one, which is near-perfect in its surreal, sci-fi storytelling and building of a world you’ve never seen before. This series is about an adult theme park where people pay top dollar to act out their every fantasy without consequence. It can be anything, even murder, because the park is stocked full of “hosts,” robots designed to look like people who are programmed to play along with any storyline a guest initiates. But, of course, things start to go haywire, and Westworld explores many themes, the most compelling being self-awareness. It is a fascinating series, deep and complex, but what makes it so worth watching is the way it looks. It is gorgeous and haunting, worth diving into if cerebral sci-fi is your thing.
BIG LITTLE LIES (2017)
2 seasons / 14 episodes
An adult soap opera about rich people living on the Northern California coast. A star-studded cast (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern) can’t compete with the scenery and all the real estate porn—it’s worth watching just to see the houses. It’s a must for anyone that loves pulpy, moody dramas with a splash of mystery.
TRUE BLOOD (2008)
7 seasons / 81 episodes
DEFINITELY not for everyone, this drama about vampires and other supernatural creatures is set in modern-day Louisiana and stars Oscar-winner Anna Paquin as a waitress who falls for a vampire. But this is a far cry from Twilight, as True Blood doesn’t hold back on anything, including violence, blood, sex and supernatural horrors (and delights). But what makes the show so good (until the last couple of seasons, when it loses its way a bit) is you really fall for all the characters and you care what happens to them. I gave it a chance because it came from producer Alan Ball, who gave us American Beauty and Six Feet Under, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. If you were ever looking for a vampire soap opera, there is no better show to feast on than this. Bonus points for being the show that put Alexander Skarsgård on the map.
THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (2020)
1 season / 6 episodes
An absolutely fascinating series that suggests what life might have been like in America during World War II if President Roosevelt had been defeated by neo-fascist Charles Lindbergh, as seen through the eyes of a Jewish family in New Jersey. It’s based on a novel by Philip Roth and is staggeringly good and horrifying at the same time.
1 season / 4 episodes
Based on a very weird true story of a quiet and otherwise unassuming English couple who come under suspicion of murder in 1998, this is an offbeat dark comedy that sucks you in. It’s got a really cool vibe and style, but it’s the incredible performances from Olivia Colman and David Thewlis that bring it home.
THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT (2020)
2 seasons / 16 episodes (so far)
Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory is the main attraction here, as she plays a hard-partying flight attendant who gets caught up in a big mess in Bangkok. The series is all over the place, unsure of what exactly it is, but there is enough to keep you interested, including murder, international espionage and Cuoco’s unique charm. Bonus points for Rosie Perez in a featured role.
IT’S A SIN (2021)
1 season / 5 episodes
Yes, it’s another chronicle of life during the time of AIDS, but this sweet and sensitively-done series about 4 friends in London in the 80s is heartbreaking, moving and important.
THE NEWSROOM (2012)
3 seasons / 25 episodes
Aaron Sorkin’s return to politically-themed television, after the massive success of The West Wing. It’s set in a CNN-like cable channel newsroom, and is packed with Sorkin-esque witty dialogue, political commentary, ripped-from-the-headline plotlines and a world-weary sensibility, all delivered at a breakneck pace. While it’s far from the quality of The West Wing, it will quench your thirst for a modern (pre-Trump) show with thought-provoking stories.
OLIVE KITTRIDGE (2014)
1 season / 4 episodes
Three-time Best Actress Oscar winner Frances McDormand won her only Emmy (so far) for this series, playing a misanthropic and sharp-tongued teacher in New England whose crusty exterior belies a vulnerable center. Her sweet and overwhelmed husband is played by the wonderful Richard Jenkins. The series is pretty downbeat, but you can’t beat McDormand in a role seemingly made for her. And there’s always joy in an Ann Dowd sighting.
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (2021)
1 season / 5 episodes
Although this one was probably only made because of COVID, this intimate look at a marriage and the aftermath of its breakup features two mammoth performances by Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain and is worth it just to see these two work together again. It’s slow and talky, but if you love two great actors really diving in and exploring every nook and cranny of a character, this one is for you.
SHOW ME A HERO (2015)
1 season / 6 episodes
You can never have too much Oscar Isaac in your life, so you must seek out this underappreciated gem where Isaac plays the mayor of Yonkers, New York in 1987 who is tasked with enforcing a federal mandate to build public housing in white neighborhoods. Although the subject of local politics and public housing may seem dry, this peel-back-the-onion look at yet another chapter of our country’s painful past is an important one to learn about.
STATION ELEVEN (2021)
1 season / 10 episodes (so far)
This show is hard to describe. It’s a timeline-jumping, multi-character saga that takes us from the origins of a global pandemic (yes, it was pretty traumatic watching this during the height of COVID) to a post-apocalyptic world where life is all about surviving and rebuilding. It’s not all a downer, though, as hope is a key player in the emotional life of every character. What sucked me in was the storytelling, which takes its time and allows the characters room to breathe. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.