HBO / HBO MAX Intense/Heavy Dramas

3 seasons / 28 episodes
There aren’t many shows that affected me as much as The Leftovers did. In just three seasons, this show, based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta and co-created by Damon Lindelof (Lost), was the most visceral and intense experience I’ve ever had while watching TV. Set three years after the “Sudden Departure,” an event where 2% of the entire world’s population vanish in the same instant, The Leftovers focuses on the ones left behind and their various traumas, guilt, fears, anguish, anxiety and depression that was caused by the massive and sudden gulf in humanity. The premise is fascinating, the story is textured, layered and peppered with religion, philosophy, poetry and the supernatural, and the production values are absolutely first-rate. But it will be the characters who live with you, as you will not see more haunting and complex performances than this anywhere else, as everyone brings it, especially Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd and Regina King, who are magnificent, heartbreaking and memorable, just like this show.

OZ (1997)
6 seasons / 56 episodes
Oz premiered on HBO on July 12, 1997, the day I turned 27, and I still can’t believe I actually watched this show when I was that young. Oz was one of the first HBO original series and is still considered one of the most intense and violent ones the network has ever made. Set in a maximum-security male prison, Oz is brutal and raw, unafraid to show how prison really is and unapologetic about playing out hardcore stories. But it’s so much more than a life-behind-bars show. We get to know a diverse cast of characters with histories and personalities who are forced to live together in a most unusual circumstance. It’s fast-paced and incredibly intense, sometimes bleak, sometimes hopeful, always entertaining. This is the show that put future Oscar winner J.K. Simmons and future star of Law & Order: SVU Christopher Meloni on the map, showed us another side of Rita Moreno, and featured a litany of surprising but awesome guest stars, including Luke Perry, Betty Buckley, Patti Lupone, and Joel Grey, each one seeming to relish their against-type casting.

2 seasons / 18 episodes (so far)
A new show that just wrapped up its second season, Euphoria is a staggering indictment of the modern teenager, enough to terrify any parent. I’m not a parent and this show makes my blood run cold in how it portrays American teenagers as sex-crazed, drug-addled, violence-prone narcissists who act decades older than they are and put themselves in all kinds of danger, both spiritual and physical. Innocence lost is just the beginning here, as it becomes clear that a teenager’s world today, with social media, cell phones and a culture of perpetual misogyny, is an entirely new phenomenon that only their generation can understand. Despite how hard it is to watch sometimes, it is still captivating to see these characters ruin themselves. It is a bit much and it’s hard to believe all teenagers are like this, but it’s also hard to look away. But all of that is not even what makes Euphoria so worth it. The performance from Zendaya as Rue, a teen addict who engages in a never-ending battle with her demons, is as good as anything you will ever see and her performance will enrage you and break your heart all at the same time.
*** Emmy Winner***

1 season / 9 episodes
Don’t be scared off by the fact that this is technically a superhero series and don’t be confused by the 2009 movie of the same name. While it is based on the comic book series about a group of twentieth-century superhero vigilantes who were outlawed because of their violent methods, Watchmen is more of a thoughtful commentary on society and history, particularly racism—with some aliens and special effects thrown in. Like Westworld, even if the genre is not your cup of tea, give it a chance for its incredible production values and peerless cast, including Regina King, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jeremy Irons and Jean Smart.
*** Emmy Winner***

1 season / 5 episodes
As you might expect, a mini-series that dramatizes the real-life meltdown of a nuclear plant in the Soviet Union in 1986 is really intense, but it’s so good. It’s thankfully only five episodes, and those episodes are harrowing, haunting and traumatic, but it feels like essential viewing for any human living on this planet. Jared Harris, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson are all first-rate.
*** Emmy Winner***

1 season / 6 episodes
The series based on Tony Kushner’s Tony-Award-winning play features a who’s who cast, including Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, and Al Pacino, and it is an utterly un-missable version of the ‘80s AIDS epic.
*** Emmy Winner***