Here’s how the streaming diaspora has shaken out: Adult Swim, whose shows have occasionally been available on various different streaming services over the last decade, is now largely clustered on HBO Max, the official service of Adult Swim’s corporate family. It has its own official page on there, and everything, with every show available listed in alphabetical order. If you’re at all a fan of Cartoon Network’s nighttime programming block, which redefined the boundaries of mainstream comedy when it launched 20 years ago this September, you’ll have a lot to dig into on HBO Max.
Not every Adult Swim show is on there. In fact, HBO Max is missing a lot of good stuff: The Venture Bros., The Eric Andre Show, Childrens Hospital, Brett Gelman’s amazing series of specials, and many more. Still, it’s the single best collection of Adult Swim’s history yet to stream, and most of our favorites are available.
Let’s help you sort through it all. Here are Paste’s picks for the 10 best Adult Swim shows currently streaming on HBO Max, listed in alphabetical order. There are more great shows you can watch on HBO Max than these 10—I’m bummed I couldn’t fit Squidbillies on, but 11 is a terrible number for a list—but these are the ones to start with, whether you’re wondering what this whole Adult Swim thing is about, or if you’re an old-timer looking to relive those late nights on basic cable.
The network’s former flagship show would’ve ranked higher in earlier years, and it’s impossible to understate its importance in establishing the Adult Swim brand. Like The Simpsons its reputation perhaps took a dent due to its longevity and to the simple fact that almost no show could keep up the high quality of the earliest seasons. Aqua Teen was almost unthinkable in 2001—many TV shows before it embraced absurdity or postmodernism, but they still did so within the recognizable framework of a TV show. Aqua Teen and the other Adult Swim launch shows were so short and so unrelentingly weird that they felt like nothing that had ever aired on TV before. It didn’t just stand out because of its weirdness, though—the writing and vocal performances were equally hilarious, and its main characters were all fully formed, instantly familiar yet unique. Hopefully at some point in the 21st century Boston will dig up a time capsule with an Ignignokt LED sign in it.
Aaron McGruder’s groundbreaking, often controversial comic strip was translated to TV more faithfully than many people expected, with its critical eye on the relationship between Black culture and white America as sharp and pointed as ever. It’s an explicitly political show, something unusual for Adult Swim, but it burnished Adult Swim’s reputation as a home for creator-driven comedy that wouldn’t fly elsewhere. The show’s unsparing satire on politics, racial issues, and American culture and history reliably came under fire from people on all sides of the political spectrum; unsurprisingly not every episode has made it onto HBO Max. There’s more enough there to realize the show’s greatness and importance, though.
Steve Brule is the greatest comedy creation of the 21st century. John C. Reilly is a serious actor with Oscar and Tony nominations but his finest role is as an incomprehensibly stunted idiot who hosts nonsense health segments for a pubic access station. Check It Out can get as dark as Tim and Eric’s other work, but it rarely feels as mean, despite Brule being one of the most pathetic characters to ever pop up on TV. Even at Brule’s lowest points, when the show is at its bleakest and most shocking, Reilly remains such a warm and likable presence that you can’t help but feel sympathetic for Brule. That warmth provides a firmer ground for Tim and Eric’s standard stylistic tricks and comedic concepts, making it feel less distant and analytic than Awesome Show, Great Job, but without sacrificing any of the humor.
Delocated was a brilliant show that never fully got its due. At the beginning of the last decade the best comedies on TV were also some of the harshest dramas, and the often brutal Delocated could be as powerful as Party Down or Eastbound & Down. It could switch from inspired silliness to extreme tension in a single scene, as Jon Glaser’s beef with the Russian mob regularly erupted into graphic violence. Delocated mocked reality TV and everyday people’s desire to be famous, but what made it great is that, like Eastbound and Eagleheart, it was an insightful attack on the absurdities of masculinity. Jon wore a mask to hide out from the mob, but making him faceless only reinforced how he stands in for all men who love classic rock, bar food and trash culture. Also it’s one of the few Adult Swim shows that benefitted from a longer runtime, as it got better as it expanded to a half-hour.
Somewhere on the internet somebody is still grumbling about Adult Swim’s tilt towards live action. That’s why you should stay off the internet. Eagleheart is all live action and as absurd as any of the network’s cartoons, living up to the spirit of star Chris Elliott’s early appearances on Letterman and his classic anti-sitcom Get a Life. It worked best as a 12-minute short during its first two seasons, but the half-hour final season earns points for its sheer ambition. Not every idea or joke landed but the scope and daring of Eagleheart was impressive. It regularly ripped apart the cartoonish masculinity pushed forward by action procedurals and beer commercials, but at heart this was simply an extremely silly show that just happened to be gruesomely violent.
If you aren’t familiar with comedian Joe Pera, imagine a guy in his early 30s who dresses, talks and acts like he’s a kindly Midwestern grandpa. A lesser performer would turn this kind of character into a stereotype, into a cross between a live-action Ned Flanders and a witless nerd parody from a 1980s sitcom. Pera never resorts to that. His mild-mannered pleasantness and love of small-town life is a warm respite from our jaundiced, mean-spirited culture. Like most of his work, Joe Pera Talks With You can be seen as a reaction to the kind of cringe comedy that became huge in the ‘00s. It’s built on awkwardness, especially when Pera has to interact with other characters his own age, who are prone to the thoughtlessness, irritability and disrespect we expect today (and who are often played by the show’s co-writer and producer Conner O’Malley). There’s definitely humor in Pera’s discomfort, but there’s empathy there, too. Pera doesn’t wind up in uncomfortable situations because he’s petty or selfish, like Larry David or David Brent, but for the completely opposite reason: he’s so dedicated to respecting others and doing what he thinks is right that he routinely comes close to punishing himself to placate others. It’s a gentle show that can unleash a wicked bite when it wants to, and one of Adult Swim’s best.
Before it became an all-purpose marketing machine for Pringles and PlayStation, before it turned into an ugly flashpoint in the culture wars, before it spawned a small country’s GDP worth of cash-in merch, Rick and Morty was just a TV show—a pretty funny one, at that. It’s been really hard to talk about it just as a TV show for several years now, what with all the baggage it has accumulated, but if you can get past the toxic side of the fanbase, the overexposure, and the whole wheel-spinning vibe of the last season, you’ll find a smart (but not as smart as some of its fans apparently think it is) pop culture Cuisinart that dices together several different genres and tones an episode. Sometimes it’s too ambitious. Sometime it’s too lazy. Sometimes it’s too content to repeat itself or wallow in its own cynicism and misery. But at its best Rick and Morty is a hilarious commentary on pop culture and the people who love it.
Along with Aqua Teen, Sealab 2021 defined the Adult Swim voice when it launched in 2001. It built on the ironic appropriation of old art that started with Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, but instead of twisting it into a different style of show it structured itself as a continuation of the original Saturday morning cartoon from 1972, but with every character now thoroughly insane. It fell off in quality after two tremendous seasons, limping to a close in 2005. Those first two years are some of the funniest episodes of any show Adult Swim has ever run.
This is a bit of a cheat: Space Ghost Coast to Coast predated Adult Swim by over seven years, and only 13 of its 108 official episodes actually premiered on Adult Swim. Still, there wouldn’t be an Adult Swim without Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which appropriated characters from Hanna-Barbera’s ‘60s superhero cartoon for an absurd talk show parody. Its creator, Mike Lazzo, went on to create Adult Swim, and you can trace almost all of the block’s DNA to this show: the love of irony and absurdity, the fascination with pop culture, the rapid-fire pacing, the 12-minute episode length. Space Ghost Coast to Coast established its own unique comic voice that later branched out into an entire cable network—well, at least part of a cable network, since Adult Swim has never been its own 24-hour feed. For a show that’s over 25 years old, it still holds up remarkably well.
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job wasn’t always funny. It could be challenging in a way that often felt smug to those who didn’t appreciate its dark and surreal tone. It’s probably the show on this list that I’m least interested in rewatching. It also could be a hilarious, brilliant and frightening destruction of television. Tim and Eric’s creative vision overlaps almost perfectly with Adult Swim’s, and together they have done as much to introduce America to alternative comedy as almost anybody else. They’ve made a handful of shows for the network, but Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job remains their most defining work… unless you count Check it Out.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.