New Shows on Max

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New Shows on Max

While HBO got it’s start as a repository for movies months after they left the theaters (although its very first broadcast in 1972 was of a hockey game), the world’s first satellite channel set itself apart from competitors with its original programming. With the launch of HBO Max as a hub for all things Warner—HBO, DC, TCM, Adult Swim, Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Network, Sesame Workshop, Looney Tunes and Caroonito—the network stepped up its release of originals to the point it can be hard to keep up with it all. And now that it’s been rebranded as just plain Max, we’ve lost some shows, but gained a bunch of reality. Hopefully no more scripted shows get pulled by new management anytime soon.

Here are 10 of the biggest new shows on Max:

1. The IdolRelease Date: June 2, 2023
Creator: Sam Levinson, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye
Stars: Lily-Rose Depp, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Suzanna Son, Troye Sivan, Jane Adams
Genre: Drama
Paste Review Rating: 4.8

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Most things that get touted as controversial end up being dull. The Idol, Sam Levinson’s six-episode collaboration with The Weeknd starring Abel Tesfaye and Lily-Rose Depp, could not have arrived with more noise—not just for its lurid and copious depictions of nudity, sex, and distresses both emotional and physical in LA’s music industry, but for the fact that, reportedly, the production was an unhinged nightmare. Levinson stepped in to write and direct the whole show after original director Amy Seimetz was ousted from the project after key creatives thought it was leaning too hard into “a female perspective.” From the two episodes made available to critics (given that they were willing to relocate to the south of France to get them), The Idol makes its intentions clear: It wants to shock, yes, to relish in the spectacle and traumas of a perilous, punishing, but always bewitching industry. But it also wants desperately to be liked, to be considered current, cutting, and empathetic. It’s not that Episodes 1 and 2 are outright failures, but they are always transparent; the show wants to be regarded with a certain kind of prestige, to trigger specific, calculated provocations, with all the character work and visual language reverse-engineered to support this goal. —Rory Doherty

2. Gremlins: The Secrets of the MogwaiRelease Date: May 23, 2023
Creator: Tze Chun
Stars: Izaac Wang, Ming-Na Wen, B. D. Wong, James Hong, Matthew Rhys
Genre: Animated fantasy

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It’s been 30-years, but we finally get new, official Gremlins mythology courtesy of this animated series. Gremlins: The Secrets of the Mogwai goes back in time to 1920s Shanghai to see how Mogwai came to connect with humans, specifically young Sam Wing and his family. Beautifully rendered, with respect for the live-action films, and a dark sensibility, Secrets is a smart way to get ambitious with the lore and appeal to a new batch….err, generation. —Tara Bennett

3. Unicorn: Warriors EternalRelease Date: May 4, 2023
Creator: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Hazel Doupe, Grey DeLisle, Jacob Dudman, Alain Uy, Tom Milligan, Demari Hunte, Paul Tylak
Genre: Animated fantasy
Paste Review Rating: 7.8

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Genndy Tartakovsky’s past cartoon hits have excelled at the art of simplicity, with the sort of easily understood high-concept pitches that allow for infinite creative variation. Unicorn: Warriors Eternal, Tartakovsky’s newest series, is not like that. After one episode, you’ll probably have more questions about what’s happening than answers. The pilot starts in ancient Egypt, where three warriors—elf swordsman Eldred (Jacob Dudman), astral-projecting mystic Seng (Alain Uy), and sorceress Melinda (Grey DeLisle)—are fighting some evil glowy dragon thing. After a battle that leaves Melinda injured, suddenly Merlin of Arthurian legend (Jeremy Crutchley) and a steampunk robot from the future named Copernicus appear through a portal and announce to these three warriors that their spirits will have to return throughout time to fight this mysterious evil. We’ll see how the second half of the season goes, but Unicorn: Warriors Eternal could very well become something great. —Reuben Baron

4. White House PlumbersRelease Date: May 1, 2023
Creators: Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson, Judy Greer, Kim Coates
Genre: Political comedy
Paste Review Rating: 7.9

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In the opening scene of HBO’s star-studded limited series White House Plumbers, audiences are treated to a group of men trying (and failing) to break into the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington D.C.’s Watergate Office Building; their aim being to help secure a 1972 win for Republican incumbent Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign. A chyron appears to alert audiences that we are, however, not watching a reenactment of the infamously blundered June 1972 break-in documented in history books and elsewhere. In fact, the first moments of Plumbers tells us, there were four attempted break-ins. What is being shown here is a reenactment of attempt two. The folks behind White House Plumbers want you to know that they know that you think you know this story—and that you’re wrong. This group of government employees and others did many stupid things. The acting in this series, starting from those playing the two geniuses overseeing this fiasco—Woody Harrelson’s mouth-breathing and guttural CIA-trained E. Howard Hunt and Justin Theroux’s self-mutilating and maniacally smiling FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy—is frequently ham-handed and distracting. This is all a shame because Plumbers does tie in a lot of details that make this story even more insane. —Whitney Friedlander

5. Love & DeathRelease Date: April 27, 2023
Creator: David E. Kelley
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, Patrick Fugit, Krysten Ritter
Genre: Crime drama
Paste Review Rating: 6.2

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Elizabeth Olsen is the primary reason anyone is going to bother to watch the new Max (née HBO) drama Love & Death, a prestige true-crime piece based on a grisly real-life murder in a small Texas town in 1980 that has already seen several onscreen adaptations (one of which, Candy, aired just last year on Hulu). And, to be fair, her performance as Candace “Candy” Montgomery, the housewife who was charged with killing her friend Betty Gore (Lily Rabe) by striking her 41 times with an ax, is mesmerizing from start to finish, a master class in restraint and emotional complexity. Unfortunately, the rest of the show isn’t nearly on her level. Love & Death doesn’t seem to quite know what it wants to be—a paint-by-numbers crime drama, a courtroom procedural, a tale of the sublimated rage of American housewives—and as a result often finds itself absolutely nowhere. —Lacy Baugher Milas

6. The Last of Uslast-of-us.jpgRelease Date: January 15, 2023
Creators: Craig Mazin, Neil Druckmann
Stars: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey
Genre: Sci-fi, horror
Paste Review Rating: 9.5

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You wouldn’t think puns would work as connective tissue between characters in any television series, let alone a brutal post-apocalyptic drama, but it does just that whenever 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) throws them at 50-something Joel (Pedro Pascal) throughout the first season of The Last of Us. In a world as dark and dangerous as the one viewers see onscreen, measured humor goes a long way. Humor is one of the many tools that series creators/writers Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (designer of the videogame the series is based on) use to build layered characters to tell a heartbreaking, yet inspiring story filled with loss, hope, determination, and redemption. And it all revolves around Ellie and Joel. Pascal positively shines as Joel, perfectly balancing the physical aspects of the role with an emotional heft that’s hard to pull off in a character who is a man of action and few words. But the breakout star of The Last of Us is Ramsey. The actor, who was a scene stealer as Lady Mormont in Game of Thrones, is a wisecracking badass and certain to be a fan favorite. Together, the duo make a team that’s easy to root for and more importantly, care about. Complex characters combined with stellar acting, a wonderfully paced story, and an emotionally engaging plot make The Last of Us a brilliant series that is now the template all other videogame-to-TV adaptations should follow. —Terry Terrones


7. Velmavelma.jpgRelease Date: January 12, 2023
Creators: Charlie Grandy
Stars: Mindy Kaling, Glenn Howerton, Sam Richardson, Constance Wu
Genre: Animation, comedy
Paste Review Rating: 5.8

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Scooby-Doo and Mystery, Inc. have been reinvented across the mediums of television and film for over 50 years. After decades of entertaining children by solving mysteries, now seems a more appropriate time than ever for those meddling kids to get that grown-up reinvention. With Velma, showrunner Charlie Grady and executive producer Mindy Kaling attempt to solve the mystery of retooling the gang for a mature audience, while adding depth to the most one-dimensional 2D-animated characters in history. Sadly, they’re a few clues too short from unmasking a serviceable series. Velma tells the origin story of the brainiac behind every mystery, Velma Dinkley (Mindy Kaling), a smart and pushy teenage South-Asian sleuth in the making, on the search for her missing mother, Diya Dinkley (Sarayu Blue). While the incredible animation and a talented voice cast keep things entertaining, Velma’s inconsistent tone and humor prevent it from unmasking a darn good show. While it’s (barely) able to function as a Scooby-Doo show without the talking Great Dane present, you can’t help but strongly feel his absence. —Rendy Jones


8. House of the Dragonhouse-drag.jpgRelease Date: August 21, 2022
Creators: Ryan Condal, George R. R. Martin
Stars: Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, Rhys Ifans, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Sonoya Mizuno, Fabien Frankel, Milly Alcock, Emily Carey
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Paste Review Rating: 8.0

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The big question facing House of the Dragon, HBO’s new Game of Thrones prequel, was what version of its predecessor it would take after. Would it be the brilliant first seasons, with great characters and even better plot, or the woeful supernova implosion of the end? The good news is, they chose the right path here in letting George R.R. Martin’s gripping story of the Targaryen dynasty carry the heaviest weight. The ambition is in all the right places, with a terrific cast (led by Paddy Considine as King Viserys I Targaryen and Emma D’Arcy as his daughter and heir Rhaenyra) who are allowed to put their efforts into selling the political intrigue at King’s Landing. Matching the breathless plot of early Game of Thrones is an impossibly high bar, and one this show doesn’t quite clear, but it’s nevertheless a very good effort, full of tension, heartbreak, and those rare moments of pure triumph, that will delight fans of the Song of Ice and Fire universe and fare nicely even among those who just appreciate a great story. That word, “story,” is essential here, and it’s a massive sigh of relief that the creators know it. —Shane Ryan

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