The 35 Best TV Shows on Max (That Aren’t HBO)

TV Lists HBO Max
The 35 Best TV Shows on Max (That Aren’t HBO)

Like the newly renamed “Max” itself, our picks for the best shows are a bit of a hodgepodge. From romantic comedies to brutal animation to hilarious 2000s-set comedies, Max’s combination of various Turner cable properties, DC TV shows, Cinemax, and Warner Bros.-produced series has provided a strange but wonderfully worthwhile group of scripted and unscripted viewing.

Unfortunately, in the David Zaslav era, many of our favorite series have been removed from the service, although you can perhaps find them elsewhere: Raised by Wolves, Minx, Kay & Peele, The Knick, and Happy Endings to name but a few.

Our list here would be twice as long though if we included all of HBO’s great series, which are also a part of Max. So if you’d like to check them out, you can peruse our ranked list of HBO series. But while HBO series have all been in one place for a long time, the shows on Max have not. So below are our best bets for what to watch on this mega-conglomerate streaming service that run the gamut—enjoy!


35. The Sex Lives of College Girls

After That Explosive Season 2 Finale

Created by: Mindy Kaling & Justin Noble
Stars: Amrit Kaur, Pauline Chalamet, Renee Rapp, Alyah Chanelle Scott, Gavin Leatherwood, Chris Meyer, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, Renika Williams, Lolo Spencer, Midori Francis

Watch on Max

For many years, television has avoided college campuses. Teen dramas historically contain themselves to high school, and if the characters are allowed to escape that purgatory and graduate, the show often struggles to either let them go or find realistic storylines for them. On the flip side, young adult series often skip the intermediary college step and plunge directly into post-grad life, missing the significant amount of growth that occurs while teenagers are away from their parents for the first time. Luckily, The Sex Lives of College Girls dives directly into the deep end of the partying, hook-ups, and self-realization that happens at college.

The series centers on four girls from extremely different backgrounds who have been grouped together as roommates at the esteemed and picturesque Essex College in the Northeast. Bela (Amrit Kaur) fancies college as a place to finally explore sex after being raised in a conservative household; Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) comes from a small town and lacks street smarts; Leighton (Renee Rapp) is a legacy student who seemingly has everything going for her but is hiding a big secret; and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) is a star soccer player who has to balance the expectations that come with being a senator’s daughter. The show isn’t exactly breaking new ground in terms of its romantic and identity-based storylines, but it approaches each girl’s predicaments with a tangible amount of love and understanding. More importantly, The Sex Lives of College Girls makes the case that college is messy, and that’s precisely why we need to see more of it. —Radhika Menon

34. Aqua Teen Hunger Force


Created by: Dave Willis, Matt Maiellaro
Stars: Dana Snyder, Carey Means, Dave Willis, Matt Maiellaro, George Lowe, C. Martin Croker, Andy Merrill, Mike Schatz
Original Network: Adult Swim

Watch on Max

For a certain type of TV watcher who was college-aged in the mid-aughts (me), Aqua Teen Hunger Force was a mainstay for humor and references among friend groups. The bizarre Adult Swim cartoon heralded a new kind of television comedy, one that leaned heavily into surrealism and pure silliness. Starring a trio of anthropomorphic beings—Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad—who are also roommates, the show has some vague allusions to crime-fighting superheroics and galactic unrest, but mainly it thrives on augmenting mundane daily routines into the ridiculously hilarious. (Let’s also never forget their neighbor Carl, a rare human on the show, whose one-liners remain the actual best.) The extremely long-running series reached its apex early on, and though its legacy is that of a time capsule for the jokes and comedy aesthetic of a network leaning into a new frontier of weirdness, it still holds up as one of the strangest, funniest series Adult Swim ever made. “Drivin’ in my car, livin’ like a star / Ice on my fingers and my toes and I’m a Taurus.” —Allison Keene


33. Search Party

Created by: Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, Michael Showalter
Stars: Alia Shawkat, John Reynolds, John Early, Meredith Hagner
Original Network: TBS

Watch on Max

Search Party initially captivated us when TBS aired the entire first season in five days. It’s the story of a New Yorker named Dory (Alia Shawkat) who becomes obsessed with a missing college classmate because she herself is feeling so lost and floundering in her own life. Her support system—a kind of a wet rag boyfriend and two very self-centered friends—isn’t terribly interested in indulging Dory’s quest to find the missing Chantal, but they get unwittingly sucked in (along with the audience). It’s a weird combination of comedy, drama and mystery, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Search Party carries its charm into its subsequent seasons through a scintillating evolution from mystery to horror. From a neon sign that reads “slay” and an eerie synth jingle to a painting of a dead man and a play about Charles Manson, it’s littered with half-frightful, half-funny details; the episode titles (“Murder!” “Suspicion” “Obsession,” etc.) might’ve been culled from the poster for one of Hitchcock’s classics. Indeed, if the first season’s search for Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) once reminded me of Vertigo, the second completes the connection: Dory (Alia Shawkat) and Co. are the series’ Scottie Fergusons, unraveled not by the chase, but the capture. Though I want to put on my Stefon voice and say, this show has everything—the relentlessly funny John Early, as the fast-unraveling Elliott Goss; a Marge Gunderson figure on the characters’ trail; a guest arc for J. Smith-Cameron; scatological humor, awful pseudonyms, primal screams—the fact is, that everything is working in felicitous harmony to underscore Search Party’s most elemental fear: Seeking, and ultimately locating, the thing we thought would make us happy, only to discover that it’s not what we’d hoped. —Matt Brennan


32. Pretty Little Liars

Created by: I. Marlene King
Stars: Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Holly Marie Combs, Lucy Hale, Ian Harding, Shay Mitchell
Original Network: Freeform

Watch on Max

Pretty Little Liars, which premiered in 2010 on what was then called ABC Family, a Christian-slanted, conservative basic cable channel that has since embraced an older, more progressive audience under the name Freeform. The show was created by I. Marlene King, who’d go on to be showrunner for all seven seasons, but was known at that time mostly for writing the coming-of-age Now and Then, the Lindsay Lohan vehicle Just My Luck and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. Based on the series of YA novels by Sara Shepard—from which the show’s plot would eventually drastically depart, in a Song of Ice and Fire vs. Game of Thrones kind of situation—PLL follows four teens living in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Rosewood as they navigate both the rigors of pubescence and an all-seeing, malevolent force known as “A,” who has something to do with their murdered best friend and erstwhile leader, Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse).

Despite lasting long past the point at which it could’ve cleanly bowed out, Pretty Little Liars stayed compelling (and very lucrative) throughout the better part of a decade, able to balance its teen soap opera tendencies with smart character development and a genuine affection for the world it’d created. That tight-rope walk extended to the many genres it tipped between, helmed by such serialized television veterans like Norman Buckley, folks who’ve stuck around seemingly forever because they’ve got an inherent agility to the way they put together an episode. It helped that Pretty Little Liars was so adaptable to an array of fans, each watching for very different reasons. This was partly due to the series’ overarching mystery, which eventually became an eternally forking mess of mysteries: Who is “A”—but also why is “A,” and what really happened to Alison, and what kind of juicy corruption lies beneath the shiny veneer of the Liars’ suburban hometown? —Dom Sinacola


31. Nancy Drew

Adapted by: Noga Landau, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage
Stars: Kennedy McMann, Leah Lewis, Maddison Jaizani, Alex Saxon, Tunji Kasim, Scott Wolf, Riley Smith
Original Network: The CW

Watch on Max

This isn’t the Nancy Drew you grew up reading, and that’s a good thing. Set in a small seaside town in Maine, the CW adaptation is an entertaining mystery drama with a twist. The story finds everyone’s favorite whip-smart heroine, still reeling from the death of her mother a year prior to the beginning of the show, solving mysteries and taking on the supernatural with the help of her ragtag group of friends. It probably shouldn’t work as well as it does—there’s an entire storyline about an angry sea witch and a French woman’s soul taking up residence in one of the main characters—but with a well-balanced narrative that features both stand alone episodes and season-long arcs that continue to build out compelling mythology, Nancy Drew is a really fun time. It’s the Supernatural successor The CW always wanted, but couldn’t quite figure out. — Kaitlin Thomas


30. Miracle Workers


Created by: Simon Rich
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan, Karan Soni, Jon Bass, Sasha Compère, Lolly Adefope, Steve Buscemi
Original Network: TBS

Watch on Max

It feels like a miracle that Miracle Workers got a second season on TBS (and later a third on Max), but the fact that it’s as funny and strange as creator Simon Rich’s first oddball take on the afterlife should have comedy fans praising the heavens. Its follow-up, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages, is so far its best and sets its hilarious cast in another setting well-worn by comedies with a British pedigree: The Middle Ages. Breakout Geraldine Viswanathan is a Shitshoveler—literally, it’s her last name—whose dad (Steve Buscemi) and local layabout prince (Daniel Radcliffe) are always getting her into something … when she’s not breaking the mold by trying to, say, read. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a good touchstone here, with everything from old-timey doctors to executions getting a light satirical jab. The humor is quick, witty, and understated, made even more unique by the brilliantly offbeat deliveries of its stars. If ever there was a show that felt like an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine turned into a series, it would be Miracle Workers, which continues to be both one of the smartest, sweetest, and delightfully dumbest shows on TV. —Jacob Oller


29. Banshee


Created by: Jonathan Tropper, David Schickler
Stars: Antony Starr, Ivana Milicevic, Ben Cross, Hoon Lee, Frankie Fiason
Original Network: Cinemax

Watch on Max

Cinemax’s long-overlooked and ultraviolent drama Banshee comes at viewers like a firestorm. The name comes from its rural Pennsylvania setting, where a town in Amish country that is besieged by drug dealers becomes reliant on the heroics of an ex-con jewel thief posing under the assumed identity of a slain local sheriff. As the “sheriff,” Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), hides from a brutal crime lord, he reconnects with a lost love (and the crime lord’s daughter) Anastasia (Ivana Milicevic), who is also living under an assumed name and identity. With the help of wary partners Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison)—who soon become as family—this ragtag group battle a charismatic local kingpin and eventually get dragged into tribal land disputes, tussles with the Aryan Brotherhood, and more. It’s high-octane action all held together thanks to the strength of its cast, but while the interpersonal drama is good, the show truly hinges on some really, really crunchy violence. There are lots of guns, fountains of blood, and some excellent heists, but also some of TV’s fiercest women and most inclusive casts (especially for the early 2010s). If you can stomach it, Banshee is beautifully, brutally filmed and a gloriously wild ride. —Allison Keene and Kenny Herzog


28. Home Movies


Created by: Brendon Small, Loren Bouchard
Voice Cast: Brendon Small, H. Jon Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky, Janine Ditullio, Paula Poundstone
Original Network: Adult Swim

Watch on Max

Home Movies, Brendon Small and Loren Bouchard’s UPN/Adult Swim cult masterpiece, is a foundational work (alongside Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) for modern animated comedy. The chatty, surreal-yet-conversational mundanity of the world’s kid filmmaker and his surroundings warped Beavis and Butt-head-era alt-animation while lowering the divide between high and lowbrow. Coordinating its meandering monotone jokes with its equally static-yet-kinetic Squigglevision/Flash visual style, Home Movies’ clever improvisations laid the raw groundwork for the deadpan quasi-stoner cleverness that Bob’s Burgers pushed into the mainstream. It even has H. Jon Benjamin crushing every muttery word that traverses his crackly pipes. Sad, smart, savvy, and filled with classic bits you’ll be repeating to your friends until your entire social circle can recite a Franz Kafka rock opera, Home Movies is a classic depiction of childhood’s bittersweet strangeness.—Jacob Oller


27. Adam Ruins Everything

Created by: Adam Conover
Stars: Adam Conover
Original Network: truTV

Watch on Max

Adam Conover’s explainer series isn’t a traditional sketch show, but Conover’s deep experience with sketch comedy informs so much of what his show does in every episode. Like Drunk History, Adam Ruins Everything uses sketch comedy as one aspect of a larger comedic concept, one that doesn’t quite follow in the anarchic, pure sketch mold of Monty Python, Mr. Show or Kids in the Hall. That doesn’t diminish how funny these sketches can be, of course.

But the show is also educational. It’s one thing to make your brand Adam Ruins Everything. It’s a whole other thing to be confident enough in that brand to run an episode ruining guns in America just before (at the time it aired) Thanksgiving. “The conversation we always have with the network is, ‘What is going to grab the most attention?’ What is going to announce, ‘Hey, Adam Ruins Everything is back and it’s better than ever?’” EP Jon Wolf told Paste in our oral history of how the team builds each ruin. “Guns” was an episode, series star and creator Adam Conover explained, that they never thought they’d be able to do, as inherently divisive as it is in this country. “We’ve been writing this show for four years, we really have the ability to make an argument that everybody in America can watch, but that still dispels common misconceptions and still does some good in the discussion.” And readers: They pulled it off, not just hitting the biggest bugaboos for the right and the left, but devoting an entire, carefully constructed act to the disproportionate care white people’s feelings have been given historically, from both sides of the divide, and the deadly disadvantage that has put Black Americans at for centuries. What other comedy show could ever? —Alexis Gunderson and Garrett Martin


26. Three Busy Debras

Created by: Sandy Honig, Alyssa Stonoha, Mitra Jouhari
Stars: Sandy Honig, Alyssa Stonoha, Mitra Jouhari
Original Network: Adult Swim

Watch on Max

Three Busy Debras, an absurd parody of suburban privilege, bears many of Adult Swim’s hallmarks. It’s short, it’s ridiculous, and it couldn’t really exist on any other network. Despite those surface similarities, it offers something that Adult Swim has openlystruggled with for its entire history: it’s made by women.

Created by Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari and Alyssa Stonoha, who have performed live under the same name for years, Three Busy Debras is as surreal as you’d expect from an Adult Swim show. Its 12-minute episodes are basically short films that weave together two or three different comedy sketches built on a similar theme, with scenarios that are based in something resembling reality but always spiral out into absurdity. At the heart of this weirdness are the three Debras themselves, played by Honig, Jouhari and Stonoha. Dressed all in white, living in immaculately clean suburban homes that are practically identical from the outside, and all driving Escalades, the three Debras are busy with endless brunches where they laugh wildly at each other’s stories without actually listening to them. It digs deep into the vacuousness of these artificial suburban lives, as well as the selfish isolation of wealth and privilege, manifesting a clear political identity that’s both very timely and a bit weightier than the typical Adult Swim show.

Yeah, you can call Three Busy Debras a cartoonish reflection of bourgeoisie anti-suburb displays like American Beauty or Desperate Housewives, which try to flatter and pander to the very audience they’re supposedly satirizing. That’d be selling the show short, though. It’s not just criticizing the culture it parodies—there’s not much skill or inspiration in that, after decades of similar TV shows, movies, and punk music videos. It takes on not just suburbia and the media that depicts it, but targets the socioeconomic conditions that created them—as well as our history-long subjugation and diminution of women—with a gleeful, nihilistic absurdity, wrapped around a core of weary indignation. And then it even makes fun of itself when it seems like it’s getting too close to a message. The Debras themselves might be afraid of their own humanity, but Three Busy Debras tacitly indulges in it. —Garrett Martin


25. Starstruck

Created by: Rose Matafeo
Stars: Rose Matafeo, Nikesh Patel, Emma Sidi, Al Roberts
Original Network: BBC Three / Max

Watch on Max

“He’s a famous actor, and you’re a little rat nobody.” It’s a tried-and-true fanfiction scenario, the inverse plot of Notting Hill, and now, the premise of Max’s truly delightful Starstruck. Premiering first on BBC Three, the London-based romantic comedy follows Jessie (New Zealander comedian Rose Matafeo) after she has a drunken New Year’s Eve one-night stand with Tom (Nikesh Patel), only to learn the next day that he is a famous actor. Anyone who’s seen a rom-com can probably guess what happens next: a will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation, a disastrous fight, an eventual reconciliation. But while Starstruck riffs off a familiar fantasy, it stays grounded in its approach, playing with genre tropes with great aplomb.

Starstruck is clearly the product of people who unabashedly love rom-coms. Inspired by the genre’s classics, the two short six-episode seasons provides a light-hearted modern update with a protagonist who toys with expectations. I’ll keep it vague, but the first season’s final moments are so lovely and understated that the tenderness took my breath away. With such a short running time, Starstruck makes for a quick watch that leaves you wanting to linger in the escapist joy for a little longer. Just like a good rom-com should. —Annie Lyons


24. The Flight Attendant

Created by: Steve Yockey
Stars: Kaley Cuoco, Michiel Huisman, Zosia Mamet, T. R. Knight, Michelle Gomez
Original Network: Max

Watch on Max

The Flight Attendant, based on Chris Bohjalian’s 2018 novel of the same name, is a taut, crisp whodunit, darkly comedic and wildly suspenseful. The eight-episode series is also a true star turn for Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), who shows off a much broader range than she ever had the opportunity to on her long-running CBS comedy. A bubbling, popcorn thriller, the cliff-hanger ending to each episode entices you to keep going; it’s Max’s best reason yet for subscribing to the streaming platform.

Cuoco stars as Cassie Bowden, who jet sets from international destination to international destination. When she’s not in the sky for Imperial Airlines, she’s flying high as a party girl who drinks to the point of blacking out, is fond of one-night stands, has a gold lamé dress at the ready in her carry-on luggage, and sustains herself on a breakfast of Diet Coke and pickles. She’s a train wreck, but a train wreck who gets to work on time, is kind to children and animals, and loved by her friends. And after a whirlwind encounter with the dashing Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) on a trip to Bangkok, might be on the hook for murder.

The entire story truly rests in Cuoco’s capable hands. Her knack for comic relief is securely intact, but she also easily dives into the depths of Cassie’s terror and uncertainty. Her journey is our journey. Her terror is our terror. She may be an unreliable narrator, but she’s a highly entertaining one. —Amy Amatangelo


23. The O.C.

Created by: Josh Schwartz
Stars: Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Ben McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Melinda Clarke, Rachel Bilson
Original Network: FOX

Watch on Max

Welcome to The O.C., bitch. This Fox teen soap simultaneously celebrated and mocked the genre it brought back to life in the mid-2000s. Full of inside jokes, yet featuring a compulsively watchable story of two boys who become unlikely best friends and the girls who love them, the series quickly became can’t-miss television. The show also helped popularize several acts—like Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and The Killers—among a whole generation of high-schoolers, thanks to creator Josh Schwartz and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas. —Shaina Pearlman and Amy Amatangelo


22. Peacemaker

Created by: James Gunn
Stars: John Cena, Danielle Brooks, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, Robert Patrick
Original Network: Max

Watch on Max

Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker, is a ridiculous character. The red, white, and blue-clad superhero/supervillain is a walking, dudebro-talking contradiction. Peacemaker is arrogant, socially unaware, misogynistic, and culturally insensitive. His ridiculousness extends not just to his costume (that’s not a toilet seat he’s wearing on his head, that’s a beacon of freedom) or to his pet bald eagle named Eagly, but also to his most commonly used catchphrase. “I cherish peace with all my heart,” says Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad. “I don’t care how many men, women, and children I need to kill to get it.”

While Peacemaker carries some darkness, this is a James Gunn production, so it’s also filled with humor and music. The script is rich with witty banter, action scenes are destructive and wacky, and star John Cena will clearly say or do anything for a laugh. “This is my jam,” says Peacemaker while flipping through a stack of ‘80s hair metal albums from the likes of Cinderella and Faster Pussycat. “This is back when men were real men because they weren’t afraid to be women.” A few moments later he’s singing along to the Quireboys song “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” using a vibrator as a mic while wearing only tighty whities and dancing around like Axl Rose. It’s embarrassing and hilarious at the same time. This series luxuriates in its own ridiculousness, which it manages to balance with a compelling story. Bottom line, Peacemaker is just flat-out fun to watch. — Terry Terrones


21. Doom Patrol

Created by: Jeremy Carver
Stars: Diane Guerrero, April Bowlby, Alan Tudyk, Matt Bomer, Brendan Fraser, Timothy Dalton, Joivan Wade
Original Network: DC Universe

Watch on Max

The third-tier answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Doom Patrol has learned plenty from its scrappy counterpart, taking as much away from that franchise’s ragtag group of space pirates/superheroes as it does the DC series with a senses of humor. The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow and Cartoon Network’s hyper, strange, and hyper-strange Teen Titans Go! have been dark horse TV success stories, with the latter earning its own (very fun!) movie and the former improving consistently over the course of its four seasons. Doom Patrol carves its own tonal niche, balancing the self-referentiality of Go!, the tragedy of Titans, and the ridiculousness of Legends.

Bolstered by Fraser’s easy charm and some knockout acting by Dalton, Doom Patrol stakes its claim as DC’s best live-action streaming option—simply because it understands and subverts expectations with its unique mix: It’s not just funny, it’s not just sweet, and it isn’t afraid to push the boundaries on either.

Elasti-Woman has gross-out slapstick thanks to her malleable physiology and at the expense of her vanity. Negative Man can stop functioning any time the mysterious force within him decides, leading to plenty of limp, full-body flops. Robotman can’t even move his mouth as profane reactions stream from his stoic face. Robotman and Negative Man’s physical actors—Riley Shanahan and Matthew Zuk, respectively—do plenty of fun pantomime to help out the famous voices behind the tragic bodies. And it’s all funny—even funny at the expense of its characters’ tragedies, which are handled so well that the show may even squeeze out a few unexpected tears. —Jacob Oller


20. Our Flag Means Death

Created by: David Jenkins
Stars: Rhys Darby, Taika Waititi, Ewen Bremner, Con O’Neill, Joel Fry, Samson Kayo, Nathan Foad, Vico Ortiz, Kristian Nairn, Matthew Maher, Guz Khan, David Fane, Rory Kinnear, Nat Faxon, Samba Schutte
Original Network: Max

Watch on Max

Midlife crises manifest as many things, and in Max’s Our Flag Means Death, Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) checks off all the usual criteria. A flashy new vehicle? Yep. A flashy new relationship? Of sorts. A drastic career change? Well, that’s an understatement. Inspired by the stranger-than-fiction true story, the 10-episode historical adventure comedy follows the aftermath of Bonnet leaving his cushy aristocratic life to become a pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. “Pirate workplace comedy” provides an entertaining entry point, and Darby serves as the show’s hapless but well-meaning boss, bringing a Ted Lasso-esque mentality to the captain who wants his crew to grow as people, not just pirates. Taika Waititi co-stars as the legendary Blackbeard who’s having a midlife crisis of his own, and poses a perfect foil to Bonnet’s antics. While the first few episodes are uneven, creator David Jenkins ultimately strikes a satisfying balance between exploring Blackbeard and Bonnet’s relationship and adding dimension to supporting players. By the affecting finale, Our Flag Means Death charts its course in the right direction. —Annie Lyons


19. Fringe


Created by: J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Stars: Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick
Original Network: Fox

Watch on Max

Like Lost, J.J. Abrams’s Fringe starts as a masterful slow-burn. The first season drops copious hints at the show’s central mythology, but doesn’t put all its cards on the table until the end of an unforgettable season finale. Until then, it’s a paranormal procedural in the vein of X-Files; after that point, it’s a tense, unsettling tale of two parallel dimensions at war with one another, sometimes unwittingly. Unlike Lost, Fringe remains well-paced throughout its final four seasons, popular enough to keep getting renewed and finish out its story, but not a Lost-style blockbuster that has to prolong and complicate its story to meet a network’s demand for more content. Fringe wasn’t as powerful or moving as Lost ultimately proved to be, but it was a far more focused and deliberate show, which makes it stronger and more satisfying in many ways. And John Noble’s turn as Walter Bishop, a brilliant scientist struggling with diminished mental faculties and his own guilt over his interactions with the parallel dimension he discovered, is one of the best and most heartbreaking performances in recent TV history. —Garrett Martin


18. Looney Tunes


Created by: Warren Foster, Tedd Pierce, Michael Maltese
Voice Cast: Mel Blanc, June Foray, Arthur Q. Bryan, Bea Benaderet, Stan Freberg (and many more)

Watch on Max

The cunning but cosmically stupid Wile E. Coyote tries to kill and eat his ultimate prey, the nonchalant rocket bird Road Runner, by throwing dynamite at him. Of course his scheme backfires and he ends up stuck to the lit explosive. He jumps into a lake, and an inch before he hits the water, he blows up. My six-year-old daughter laughs so hard and long that it reverberates through the walls, filling our home with joy. As an unhealthily obsessive Looney Tunes fan who grew up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Marvin The Martian as my babysitters, I can’t describe how happy it makes me to share these legendary cartoons with the next generation. And, it has high definition and digitally remaster clarity that blows my childhood’s fuzzy VHS-quality TV signals out of the water. The Looney Tunes Collection, now available on Max, gives me that vital opportunity of pop-culture generational bond. The new streaming service offers a big and impressive chunk of Looney Tunes’ best, from the black-and-white 1930s Merrie Melodies days, all the way to the last theatrical shorts from the 1990s. So grab your little one, turn on Max, and laugh your ass off. —Oktay Ege Kozak


17. Samurai Jack

Created by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Voice Cast: Phil LaMarr, Mako, Greg Baldwin
Original Network: Cartoon Network

Watch on Max

The original run (2001-2004) of Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series about a ronin stuck in the dystopian future was a masterpiece—stylistically, the closest thing the 21st century has seen to Kurosawa. Unbelievably, Tartakovsky later outdid himself with a 10-episode conclusion to Jack’s saga. The hallmarks of the series remain; every frame is perfect, the action sequences rock, and there’s a fair amount of cartoonish light-heartedness. But the move from Cartoon Network to Adult Swim created the opportunity to get darker, and Jack took full advantage. We find Jack trapped in a Sisyphean situation, immortal and seemingly doomed to fight Aku’s oppression forever. And unlike Camus’ imagination of that tragic Greek king, Jack is decidedly not happy. What has followed is an elegant exploration of finding hope in perseverance, purpose in apparent futility, and strength in legacy. Oh, and more blood than Cartoon Network ever would’ve allowed. (Be sure to check out Tartakovsky’s fascinating Primal miniseries as well.) —Zach Blumenfeld


16. Station Eleven

Created by: Patrick Somerville
Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Himesh Patel, Gael García Bernal, Caitlin FitzGerald, Matilda Lawler, David Wilmot, Nabhaan Rizwan, Daniel Zovatto, Julian Obradors, Philippine Velge, Lori Petty,
Original Network: Max

Watch on Max

The past few years have really pushed us to consider what the end of the world might look like. And in that sense, Max’s new series Station Eleven, an adaptation of the apocalyptic 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel, has unfortunate (or perhaps auspicious) timing. Who wants to watch a show where the world’s population has been ravaged by a pandemic, where characters suffer through what they have lost and debate if hope is a worthy investment? Who wants to inhabit a dark universe that feels just a branch away from our own?

And yet, the 10-episode miniseries pulls off an incredible feat: it is a masterpiece. The timing of our own pandemic escalates the horror and doom of the show, but also makes every emotional beat even stronger. Station Eleven’s pandemic is very different from our own: it is quick. In only a few days the world is forever changed, very few get to say goodbye. The series dives into this pain, and asks if parting is something one can learn to endure in a world that takes each character on their own path. For a series so inspired by the legacy of Shakespeare, it seems fittingly impacted by “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Station Eleven ventures to dwell on both the sweet and sorrow, that both can exist at once all the time.

While COVID-19 remains a fresh wound and Station Eleven is not for the faint of heart, it rewards the viewer by finding the artful beauty in a painful world. —Leila Jordan


15. The Alienist

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Based on the novels by: Caleb Carr
Stars: Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning
Original Network: TNT

Watch on Max

The Alienist is not a crime show for the faint of heart. The ambitious TNT series, absolutely the most lavish that the network has ever produced, is also brutal. Based on Caleb Carr’s novel of the same name, the story focuses on an unlikely trio in 1890s New York—“alienist” (a proto-criminal psychologist) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), society illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), and an ambitious police secretary, Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning)—who find themselves collaborating in pursuit of a serial killer, attempting to understand the mind of someone disturbed enough to commit these heinous acts. The series’ atmosphere is a cut above, both in the way it details the gilded finery of a clueless upperclass alongside the depressing grime of forgotten street dwellers who are preyed upon by a killer. It is spooky, haunting, and engrossing, though it does take it a few episodes to really get going. But for crime show fans, it’s a worthwhile watch for both its binge-worthy central crime as well as the personal reveals of its troubled characters (plus, Teddy Roosevelt makes an appearance!) —Allison Keene


14. David Makes Man

Created by: Tarell Alvin McCraney
Stars: Akili McDowell, Alana Arenas, Isaiah Johnson, Ade Chike Torbert
Original Network: OWN

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Expectations are the last thing you should be bringing into OWN’s first original teen-centric series. David Makes Man transcends expectations. It transcends genre. It just… transcends. Much of this transcendence is due, of course, to creator Tarell Alvin McCraney’s particular line of naturalistic poetic genius. If you’ve seen Moonlight or High Flying Bird or Choir Boy, the fact that young David Young’s story both defies easy description and delivers deeply human realness on every page won’t be a surprise. But while David Makes Man would be excellent no matter how it traveled from McCraney’s imagination to OWN’s screen, the version we get to watch rises to exceptional thanks to the presence of two things: Akili McDowell’s astounding work as teen hero David (a.k.a. DJ / Dai), and the textural shimmer of the team’s dreamy, innovative visual style.

So much of David Makes Man depends on the inner churn David experiences as he tries to balance the daily struggle to survive life in the Ville without falling into the drug-dealing world that got his deceased father-figure killed, the academic expectations that seem to exist in a vacuum at the magnet school he buses to every day, and the quotidian social pressures to fit in and not be weird (slash, not be embarrassed by his corny-ass mom) that every middle-schooler in human history has had to face. More often than not, McDowell is asked to communicate that tightrope walk with just his eyes, or his balled fists, or his quicksilver mask of a school-day grin. It’s so much, but McDowell delivers every detail with such heartfelt naturalism that it’s hard to remember David isn’t real. It’s genuinely astounding. —Alexis Gunderson

13. Gomorrah

Created by: Roberto Saviano
Stars: Marco D’Amore, Fortunato Cerlino, Salvatore Esposito, Mario Pia Calzone
Original Network: Sky Atlantic

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There’s no such thing as a bad time for an American fan of crime drama to discover Gomorrah, the incredible Italian series first broadcast on Sky Atlantic. There are a thousand-and-one ways to praise this show, all of them legitimate, but let’s start here: Roberto Saviano, whose novel spawned the 2008 film that spawned the eventual series, created something so brutally real that the actual Camorra—the Italian mafia based in and around Naples—planned to have him killed. This necessitated a five-man police team to provide around-the-clock protection and, eventually, his temporary self-exile from Italy.

Where the film shattered you, though, the show envelops you in the story of two singularly great characters: Gennaro Savastano (Salvatore Esposito), the soft scion of a prominent mafia clan who transforms into a merciless leader, and Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore), one of the clan’s enforcers and the one responsible for making Genny into the kind of man who can thrive in their savage environment. Both actors transcend superlatives, and following the evolution of their characters is the chief joy of this series. The production is stellar, the minor characters are riveting, the acting is uniformly tremendous, but ultimately this show is about Genny and Ciro, their friendship, their hatred, and their eventual reunion that culminates in the third season. Together, Esposito and D’Amore have the kind of chemistry that comes around maybe once in a generation, and are worth the price of admission alone. The fact that everything else in the show is of the finest quality is the proverbial icing on the cake, but the principle duo is what makes Gomorrah timeless.

If Gomorrah’s characters spoke English, it would already enjoy pride of place in the pantheon of great crime dramas, side by side with The Wire, The Sopranos, and any other classics you can name. A Neapolitan dialect and the requisite subtitles will keep it out of the U.S. mainstream, but it deserves to be featured among the best of the best. —Shane Ryan


12. Adventure Time

Created by: Pendleton Ward
Voice Cast: Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Hynden Walch, Niki Yang, Tom Kenny
Original Network: Cartoon Network

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There is a world where the Adventure Time creative team is content with rehashing its brand of surreal, candy-infused tomfoolery ad nauseam. Luckily, this is not the world we live in. Indeed, Pendleton Ward and Co. have spent the latter half of this magnificent and groundbreaking series’ run not only stretching the bounds of the show’s weirdass sandbox, but actively working to push the characters forward. More than anything, Adventure Time realizes that to avoid change is to become tired and stagnant. Thus, rather than adhering to the typical “floating timeline” structure of most animated programs, the show has allowed its characters (be it a human child, a stretchy dog, a peppermint butler, or a bubblegum princess) to grow and develop, often in ways that are more heartbreaking and dramatically potent than anything a prestige cable drama could throw out. Never was this sensibility more apparent than in Stakes, the eight-part miniseries that went a long way towards exploring the backstory of vampire Marceline, one of Adventure Time’s most beloved, mysterious, and tragic characters. Throughout its run, Adventure Time remains the strange, yet endlessly innovative little gem that fans know and love. —Mark Rozeman and Allison Keene


11. Doctor Who

Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Stars: Too many to count in almost 900 episodes.
Original Network: BBC One

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The longest-running sci-fi series in TV history, Doctor Who is a bit of a unicorn because it has a built-in ability to reboot itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to keep the show going. After 26 seasons, the show signed off in 1989 and an attempt to revive it in the ‘90s failed. However, in 2005, Russell T Davies successfully relaunched the show with Christopher Eccleston as the time-traveling and regenerating alien, known as the Doctor, and Billie Piper portraying his human companion, Rose Tyler. Since then the series has reset itself a few more times, with David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker—the first woman to ever play the Doctor—all taking turns piloting the TARDIS. Along the way the show went from being a British classic to a global phenomenon beloved by audiences of all ages as the series proved its greatest strength isn’t its ability to reinvent itself, but its capacity to find the human stories in a show that regularly features aliens while transporting viewers through time and space. As Whittaker prepares to depart the show and a new Doctor takes over, Davies is set to return for the first time since stepping away in 2009. While not every series is literally built to reboot, it’s clear that Doctor Who would not have lasted as long as it has if there wasn’t also a need for the stories it’s telling. —Kaitlin Thomas


10. Pushing Daisies

Created by: Bryan Fuller
Stars: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth
Original Network: ABC

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Bryan Fuller’s whimsical romantic comedy is one of the most unique shows to ever grace cable television. The series follows Lee Pace as a pie-maker with the gift to revive dead things for one minute, after which he must either let it die again or have something (or someone) die in its place. In spectacular TV fashion he uses his gift to help a local private detective (Chi Mcbride) solve murders, along with his revived childhood love (Anna Friel) who he can never touch again without killing her forever. Kristen Chenoweth rounds out the supporting cast as Ned’s co-worker, who of course gets a few musical ballads to sing along the way. This fairy-tale romantic comedy is distinct for its bright saturated color palate and fantastical approach to the murder mystery. The series has garnered a passionate cult following since its cancellation, and remains one of the most wonderfully funny and charming shows to ever have been made. —Leila Jordan


9. It’s a Sin


Created by: Russell T Davies
Stars: Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis
Original Network: Channel 4

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From the beginning of It’s a Sin, the show’s ending is foreseeable. And yet it’s impossible to resist hoping for a different outcome: in a 1980s London plagued by AIDS, maybe these gay men we’ve come to know and love can make it out of the epidemic unscathed. Maybe government officials—and, inherently, the rest of the world—will take notice of the crisis as it unfolds and try to do something to help these men. But, no; Russell T. Davies’ limited series is a tragic, albeit masterful, retelling of the AIDS epidemic.

The main group—including the fashionable Roscoe (Omari Douglas), sweet Colin (Callum Scott Howells), guardian angel Jill (Lydia West), and lanky Ritchie (Olly Alexander) at the forefront—forms in and around London, at clubs, bars, apartment parties, becoming a larger and larger group of friends as they do. Then they’re crashing in an apartment together, tossing around witty nicknames and cups of tea.

It’s a Sin explores the HIV/AIDS illness as it unfurls in gay clubs and communities around the city—though it never villainizes or blames them for the crisis. Despite being a series almost entirely about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, It’s a Sin does not dawdle in statistics or tragedy. By energizing the show with a spirited cast, a storyline about growing up, and plenty of scenes that follow the joy of their kinship, Davies has created a tale that can entertain while still spotlighting an imperative point of discussion. —Fletcher Peters


8. Abbott Elementary


Created by: Quinta Brunson
Stars: Quinta Brunson, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, Chris Perfetti, Sheryl Lee Ralph, William Stanford Davis
Original Network: ABC

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The best network show in years is delighting viewers and dominating 2022. Quinta Brunson writes, executive produces, and stars in this ABC comedy inspired by her mother’s experience as a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. The show is both hilarious and poignant as it lays bare the inequities in public education both for the children and those who are dedicated in their profession to enriching their lives. Keep an eye out for Tyler James Williams as a reluctant substitute and Sheryl Lee Ralph as the veteran teacher who has seen it all. —Amy Amatangelo


7. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air


Created by: Andy Borowitz, Susan Borowitz
Stars: Will Smith, James Avery, Janet Hubert-Whitten, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali
Original Network: NBC

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There are few ‘90s sitcoms as iconic as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which took a lanky rapper exploding with charisma, wrapped him up in a fish-out-of-water comedy about a poor kid from Philly moving in with his rich cousins, and grew him into the platinum Hollywood star we know Will Smith as today. As much an examination of Black class differences in the early ‘90s as it was a comedic vehicle for Smith’s slapstick swagger—not to mention the deeply catchy theme song—The Fresh Prince has proved itself to have considerable cultural staying power; old episodes having been in near-constant over-the-air rotation on nearly a dozen networks since the series entered syndication in 1994. In joining the Max ranks, the series is more accessible than ever, but while purists will be happy to have all six seasons available at the touch of a button, longtime fans are likely to find even greater pleasure in getting to skip right over the tonally unsettled first season to get straight to the later seasons where things really gelled. Life is short! You don’t have to suffer through watching an elastically dancing Will Smith teach Tatyana Ali how to rap (poorly), or play drums (more poorly still), unless that is truly your heart’s desire! With Max, the Fresh Prince power is finally yours. —Alexis Gunderson


6. The Other Two

Created by: Chriss Kelly and Sarah Schneider
Stars: Heléne Yorke, Drew Tarver, Case Walker, Ken Marino, Molly Shannon
Original Network: Comedy Central

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Comedy Central’s charming, hilarious series The Other Two follows adult siblings Brooke (Heléne York) and Cary (Drew Tarver) as they try to figure out their own lives in the wake of their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) becoming an overnight YouTube sensation. Though Brooke and Cary support Chase (who is not, yet, an obnoxious internet star) they want to have careers that stand on their own. But they can’t help but get pulled into Chase’s orbit, making sure others aren’t taking advantage of Chase for their own gain while acknowledging they might be doing that very thing. The Other Two is darkly funny and real, as Brooke and Cary struggle to find success and exist on the outskirts of the vapid world that wants to make Chase an industry unto himself. It is one of the funniest series on TV as well as one of the smartest. Creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider understand the modern fame machine better than most, exposing truths in some of its most hilariously audacious scenes. It also has coined one of the best and most useful catchphrase: “In this climate??” —Allison Keene


5. Hacks

Created by: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, Jen Statsky
Stars: Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder
Original Network: Max

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Hacks follows 25-year-old writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as she tries to get her comedy career back on track after losing her job due to a bad tweet. Her journey takes her to Las Vegas, where she reluctantly starts writing material for Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a comedy veteran whose life is much like the china she collects: beautiful to behold, but cold and empty within. Deborah fills her life with work due to the absence of a personal life, which she’s eschewed ever since her husband left her for her own sister decades ago.

The show is a traditional odd couple pairing. Ava is bisexual, a Bernie supporter, and a chronic oversharer—in essence, your classic media depiction of a Millennial. Deborah is brash, saying whatever she likes regardless of how others feel, and surrounds herself with gaudy opulence. Over the course of the series, they realize just how similar they are. Both of them are career-obsessed, more than a little self-centered, lack a personal life and, in the words of one side character, they’re “both psychotic bitches.”

Smart and Einbinder deftly pull off this two-hander thanks to their respective talent and excellent chemistry. Smart is at her peak here, moving from hilarious in one scene to quietly heartbreaking in the next. Deborah can be truly unlikable at certain moments, but the sensational Smart plays her with such subtlety and warmth that you still care about her—even though she has live fish pumped into her man-made lake.

With a strong cast and some stellar directorial choices, Hacks is a necessary addition to your watch list. —Clare Martin


4. Ghosts


Created by: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard, Ben Willbond
Stars: Everybody above along with Charlotte Ritchie, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Lolly Adefope, Katy Wix
Original Network: BBC One

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A delightfully smart and funny comedy from the Horrible Histories troupe, Ghosts follows a young married couple from London, Alison and Mike (Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who are suddenly blessed with the inheritance of the vast country estate known as Button House. Huzzah! Except it’s basically falling apart and is also full of ghosts. Not scary ghosts, mind you, but quasi-friendly, somewhat annoying, very needy ghosts who only Alison can see and hear after she nearly dies in an accident.

Despite the disaster that is Button House, Alison and Mike work together to try and make the best of it, since they can’t afford to leave. The ghosts, meanwhile, come to rely on Alison and begin to thrive with her there, all the while making extraordinarily funny references to their respective time periods and occasionally hitting us with gut-punching moments of pathos. The comedy somehow manages to stay grounded while simultaneously being hilariously over-the-top, incorporating some truly great physical humor alongside expertly calibrated performances. You can’t help but love everyone and root for them, which makes Ghosts an uplifting and uproarious delight. —Allison Keene


3. Batman: The Animated Series


Created by: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm
Voice Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Loren Lester, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin
Original Network: Fox Kids

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Batman: The Animated Series is a triumph of artistic design, source material appropriation and impeccable casting. The mixture of brooding gothic and grandiose art deco architecture has forever come to dominate the visual conception that fans have of Gotham City, just as surely as Kevin Conroy is the voice you think of in your head when someone says “Batman,” even if you don’t know the actor’s name. I needn’t even get into Mark Hamill’s legendary role as The Joker—appreciation for his vast voice acting talents has only grown in recent years as fans revisit Batman: The Animated Series and the Arkham Asylum series of games. On some level, you can even thank this show for the Suicide Squad film, given that it introduced audiences to Harley Quinn for the first time, before she made the jump to the pages of the comic. In terms of specific episodes, it’s hard to go wrong. There’s a surprising amount of evolution over the course of the two shows—Dick Grayson in particular grows into a young adult, sheds the cape and cowl of Robin and leaves the role after coming into conflict with Batman, reemerging as the hero Nightwing. It’s a very satisfying transformation, in a show that pretty easily surpasses all other animated superhero tales. —Jim Vorel


2. Friends

Created by: David Crane, Marta Kauffman
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
Original Network: NBC

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Nevermind new content; the Max brass believe that reruns of this Gen X mega hit that Millennials and Gen Zers love (and love to hate) will be a deciding factor for many subscribers. And they’re right. More than a quarter century since its premiere, people still debate whether Ross (David Schwimmer) cheated on Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) or if they “were on a break.” Fans also still care about Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica’s (Courteney Cox) wedding, have memorized all of Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) songs beyond just “Smelly Cat,” and want to know what happened when Joey (Matt LeBlanc) was hiking in the foothills of Mount Tibidabo. —Whitney Friedlander


1. The West Wing

Created by: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen, Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing, Joshua Malina
Original Network: NBC

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Television’s quintessential political drama began in the Clinton era, soldiered on through Bush and 9/11, and ended in the earliest days of the Age of Obama. Weirdly, the show’s political climate was more stable than reality itself. And maybe that was its appeal. The West Wing showed us government not as it was, but as it could be—a White House run by quippy, tireless, big-hearted public servants who believed in governing with decency. President Josiah Bartlett would give any of his real-life counterparts a run for their money. —Nick Marino


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