HBO’s 15 Most Underrated Shows You Should Be Watching Movies
HBO has some huge well-known shows, but here are 15 underrated ones to watch next.
When HBO launched in the 1970s, it primarily broadcasted theatrical films and sporting events, solely between the hours of 7 pm and 12 am. At this point in its lifetime, it was also only available in certain areas of the United States in and around New York City, where it was based. In 1975, the network began broadcasting in every state, which significantly increased its visibility. It wasn't until Warner Media acquired ownership of HBO that its ambitious original programming began. In the present, that is what HBO is best known for, with Emmy award-winning shows like Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Sopranos.
As it doesn't rely on traditional funding through advertising, HBO is able to portray more controversial and explicit subject matter including drug use, profanity, and violence. This meant that they could provide programming unlike that of any other network, particularly before the age of streaming services. Since the dawn of HBO's own streaming platform, HBO Max, the company has been producing even more shows at an arguably unsustainable rate. As a result of this, there are many HBO programs that are flying under the radar and not finding their audience. To combat this, here are 15 of HBO's most underrated TV shows.
Search Party actually began its life on the network TBS, where it ran for two seasons before getting dropped. This is where HBO took the show on and ran with it. Starring Alia Shawkat (known for Arrested Development) as the protagonist Dory Sief along with John Early, Meredith Hagner, and John Reynolds as her annoying but charming group of friends. When a friend of theirs from college goes missing, Dory becomes obsessed with finding her and drags her friends into it. The show is quick-witted and gripping, balancing humor and tension perfectly. Each season gets more out of control than the last — in a good way — and there’s no predicting what’s coming next. Search Party is criminally underrated for how good it is, there’s nothing else like it.
Suranne Jones stars as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack. Lister was a real woman alive in West Yorkshire in the late-1700s to early-1800s. She kept extensive diaries detailing her life including several lesbian affairs, which were dramatized to become this show. Gentleman Jack employs the wry, fourth-wall-breaking style we’ve all come to know and love through Fleabag, which is a nice nod to the fact that we are essentially reading her diaries by watching the program. It was canceled after just two seasons, another casualty of HBO’s recent wave of cuts, but deserved many more. There’s no stuffiness about it, which some are afraid of when it comes to a period piece; its sensibilities are modern and supremely entertaining.
Yes, Sharp Objects was nominated for eight Emmys, but did it win any? No, therefore it remains firmly underrated. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn (writer of Gone Girl), the story centers around Camille who returns to her hometown to report on a string of murders. Camille is played beautifully by Amy Adams, with her mother and younger sister played by Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen, respectively. All three put on show-stopping performances in a story with incredible twists and turns. The series was directed by the late Jean-Marc Vallée in his signature style with quick cuts to flashbacks. Its impact was most likely undercut by the fact that it came after Big Little Lies, which was in the same style, but with a more accessible story. Now is the perfect time, however, to give Sharp Objects the time in the spotlight that it deserves.
In Nathan Fielder’s latest offering, The Rehearsal, he creates scenarios in which people can rehearse for events in their own lives. With the same dry humor we’re used to from Nathan For You, but even greater pathos, The Rehearsal ends up packing a real punch. One scenario he produces is for a pregnant woman, where he simulates the experience of raising a child. As the season progresses, the overarching plot becomes more and more self-reflective and meta. It’s a fascinating career progression for Fielder, and shows off his incredible talent for writing. The Rehearsal is perfect viewing for fans of awkward comedy that has depth to it as well.
The Other Two is about adult siblings Cary and Brooke, whose younger brother Chase achieves sudden pop stardom à la early Justin Bieber. The humor of the show is shocking and absurd, highlighting the alarming scenarios that child stars are placed in. Cary and Brooke are also both hungry to share the spotlight with their brother, and this leads to some desperate situations. The show’s supporting cast is made up of strong talent from the likes of Wanda Sykes, Richard Kind, and Molly Shannon. If you’re looking for something that pokes fun at Millennials, the internet, and fame in a way that manages not to be grating, this is the show for you.
With a bizarre but interesting premise, The Leftovers questions what it would be like if 2% of the population simply disappeared one day. It’s not preoccupied with explaining what happened or why, the focus remains on how we would respond to an event like that. The answer, ostensibly, is not well. The cast includes heavyweights like Ann Dowd, Liv Tyler, Justin Theroux, and Christopher Eccleston, with no weak links even in minor roles. Explorations of family dynamics, religion, and depression are at the forefront of its themes, but these are not discussed in a clichéd and tired way as they so often are. The beauty of the show comes from its commitment to ambiguity and refusal to give clear answers. Co-creator Tom Perrotta told GQ that the unsolvable mystery at the heart of the show was important because he "wanted to make an apocalyptic story where all the actual 'apocalypse' is psychological."
Lovecraft Country is a horror-drama series about a man, Atticus, played by Jonathan Majors, who travels across the United States in the 1950s in search of his missing father. He is also joined by Jurnee Smollett’s Letitia and Courtney B. Vance as his uncle George. The three of them encounter trouble from both the racist inhabitants of the towns they pass through, as well as Lovecraftian monsters. With Jordan Peele as one of the show’s producers, it’s not much of a surprise that it’s equal parts interesting and suspenseful. Lovecraft Country’s soundtrack uses the likes of Etta James and Nina Simone to build a strong sense of place and history that tops off the all-around excellent program.
Set in San Francisco, Looking tells the story of a group of three close friends. They’re played by Jonathan Groff as Patrick, Frankie J. Alvarez as Agustín, and Murray Bartlett as Dom Basaluzzo. Despite premiering in 2014, Looking was HBO’s first series centering around gay men. Significant directors of the show include Andrew Haigh, director of Lean on Pete, whose naturalistic style shines through as the primary director, and Jamie Babbit who directed the legendary But I’m a Cheerleader. There is an authenticity to the world of these characters that lends a special feeling to the show. As is all too common among the underrated shows of HBO, it didn’t bring in the viewership that was expected and was canceled after its second season.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a charming show about a woman, Precious, in Botswana, who opens up a detective agency after the ***** of her father. Precious and her assistant Grace have wonderful chemistry that makes you feel like you’re along for the ride with them. Richard Curtis, writer and director of legendary rom-coms like Love Actually, served as a producer and writer for the show, and this comes through in its endearing nature. If you needed any further incentive to start watching the pilot even features David Oyelowo and Idris Elba. With only seven episodes, it’s a quick and witty watch that will brighten up a rainy afternoon.
Michaela Coel’s masterpiece limited series I May Destroy You follows her character Arabella as she grapples with being sexually assaulted. As creator and writer of the show, Coel expertly injects humor and intrigue into her narrative, which could, in other hands, have been handled poorly. The inclusion of comedy doesn’t feel distasteful — it just makes the characters feel more human. The cast is rounded out by Weruche Opia, Paapa Essiedu, Stephen Wright, and Marouane Zotti, who are all perfectly in keeping with the tone of the series. I May Destroy You is another show that while it received acclaim, deserved even more and for that reason must continue to be shouted about.
My Brilliant Friend is a series adapting the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. The story chronicles a lifelong on-and-off friendship between two women, Elena and Lila, from the perspective of Elena in her 80s. Beginning in a suburb of Naples in the 1940s, the show covers themes of corruption, poverty, abuse, and education. It’s fascinating to get a look into a very specific culture that is not often portrayed on screen for audiences outside of Italy. The show captures the energy and magic of its source material, it remains faithful to it but is not weighed down by it.
Flight of the Conchords was created by James Bobin, Jermaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Clement and McKenzie also star as members of the central folk rock band who move to New York from New Zealand, chasing success. It’s suitably quirky for its late-2000s setting, and this adds to its charm. Taika Waititi fans might recognize the comedic style as Clement is a repeat collaborator with him on projects, like this and What We Do in the Shadows. In 2021, Clement revealed he had been trying to contact McKenzie about a reunion for the show (via Entertainment Weekly), so now is the perfect time to catch up before it potentially returns to our screens in the future.