By Paul Sisolak.
HBO has offered top-notch television for decades, bringing audiences into stories of everything from romantic escapades in New York City to mobsters in New Jersey. Though one could certainly argue for the superiority of one show over another — perhaps with references to the artful acting of the late James Gandolfini or the smart snark spouted by Hannah Horvath — the data speaks for itself.
To determine the best HBO shows, PrettyFamous considered series with at least 10,000 IMDb votes. Shows were then ranked from worst to best based on their Smart Ratings, a score that examines ratings from Gracenote, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb and Metacritic.
Smart Rating: 75.80
To call “Girls” a revamped “Sex in the City” would be a disservice to the series, the brainchild of creator and star Lena Dunham. The show, which comes to a close next year, follows the fictitious lives of four young women dealing with life, love, success and disappointment in New York City.
#29. Da Ali G Show
Smart Rating: 81.53
Ali G, Borat or Bruno? Sacha Baron Cohen disappears into his trio of fake personas, trolling unknowing people into participating in embarrassing interviews on “Da Ali G Show.” Though it ran for only three seasons on HBO, the show was a true hit, as all three characters — most notably Borat — went on to score box office successes.
#28. How to Make It in America
Smart Rating: 82.26
“How to Make it in America” didn’t quite make it big on TV, having failed to win over a willing audience after two seasons. But to executive producer Mark Wahlberg’s credit, the show was infused with the same semi-autobiographical tone as “Entourage.” In “How to Make It in America,” a pair of friends fight their way to succeed in New York City’s glamorous, competitive fashion scene.
#27. Tales From the Crypt
Smart Rating: 82.63
“Tales from the Crypt” was a “Twilight Zone”-inspired anthology of scary vignettes adapted from classic EC Comics stories. Though the host was clearly a low-budget puppet, the Cryptkeeper was the scariest late-night personality this side of cable TV.
#26. Bored to Death
Smart Rating: 83.54
Struggling writer Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) takes his love of old detective novels a bit too far in the HBO show “Bored to Death.” The series follows his experiences as a private eye, and was on air for three seasons.
#25. The Leftovers
Smart Rating: 84.06
When 140 million people — 2 percent of the Earth’s population — simply vanish from the face of the planet, how do you find them? On “The Leftovers,” it’s up to a local police chief (Justin Theroux) to find out, as his wife is among the disappeared.
Smart Rating: 84.10
“Treme,” a series highly respected but now nearly forgotten by audiences, portrayed the denizens of Treme, a New Orleans neighborhood recovering after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. “Treme” ran for four seasons on HBO and remains a cult favorite.
#23. The Ricky Gervais Show
Smart Rating: 84.12
If Ricky Gervais’ podcasts aren’t animated enough, “The Ricky Gervais Show” sets those commentaries to Flintstones-styled animation, where Gervais and partners-in-crime Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington satirize and comment on a range of topics.
#22. In Treatment
Smart Rating: 84.22
“The Sopranos” artfully addressed the theory of a mob boss in therapy. Take it a step further — a show about a therapist in therapy — and you have the brilliant “In Treatment,” elevated by the lead performance of Gabriel Byrne. Each episode of the 3-year series focused on a new patient, and the second season of the show landed an Emmy.
#21. Eastbound & Down
Smart Rating: 84.49
Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) shunned his hometown for Major League Baseball stardom, but when the big leagues don’t quite work out, he’s forced to return home to work as a substitute gym teacher. Produced by Will Ferrell, “Eastbound & Down” ran for four seasons, from 2009 to 2013.
#20. Silicon Valley
Smart Rating: 84.77
Before he was known for “Beavis and Butthead,” Mike Judge cut his teeth as an engineer in Silicon Valley in the ’80s. His sitcom “Silicon Valley” pulls from those experiences, following the story of six geeky and brilliant programmers trying to get their startup to stand out in the competitive computer industry of the Bay Area.
#19. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Smart Rating: 84.82
Elusive, infamous real estate mogul Robert Durst is the subject of the esteemed “The Jinx,” currently airing on HBO as a documentary miniseries on Durst’s life, crimes and accused murders. In fact, Durst quietly admitted to the alleged murders while wearing his microphone for the series, leading to even greater speculation about a potential conviction.
#18. Flight of the Conchords
Smart Rating: 84.87
Flight of the Conchords, a real-life, two-man band hailing from New Zealand, not only got laughs from its music but also from its show. The HBO show of the same name starred both Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement as fictionalized versions of themselves as they travel to the Big Apple with hopes of musical fame and fortune. Sporting their undeniable spunk, the quirky show only aired for two seasons, but thankfully, the real band is alive and well.
Smart Rating: 85.19
“Oz,” the moniker given to the Oswald State Correctional Facility, follows a group of inmates in an experimental unit of the penitentiary that focuses on rehabilitation and responsibility. The show ran for six seasons, ending in 2003.
#16. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Smart Rating: 85.25
John Oliver was such a success on the writing staff of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” that he landed his own talk show. The result, “Last Week Tonight,” remains one of the top “Daily Show”-derived programs, where the U.K.-born comic reviews political, social and noteworthy current events of the last week.
#15. Sex and the City
Smart Rating: 85.33
Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a sex advice columnist, but that doesn’t mean she or her friends have an easy time dating in “Sex and the City.” The on-set chemistry between Parker and her costars made the show a cultural phenomenon (much like “The Sopranos”), winning four Emmys over its six-year run, and spawning two theatrical features and a TV prequel.
#14. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Smart Rating: 85.56
“Seinfeld” was the show about nothing but its lead characters’ own neurotic problems, so when creator Larry David decided to develop a new series, he took that notion a step further, playing himself in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The improvisational comedy, which ran for eight seasons, was never actually cancelled, though it remains on hiatus.
#13. The Newsroom
Smart Rating: 85.57
Many movies and TV series glamorize the careers of journalists, but “The Newsroom” explored the more realistic, turbulent nature of today’s news industry. It tells the story of an aging anchorman (Jeff Daniels) who must adapt to a younger, newer team in the newsroom while still holding onto his old values in the face of a changing climate.
Smart Rating: 85.62
As the small encampment of Deadwood, South Dakota grows, so does its corruption, as illustrated by the greed of unscrupulous miners looking to strike it rich in the post-Civil War territories. Like “Rome,” this HBO series perfected the period piece, but it only lasted two seasons before its untimely cancellation.
Smart Rating: 85.71
Though relatively short-lived, HBO’s retelling of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire capitalized on the “Gladiator” craze and brought Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Cleopatra to the screen in a modern twist on a historic epic. “Rome” won no awards during its cable run, but remains a cult favorite among fans of period pieces.
#10. True Blood
Smart Rating: 85.79
A telepathic waitress and an undead vampire community in search of synthetic blood make for a very compelling plot in the popular series “True Blood,” adapted from Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire Mysteries” novels. The series ran for five years on HBO, ultimately garnering an Emmy and a Golden Globe along the way.
#9. Six Feet Under
Smart Rating: 85.87
“Six Feet Under” was an early, seminal entry into the network’s burgeoning series output, exploring the dysfunctional lives of the fictional Fisher family, who run a funeral home in Los Angeles. The show won an Emmy during its 5-year run and still maintains a large, influential fanbase.
#8. Boardwalk Empire
Smart Rating: 86.56
Steve Buscemi was always respected as an actor, and was known for inhabiting his characters with verve and realism. As Nucky Thompson, he brought “Boardwalk Empire” to new levels as one of the most popular and award-winning shows of the century. Set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, politicians and gangsters duke it out as City Treasurer Thompson plays both sides of the law.
#7. The Wire
Smart Rating: 86.88
The seminal crime drama “The Wire” seamlessly blends storytelling, casting, acting and topical issues exploring Baltimore’s drug trade. The show, which ran from 2002 to 2008, was nominated for two Emmy Awards.
Smart Rating: 87.01
What happens when a budding actor makes the trek from the streets of Queens to Hollywood — and brings his friends along? Loosely based on the life and early career of series co-creator Mark Wahlberg, “Entourage” ran from 2004 to 2011.
#5. Band of Brothers
Smart Rating: 87.36
Over the course of its 10-episode run, “Band of Brothers,” a series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, chronicles the stories of several men in the “Easy” Company — the 506th Parachute Infantry Regimen — during World War II. In its first and only season, the show won an Emmy and Golden Globe.
Smart Rating: 87.72
Before Hillary ran for president, Selina Meyer was the first female VP, and later, President of the United States — at least on “Veep,” the critically acclaimed HBO comedy satire that’s won Julia Louis-Dreyfus four Emmy awards.
#3. True Detective
Smart Rating: 88.39
The ensemble casting and format of “True Detective” have made this one of the most successful HBO installments, and the series explores the personal and professional challenges faced by separate groups of police officers. In the first season, a pair of Louisiana cops are on the trail of a serial killer, while in the second, a trio of detectives try to bust a corrupt politician.
#2. The Sopranos
Smart Rating: 94.79
Not since “The Godfather” has a mob drama become so ingrained into the public consciousness, thanks to the late James Gandolfini’s compelling, humanistic performance as New Jersey mafia kingpin Tony Soprano. One of the seminal, early HBO dramas to debut in the late 1990s, the series won 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes over the course of its six seasons.
#1. Game of Thrones
Smart Rating: 96.82
Following the successful trend of literary adaptations like “The Lord of the Rings,” George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series is the highest-rated ongoing HBO series in the network’s history, following the fight between two families in a civil war to gain control of Seven Kingdoms.
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