HBO is the Cadillac of subscription services. It has been around since that white static logo was a visual danger of not having the coat hanger pointed in the right direction. While once only associated with that rich kid whose house you loved to get invited to because they had cable, Tekken on the PS, and the proper mac-n-cheese (yes the Velveeta kind), it is now required viewing for those cord cutters and still-corded alike. While we used to have to set up a VHS to record that new Saturday night movie nearly a year after we missed it in theaters, the TV shows were what eventually turned the Home Box Office into HBO.
The Many Saints of Newark (for better or worse) reminded us why we love and miss The Sopranos—in part due to its iconic place in our collective Sunday nights. The Sopranos was so good, it killed the gangster movie for everyone except Scorsese. And as we’ve been re-bingeing Succession in anticipation of the long-awaited third season, that ominous theme song on a loop in our head, it’s finally time to sharpen the backstabbing cleavers and welcome back this juggernaut.
While Succession may be the best series HBO has done in a long time, it’s just one in a line of decades of TV gold. So while we wait to see what beastly thing Brian Cox’s Logan Roy and his atrociously spoiled offspring will do next, let’s take a look back at some HBO series worthy of a revisit. Yes, Game of Thrones was great, but let’s go back a little further in time to look a little higher up on the fruit tree.
MR. SHOW WITH BOB AND DAVE (1995-1998)
Way, way before Tobias Fünke and Saul Goodman, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk shepherded a sketch comedy show that was so weird and bizarre, there has been little like it since— not to mention the first time many of us discovered comedians like Sarah Silverman and Jack Black. No one even knew what time it aired, so it was virtually impossible to find. In the pre-TiVo era, it was lucky if you were up late enough on a Monday night to come across it. Mr. Show is a time capsule of a riskier and edgier time in comedy when weirdness and quirky humor was encouraged.
THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW (1992-1998)
Years ahead of its time, this Garry Shandling insider masterpiece showcased the production of a talk show, breathing life into the personalities both in front of and behind the camera. This satire, which blew the doors off the ego of the celebrity persona, set the table for Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and gave us permission to laugh at the awkward and uncomfortable. From the catch phrase “Hey Now” to the thorny delivery of Rip Torn, we highly recommend a revisit.
THE WIRE (2002-2008)
Yes. We’re going to say it. The Wire is the best show ever made. Allowing real investigative reporters to mix in the writer’s room with mystery and true crime novelists provided a grit and texture to the series, which has been unmatched in television. Its’ occasional and pitch-perfect casting of real-life people, pulled off the streets, made one wonder wether it was actually scripted. If you’ve already watched The Wire, we suggest a rewatch with the subtitles on, just to see how much you missed the first time. And if you’ve done that, a. we applaud you for time well-spent, and b. we suggest reading All the Pieces Matter—an oral history of The Wire, and prepare to take the third-go-round for graduate class in Wire-dom.
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS (2007-2009) / TENACIOUS D (1997-2000)
Both of these shows track bandmates trying to figure out how to balance their over-inflated egos and narcissistic tendencies (devoid of any relationship to their talent) with functioning in society. With amazing, humorous tunes at their core, the two series have a lot in common. Despite both having rather brief runs, they are brimming with musical, comedic genius.