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HBO Shows That Transformed TV (and Us) Forever

By David Young · November 7, 2022

HBO Shows That Transformed TV (and Us) Forever_feature

HBO’s slogan may have been “It’s not TV,” but they have redefined the way people think about television for decades. Whether it’s with “prestige TV” and cinematic shows like Game of Thrones or the epitome of anti-sitcoms, Curb Your Enthusiasm, there have been loads of HBO shows for every audience in their repertoire of original series.

In your effort to laugh, cry, or think deeply, all of the following HBO shows are well-loved staples that have made their impression on the platform from the ’90s to now.

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The Sopranos

Sometimes, it’s important to remember self-care — even if you’re a mob boss. That’s the case with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), who has pressures from everywhere and everyone: his job, his family, the Family, and even his mental state.

This show really reworked OG mob movies/TV shows by turning it into a show about a family within the Family. Everything that belongs to the mythical essence of a crime drama became a source of banality and normalcy in the eyes of Tony, and through him, we see this world explored in a way that never happened before.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

There’s something utterly charming about someone who ruins everything thanks to the way he deals with people. That’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, the dry comedy show running on HBO since the year 2000. Starring Larry David as himself to a degree, this show can easily be described as the anti-sitcom: Where many times a sitcom wants you to like the characters and see them learn their lesson, Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn’t follow this formula.

Larry’s semi-fictionalized character learns no lessons from his mishaps, and he often doesn’t do the relatable or likable thing — but you can’t help but continue watching this absolute train wreck every time.

Westworld

Dramatic television was made for Westworld, the amusement park created by mastermind sci-fi author Michael Crichton. Here, the well-to-do attendees find themselves doing whatever they’d like in worlds made up of android actors — programmed to accept their treatment and oblige their guests.

However, as with every good story that has machines who assuredly won’t feel feelings, these ones come alive in a big way. It’s Crichton’s imaginative premise that allows this world to come alive as well — pitting things like the Wild West against the stark hyper-realities of postmodern entertainment.

Euphoria

While many dramas have touched on the darkness of teenage life, Euphoria makes its impact in a big way. Experimenting with everything from toxic relationships and repressed sexuality to mental illness and heavy drug abuse, it’s clear that this show wanted to be truthful in a way that’s often hard to swallow.

Many shows on similar teenage concepts have built their stories off of the way the world was ten or twenty years ago, but Euphoria explores many of the most contemporary issues that plague Rue (Zendaya) and people in her world — the world of today.

The Wire

Going back twenty years, it’s The Wire that captures social verisimilitude in the city — namely, the city of Baltimore, Maryland. This HBO original series has hit the marks for being considered one of the all-time best in TV history, and it’s no surprise. After all, this show tackles everything from drugs to schools to the city government — painting a fuller picture than any other about the way society works.

More importantly, it’s remembered as one of the most accurate TV depictions, taking real-life issues and turning them into shocking and memorable displays onscreen, no matter the institution: education, press, crime, and more.

Game of Thrones

It’s about time we got to the fantasy side, now that we’ve talked about some series that keep it real. Based on the ongoing literary series from George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones is a great example of adaptation done right and includes action and adventure, straight-up fantasy, and even political thriller elements.

Even with some sudden moves in the final season, this show still has won the hearts of people far and wide for years, cementing and reinvigorating a love for dragons, swordplay, and the games that royalty play to stay ahead of their rivals. Now, of course, there’s more of that to enjoy with the new prequel series, House of the Dragon.

Hacks

You know you’ve made it big when you have survived long enough in the biz to require a total reinvention of yourself. That’s the case with Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a comedian who takes on a young disgraced writer (Hannah Einbinder) as her chance for a change of pace.

This drama-comedy series is an indicator of what people look for in their comedy now — with many audiences looking to get mad or worried as much as they laugh at the antics onscreen.

I May Destroy You

Speaking of embracing comedy and drama together, I May Destroy You, written by one of today’s greatest screenwriters — Michaela Coel, charges head-on into tragedy and makes something fresh out of it. Coel herself stars as Arabella, whose struggle to recall then process her own rape leads to miles of confusion and discomfort that feel familiar to the modern audience.

This critical look at everything from consent to trauma breeds a new boldness to TV that can’t be ignored. Instead, it should be appreciated at length.

Our Flag Means Death

Loosely based on a true story, Our Flag Means Death follows the wealthy gentleman Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) as he turns soonest to the sea for inspiration after escaping his dismal marriage and life of the well-to-do in Barbados.

As he becomes a pirate for all the wrong reasons, he finds himself also falling in love with the infamous Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). This romantic comedy has everything you need — including adventure as well as laughs. 

Boardwalk Empire

Steve Buscemi is always the headliner when hearing about Boardwalk Empire, and for good reason. This is the kind of show that demands your attention, with Prohibition-period sensibilities and crime drama playing big roles.

But Buscemi’s own role, Nucky Thompson, takes illicit control of Atlantic City and the audience as he owns the role of a political figure gone rogue in a historical representation of both tyranny and criminal rule.

Veep

If Boardwalk Empire is a serious drama about what a public official can accomplish (legal and otherwise), then Veep is the exact opposite.

This cringe comedy does a stellar job of keeping the political stance of the titular character (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) out of the spotlight, all the while allowing her, her off-screen POTUS, and her team the chance to bumble through the White House with a satirical attitude that plays no favorites and no real progress — the mark of many a modern comedy.

It’s best to remember that your cable networks had your interest at heart all along: with every need to laugh, there was Larry David — and with every need to explore your feelings about everything all at once, there was Zendaya and the other stellar actors in Euphoria.

HBO has never stopped creating original series that speak to us and change the way we look at television. If you’re interested in that transformative kind of TV, look no further. Just turn your attention to the scripts from the best HBO has to offer!

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