HBO Max has even more to offer than the already-excellent selection of shows in HBO’s premium library. A few gems of original content and co-productions with other networks bring fresh stories — from the glorious I Hate Suzie, to the brilliant weirdness of Search Party. Here are the best of the bunch.
Raised by Wolves
Raised by Wolves will satisfy those who want to spend a lot of time (nearly 10 hours) in a world brought to the screen with the help of Ridley Scott. Two androids, Mother and Father, attempt to establish an atheist human colony on a new planet, after a war with a religious order destroys Earth. But they soon discover controlling the beliefs of humans is a tricky task. Directing the first two episodes, as well as pulling the strings as an executive producer, Scott sets up a provocative exploration into AI and religious beliefs. There’s blood, big performances and a powerful lead in Amanda Collin’s “Mother.”
The Flight Attendant
This compulsive thriller starring Kaley Cuoco is one of the best new shows to come out of HBO Max. Cuoco plays Cassie, a reckless flight attendant who sleeps with a passenger on a wild night out. She wakes up in Bangkok with barely any memory — and a dead body in bed with her. With the ghost of the deceased helping her piece things back together, she sobers up and takes on the mystery of what happened. Watch out for a fantastic title sequence, as well as a surprisingly dark psychological layer. But mainly enjoy the amusing combination of an inept detective bumbling through the world of cold killers.
Love Life is an anthology series that focuses on a different character’s love life until they meet the person they’re meant to be with. The first chapter follows Anna Kendrick’s Darby, an aspiring art collector who dates a range of different men with complicated results. Love Life paints a refreshingly imperfect picture, traveling a long, messy road that ultimately offers a hopeful look at relationships.
It’s a Sin
The best TV show of 2021 might already be here. It’s a Sin follows a group of young gay men living in London during the ’80s, just when HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed. This unique look at the early stages of what became a death sentence is handled with creator Russell T Davies’ trademark irrepressible joy for life. The warm, empathetic characters continue to live their lives to the full, flitting between bustling share houses and local bars to the beat of a popping ’80s soundtrack. Fast-paced, stylish and eye-opening, with a prevailing sense of hope, It’s a Sin is a soaring triumph for everyone to fall in love with.
Search Party caught the eye of HBO Max, shifting to production with the streamer in its third and fourth seasons. The latter is arguably its best yet, taking the story of four, clueless millennials to even greater extremes, including a bizarrely brilliant Susan Sarandon cameo. But we begin when twenty-something Dory becomes an amateur detective to track down a missing woman she barely knew in college. Really, she’s searching for something else: Herself. Equally conceited are her boyfriend Drew, the scene-stealing Elliott and the hilariously blonde Portia. This oddball show somehow creates the perfect cocktail of dark humour, mystery and insane characters. A collector’s item that won’t come around very often.
From the minds of the gang behind Horrible Histories comes Ghosts, a sitcom that manages to become better and better with every episode. The ever-reliable Charlotte Ritchie (Feel Good, Call The Midwife) stars as Alison, a woman doing up the old mansion she inherited with the help of her amateur builder husband. On top of money problems, their reno plans aren’t helped by the ghostly residents who want the house to themselves. If you’re on the look out for purely light-hearted viewing, Ghosts delivers a high gag rate, a talented comedic ensemble and even an endearing arc of friendship. Most of all, it’s gleefully silly.
This comedy-drama about a Syrian asylum seeker leans heavily on the warmer, cosier side of the equation. It follows the lives of a British family after they return from a holiday in France and discover a passenger hiding in the back of their car. There’s endless charm in Sami’s fish-out-of-water hijinks as he adapts to his new home. Home mines that feel-good vein, filled with nice people willing to help a good man, even if that’s a struggle for some of the family members.
Stath Lets Flats
Stath Lets Flats is one of the best new British TV shows that trades in quintessentially absurd British humor. Stath is a socially inept Greek-Cypriot letting agent, whose dad hands him a job working for his company. Despite his ineptitude, Stath perseveres with his new vocation, showing flats to potential customers with the electricity cut off or with the security alarm blaring because he can’t remember the code. His attempts to impress his father burn the same cringe appeal as The Office, which also sprinkled in poignant moments ensuring you rooted for the characters. Stick around for the even better season 2, which won three BAFTAs.
This black comedy takes us from London to Newcastle, Australia, following the misfortune of a woman who loses everything after the untimely death of her husband (don’t ask how he died). Broke and desperate, Sammy is forced to return to her hometown with her son and daughter, where she soon discovers she isn’t exactly a popular resident. The cringe factor is strong as Sammy does everything in her power to return to London, with some standout moments when she reunites with her bickering brother.
Based on a memoir, Pure isn’t your average coming-of-age comedy about a young woman newly-moved to London. Marnie struggles with a form of OCD called Pure O, which causes her to have intrusive sexual thoughts, often in the worst moments. (Her own mother features in one of these thoughts — no wonder Marnie leaves home.) What Pure does best is address stereotypes about OCD in compassionate ways: Marnie traverses the same stresses as other twenty-somethings — a new job, her sexuality and friendship. An enlightening, relatable and essential comedy.
I Hate Suzie
I Hate Suzie sees Billie Piper team up once again with Secret Diary of a Call Girl writer Lucy Prebble. The result is a frenetic tour de force of ideas, steered by a vulnerable performance from Piper. She plays the titular Suzie, an actress who, moments after winning a part in a Disney movie, discovers she’s one of the victims in a celebrity phone hacking scandal. Each episode explores a stage of grief, tackling the question of how compromising leaks both upend and perhaps liberate a person’s life. Amid the ruthless satire is a wonderful friendship between Suzie and her manager Naomi (Leila Farzad).
Coming into its fifth and last season, this Italian crime drama based on a true story, has carved itself a place among the great mafia shows. It stands out for its realistic portrayal of the Naples underworld, following a clan’s internal power struggle after its head is arrested. With a dark, claustrophobic atmosphere and believable characters, Gomorrah is a refreshing and complete piece of TV.