Ranking the 10 Best HBO Dramas

I’m saying goodbye to HBO and more importantly HBO GO as I move to a new place where I don’t want a $160 cable bill, but before I do, I wanted to take one last look back at some of my favorite series from the channel.

HBO has had so many good shows over the years, I had to restrict this list to dramas alone. No Larry David, Kenny Powers or Bret and Jemaine. Rather, these are the shows and characters that have become legends over the years from Tony Soprano to Al Swearengen to Omar Little. Check out the full list below

10. Carnivale

Carnivale was a rather bizarre show, which is why it might not of caught on and lasted more than a pair of seasons. But it did have a fanbase, and if you can manage to get into it, it’s actually quite good.

It was one of HBO’s bolder concepts, I credit them for trying and I do think it deserves to make the top ten here. It’s overshadowed by their other classics, but remains quite good in its own right.

9. True Blood

Say what you will about True Blood these days, but there was a time where it was a very addicting, strangely compelling show. A world where everyone knew vampires existed was an interesting one, and when they were the only creatures out there, things were a lot better.

Unfortunately as time went on, the show felt like it needed to keep topping itself, and more and more monsters were added until it started being ridiculous. Werepanthers? Really? But give seasons 1-3 a watch and you just might enjoy it.

8. Boardwalk Empire

It’s not HBO’s best dramatic effort, but it’s not a bad show either. Set during prohibition, the series focuses on illegal bootlegging and crime during the era. Steve Buscemi is great, though I’ll admit I’m not the biggest Michael Pitt man. It was clearly Scorsese going for a Leonardo DiCaprio-type on a budget.

I’m not fully caught up with season two yet, but it’s not a bad show to watch when you’re waiting for Game of Thrones to come back.

7. Oz

Watching all six seasons of Oz in the span of two months was probably the single most exhausting media feat I’ve ever accomplished. The show is a relentless assault of depressing and horrifying violence, and is 100% set in the same prison for the duration. After six seasons, you want to escape as well.

That said, it is a powerful show and extremely well written. It’s far harder than Prison Break or movies like The Shawshank Redemption. It’s prison at its most visceral, and that’s the way it should be.

6. Rome

Before Game of Thrones, Rome was HBO’s most ambitious project. It’s what ultimately led to its downfall as even if the show was good, it was just too damn expensive and the massive fanbase it needed wasn’t there.

The most interesting part about it was that it was set in real time, where season two tried to be historically accurate by jumping ahead of number of years, and even recasting one of the lead roles as the character grew up. It really was a great show, and it’s too bad it ended as early as it did due to budget constraints.

5. Six Feet Under

Truth time, I haven’t seen more than the pilot episode of this show. I know, I know, it’s a travesty. I promise I’m trying to get around to it eventually.

That said, I know there would be many of you who would be screaming if I didn’t include it on the list, and I have a lot of friends who have watched it who assures me it deserves its place here. The dark and oddly humorous drama is where Dexter’s Michael C. Hall got his start, and it had a memorable cast of characters acting out plotlines from (now True Blood’s) Alan Ball.

4. The Sopranos

Though this would be higher? It’s often viewed as the ultimate HBO drama, or at the very least, the penultimate (first time I’ve used that word correctly in about five attempts). Tony Soprano might be one of the great characters of television history, but I think HBO does have just a few more better offerings.

This was also tough to watch all in a row, as it can sometimes be slow moving and things just got a bit weird at the end. That said, I stand by the consensus that the blackout finale was indeed brilliant, even if it had me screaming at my TV at the time.

3. Deadwood

Oh Deadwood, how I miss you so. The cowboy drama managed to run before three seasons before it ran out of ideas and support, but before it did so, it was one hell of a ride. It was based on the real life town of Deadwood where legends like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickcok resided for a time.

Timothy Olyphant as Sheriff Seth Bullock and Ian McShane as Al Swearengen were the reasons the show worked at all, and Swearengen especially turned out to be one of the best TV villains in history. Furthermore, it’s rather amazing how many of the characters and storylines were based on real world events in the town.

2. Game of Thrones

So what IS the penultimate HBO drama? Right now, it’s everyone’s favorite, Game of Thrones. Fanboyishness aside, it’s a truly great series from the scripts to the acting to the costumes to the (usually) subtle usage of CGI.

It certainly helps that there is a fantastically written series of books to use as a roadmap, but HBO could have easily botched it. Instead, they’ve casted almost every role to perfection, given it all the money it needs and some would argue even improves upon the original books in parts. Though that last item will probably rile a few people up.

1. The Wire

It’s hard to say if there will ever be another show as phenomenal as The Wire. For all our sakes, I hope there is, but it’s definitely going to be hard to top. It’s one of the only dramas I’ve ever seen that simply feels like real life. It’s like you’re watching the most highly polished documentary ever about what life is like for dealers, cops and addicts on the streets of Baltimore.

Each season showcase new issues from the inner city. Drugs are a huge, central focus, but later seasons tackle education, journalism and government spending, and the The Wire features perhaps the best line-up of memorable characters across any other show on television, past or present..