The best HBO series (September 2018)

Laugh, cry, or just relax with the best series streaming on HBO

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Comedy

‘Vice Principals’

Workplace feuds can be extremely petty, and as Vice Principals demonstrates, extremely funny, too. This short-lived comedy (season 2 will be its last) follows a pair of vice principals, Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), as they fight for the top spot at their high school after the incumbent principal retires. Despite their differences, the two must work together when the district hires an outsider, the much more competent Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), for the position. McBride’s comedy credentials are renowned by this point, but he finds an unlikely and hilarious foil in Goggins, normally known from dramatic works like The Shield and Justified, who is brilliant as the effete, serpentine Russell.

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‘Insecure’

Daily Show veteran Larry Wilmore and Issa Rae — creator of the popular YouTube series Awkward Black Girl — partnered to create Insecure, a semi-autobiographical comedy that deftly explores the black experience in contemporary Los Angeles. Rae plays a version of herself, who is trying to balance her professional and personal life while working at a nonprofit organization that benefits children of color. Yvonne Orji and Jay Ellis provide convincing, relatable performances as Issa’s best friend and boyfriend, respectively, and the show is clever and sincere enough that anyone — regardless of color or gender — can enjoy it.

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‘Silicon Valley’

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From the brilliant mind of Mike Judge — of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill fame — comes Silicon Valley, a comedic take on the startup culture taking place in the show’s namesake region. According to Judge, the series is pseudo-inspired by events that occurred in his own life during the late ’80s while he was an engineer in Silicon Valley. The show itself follows a motley crew of programmers and entrepreneurs struggling (albeit comically) to make it in the competitive world of tech startups. Perhaps most hilarious is just how unfit for success many of the main characters seem, which gives the show a rather humanizing angle not often achieved with modern sitcoms. Silicon Valley’s writing is sharp and the acting is witty and well-timed, making this not just one of HBO’s best comedies, but one of the best shows the network has to offer.

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‘Flight of the Conchords’

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Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement’s comedy troupe first began when the duo roomed together in 1998 at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, but it didn’t officially burst onto the scene until the mid-2000s. After developing a bit of a following in their native country in the early aughts, Bret and Jemaine caught the attention of HBO, which signed them up to bring their comedy band schtick to premium cable. After creating Flight of the Conchords — Bret and Jemaine’s fictional folk band — the duo moves to New York City intent on finding fame and fortune. Much to their chagrin, fame and fortune always seem just outside their reach despite their incessant attempts at stardom. The Conchords play original “folk” songs throughout each episode, which, in turn, incite some of the show’s best laughs. After watching these bumbling New Zealanders try to make it big, you can’t help but hum their tunes in your head.

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‘Girls’

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HBO

Girls, a dramedy created by and starring Lena Dunham, delves into the daily experiences of a group of twentysomething young women living in New York City. Culled from actual experiences in Dunham’s own life, the show often deals with humiliating and disastrous events centering on becoming an adult, relationships, and sexuality. In addition to Dunham, Girls features outstanding performances from Adam Driver, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirk, and Zosia Mamet, each of whom battle being young (and dumb) while trying to figure out just what the hell being an adult means. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other shows that provide as real — and funny — a portrayal of human interaction and emerging adulthood as Girls.

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‘High Maintenance’

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This free-form web series was so successful and hilarious that HBO picked it up in 2016 and ordered six episodes, while also adding the first six seasons to its streaming platforms. Co-creators (and married couple) Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair provide pre-episode commentary, often alongside guest actors who appeared in the episode. Sinclair stars as “The Guy,” a New York City-based bicycle messenger who delivers marijuana all over the boroughs. The real star of the show, though, is the rotating cast of customers who call The Guy looking for some pot.

High Maintenance doesn’t always conform to the typical 30-minute episode format either, though each story is crafted with a beginning, middle, and end — whether it takes six minutes or 20. The well-crafted sets include tons of little details that you might miss on the first watch, but you’ll notice more and more with each viewing. The show also takes an objective stance toward the drug that drives its storylines, avoiding stereotypes while simultaneously creating memorable characters that you can’t help but love (and hate).

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‘Veep’

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Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in this political satire about a female vice president and her attempts to make a lasting impression on the United States without getting swept up by politics in D.C. Joining Louis-Dreyfus on screen is the hilarious Tony Hale, who plays the Veep’s ultra-obedient personal assistant. With sharp, witty writing, brilliant acting, and handfuls of laugh-out-loud moments during each episode, Veep is one of the best comedies HBO has to offer. We recommend hopping on board with this show sooner rather than later, as this is political comedy at its finest.

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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

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From the comedic brilliance of Larry David(who also stars in the show) comes Curb Your Enthusiasm, a somewhat fictionalized take on David’s actual life as a retired television writer and producer. What makes the show particularly funny is how nearly every scene is almost entirely improvised by the actors on screen. According to David, he writes a general outline of each episode, though the actual dialogue and conversation comes right off the top of the head of the actors in each scene. If you liked the humor native to David’s Seinfeld, you’ll probably enjoy watching all eight (soon-to-be nine) seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm. 

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‘Barry’

Starring SNL alumni Bill Hader, Barry is a dark comedy about a guy named — you guessed it — Barry, who is a former United States Marine turned hitman turned community theater actor. While on the job in L.A., Barry becomes conflicted with his newfound passion, being an actor, and his old passion, being a hitman, and decides he doesn’t have to choose between the two in order to keep up his low-rent lifestyle. Harry Winkles (Happy Days) and Sarah Goldberg (Hindsight) also star, the latter of which gives the best performance of her young career thus far.

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