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The 5 best (HBO) Max shows of 2023, ranked

Last year, Max was still known as HBO Max, and it was one of the strongest streaming services to challenge Netflix and its other rivals. The brand has been severely diluted since the rebrand to Max earlier this year and the massive influx of inferior Discovery reality shows. It’s hard to get behind a streaming service when its CEO is known for dropping completed films and TV shows in the name of corporate tax write-offs.

Thankfully, Max hasn’t abandoned scripted content. And between the HBO original series and the shows that were created directly for Max, the streamer had a very fruitful year in 2023. Now that we’re nearing the end of the year, we’ve assembled the five best Max shows of 2023, which you can stream at your leisure this holiday season.

5. Our Flag Means Death

Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby in Our Flag Means Death.

Our Flag Means Death may be the first pirate romantic comedy series, but it had more than enough drama in season 2. At the end of season 1, Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) abandons his true love, Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach (Taika Waititi), and attempts to return to the life that he left. Season 2 was about bringing Stede and Ed back together, and the greatest obstacle was often Ed himself.

Without Stede around to bring out his humanity, Ed managed to alienate the crew of the Revenge, who left him to die. So, there were plenty of relationship issues to work out during the season. But if the show doesn’t return for a third season, this was enough.

Watch Our Flag Means Death on Max.

4. Love & Death

Elizabeth Olsen in Love & Death.

Love & Death is based on a true story, but it’s also a showcase for Elizabeth Olsen to shed some of those lingering WandaVision impressions from her time in the MCU. Olsen portrays Candy Montgomery, the wife of Pat Montgomery (Patrick Fugit), who lives with her family in Texas during the late ’70s. The Montgomery family also becomes close to the Gore family and even goes to the same church.

Because Candy is unhappy in her own marriage, she starts an affair with Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons) while keeping their respective spouses in the dark. But eventually, Betty Gore (Lily Rabe) and Pat discover the truth. The murder that follows leads to a sensational trial that tests the limits of “self-defense.”

Watch Love & Death on Max.

3. Scavengers Reign

One of the main characters from Scavengers Reign.

Scavengers Reign is the most beautiful nightmare you’ve ever seen. It may look like an anime series, but this is an American-produced animated show that recaptures some of the awe-inspiring Studio Ghibli-style visuals of an alien world called Vesta that is definitely unsuitable for humans. Everything from the plants to the animals can prove fatal on this world, and this planet has little tolerance for the people who are trapped on the surface.

Ursula (Sunita Mani), Azi (Wunmi Mosaku), Levi (Alia Shawkat), Sam (Bob Stephenson), and Kamen (Ted Travelstead) are among the survivors of the starship Demeter, which crashed on Vesta. And although many of them are separated following the crash, their fates are intertwined as the planet challenges and transforms them.

Watch Scavengers Reign on Max.

2. Warrior

Jason Tobin in "Warrior."
Max / Max

Warrior was the last Cinemax original series, and it found a reprieve on Max for a third season. There’s currently no word on whether the show will get a fourth season, but this is one of the greatest martial arts dramas in the last few decades. Season 3 picked up after the Chinatown riots in San Francisco, as Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), Young Jun (Jason Tobin), and the rest of their Tong struggled to survive.

This show takes place in the 1870s, and it has a more complex story beyond the action scenes. For example, this season featured Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) attempting to expand her influence in the legitimate corners of San Francisco’s high society, only to find that even she has limits in this era. It’s all about power on this show, and those battles are often fought on the streets.

Watch Warrior on Max.

1. The Last of Us

Joel and Ellie look at the camera in The Last of Us.
HBO / Image via HBO

Video game adaptations were huge in 2023, but The Last of Us redefined what those adaptations could be. HBO threw everything into this show, and treated it like the premium post-apocalyptic drama that it is. The series completely captured the tone and flavor of the first game, which was likely helped by the fact that Neil Druckmann – the co-creator of the game – was also a co-creator on this series alongside Chernobyl‘s Craig Mazin.

Joel and Ellie are beloved characters from the game, and this show hit a home run by casting The Mandalorian‘s Pedro Pascal and Game of Thrones‘ Bella Ramsey to fill those roles. Pascal and Ramsey infused their roles with the same heart and humanity as their counterparts in the game. That’s why it’s so easy to identify with them as Joel comes to love Ellie like a daughter while escorting her through the wasteland.

The show as also able to take dramatic chances that a film adaptation wouldn’t have time for, including the largely standalone third episode which put the spotlight on Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), and their relationship from beginning to end. Genre shows don’t always get a lot of love from the Emmys, but The Last of Us will surely take home some awards this year. Pascal and Ramsey are nominated for lead actor and actress, respectively, while Offerman and Bartlett are both up for outstanding guest actor. Our money is on either Offerman or Bartlett to win, but the real winner is HBO, which once again proved that its brand surpasses everything else on Max.

Watch The Last of Us on Max.

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Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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