Top 10 Most Underrated HBO Shows of All Time
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Written by Spencer Sher
Hey, they can't all be “Game of Thrones”. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we'll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Underrated HBO Shows of All Time.
For this list, we're taking a look at the most underrated HBO television series ever released, and ranking them based on their quality, relative to the attention they received.
Hey, they can’t all be “Game of Thrones”. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Underrated HBO Shows of All Time.
For this list, we’re taking a look at the most underrated HBO television series ever released, and ranking them based on their quality, relative to the attention they received.
#10: “Rome” (2005-07)
Long before HBO shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld” were wowing audiences with their massive budgets, large-scale productions and brilliant ensemble casts, there was “Rome”. This series takes place before, during and after the ancient civilization’s transition from Republic to Empire and features no shortage of political and military intrigue – aka sex and violence. Despite solid reviews and multiple awards nominations, “Rome” was cancelled after just two seasons, mainly because it simply cost too much to produce. Nowadays when people think epic HBO shows, their minds drift to Tony Soprano, Nucky Thompson and Jon Snow, overlooking “Rome”, despite the show being both ahead of its time and wildly entertaining.
#9: “The Life & Times of Tim” (2008-12)
This deliciously awkward cartoon series created, written, executive produced and starring actor and animator Steve Dildarian was woefully underappreciated during its initial three-season run. The series revolves around; you guessed it, “The Life and Times of Tim”, a white collar worker whose perpetual lying and generally misplaced sense of right and wrong get him into all kinds of uncomfortable situations. The show has since developed a cult following thanks to its witty, deadpan style of writing and the vocal performances of its lead actors, which includes a young Nick Kroll.
#8: “Getting On” (2013-15)
Yet another show that undoubtedly flew under your television radar, “Getting On” was based on a UK series of the same name and focused on the personal and professional lives of the staff of an extended care unit. Best categorized as a dark comedy due to the plethora of jokes involving mentally unstable patients harassing their stressed out caregivers, “Getting On” can sometimes feel a little depressing. However, as one critic expertly pointed out, "There is a brilliant mix of poignancy and hilarity in Getting On, which is why it all works so well."
#7: “Carnivàle” (2003-05)
“Carnivàle” started off with a bang. The fantasy drama set during the Great Depression saw its pilot episode bring in 5.3 million viewers, a record at the time for an HBO original series debut. Unfortunately, those numbers could not be sustained and the show got the axe after just two seasons. But don’t let that deter you from checking out this criminally underrated program. “Carnivàle”’s premise, which revolves around the struggle of good vs. evil that develops between the members of a travelling circus and a hardline preacher, is both original and engaging. With that being said, “Carnivàle”’s eccentricity was probably a little off-putting to mainstream audiences; explaining why it never truly caught on.
#6: “Hung” (2009-11)
“Hung” starred Thomas Jane as a struggling high school teacher who uses his titular anatomical gift to become a prostitute. So... you can see why it aired on HBO. Jane picked up three well-deserved Golden Globe nominations for his performance, but the show never really found its footing with viewers, leading to its cancellation after just three seasons. Which is a shame, because it had all the tools necessary for success: a charismatic lead, a fresh premise and some fantastically witty writing. Perhaps people just didn’t want to watch a show about a suburban high school teacher with an extremely large…member.
#5: “In Treatment” (2008-10)
Compared to the extravagant plots and big budgets of other HBO productions, “In Treatment” can feel a little out of place. However, once you begin to delve into the complex subject matter of the program, which focuses on a psychologist’s interactions with his patients as well as his own therapist, you’ll find a show that is mature, well-written and loaded with top-notch performances. “In Treatment” was unique in its approach, as each season of the five night a week show featured the same patients week after week, often played by well known actors such as Alison Pill and Debra Winger. Flashy? Nope. Binge-worthy? Absolutely.
#4: “Treme” (2010-13)
Many consider “The Wire”, David Simon’s seminal TV series about Baltimore and the social and political exploits of its citizens, to be one of the greatest shows of all time. So when Simon teamed up with HBO to produce “Treme”, a show set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people were understandably excited. However, much like “The Wire”, “Treme” failed to garner above average ratings or win any major awards. It passed by relatively unnoticed, which is quite frankly a travesty, as the show is littered with captivating performances, realistic writing and a wholly addictive premise.
#3: “Flight of the Conchords” (2007-09)
One of the most criminally underrated shows in HBO history, “Flight of the Conchords” revolved around the musical misadventures of a two-man New Zealand band trying to make it in New York City. Featuring a couple of zany performances from leads Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, not to mention a seemingly neverending supply of hilarious supporting characters, the show was a brilliant mishmash of deadpan wit and over the top musical numbers. In the end, “Flight of the Conchords”’ strengths proved to be its downfall, as the quirky characters and all around weirdness of the show wasn’t exactly what you’d call “mainstream comedy”.
#2: “Bored to Death” (2009-11)
Why more people weren’t down with this show we’ll never understand. “Bored to Death”, which revolved around the comedic exploits of a hapless novelist who moonlights as an unlicensed private detective, was witty to a tee, inspired in its approach and funny as all hell. Despite lead actor Jason Schwartzman’s considerable talents, he was often overshadowed by the supporting work of Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis, whose performances hilariously highlighted the different ends of the New York social spectrum. Three seasons was all “Bored to Death” managed to squeak out before biting the dust, and much like our previous entry we have a funny feeling its because the humor just couldn’t connect with the mainstream.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
“Vice Principals” (2016-17)
“Mr. Show with Bob and David” (1995-98)
#1: “The Leftovers” (2014-17)
Set three years after 2% of the global population mysteriously disappeared overnight, a police chief must balance a family that’s coming apart at the seams with a world still searching for answers. A compelling drama that straddles the line between haunting mystery and psychological thriller, “The Leftovers” earned critical acclaim for its acting and writing but simply couldn’t contend with the rest of HBO’s stellar lineup. It landed on numerous Top 10 lists throughout its three-season run, but never hit its stride in the ratings column. “The Leftovers” remains one of the most interesting programs HBO has ever produced, it’s just a shame more people didn’t tune in.