Best Shows on HBO Max Right Now (January 2021)

From original programming to crowd favorites, here's what's worth your time

HBO's streaming service has a mix of original programming and long-running series that are now exclusive to HBO Max. Like the now-discontinued HBO Go service, HBO Max gives users access to everything available on the premium channel plus other exclusive content. Here's what to watch on HBO Max this month.

01
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The Flight Attendant (2020): Best One Night Stand Gone Very Wrong Book Adaptation

Kaley Cuoco in The Flight Attendant (2020)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 7.2

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Starring: Kaley Cuoco, Michiel Huisman, Zosia Mamet

Created By: Steve Yockey

TV Rating: TV-14

Number of Seasons: 1

A drunken layover in Bangkok ends horribly when flight attendant Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up in a strange bed next to a dead passenger. Unable to recall the events of the previous evening, she decides not to tell anyone, including the federal agents who greet her when she returns home.

Kaley Cuoco, who also serves as a producer, sympathetically portrays a flawed character who you want to root for, even if she might have done horrible things. The Flight Attendant is an adaptation of a 2018 book by Chris Bohjalian, which you should definitely check out if you like the show.

02
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Doom Patrol (2019): Best DC Superhero Team Up

The cast of Doom Patrol

Warner Bros.

IMDb Rating: 7.9

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy

Starring: Diane Guerrero, April Bowlby, Matt Bomer

Created By: Jeremy Carver

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 2

Doom Patrol comes from the DC Universe and features characters from the 2018 series Titans. The titular team is led by the Chief (Timothy Dalton), a rich doctor who takes in social rejects with supernatural powers and trains them to fight evil. It's kind of like The Umbrella Academy, which means it's awesome.

The first season of Doom Patrol received several award nominations, including Best Streaming Superhero Television Series at the Saturn Awards. The series originally debuted on the DC Universe streaming service, but future episodes will stream exclusively on HBO Max. A third season has been announced for 2021.

03
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Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (2020): Best Documentary About a Creepy Cult

Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (2020)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 7.4

Genre: Documentary, Crime

Starring: Robert Balch, Janja Lalich, Benjamin Zeller

Created By: Clay Tweel

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed ritual suicide in San Diego, California. Through a mix of never-before-seen archival footage and original interviews, this four-part miniseries offers an unprecedented look inside the mad world of the cult's enigmatic leader Marshall Applewhite.

Produced by CNN, this docuseries meets the rigorous standards of investigative journalism. Some of the interviews with surviving family members and ex-cult members are heartbreaking, so have a box of tissues nearby.

04
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Equal (2020): Best Pre-Stonestall LGBT History Docuseries

Hailie Sahar in Equal

HBO

IMDb Rating: 6.5

Genre: Documentary, History

Starring: Billy Porter, Anne Ramsay, Cheyenne Jackson

Created By: Diane Becker, Melanie Miller

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

You've probably heard of Stonewall, but have you heard of the Daughters of Bilitis? What about the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riots? Equal celebrates the history of LGBTQ civil rights activism prior to 1969. Even if you consider yourself well-versed in the subject, you'll probably learn something you didn't know.

Each hour-long episode focuses on various individuals, organizations, and movements that played a role in expanding the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Historical events are brought to life through a combination of archival footage and dramatic reenactments by LGBT actors.

05
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Haute Dog (2020): Best Gameshow for Dog Lovers

Haute Dog (2020)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 6.1

Genre: Game Show, Reality TV

Starring: Matt Rogers, Jess Rona, Robin Thede

Created By: Abi McCarthy

TV Rating: TV-PG

Number of Seasons: 1

You may think you know some fashionable pooches, but you've probably never seen dogs like these. Through various themed challenges, contestants showcase their professional canine-grooming skills in hopes of winning a $10,000 grand prize. Only one can be top dog groomer.

Of course, the key to any successful game show is an entertaining host, and comedian Matt Rogers delivers as “Matt C.” The chemistry between Rogers and the two judges, dog groomer-to-the-stars Jess Rona and actor Robin Thede, make Haute Dog an easy show to binge.

06
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House of Ho (2020): Best HBO Original Reality TV Show

The cast of House of Ho (2020)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 6.5

Genre: Reality TV

Starring: Binh Ho, Hue Ho, Judy Ho

Created By: Beau Willimon

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

Binh and Hue Ho are the embodiment of the American dream. Decades after coming to the US with little more than the clothes on their backs, the Hos today own multiple million-dollar businesses, and now they have their own reality TV show.

The Hos are well known in their Texas community thanks to their opulent way of life, but House of Ho peels back the shiny veneer and shows that they're just like any other family, only a lot richer. Like any multi-generational household (and any family reality show), there's a good bit of drama, but conflicts are usually resolved by the end of the episode.

07
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Sotuh Park (1997): Longest Running Cartoon for Adults Only

South Park: The Pandemic Special

HBO

IMDb Rating: 8.7

Genre: Animation, Comedy

Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes

Created By: Trey Parker, Matt Stone

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 23

Second only to The Simpsons in terms of longevity, South Park has kept its finger on the pulse of American politics and culture for more than two decades. Join Cartman and the gang as they navigate the challenges of being a kid with help from their school cafeteria chef and Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.

South Park moved to HBO Max in 2020, so you won't find it streaming anywhere else. The 24th season kicked off with the appropriately named “Pandemic Special” with new episodes to come in 2021. In case you didn't know, this cartoon isn't for kids, so watch it after they've gone to bed.

08
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Frayed (2019): Best Comedy About Coming Home

The cast of Frayed

HBO

IMDb Rating: 7.4
Genre: Comedy, Drama

Starring: Sarah Kendall, Kerry Armstrong, Trystan Go

Created By: Sarah Kendall

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

Sammy Cooper (Sarah Kendall), a high-street housemaker in London, is devastated by the death of her husband. With no place to go, she moves with her children back to her hometown in Australia. As she tries to reconnect with old faces, Sammy is quickly reminded of why she left in the first place.

The show was a hit in the U.K. and Australia when it debuted in 2019 thanks largely to Kendall's comedic performance. Now an exclusive to HBO Max in the US, Frayed strikes a healthy balance of humor and high-stakes moments.

09
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The Plot Against America (2020): Best WWII Alternate History Thriller

The Plot Against America

HBO

IMDb Rating: 7.3

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Starring: Winona Ryder, Anthony Boyle, Zoe Kazan

Created By: Ed Burns, David Simon

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

What if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of America's most beloved presidents, lost the 1940 election to fascist sympathizer Charles Lindbergh? What would that mean for Jews and other minorities in America? The Plot Against America answers that question from the perspective of a Jewish family in New Jersey.

It's very similar in concept to The Man in the High Castle, which is also based on a novel. While one could certainly argue that the World War II alternate history genre has worn out its welcome, The Plot Against America features strong enough performances and enough twists to keep casual viewers engaged.

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Succession (2018): Most Critically Acclaimed Show on HBO Max

The cast of Succession (2018)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 8.6

Genre: Drama

Starring: Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook

Created By: Jesse Armstrong

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

As entrepreneur Logan Roy (Brian Cox) nears the end of his life and career, his four kids are already beginning to fight over the family business. However, on his 80th birthday, Logan announces that he has no plans of stepping down anytime soon.

While this family drama may sound similar in premise to the Netflix series Empire, the series has enough refreshingly humorous moments sprinkled throughout to keep things from getting too tense. A huge hit with critics, Succession has won numerous accolades, including Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series and Best Actor (for Cox).

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Chernobyl (2019): Best Historical Drama About the Cold War

A scene from Chernobyl (2019)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 9.4

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård

Created By: Craig Mazin

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

In April 1986, a nuclear energy plant exploded in Ukraine, causing a cloud of radiation to cover the nearby city of Pripyat. Presented in five-parts, this HBO exclusive tells the story of the Chernobyl disaster from the perspective of the bureaucrats who oversaw it and the first responders who orchestrated the evacuation.

The creators did a lot of painstaking research, including reading first-hand accounts from survivors, but some liberties were taken with the plot for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, Chernobyl earned a whopping 19 Primetime Emmy nominations and the Golden Globe for Best Miniseries.

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Who We Are (2020): Best Coming-of-Age Teen Drama

Jack Dylan Grazer and Jordan Kristine Seamón in Who We Are (2020)

HBO

IMDb Rating: 7.0

Genre: Drama

Starring: Jack Dylan Grazer, Jordan Kristine Seamón, Chloë Sevigny

Created By: Luca Guadagnino, Sean Conway, Paolo Giordano

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón) are two American teens growing up on a military base in Italy. As they bond over being outsiders, they help each other discover who they are. We Are Who We Are is a pretty standard teen drama, but the chemistry between the lead actors more than makes up for deficiencies in the plot.

Series creator Luca Guadagnino is well known for his critically acclaimed film Call Me by Your Name, which is also about a teenage romance set in Italy, so the parallels are pretty obvious. That said, although We Are Who We Are is about teenagers, it's meant for mature audiences.

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Adventure Time (2010): Best Cartoon Series Kids and Adults Can Enjoy Together

Finn and Jake in Adventure Time

HBO

IMDb Rating: 8.6

Genre: Animation, Comedy

Starring: John DiMaggio, Jeremy Shada, Tom Kenny

Created By: Pendleton Ward

TV Rating: TV-PG

Number of Seasons: 10

Even if you've never seen an episode of Adventure Time, you can probably recognize its characters. What began as a series of Nicktoons shorts in 2007 about a boy and his dog traversing a surreal post-apocalyptic world has evolved into an immense franchise that includes numerous spin-off comics and games.

If you didn't watch Adventure Time during its first run, now is a perfect time to get acquainted with Finn, Jake, and the rest of the crew. HBO is releasing a limited reboot series called Adventure Time: Distant Lands that will continue into 2021.

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Lovecraft Country (2020): Most Horrific Show About American History

Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett in Lovecraft Country

HBO

IMDb Rating: 7.1

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Starring: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett, Courtney B. Vance

Created By: Misha Green

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 1

In the 1950s, an African American man named Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) travels to the segregated American south to find his missing father. On top of discrimination from locals, Atticus must also deal with the ghosts of slave owners and monsters from H.P Lovecraft's twisted imagination.

Lovecraft Country is based on a book of the same name, which was inspired by fantasy-horror author H.P Lovecraft, the show's namesake. Some scenes are brutally violent, and it doesn't pull punches when addressing America's racist past, so viewer discretion is highly encouraged.

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Last Week Tonight (2014): Best Late Night Parody News Show

John Oliver in Last Week Tonight

HBO

IMDb Rating: 8.9

Genre: Comedy, News, Talk Show

Starring: John Oliver, David Kaye, Ryan Barger

Created By: John Oliver

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Seasons: 8

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver is HBO's flagship late-night talk show, and the number of awards it has won goes well into the double digits. There are rarely any guests or musical performances. Instead, it follows the format of a satirical news program, much like The Daily Show, where Oliver got his start as a correspondent.

Oliver has complete control over the content of his show, and he doesn't shy away from political topics. This has resulted in what has been dubbed “the John Oliver effect,” or instances where the show's fans have influenced public policy, such as when viewers flooded the FCC with public comments following proposed changes to net neutrality protections.

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