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Hidden HBO Gems You Definitely Haven't Seen Yet

Westworld isn't coming back until 2018, and Game of Thrones may take longer than that. The Deuce is promising, but it's only dropping an episode a week, and they're not exactly fast-paced. Meanwhile, you still have this HBO app, whether it's Go or Now or just the On-Demand section of your cable menu, and you're trying to figure out what to binge. Have no fear, HBO fans: even if you've seen every episode of Game of Thrones, The WireDeadwood, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, we can find something in the HBO vaults that you haven't watched yet, and should. All these shows and miniseries are worth watching—and we're betting there's more than one you haven't seen.

Angels in America

Angels in America was a unique television experience when it aired in 2003—and remains one today. A six-part miniseries adapted from the two-part play by Tony Kushner, it tells the story of the AIDS crisis through a magical realist lens. Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) is a gay man whose parter Louis (Ben Shenkman) abandons him after he's diagnosed with AIDS. As if that weren't enough of a burden, he's also visited by an Angel (Emma Thompson) who declares him a prophet. Meanwhile, closeted gay Mormon Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) is taken under the wing of infamous (and real) Republican power player Roy Cohn (Al Pacino), while Pitt's wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) is addicted to valium and trying to find a way out of their sham marriage. Louis and Joe eventually get together, although it doesn't go well, and when Cohn also gets sick from AIDS, he's reluctantly cared for by Prior's best friend Belize (Jeffrey Wright), a drag queen-turned-nurse. When Joe Pitt's mother (Meryl Streep) arrives in town and befriends Prior, the circle becomes complete and the supernatural aspects of the story begin to make sense.

The story may sound complicated, but the impeccable dialogue and amazing performances by the cast hold it all together. Parker and Kirk had one amazing scene together in Angels in America before going on to co-star in Weeds on Showtime. Wilson moved on to much wider acclaim in film, appearing in everything from Phantom of the Opera to Watchmen to The Conjuring. And, of course, Wright is now back on HBO, playing Bernard Lowe on Westworld.

Bored to Death

There's nothing else quite like Bored to Death, a comedy that began in 2009 and ran for three seasons. It stars Jason Schwartzman as Jonathan Ames, a writer who decides to distract himself from the daunting prospect of his next novel by becoming an unlicensed private detective. Zach Galifianakis plays his best friend Ray, a comic book artist, and Ted Danson appears as an older friend and mentor who edits an acclaimed magazine where Jonathan writes. Jonathan doesn't take his detective work all that seriously, having learned everything he knows from Raymond Chandler novels, but as the series goes on, he gets involved in some surprisingly dire situations, even getting kidnapped and failing to stop Ray from being stabbed by a stalker. Bored to Death isn't for everybody, but if you're a mystery fan or a fan of comedies about overeducated stoners failing at things, it might be for you.


Carnivàle is a show that aimed incredibly high and never got fully off the ground, but that doesn't mean it's not an interesting oddity worth a watch, especially for fans of dark fantasy. When the series started in 2003, creator Daniel Knauf intended it to tell one complex story over the course of six seasons. Unfortunately, HBO only ended up giving it two, so most of that story remains untold.

Set in the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s, Carnivàle is about a traveling carnival, but it's also about a supernatural battle between destined avatars of good and evil. Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) is a young man with mysterious supernatural abilities who joins up with the carnival, which is run by Samson (Michael J. Anderson).  There he meets Sofie (Clea Duvall), a second-generation fortune teller with some problems of her own. Meanwhile in California, a preacher named Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown) also has supernatural powers, but his seem to be far more insidious. As the series goes on, the worlds of the carnival and Crowe's ministry are clearly destined to collide, although the show's truncated run kept the full impact from being felt.

The Comeback

The Comeback is a comedy that ran for two seasons, adding up to 21 episodes, over the course of nine years—and if that math doesn't seem to make much sense, it's just a part of what makes the series so unique. It had a strong meta angle from its launch in 2005, starring Lisa Kudrow (previously of Friends) as a '90s sitcom star making a comeback with a new sitcom as well as a reality show. Unlike Phoebe on Friends, Kudrow's new character Valerie Cherish is shallow, self-centered, and lazy. She's obsessed with her own image, but constantly fails to make a good impression. Despite her unlikability, the series also effectively satirizes the sexist and ageist entertainment industry, which has little room and even less respect for a middle-aged sitcom actress. The Comeback was initially canceled after one season, but in the years to come its reputation grew.

In 2014, The Comeback made a comeback with an unexpected second season.  Valerie Cherish was now starring in an imagined HBO series based on her former producer's negative experiences working with her, in which she was cast as the fictionalized version of herself. Seeing this as an opportunity, she makes her way back into the world of reality TV as well, hoping to find the respect that has always eluded her. The Comeback was an insightful and biting satire from the beginning, but the long arc enabled by such an unusual break between seasons makes it something truly special. We can only hope it returns for a third season in 2023.

Family Tree

If you enjoy movies like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, you definitely need to check out Family Tree, a BBC/HBO co-production created by Christopher Guest—who directed those films—and his frequent collaborator Jim Piddock. Chris O'Dowd stars as Tom Chadwick, a man who becomes fascinated by his family lineage, which stretches across the UK and the US. And because this is a Christopher Guest project, the family is populated by bizarre eccentrics like Tom's sister Bea (ventriloquist Nina Conti), who expresses her feelings via a monkey puppet. There's also his uncle Al in California (Ed Begley Jr.), a conspiracy theorist who suspects their family had a hand in assassinating Abraham Lincoln, and cousin David from North Carolina (Guest himself), who claims to have inherited a vestigial tail. HBO canceled the series after one eight-episode season, but this isn't a Carnivàle situation where some grand story was interrupted: Family Tree stands on its own as a great example of improvisational comedy.

Five Days

Five Days was also a 2007 BBC/HBO co-production, and also dealt with family, but it could not have been more different from Family Tree. This series is a mystery, but also very much an emotional drama. Each of the five episodes tells the story of one day in the investigation of a mystery; what's interesting, however, is that the days aren't subsequent. In fact, the episodes cover days 1, 3, 28, 33 and 79 of the investigation into the disappearance of a young mother and her two children, allowing the audience to see how that investigation changes as the days, weeks, and months roll on. David Oyelowo, future star of Selma, offers a riveting performance as the father whose family vanishes. In 2010, the BBC made a second Five Days series telling a completely different story, but HBO wasn't involved, and that season isn't available on their platforms.

Getting On

Getting On is a comedy set in a hospital, starring three fantastic and often under-appreciated actresses. Laurie Metcalf of Roseanne fame plays Doctor Jenna James, the hospital's director of medicine and a generally unpleasant woman. Niecy Nash, formerly of Reno 911 and currently the star of Claws, plays nurse Didi Ortley. And Alex Borstein, of MadTV, Family Guy, and many other projects, plays Dawn Forchette, the head nurse whose messy personal life continually affects her job. 

Over three seasons between 2013 and 2015, Niecy Nash received two nominations for an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Emmy, and Laurie Metcalf received one nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy. None of the nominations led to awards, and these days the show is rarely discussed, but if you're the sort of viewer who's interested in a great female-led comedy, this might still become your favorite show.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, another BBC/HBO co-production, is based on a series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Jill Scott stars as Precious Ramotswe, the first female private detective in the sparsely-populated African nation of Botswana—where the series was entirely filmed, giving it a completely unique look and setting compared to anything else on American or British TV. The double-length pilot, in which Precious sells her dead father's cattle and moves to the city of Gaborone to open her detective agency, was originally intended as a theatrical movie. However, producer Anthony Minghella decided to present it to TV networks, leading to HBO and BBC ordering six additional episodes. That pilot also features Idris Elba and David Oyelowo, who make an impression despite not returning to the series.

Parade's End

Parade's End is an adaptation of a series of four novels by Ford Madox Ford, about three people whose lives in Britain are upended by World War I. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Christopher Tietjens, a rich conservative statistician who is badly injured in the war. Rebecca Hall is Sylvia Tietjens, his unfaithful wife and the mother of a son who may or may not actually be his. Adelaide Clemens plays Valentine Wannop, a young feminist who falls in love with Christopher. The entire five-episode miniseries was written by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard and directed by Susanna White, and anyone who's a fan of British period dramas like Downton Abbey, or just a fan of Sherlock and Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch, will find plenty to enjoy in Parade's End.


Titans of indie filmmaking, brothers Mark and Jay Duplass pioneered the Mumblecore movement long before they had the chance to produce a pilot for HBO with their collaborator Steve Zissis. That pilot became Togetherness, which premiered in 2015 and ran for two seasons. 

Mark Duplass plays Brett Pierson, a Los Angeles sound editor with a wife and two kids. Melanie Lynskey plays his wife Michelle, who's concerned about their sex life. Amanda Peet is Tina Morris, Michelle's sister who unexpectedly moves in with their family after splitting up with her boyfriend in Houston. Zissis appears as Alex Pappas, Brett's best friend, who also moves in when his acting career isn't going well. 

As anyone who's watched a television show could guess, an attraction develops between Tina and Alex which gets increasingly complicated as the show goes on. In other ways, starting with the Duplass brothers' dialogue, the show is quite unlike the usual TV comedies, and its two seasons are well worth a look. In general, HBO shows are often more timeless than network fare, because they're less tied to commercial concerns of the moment. That's why HBO's such a resource for bingeworthy content, no matter what you're into.