Today is a great day for Amazon Prime members, as HBO offers an impressive chunk of their original programming to subscribers of the popular streaming service. The library released today includes complete anthologies of original series like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, selected seasons of ongoing shows such as Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, and some HBO original movies and miniseries, including Band of Brothers, John Adams, and Grey Gardens.
Not sure where to start? The Rotten Tomatoes staff has some recommendations for you.
Boardwalk Empire: Three Seasons
Picked by: Marya E. Gates, Social Media Manager
What it is: Boardwalk Empire follows the rise (and somewhat fall) of political boss-turned-bootlegger Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Inspired by real people and events, historical gangsters and lawmen mix with fictional characters in a swirl of violence, flappers, spats, and booze as Nucky tries to build his empire.
Why you should watch it: It would be worth it alone for the career-crowning performance from Steve Buscemi season after season, but the supporting cast — including Michael Pitt, Shea Whigham, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Graham, Kelly Macdonald, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston, Michael K. Williams, and Michael Shannon — and the characters they bring to life, create a perfect storm of greed, lust, ambition, and regret.
The Wire: Five Seasons
Picked by: Ryan Fujitani, Editor
What it is: The Wire begins by following a Baltimore detective who’s assigned to a misfit task force to investigate the criminal activities of a local drug lord. Over the course of five seasons, however, the series builds on that foundation, expanding to include intertwining stories about the port system, city hall, public education, and the news media.
Why you should watch it: If you wish your typical police procedural had a bit more meat on its bones, this is the show for you. The stories here are crafted with care, with investigations that unfold over multiple seasons, and the depiction of Baltimore — even as a general stand-in for urban life in America — feels authentic. But the strength of the series lies in its characters, written in such fine detail that the lines between good and evil are often blurred. You’ll hate some of the cops, and you’ll love some of the killers, but you’ll always ride along to see what they do next.
Angels in America: Miniseries
Picked by: Gabi Jacobs, Creative Director
What it is: Angels in America is a 2003 miniseries adapted from a Tony Kushner play that deals with the devastating AIDS crisis during the mid-1980s. Set in New York City against the backdrop of Reagan-era politics, and played by a powerhouse cast including Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, the story follows six characters whose lives are affected by the deadly disease.
Why you should watch it: Angels in America was a record-breaking, award-winning miniseries at the time. Over a decade later, HBO is revisiting this same theme from the same time period with another adaptation of a play called The Normal Heart, airing this weekend — to which Angels in America will be a perfection companion piece. For both, keep your Kleenex close by!
Rome: Two Seasons
Picked by: Rebecca Lane, Editorial Coordinator
What it is: Set in the time of Caesar, this epic drama tells the story of Rome’s transition from republic to empire, as witnessed by two soldiers in the Roman army.
Why you should watch it: With the gritty accuracy and striking visuals that you would expect from HBO, Rome excels in storytelling by taking its two lead characters and intertwining them into major historical events. The sweeping scope of the series is ambitious, but creators Bruno Heller, John Milius, and William J. MacDonald succeed in covering an entire empire.
Enlightened: Two Seasons
Picked by: Kerr Lordygan, Review Aggregator
What it is: In this dramedy by Laura Dern and Mike White, high-powered executive Amy Jellicoe (Dern) returns to the workforce after a public breakdown and subsequent treatment at a new-age rehab facility. Jellicoe’s position at Abaddonn Industries is reduced to a data-processing associate in an inessential department in the basement, where she researches high-level corruption and attempts to destroy the corporation.
Why you should watch it: Enlightened somehow turns the unsympathetic character of Amy Jellicoe into someone to root for. The comedy is smart and the feel-good moments are sweet. Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd, playing her onscreen mother is a treat; the presence of White, Luke Wilson and Dermot Mulroney add allure.
True Blood: Three Seasons
Picked by: Catherine Pricci, Review Aggregator
What it is: The town of Bon Temp, LA isn’t just some quiet, peaceful swampland — it’s also home to vampires and shape-shifters. A local waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, who can hear people’s thoughts, finds herself the unlikely center of attention, entangled in otherworldly drama.
Why you should watch it: If blood doesn’t bother you, and you enjoy some soapy, campy, fantastic fun with a dash of sex here and there, this show is pure guilty pleasure at its finest. The attempt by humans to co-habitate with vampires by feeding them synthetic blood is an original take on the vampire genre. Plus, Paquin has chutzpah, and the two main vampires, played by Alexander Skarsgard and Stephen Moyer, aren’t too bad to look at either.
Flight of the Conchords: Two Seasons
Picked by: Sarah Ricard, TV Editor
What it is: Originally from New Zealand, musicians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement try to make it as New York’s top guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo. With only one fan to speak of, and their idiot manager Murray (Rhys Darby) running the show, Bret and Jemaine have a hard enough time locking down their next meal — never mind their next gig.
Why you should watch it: The lo-fi comedy of the feckless, witless Conchords is at its best when they turn it up to 11 (OK, maybe 6), bursting into song. Bret and Jemaine’s songs are hilarious and weird, which — along with supporting players of top alterna-comedians Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, and Arj Barker — make this one of the more unique half-hour comedies available.
Deadwood: Three Seasons
Picked by: Tim Ryan, Senior Editor
What it is: Deadwood isn’t the story of how the West was won; it’s the story of how the West was tamed. Set in a legendary 1870s South Dakota boomtown, it’s the tale of how a group of businessmen, outcasts, hucksters, and everyday folks turned a lawless outpost into a community, with a mix of hard work, cynicism, idealism, and violence.
Why you should watch it: Sure, there are plenty of epic Westerns in the world, but Deadwood has both a sweep and an intimacy that’s alternately tense, exciting, poignant, and historically credible. There isn’t a weak link in the show’s huge ensemble cast (and though it’s a tough call, Ian McShane, as the Machiavellian saloon owner Al Swearengen, is probably the MVP). And if you’re interested in linguistics, Deadwood elevates swearing to a rarefied height.
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