For the longest time, HBO has been the place to go for the best that television has to offer. With dozens of critically acclaimed crime dramas, thrillers, and other series showcasing the premium cable service's commitment to quality, there's nothing quite like it. You have classics like The Wire as well as new favorites like Watchmen who all call the network home. And thanks to the May 2020 launch of HBO Max, your options just got better.
In addition to all of those great HBO shows we've all grown to love over the course of the past 30 or so years, the new streaming service from WarnerMedia brings some of the greatest television series from around the world together in the same place for the first time. And with some favorites like Friends and The Big Bag Theory streaming on the service, HBO Max also features some of the grittiest and twisted shows you can find, like the ones I'm about to show you now.
Not to be confused with Zach Snyder's 2009 adaptation of Alan Moore's iconic comic series of the same name, the 2019 HBO series Watchmen is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma more than 30 years after the events of the original source material. In this continuation of the Watchmen story, the series focuses on the conflict between the Tulsa Police Department and a white supremacist group by the name of the Seventh Kavalry, who upon misinterpreting the journals of Rorschach, embarked on the "White Knight," an attack against the local force.
Regina King stars as Angela Abar, aka Sister Night, a police detective who dons a costume and mask to protect her identity from the Seventh Kalvary. Abar, like the Watchmen of the past, turns to violent and unorthodox methods to bring criminals, including the racist threat, to justice. The supporting cast includes Don Johnson as Judd Crawford, the police chief, Tim Blake Nelson as Wade Tillman, aka Looking Glass, another masked detective, and Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt, aka the former vigilante Ozymandias, as well as numerous others. Like many HBO programs of the past, Watchmen is dark, violent, and a little twisted.
Stream Watchmen on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
For years, the BBC crime drama Luther has bounced around from streaming platform to streaming platform, and now the critically acclaimed show starring Idris Elba has found its new home on HBO Max. Centered around the personal and professional sides of DCI John Luther's dark, lonely, and exhausting life, the 2010 series is not your average police procedural. Thanks to Elba's command of the screen and ability to lose himself in the role, Luther offers viewers a new spin on the classic "broken detective" archetype by turning the psychological drama up a notch or two.
And even though the show has had extended breaks between seasons (a four-year gap between Seasons 4 and 5), this doesn't take away from the quality. And with characters like Ruth Wilson's psychotic yet intelligent Alice Morgan popping up when you least expect them, the BBC series leaves you guessing what's coming around the next corner. Friends become enemies and enemies become partners in and around the streets of London throughout the series. And on top of all of that, there's nothing quite like an angry Idris Elba.
Stream Luther on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
Early-2000s HBO shows like The Wire never seem to fall out of favor with viewers and critics. And more than a decade after David Simon's epic story of life and crime in Baltimore, Maryland, aired its final episode, the gritty drama is still a must-watch. Centered around a specialized task forced assembled to take down the Charm City's most notorious drug enterprises, the 2002 crime drama showed that a series that predominantly follows the police officers is anything but your standard cop show.
With a cast led by the likes of Dominic West as Jimmy McNulty, Idris Elba as Stringer Bell, and Michael K. Williams as the feared Omar Little, The Wire also featured dozens upon dozens of actors and actresses that still show up just about anywhere and everywhere no matter if that means on the silver screen or back on television. In addition to the well-rounded and dedicated cast, David Simon's exploration of inner-city poverty and drug abuse, corrupt public officials, and a crumbling infrastructure plays more like a documentary than a crime procedural at times. And while Season 5 wasn't what everyone wanted at the time, that final montage of the characters and their futures is still the best few minutes of television you'll watch.
Stream The Wire on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
There are gritty shows and then there are those like the HBO series Oz. Following its premiere in 1997, this extremely violent and depraved piece of television shocked the world with his portrayal of the American prison system. Primarily set in the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility (formerly Oswald State Penitentiary, Tom Fontana's provocative and controversial series featured some of the most unsettling imagery that had been displayed on television up to that point, and opened the doors for shows like The Sopranos and The Wire (both of which feature stars from Oz) in the years to come.
One of the best things about Oz is the ridiculous list of actors who would go on to become some of the biggest names in film and television. You have J.K. Simmons as the white supremacist Vernon Schillinger, Dean Winters (pre-30 Rock and Allstate), Chris Meloni as Chris Keller, and Edie Falco as officer Diane Whittlesey, and that's barely scratching the surface. And although the characters are all cruel (they're in a maximum security prison), the actors sometimes provide some of the most beautiful performances like Harold Perrineau's Augustus Hill, who provides the opening narration for each episode in some unconventional monologues.
Stream Oz on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
Unlike the rest of the shows on this list, True Detective is an anthology series with a different cast, story, and overall feel from season to season, which works for the most part. Upon its premiere in January 2014, the crime series from writer Nic Pizzolatto grabbed ahold of viewers as they followed Louisiana State Police detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Mary Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they hunted down a vicious child serial killer in the swampy marshes of southern Louisiana.
True Detective Season 2, while not as fulfilling as the first go around, featured an all-star cast of Colin Farrell as Detective Ray Vicoro, Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon, Rachel McAdams as Detective Sergeant Ani Bezzerides, and Taylor Kitsch as Officer Paul Woodrugh. Set in Southern California, the sophomore season of the series lacked much of the charm fans came to expect with the first season, but it remained just as gritty and violent, especially the urban shootout around the season's halfway mark. And although the setting of Season 2's story is far different from the first go around, moving to around Los Angeles allowed the show's producers to add touches of classic Los Angeles films like Chinatown and Heat.
Season 3 of True Detective was a return to form in a story that branched multiple decades as it followed Arkansas State Police detectives Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) as the two former partners set out to uncover a wide-scale child abduction and sex ring in the Ozark Mountains. Much like the first season, the latest edition of True Detective is dark, violent, and primal in its exploration of the heart of darkness. Add the superb talents of Ali, especially in the scenes where he plays the older version of his character who's fighting a losing fight with dementia and guilt, and you have yourself one of the most riveting and talked about stories of 2019.
Stream True Detective on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
Over the course of the past 20+ years, HBO has produced some of the best miniseries to hit television. You have examples like Chernobyl, Five Days, Years And Years, and the 2016 Czech miniseries Wasteland about Hana Sikorova (Zuzana Stivinova), a small town mayor and his fight with a local coal mining operation. When the mayor's daughter goes missing, she goes down a dark and lonely path to find her missing child.
If you don't mind reading subtitles (the audio is in Czech), and are a fan of dark stories with flashes of violence, then Wasteland is the show to watch. At only eight, one-hour episodes, this tight plot is filled to brim with unsavory characters, corruption, depravity, and a story showing just how far a woman will go to find her daughter, no matter what it takes. And with the HBO Europe show popping up on HBO Max, there's never been a better time to give this hidden gem a shot.
Stream Wasteland on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
The Night Of
The 2016 HBO crime series The Night Of is another example of great short-term storytelling featured on the premium cable network and its streaming services. Centered around the death of a young woman and Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed), the Pakistani-American college student accused of her murder, this eight-episode story dives deep into race and the criminal justice system in New York City.
In addition to Riz Ahmed, who gives a career-making performance, The Night Of also boasts a supporting cast that includes John Turturro, Michael K. Williams, and The Outsider's Bill Camp. With a story as engaging as the one found in this eight-episode drama and the cast of some heavy hitters, there's no reason not to check out the series that took home multiple honors at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2017.
Stream The Night Of on HBO Max (opens in new tab).
Those are just seven of the gritty shows you can find on HBO Max. I can't recommend each of those titles enough, but if you want more, here's just about everything you can watch on HBO Max right now. And if you want to know when you can finally watch The Snyder Cut of Justice League, don't worry, you can also find that on CinemaBlend.