HBO may be more well-known for its numerous drama series – Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Sopranos, perhaps the most notable examples – but the network also boasts a fantastic and incredibly diverse range of original comedy series.
Most recently, HBO has benefited from the arrival of several worthwhile new comedy shows, like Peacemaker, Harley Quinn, The Rehearsal, The White Lotus, and many, many more. As stellar as these series are, it’s worth wondering how exactly they rank compared to established HBO series that came before it, like Larry David’s brilliant work on Curb Your Enthusiasm or the decade-defining sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show.
From beloved ‘90s classics to anti-superhero comedy series, here are some of the greatest comedy series to grace HBO’s TV lineup.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
One of the best TV shows in HBO history, Curb Your Enthusiasm is a show that will seemingly never get old or stop being funny, coming so far since the release of its pilot in 2000, yet remaining every bit as hilarious as it did 20 years ago.
Created by star Larry David, Curb follows a fictionalized version of David in his post-Seinfeld career. Each episode revolves around his awkward, often confrontational exchanges with friends, family members, colleagues, and occasionally complete strangers.
After Seinfeld's cultural phenomenon forever changed the landscape of television, David pulled off a miraculous second act in his career, creating a series that seemed like a more mature version of Seinfeld, depicting the trivial matters of everyday life in a fresh, endlessly funny way.
The genius of Curb is how well it manages to stay with the times, remaining relevant by including prominent celebrities playing exaggerated, egocentric versions of themselves (Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, David Schwimmer, Lin Manuel-Miranda), as well as lampooning current cultural issues of the day. For this reason, fans eagerly await each new season to see what issues the series will tackle and which new actors will figure into the plot.
It’s a tough choice on whether to classify Succession as a comedy or drama, as – like so many HBO series (The White Lotus, High Maintenance, and Barry) – it seems to blur the conventional line between the two. However, because of its primary description as a “dark comedy,” we decided to include it here.
One of the most successful shows on HBO, Succession tells the story of the Roys, an influential family who own a massive media and entertainment company. After they learn about their patriarch’s (Brian Cox) declining health, the family devolves into brutal infighting and power struggles as they vie for control of their global financial empire.
Like Veep, Barry, and Curb, Succession initially aired to solid positive reviews but would only improve with each new season. Critics praised the show’s exploration of family, wealth, power, and privilege, as well for the show’s exceptional writing and performances – mainly Cox and his co-star Jeremy Strong.
The White Lotus
The hardest part of any anthology series is ensuring that each new season lives up to everything that came before it. Fortunately, The White Lotus does just that, building a central storyline around each of its first two seasons that are unbelievably great in their distinct ways.
In the series’ universe, the White Lotus is a five-star hotel chain catering to wealthy, influential clientele. With locations spanning from Hawaii (the site of the first season) to Sicily (the location of the second), each season of The White Lotus focuses on a handful of the guests visiting the eponymous resort hotel, as well as the employees responsible for taking care of their every want and need.
Whether The White Lotus can continue its ongoing momentum remains to be seen, giving viewers intelligent stories centered around privileged, wealthy individuals who are too spoiled and self-involved to realize how good they have it.
But suppose we’re judging from the first two seasons alone. In that case, The White Lotus is an elegantly-written comedy-drama, one that benefits from some gorgeous locations and a notable ensemble cast (Jennifer Coolidge, Murray Bartlett, Sydney Sweeney, Alexandra Daddario, Aubrey Plaza, F. Murray Abraham, and Michael Imperioli).
A dark comedy crime series created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, an executive producer who worked on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Silicon Valley, and Seinfeld? How could that not be good?
Barry stars Hader as the titular Barry Berkman, a former Marine turned hitman who finds a place in a Los Angeles acting workshop and soon develops dreams of becoming a star.
Hader is no stranger to more dramatic performances – his starring role alongside Kristin Wiig in The Skeleton Twins proves that – but here, he plays a very different sort of character than he’s ever played before.
As Barry, Hader appears as someone in anguish over his violent past, both as a soldier and an assassin who longs for a change in his life. Finding acceptance for the first time in his acting group, Barry tries to reinvent himself and start fresh, only for elements of his past life – mainly various criminal acquaintances – to prevent that from happening.
Described as a cross between Unforgiven, Grosse Pointe Blank, Waiting for Guffman, and Breaking Bad, the series has received universally positive reviews, with specific acclaim going to the writing and acting (especially Hader and his co-star, Henry Winkler).
Envisioned by creator Armando Iannucci as an American adaptation for his British sitcom, The Thick of It, Veep is one of those shows that managed to get better and better over time, eventually becoming one of the most popular and well-received series on HBO in the past decade.
A parody of modern-day politics, Veep is essentially a comedic version of The West Wing, detailing the life of fictional Vice President Selina Meyers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), an ambitious politician who wants to make a legitimate change in government but who is almost always thwarted by the trivial day-to-day operations of her position.
Positively received in its first two seasons, by Season 3, Veep had gained serious traction, with critics praising it for its sharp political commentary and hilarious satirical presentation of the U.S. government.
The Larry Sanders Show
One of the most influential sitcoms of all time, The Larry Sanders Show, was simply unlike anything else on television in the 1990s, depicting day-to-day life on a fictional late-night talk show.
Co-created by star Garry Shandling and based on his experiences in stand-up and brief stint guest hosting The Tonight Show, The Larry Sanders Show follows the main cast members of the eponymous talk show. Each episode also features hilarious cameos from established celebrities of the time as guests on Sanders’ show, playing satirized versions of themselves.
Cited as an inspiration on everything from Curb Your Enthusiasm to The Office, it’s been named one of the greatest HBO series of all time, ranking favorably on Time magazine’s list of “The 100 Best TV Shows of All Time,” and placed at number 38 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
Nathan Fielder, you delightful maniac. One of the most unique comedians working today, Fielder has done the impossible by creating not one but two separate reality shows of such distinctly odd subject matter, it’s difficult even to know where to begin when accurately describing them.
In The Rehearsal, Fielder looks for individuals facing issues in their personal or professional lives. To help them overcome said issues, Fielder hires various actors and builds intricate sets to embody the people and environments his clients encounter daily.
As with his previous series, Nathan For You, The Rehearsal is a bizarre docu-comedy series that shines a light on some of the most idiosyncratic people Fielder can find. Helping these people through various minute problems, the most interesting part of the series is how increasingly chaotic it becomes throughout.
With each new episode, the central issues become bigger, the actors and set pieces and false realities Fielder constructs more intricate; by the very end, it’s like you crossed over into Fielder’s version of the Twilight Zone, a bizarre world straight out of the surreal mind of Charlie Kaufman or David Lynch.
As she nears the end of her twenties, Los Angeles native Issa (Issa Rae) combats her growing fears of getting old by experiencing as many carefree adventures as she can while she’s still young, often resulting in awkward encounters with the people she interacts with.
Insecure is an utterly hilarious series based on Rae’s own experiences as a Black woman in today’s society. With how personal many aspects of the series are to her, Rae also weaves in numerous heartfelt storylines related to her own fears, emotions, and – as you might have guessed from the title – abundant insecurities.
In a show that’s as fun and quirky as New Girl and as often anxiety-riddled as Fleabag, it might not be HBO’s prominent series. Still, Insecure’s grounded storyline and agreeable characters will have you fall in love with it the minute you press play.
This delightful satire of Silicon Valley and the modern tech industry comes from co-creator Mike Judge – the man behind Office Space, King of the Hill, and Beavis and Butt-Head.
Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is a software coder struggling to ensure his new startup succeeds. Basing his company out of a house shared with his fellow employees, Hendricks tries to compete against larger corporate rivals and learn the more pragmatic side of owning and operating a business with his friends.
The brilliance of Silicon Valley is its wonderful depiction of its eponymous setting. In essence, it feels like a typical rags-to-riches story where absolutely everyone has an idea for a technology business or an app, including the person working the register at a grocery store.
However improbable their chances of success might be, Hendricks and his coworkers (TJ Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods) navigate the often cutthroat world of Silicon Valley, presenting the tech industry in a comedic, parodic new light.
Sex and the City
Sex and the City may not be the best show to ever premiere on HBO, but it’s certainly one of the most noteworthy. The series’ popularity helped secure new viewers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, assisting HBO to become a well-known network in the subsequent decade.
Based on Candace Bushnell’s 1994 to ‘96 newspaper column, Sex and the City follows a group of middle-aged women in New York City, sharing intimate stories about their ever-eventful romantic escapades.
Praised today for its trail-blazing portrayal of femininity, promiscuity, and sexuality, Sex and the City was and continues to be one of the most popular and influential HBO series ever, becoming one of the first noteworthy TV shows to pioneer female-centric narratives.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
A comedic political talk show like The Daily Show (where Oliver got his start) and The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight follows British comedian and political commentator John Oliver as he discusses high public interest news stories.
Often, the subjects discussed by Oliver can be deadly serious – new developments in tech, wars, and global and domestic politics – but Oliver’s delivery makes it all equally palpable to hear about and startlingly factual.
Oliver has won 13 Emmy awards and two Peabody awards for his work on the series. He was eventually included in the Time 100 list of Influential People, with reviewers praising him as a comedian unafraid to tackle the weighty subject matter.
Additionally, Oliver has been credited with ushering in new social changes and challenging various industries and political institutions, including aimed attacks against the tobacco industry, China’s government, and even televangelists.
Flight of the Conchords
There are many HBO series featuring actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves. You don’t have to look much further than the guests on The Larry Sanders Show or Curb Your Enthusiasm to see the evidence.
Flight of the Conchords is somewhat lesser known than those two shows, the light-hearted musical sitcom starring the real-life New Zealand musical duo of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement (collectively known as Flight of the Conchords).
In this series, McKenzie and Clement play caricatured versions of themselves. They are presented as a struggling musical act seeking fame, fortune, and love in New York City, almost inevitably failing to find all three in each episode.
Even if the comedic style of the show (somehow) doesn’t hook you, you’ll likely be won over by the series’ numerous original songs, which range in number from two to three per episode, and are almost always either funny or catchy (sometimes both).
One of the most underrated shows to probably ever exist, High Maintenance is a unique “day in the life” style anthology series providing a snapshot for literally dozens of New Yorkers, each with their own complex problems and eccentric lifestyles.
At the heart of the series, High Maintenance focuses on a cannabis dealer (known only as “the Guy” – as in “my weed guy” – played by series co-creator Ben Sinclair) and the various clients he deals with. Rather than being strictly about the Guy and his weekly misadventures, High Maintenance instead provides small, in-depth looks into the lives of his many clients.
It’s an incredibly clever premise that the show’s creators use to tell stories of New York’s vastly different residents, with no two single people or their stories remotely alike. Numerous critics have lauded the show's sensitivity, humor, and inclusiveness regarding ethnic diversity.
After his near-death experience on the island of Corto Maltese, reformed supervillain-turned-vigilante Peacemaker (John Cena) reflects on his past and future while assisting a secretive government task force with a dangerous extraterrestrial threat.
By the late 2010s, it had become apparent that the ambitious plans for the DCEU had mainly fallen flat, resulting in a wave of disappointing films like Suicide Squad, Justice League, and Wonder Woman 1984. At the start of the next decade, though, it seemed like the introduction of Marvel talent James Gunn to DC would give the series a much-needed dose of fresh breath – as quickly evidenced quickly by Gunn’s 2021 film, The Suicide Squad.
An effective spin-off from his previous DC film, Peacemaker doubles down on its lead character's personal and comedic elements, creating a genuine portrait of Cena’s muscled-up spoof of Captain America. As with The Suicide Squad, it was an immensely popular project among superhero fans, ushering in an exciting new era for the DCEU.
The Righteous Gemstones
Danny McBride has had several great collaborations with HBO, starting with his riotous sports comedy, Eastbound & Down, and continuing with his high school dark comedy, Vice Principals. As often hilarious as those two shows are and as much as they warrant a place on this list, we have to single out McBride’s latest series, The Righteous Gemstones, for particular praise.
The Gemstones are a celebrity family of Southern televangelists, all of whom live lucrative lives based on the generous donations provided by their followers. After an unknown blackmailer begins menacing the Gemstones, the family bands together to prevent a dark secret from getting out.
Arguably McBride’s most intelligent series so far, The Righteous Gemstones does a masterful job of looking not just at how fame and fortune corrupt the human mind but the massive disparity between self-interested celebrities and average people. And yet, far from focusing entirely on the Gemstones’ most toxic qualities, McBride does an admirable job portraying the intricate family dynamic that exists between the Gemstones, each of whom mostly loves each other in their own way – even if they have trouble expressing that love openly to one another.