Ranking HBO’s TV show rankings

Usually, I have a few ideas floating around of what I might want to dig into for “next week’s newsletter.” For example, there was a meme on Twitter recently involving the best TV series finale of all time. This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about, so I’ll likely get into it here sometime (Berlin Files TV fanatics, let your hearts be warmed!).

And then sometimes I see a headline like this and I know there is going to be some deep level nerding happening in the near-term: “Every HBO Show, Ranked.”

What follows are selections from the 74 ranked HBO shows from the list with some of my own thoughts on the show, where it was ranked by Vulture, and then my own take on where it should be ranked in my not so humble opinion.

74. 1st & Ten — I get that this show is ranked dead last, but it does hold a tiny but special place in my childhood, “sneaking” HBO to watch this absolutely ridiculous T&A-fest and cheesy sports comedy. And by ridiculous, I mean that it’s ridiculous even by 1980s standards. The fact that O.J. Simpson plays a major character alone dooms this thing for all posterity.
72. Dream On — Another show that I spent many hours of my adolescence getting my eyes in front of. My re-rank: high 50s.
70. The Brink — Spot on ranking. This show should be amazing — a political satire starring Tim Robbins and Jack “Jaybles” Black — but it’s not. It’s unwatchable.
69. Entourage — A big loud boo for this low of a ranking. I’m pretty annoyed with how much flak Entourage gets for not having enough “depth” overall, frankly. Is it a fantasy for guys? Kinda… but it’s also consistently funny (particularly the first several seasons) and the characters are great. I’d have it in the 30s at least.
67. Vinyl — Another boo and hiss. I’m in the minority here, but I thought the single season of this show was fantastic. I’m a sucker for New York stories, stories about music and music culture, and anything Scorsese-related, so it maybe it was custom made for me. The show’s worth a higher ranking for Ray Romano alone (who is amazing in this and, more recently, Get Shorty the TV show). I’d rank Vinyl in the 30s as well.
66. The Newsroom — Overall, this show was a noble failure and often a snoozer. Pretty solid ranking, but having all of the Chris Lilly shows (Summer Heights High, et al) one rank higher — and higher than anything else, really — is a tragedy for all lists ever created.
59. Lucky Louie — This one isn’t O.J.-level problematic but it’s problematic for some obvious reasons but also because this is a pretty unusual show, a comedy so grounded that it sometimes feels like a searing drama (and for the next step in this direction, see CK’s later effort, Horace and Pete, a web series that’s as black as night, tone-wise). All of that being said, it’s an interesting experiment, and I’d put it in the 40s.
58. Camping — Another show that I find nearly unwatchable. This is high 60s territory for me.
56. Family Tree — Oh man, I found the single season of this Chris O’Dowd-fronted show (also wonderful in the aforementioned Get Shorty) to be absolutely delightful, a surprisingly funny and charming gem. Was very sad that it didn’t get picked up. Ranking: 20s.
53. Crashing — It’s tragic that this show and Family Tree landed in the 50s. I love everything about this Pete Holmes show. If you don’t know who Pete Holmes is, stop reading this and go watch Crashing immediately. Ranking: 20s.
51. How to Make It in America — this was not a great show, but it was a good show and did what it did really well. Ranking: 30s.
46. The High Life, 47. K Street 45. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency 44. Doll & Em — If you’re wondering, I’m at least somewhat familiar with a scary number of shows on this list (read = all of the original television series that HBO has produced, ever) but these three are examples of shows that I have not seen. So bake that into the margin of error in terms of my re-rankings if you like.
43. Togetherness — This is a perfect show. For me, anyway. It’s a tremendously well executed dramedy, which is so so hard to pull off. A lot of it is in the writing, but really it’s the cast: Mark Duplass (it’s a classic Duplass brothers project, with brother Jay behind the camera), Melanie Lynskey, Amanda Peet (in her best performance that I’ve seen), and Steve Zissis, a guy I wish I could be friends with in real life. Ranking: single digits.
42. Tenacious D — Am I a card-carrying worshipper of the D? Yes, I am. Pairing this show and Togetherness at #43 and #42 should lead to the writer of this list needing to have to face off against the devil in a rock off challenge. Ranking: 20s.
37. Carnivale — This is a strange show that’s occasionally transporting. I’d probably go low 30s.
35. Luck – Even with the David Milch pedigree and star power of Dustin Hoffman, I really didn’t like this drama about the horse racing life. Ranking: 50s.
30. Big Love — Looking back, I can’t believe I spent five seasons watching this drama about polygamist Mormons in Utah. Not that it was a bad show… but it wasn’t that good, either. Ranking: 40s.
29. John From Cincinnati — This is a super bizarre show (another from Milch), cancelled after a season, that might have been profound but I didn’t get it at all. Ranking: 60s.
28. Bored to Death — I love how well the quirky vibe of this show was nailed episode after episode. Love everything about the cast as well: Jason Schwartzman (in my favorite role of his), Ted Danson, and Zack Galifanakis are perfect together. Ranking: I’d bump this up to high teens.
26. Girls — This is one where I don’t envy the list makers who had to rank this one “for real.” There’s a lot that I really like and admire about this show — including Lena Dunham’s all around bravery both in front of and behind the camera. It’s also a show with lots of problems, and one that at times wasn’t particularly entertaining (though I watched all the way through pretty eagerly, to be fair). Ranking: probably about right.
23. Westworld — Just… no. Ranking: way lower.
19. Rome — The worst thing about this show is that it was cancelled after two seasons. Ranking: pretty spot on!
16. Succession — Pretty darned bold to rank it this high after only one season is in the books (Season 2 coming this summer!) but I have so much love in my heart for this wildly funny black comedy-meets-family drama that I’m very okay with this ranking. I think.
15. Boardwalk Empire — Another exceptionally tough one to rank. It’s very prestige-y and features an amazing cast, production design, and some incredibly dramatic moments… but it also got very draggy and drowsy at times. And as much as I love Steve Buscemi, I’m not sure if he was the right actor to carry this show. Ranking: mid-20s.
13. Barry — As with Succession, some recency bias is showing here… but it’s warranted. This show is flat out brilliant. I’m actually going to show my own recency bias and bump it into the Top 10.
8. Game of Thrones — There was a time not too long ago when I mused about GoT moving into my personal Top 5 Hall of Fame. The final season has prevented that from coming to fruition. Still, Game of Thrones is an amazing achievement in countless ways. Ranking: bump it down a few notches.
6. Sex in the City — I like this show very much and recognize it’s relative place in TV history and all but… come on, let’s not get crazy here. Ranking: mid-teens.
4. The Larry Sanders Show — It’s fantastic and innovative. Just not #4 good. Ranking: high single digits.
3. The Wire and 2. Deadwood — Totally fine, but just need to flip these two around.
1. The Sopranos — Anything else here would be ridiculous.

So this forces the issue for what’s my Top 10 HBO shows of all time, right? Okay, here you go:

10. Game of Thrones 
9. The Larry Sanders Show
8. The Deuce 
7. Barry
6. Six Feet Under
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm 
4. Togetherness
3. Deadwood
2. The Wire
1. The Sopranos

Hit me back and tell me where I’m wrong, and what your Top 10 is.

Also: speaking of Deadwood, the decade-in-waiting sequel movie was released this weekend on HBO, and quoting myself from Twitter:

  • #DeadwoodTheMovie is good. It’s better than good, it’s a return to form. It’s great. Everything we could have hoped for. Almost worth the wait. Man, it’s always so much fun to be delighted and surprised and floored all over again by a story expertly told.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

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