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Ranked: HBO Dramas from Worst to Best
Which gritty, sprawling, multi-character drama will come out on top?
by David Warner
HBO recently unveiled its newest drama, Luck, which stars Dustin Hoffman, and while it’s a little soon to gauge where it’ll fit in the network’s already-sterling legacy, it got us thinking about that legacy, and where exactly all of our favorite shows fit into it. Is The Wire better than The Sopranos? Is Oz better than Deadwood? Several fistfights later, we still hadn’t settled it. Finally, after an eight-hour meeting that left Editor Alex in the corner muttering about “the horror,” we think we nailed it.
15. K Street (2003)
Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney certainly had an interesting concept on their hands when they came together to produce K Street in 2003; a largely improvised show about a fictional consulting firm that would feature real lobbyists and politicians in DC. At first, it sounded like it could be both entertaining and enlightening. Too bad it was very little of either — turns out Congressman and Senators are boring people. K Street died after one season.
14. John from Cincinnati (2007)
Coming off his primetime hit NYPD Blue and the critical success of Deadwood, David Milch was looking for his next great show. John from Cincinnati wasn’t it. For all its beautiful surfing footage, John from Cincinnati is best remembered for its unlikeable characters and grating faux-mysticism. If the titular John had used his magic powers to pull an interesting plot out of his pocket, they might have had something. Sadly, all he had in there was a bottomless pit of Biblical imagery.
13. Treme (2010-ongoing)
David Simon’s highly anticipated post-Wire show about post-Katrina New Orleans has been lauded nationally (and more importantly, locally in Louisiana) for its authenticity. Simon’s newest creation does achieve an exceptional level of realism. What Treme doesn’t always deliver, though, is compelling drama. Treme is well-shot, well-acted, and well-written, sure. It’s can also be pretty boring — certain storylines just don’t have any emotional resonance or pull to them.
12. Carnivale (2003- 2005)
Like so many HBO dramas before and since, Carnivale wasn’t shy about pushing the envelope. It took full advantage of its subject matter by reveling in the physical oddities of its cast of strange carnies. Unfortunately, it couldn’t push the plot quite as well. Moving at a glacial pace, the show never generated drama as interesting as its imagery. Carnivale was the weirdest, most beautiful, most mind-numbing circus imaginable. Well, after Cirque du Soleil.
11. In Treatment (2008-2011)
Conceptually, In Treatment is unique. So unique, in fact, that HBO still hasn’t figured out how and when to air it, going from five nights a week to two nights, then back up to four. Schedule waffling aside, this is a solid show: watching Gabriel Byrne play one of the worst therapists on television is entertaining enough on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. In fact, if this were a list of almost any other cable network’s original dramas, it would definitely be higher (cough Starz cough). Unfortunately for Dr. Weston, he isn't competing against Spartacus: Blood and Sand.