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Five Up, Five Down: Down the Drive’s Definitive HBO Show Rankings

It’s not TV. It’s Home Box Office.

Premiere Of HBO's 'Westworld' Season 2 - Red Carpet Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Story time, folks. When I studied abroad in Australia (sick brag, I know), I foolishly took a marine geology class. It was much more intense than I was anticipating and it was clear that I was an outsider and not just because I rocked MLB hats everyday.

Perhaps the most isolating moment of my time in the class came when the professor asked me what HBO was. With much less geological knowledge in the recesses of mind than what the class called for, I sheepishly said, “Home Box Office?” The silence that greeted me not only told me I was wrong, but embarrassingly so. To make matters worse, I didn’t even get a pity laugh by someone who thought I might be joking.

Now, I believe that I would be forgiven a bit for hearing HBO and immediately thinking of the cable television network and streaming service. HBO has pumped out so much quality original content in the last decade that its programs have become cultural phenomenons.

This weekend, one of the (spoilers) best of the bunch returns, as the second season of Westworld hits the small screen on Sunday night. With that in mind, this week in Five Up, Five Down, we’re going to take a look at the best and worst HBO has had to offer.

There is one ground rule. We are only ranking shows that we have seen. That means we will not just dump on some of the shows that didn’t endure past one season. Here we go.

Oh, and HBO stands for Hunts Bay oolite.

Clayton’s Five Up

1. Boardwalk Empire: All of my daydreams are set in the 1920s. This program was like a five-season-long, costumed reverie interspersed with turf wars over the vices and the rackets.

2. The Wire: In the Trutor household, this program is referred to as “The Proposition Joe Show.” As an homage to the late Robert F. Chew’s character, I always wear a clip-on tie to Summer League basketball games.

3. Eastbound and Down: The funniest television program of all time. Bronze medalist for most quotable work of art in the history of Western Civilization behind King Lear (Gold) and American Movie (Silver).

4. Generation Kill: I would argue that this dark comedy set during the Iraq War captured the vernacular of young men in the early 21st century as well as anything on film.

5. Fraggle Rock: Jim Henson’s stab at socialist realism. The creator of The Muppets weaved a colorful, subterranean world reminiscent of the paintings of Isaak Brodsky. The Fraggles, Doozers, and Gorgs are roughly analogous to the Petrograd Workers Soviet, the urban Mensheviks who supported the March 1917 Provisional Government, and the Kulaks.

Clayton’s Five Down

1. Westworld: Funny looking.

2. Games of Thrones: Eviler than Dungeons and Dragons.

3. The Newsroom with Bill Oliver: Sanctimonious.

4. Deadwood: Too much spitting.

5. True Blood: Too many werewolves.

Phil’s Five Up

1. Flight of the Conchords

I was just going to pop in a video of the best song from the two-season run of this absolutely perfect show but I just couldn’t settle on one. There are no down episodes in a show that follows New Zealand band mates Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, as well as scene stealer Murray Hewitt, played splendidly by Rhys Darby.

2. Westworld

Twists, sci-fi and cowboys. It shouldn’t work, and didn’t in the 1970s, but it does now. The show explores a lot of fascinating philosophical themes and makes you question what it means to be human, as well as if you even want to be.

3. Game of Thrones

I watched the first episode of GoT with my parents. That was a mistake for reasons you can imagine if you’ve seen the show. It was not a mistake to stick with it. Before it aired, I was intrigued by Sean Bean carrying a fantasy world. Then I found out there were books and I started reading. The show has continued to be filled with great set pieces, political intrigue and a lack of concern for main characters that was refreshing, but has been more muted of late. House Stark for life.

4. Last Week Tonight

Is this cheating? Last Week Tonight isn’t a fictional show, but a talk show where John Oliver talks to the camera for 30 minutes. But the amount of research and clever humor that goes into the political skewering is top notch.

5. Bored to Death

This show is a hidden gem in HBO’s portfolio and one of many great comedies the network has produced. It ran for three seasons and although it does the boring thing of making the main character a writer, it does do something clever by making the protagonist, played by Jason Schwartzman, try to cut it as a private investigator. Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson lend their talents as well.

Phil’s Five Down

As always, in descending order.

5. True Detective

The first season was pretty good. The second one wasn’t interesting enough to make me watch past the first episode.

4. Hello Ladies

Stephen Merchant is stunningly hilarious in bit roles on other HBO shows Extras and Life’s Too Short, as well as a frequent collaborator with Ricky Gervais, with whom he helped create The Office. This was his own project, but fell a little flat. It wasn’t horrible, but just not as good as his other work.

3. Vice Principals

Danny McBride is hilarious, but this one just didn’t hit the notes it was supposed to.

2. Hung

Stupid premise. Worse execution.

1. The Leftovers


Disagree with us? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or via a FanPost. Also, if you want us to rank something specific next week, let us know.