18 HBO and HBO Max Original Series to Be Excited About in 202201/06/2022
When discussing the fortunes of HBO (or HBO Max) in 2022, one series inevitably comes up. Yes, “House of the Dragon” — the network’s first follow-up to juggernaut fantasy series “Game of Thrones” — is debuting this year, and yes, its performance (in the ratings, on streaming, in the culture) will be studied by far more than just the executives paid to make sure the profitable franchise succeeds.
But HBO has never tied its sterling reputation to a single series. After “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” came “True Blood” and “Boardwalk Empire,” “Girls” and “Veep,” “Band of Brothers” and “True Detective.” There’s always something exciting and new in the offing, and 2022 is no different. Besides George R.R. Martin’s latest, HBO is slated to release anticipated originals from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes, “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat, and “Veep” showrunner David Mandel, as well as indie film favorites Oliver Assayas, Amy Seimetz, and Ava DuVernay.
Winnowing the list to 18 choices wasn’t easy — especially when including a few big-ticket returning programs like “Barry” Season 3 and “Westworld” Season 4 — nor is anything for certain, given continued shutdowns tied to the ongoing pandemic. Still, with so many shows, films, and specials fighting for your attention each and every year, it’s as important to be prepared for what’s next as it is to pivot toward an unexpected treat. Everyone knows the dragons are coming. Here are 17 more to keep in mind, when their time comes.
“The Gilded Age”
Creator: Julian Fellowes
Cast: Carrie Coon, Morgan Spector, Denée Benton, Louisa Jacobson, Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, Simon Jones, Harry Richardson, Thomas Cocquerel, Jack Gilpin, with Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski
Writers: Julian Fellowes, Sonja Warfield
Directors: Michael Engler and Salli Richardson-Whitfield
What’s It About? Set in an era of great economic growth — and thus, great conflict — Julian Fellowes’ “The Gilded Age” follows young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) as she moves from rural Pennsylvania to New York City following the death of her father. Once there, she becomes entangled in a social war between her old money aunts (Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon) and her new money neighbor, a ruthless railroad tycoon (Morgan Spector). In development since 2012 and first ordered to series by NBC in January 2018, HBO snatched up the “Downton Abbey” creator’s latest project in 2019, and “The Gilded Age” is finally ready for its small screen debut on January 24, 2022. (And not for nothing, this show marks Carrie Coon’s first return to HBO — and first series regular role on an ongoing series — since “The Leftovers” ended in 2017. Get hyped!)
“Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty”
Creators: Max Borenstein (showrunner), Jim Hecht (executive producer)
Cast: John C. Reilly, Quincy Isaiah, Jason Clarke, Adrien Brody, Gaby Hoffman, Tracy Letts, Jason Segel, Julianne Nicholson, Hadley Robinson, Dr. Solomon Hughes, Tamera Tomakili, with Rob Morgan and Sally Field
Director: Adam McKay (pilot)
What’s It About? As a Boston Celtics fan, it pains me to acknowledge any form of anticipation surrounding a series focused on the Los Angeles Lakers — especially one dedicated to their best decade of basketball, which, for all the hype, still pales in comparison to the Celtics’ dominance of the 1960s — but here we are: HBO is behind it, Adam McKay directs the pilot (his last TV gig was helming a little show called “Succession”), and they even went and cast Tracy Freaking Letts as head coach Jack McKinney, the pioneer behind an up-tempo style of basketball eventually called “Showtime” (which was originally the working title of this very series, based on Jeff Pearlman’s 2014 book, until someone recognized the logistical issues of an HBO program sharing a title with the brand’s premium cable competitor). Once you see Jason Clarke done up like Jerry West, it’s hard to deny the early buzz around this limited series (set for a March release), so I’ll just say this: The episodes covering 1981, 1984, and 1986 should be very enjoyable… for some of us.
“House of the Dragon”
Creators: George R.R. Martin, Ryan Condal
Showrunners: Ryan Condal, Miguel Sapochnik
Cast: Emma D’Arcy, Matt Smith, Steve Toussaint, Olivia Cooke, Rhys Ifans
Writers: Ryan Condal, Sara Hess
Directors: Miguel Sapochnik, Clare Kilner, Geeta V. Patel, Greg Yaitanes
What’s It About? Well, do you remember “Game of Thrones”? Sure, you do! The dragons, the deaths, the divisive ending — it wasn’t that long ago that George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic was all TV fans wanted to talk about (or the only thing all TV fans could talk about, since seemingly everyone was watching at the same time). This year, HBO is hoping to reignite that passion with the prequel series “House of the Dragon.” Set 200 years before the events of the original series, the first “Game of Thrones” spinoff focuses on House Targaryen and stems from a triple-threat of creative minds including Ryan Condal (“Colony”), “GoT” director and executive producer Miguel Sapochnik, and Martin himself. (All three are credited as co-creators.) Die-hard fans are undoubtedly well-aware of the who, when, and where of “House of the Dragon,” so casual fans need only ask themselves one question: Are you ready to go back?
“The Time Traveler’s Wife”
Creator/Showrunner: Steven Moffat
Cast: Rose Leslie, Theo James, Desmin Borges, Natasha Lopez, Caitlin Shorey, Everleigh McDonnell, Michael Park, Jaime Ray Newman, Taylor Richardson, Peter Graham, Brian Altemus, Jason David, Kate Siegel, Josh Stamberg, Chelsea Frei, Marcia DeBonis, Will Brill, and Spencer House
Director: David Nutter
What’s It About? Based on Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel of the same name, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” chronicles the lifelong romance between Clare Abshire (Rose Leslie) and Henry DeTamble (Theo James). Ever since she was a young girl, Clare was visited by an imaginary friend — except, as she grew older, she came to realize Henry wasn’t so imaginary after all. He’s a time traveler, unable to control when (or for how long) he shoots into the future or tumbles backward into the past, but he’s managed to guide Clare toward meeting him in her own time, hoping to spark the fateful connection he’s already come to cherish. Executive produced by Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who,” “Sherlock”), this new adaptation aims to capture a “grand, ordinary love” that forges an honest connection with audiences, even as it hops through timelines.
“The White House Plumbers”
Justin Theroux, Judy Greer, Lena Headey, and Woody Harrelson in “The White House Plumbers”
Courtesy of HBO
Creators: Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, Lena Headey, Judy Greer, Domhnall Gleeson, Kiernan Shipka, Ike Barinholtz, Yul Vazquez, David Krumholtz, Rich Sommer, Kim Coates, Liam James, Zoe Levin, Gary Cole, Toby Huss, John Carroll Lynch, and Kathleen Turner
Director: David Mandel
What’s It About? Based on public records as well as Egil and Matthew Krogh’s 2016 book, “Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House,” HBO’s upcoming limited series tells the story of E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson) and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux), two of Richard Nixon’s own political saboteurs and Watergate masterminds who accidentally toppled the Presidency they were trying to protect. While not a straight-up comedy, the bungled actions of these two incompetent individuals introduces plenty to laugh at, which plays perfectly to the strengths of a creative team with strong ties to “Veep.” Look for this one to court plenty of awards attention with its period-accurate production and beloved filmmakers.
For more on “The White House Plumbers,” read IndieWire’s exclusive interview with David Mandel.
“We Own This City”
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Josh Charles, Jamie Hector, Thaddeus Street, Tray Chaney, Jermaine Crawford, Nathan E. Corbett, Chris Clanton
Writers: George Pelecanos, David Simon, Ed Burns, Bill Zorzi, D. Watkins
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
What’s It About? Between 2010 and 2020, HBO subscribers enjoyed four programs totaling eight seasons of original work from David Simon — so, now that we’ve grown accustomed to his productive pace, it’s high time for another project. Enter “We Own This City,” a six-hour limited series based on Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s book of the same name, which chronicles the rise and fall of the city’s police-run Gun Trace Task Force. Bringing together Simon with frequent collaborator George Pelecanos (“The Deuce,” “Tremé”) and a cast including Jon Bernthal, Josh Charles, and Jamie Hector, “We Own This City” will examine how demand for mass arrests and drug prohibition doesn’t make room for actual police work. Not to set expectations too high, but it’s also Simon’s first series to focus on cops since “The Wire.”
Writer/Director: Oliver Assayas
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Adria Arjona, Carrie Brownstein, Byron Bowers, Tom Sturridge, Fala Chen, Devon Ross, Vincent Macaigne, Jeanne Balibar, Lars Eidinger, Vincent Lacoste, Hippolyte Girardot, Alex Descas, Nora Hamzawi, and Antoine Reinartz
What’s It About? Don’t call it a remake, but a reimagining. “Irma Vep” was first a 1996 film, written and directed by Oliver Assayas, about a French film director attempting to remake a classic silent film for modern audiences, assisted by his lead actress from Hong Kong. “Irma Vep,” the 2022 HBO limited series, is also written and directed by Assayas, and it’s also about a French film director attempting to remake a classic silent film for modern audiences. This time, his lead actress is Alicia Vikander, and unlike Maggie Cheung in the original film, she’s not playing herself, but an actor named Mira. Given that Assayas’ original doubled as an examination of the French film industry in the ’90s, we’ll have to wait and see if the new “Irma Vep” examines the state of cinema today — perhaps through filmmakers transitioning to television?
Cast: The Weeknd, Lily-Rose Depp, Suzanna Son, Melanie Liburd, Tunde Adebimpe, Steve Zissis, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Nico Hiraga, Anne Heche, and Troye Sivan
Writers: The Weeknd, Reza Fahim, Sam Levinson, Joe Epstein
Director: Amy Seimetz
What’s It About? “Euphoria” returns for a much-anticipated second season in January, but that’s not all creator Sam Levinson has been up to of late. It’s likely we’ll also see “The Idol” in 2022, a drama series about a self-help guru and cult leader who develops a complicated relationship with a burgeoning pop singer. Levinson serves as co-creator alongside Reza Fahim, and The Weeknd, who also stars. Specifics are being kept under wraps, but the combination of talent — Amy Seimetz is directing all six episodes — and subject matter (cults! the music industry!) should be more than enough to keep people crawling the internet for further intel.
“The Last of Us”
Writers/Developed by: Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Gabriel Luna, Merle Dandridge, Jeffrey Pierce, Anna Torv, Nico Parker, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman, Graham Greene, Elaine Miles, and Rutina Wesley
Directors: Kantemir Balagov, Ali Abbasi, Jasmila Zbanic, Peter Hoar
What’s It About? If you’ve paid attention to the video game world at any point over the last eight years or so, then you’ve probably heard someone raving about “The Last of Us,” a third-person adventure on Playstation 3 (and 4) about a smuggler escorting a teenage girl across a post-apocalyptic United States. Even if you’re far removed from gaming culture, your ears probably pricked up when “Chernobyl” writer Craig Mazin committed to the HBO adaptation, which takes place 20 years after the destruction of modern civilization and, yes, follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they try to escape an oppressive quarantine zone. Also behind the scenes are co-creator Neil Druckmann (the game’s writer) and executive producer extraordinaire Carolyn Strauss (“Chernobyl,” “Game of Thrones”), who hope to help “The Last of Us” become everything for TV fans that it’s been for gamers. We’ll find out soon enough.
Aaron Paul in “Westworld”
Courtesy of HBO
[Editor’s Note: The following blurbs contain brief recaps of previous seasons and thus include some spoilers.]
“Barry” Season 3
We’re coming up on the three-year anniversary since our last visit from Barry “Block” Berkman, so it’s only fitting that 2022 will finally put an end to Bill Hader’s absence from HBO. The hitman-turned-actor, who’s desperate to believe people can change, was last seen regressing to his old ways, shooting up a monastery in pursuit of his former handler, Fuches (Stephen Root). Meanwhile, his dogged acting coach Gene (Henry Winkler) may or may not be onto his star pupil’s secret identity, and NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) welcomed a new boss to the Valley. I’m sure there’s more, but it’s been three years, so pardon me for not sharing more specifics — the re-watch starts… now.
“Westworld” Season 4
Following Season 3’s semi-reboot, there’s really no telling where Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s science-fiction series goes in Season 4, but based on early footage, it appears new cast member Aaron Paul (as Caleb Nichols, not Caleb Nichol) is back, along with Ed Harris (whose Black Hat’d William maybe died, maybe didn’t, maybe was replaced by a host replica). The big question is what happens to Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores, whose fate seemed a bit more permanent at the end of Season 3, but everyone on the ever-mysterious mind-bender is tight-lipped on plot, so don’t expect too many answers until Season 4 hits sometime this year.
“Perry Mason” Season 2
This may be wishful thinking, given a release date has yet to be confirmed, but we’re certainly hoping Matthew Rhys returns as the newly licensed defense attorney in HBO’s Emmy-nominated detective story. A new case takes the spotlight in Season 2, as Mason and his legal partner Della Street (Juliet Rylance) try to steady their firm’s financials with safe, simple, civil work, leaving investigator Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) with a lot of time to kill — until a seemingly open-and-shut investigation becomes the talk of the town, and Mason’s search for the truth stirs trouble yet again. Season 2 also has a new creative team behind the scenes, including Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (“The Knick”) as writers and showrunners, as well as a fresh team of directors in Fernando Coimbra (“Narcos”), Jessica Lowrey (“Heels”), Marialy Rivas (“Young & Wild”), and Nina Lopez-Corrado (“A Million Little Things”). Second seasons are always an exciting opportunity to beef up what worked before and explore new avenues for the future, and given the stunning cinematography and cast chemistry on display in Season 1, “Perry Mason” has more than enough potential to flourish going forward.
And a Few From HBO Max…
Elizabeth Olsen in “Love and Death”
Courtesy of HBO Max
“Love and Death”
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, Patrick Fugit, Keir Gilchrist, Elizabeth Marvel, Tom Pelphrey, and Krysten Ritter
Writer: David E. Kelley
Director: Lesli Linka Glatter
What’s It About? What if… Wanda Maximoff never snapped out of 1950s housewife mode, had an affair with her best friend’s husband, and then murdered the aforementioned BFF with an axe? While not an episode likely to be seen in Disney+’s animated MCU series “What If…?”, it is the premise of “Love and Death,” a true crime limited series starring Elizabeth Olsen as Candy Montgomery, a Texas housewife who threw away her religious values and marriage vows in favor of a peculiar affair and very bloody murder. Co-starring Patrick Fugit as Candy’s husband Pat, Lily Rabe as her victimized friend Betty Gore, and Jesse Plemmons as Betty’s husband, Allan, “Love and Death” is based on a collection of Texas Monthly articles by Scott Brown and Megan Creydt, as well as the book “Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs.” The whopper of a tale — directed by DGA- and Emmy-winner Lesli Linka Glatter — makes all the hardships suffered in Westview, New Jersey, a little less harrowing, doesn’t it?
Showrunners: Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn
Cast: Colin Firth, Toni Collette, Parker Posey, Juliette Binoche, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sophie Turner, and Odessa Young
Director: Antonio Campos
What’s It About? Adapted from the Peabody Award–winning docuseries of the same name, “The Staircase” is another true crime story, this time about a man accused of murdering his wife. Michael Peterson (played by Colin Firth in the HBO Max original) claims his partner, Kathleen (Toni Collette), fell down the stairs and died of head trauma, but the police believe he caused her injuries and put him on trial for murder. As the investigation continues, details of Michael’s past and personal life come spilling out — do they provide motive or are they tragic coincidences? “The Staircase” doesn’t provide easy answers, even if the jury ultimately does, and in the hands of Antonio Campos (“The Devil All the Time,” “The Sinner”), it’s unlikely the HBO Max series will stray from the dark, tangled web at the core of its story.
Writer/Showrunner: Robert Patino
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Benjamin Bratt, Freddy Miyares, Hoon Lee, Mamie Gummer, and Nora Dunn
Director: Ava DuVernay (pilot)
What’s It About? Set in the near future, when America is in the midst of a second civil war, “DMZ” follows Alma Ortega (Rosario Dawson), a medic searching for her son somewhere in Manhattan, which has been devastated and designated a demilitarized zone (aka as DMZ). The city is now caught between forces from the remaining United States and the secessionist Free States, as both sides have settled into a political stalemate. With Ava DuVernay directing the pilot episode of a four-hour limited series, “DMZ” should have a strong voice to match its relevant themes.
Taika Waititi in “Our Flag Means Death”
Courtesy of HBO Max
“Our Flag Means Death”
Writer/Showrunner: David Jenkins
Cast: Kristian Nairn, Nathan Foad, Samson Kayo, Rory Kinnear, Con O’Neill, Vico Ortiz, Rhys Darby, Ewen Bremmer, David Fane, Guz Khan, Matt Maher, and Joel Fry
Director: Taika Waititi (pilot)
What’s It About? Loosely based on the life of Stede Bonnet, an early-18th-century aristocrat born in Barbados who gave up his privileged life to become “The Gentleman Pirate,” “Our Flag Means Death” hails from the extremely talented team of Taika Waititi (who directs the pilot, executive produces the series, and also co-stars as Blackbeard), David Jenkins (creator of “People of Earth”), and executive producer Garrett Basch (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Reservation Dogs”). The new comedy’s cast also features Fred Armisen, Nat Faxon, and Rhys Darby, as Bonnet, but really, they had us at “Taika Waititi’s pirate show.” Hop on board, won’t you?
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: David Koepp
Cast: Zoë Kravitz, Byron Bowers, Jaime Camil, Erika Christensen, Derek DelGaudio, Robin Givens, Charles Halford, Devin Retray, Jacob Vargas, and Rita Wilson
What’s It About? Between HBO Max and Steven Soderbergh, it’s hard to say who’s getting the better end of their ongoing three-year overall deal. “Let Them All Talk” and “No Sudden Move” earned rave reviews — frankly, the marks should’ve been even higher — and both are unmistakably Soderberghian, meaning he’s delivering high-quality films to a streamer that needs them, while still getting to make the movies he (presumably) wants to make. Next up is “Kimi,” which stars Zoë Kravitz as an agoraphobic tech worker who’s forced to leave the safety of her home when she thinks she has evidence of a violent crime. From a script by David Koepp (“Premium Rush,” “Secret Window”) and set during the first year of the pandemic, many details about “Kimi” are being kept under wraps, but that’s fine. Soderbergh, Kravitz, and a release date (February 10) are all we need to know. And with “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” on the way, one winner of the Soderbergh/HBO Max agreement is clear: audiences.
“The Fallout” (film)
Writer/Director: Megan Park
Cast: Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, Lumi Pollack, John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, and Shailene Woodley
What’s It About? A surprise hit at the 2021 SXSW Festival (winning the Narrative Feature’s Grand Jury prize and raves from critics), Megan Park’s feature debut “The Fallout” follows high schooler Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) after she experiences a school shooting. After the harrowing event, relationships with those closest to her, as well as the world as she knows it, start to shift, as Vada tries to cope with a terror that’s become far too common in American educational institutions. Park’s subject matter may be difficult for many to confront, but the film (premiering January 27) has been hailed for its empathetic approach to its characters and their struggle. If you can get past the premise, this film is worth hearing out.
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