HBOverlooked: Why Barry and These Other Defining Series Are Flying Under the Radar

Andrew Buckle,

HBO boasts an enormous library of television shows and movies. While tentpole series such as Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones and True Blood established the network as the home of prestige television, this has been more recently maintained by the hugely popular Big Little Lies, The Undoing and Mare of Easttown, headlined by all-star casts. These shows have all established the dominance of the HBO brand in the market and justifiably have drawn a lot of attention – embedding themselves in pop culture and defining what is possible in the medium of television.

But, with such an output it is inevitable that many of their high quality shows just don’t get the attention they deserve. There’s only so many hours in the day, and in Australia access to these shows is limited to streaming subscriptions or store season passes.

The Fetch TV Store has an extensive library of HBO series and we’ve done a deep dive into the offering and picked out a selection of some of our favourites that we feel have been a little overlooked and are worthy of closer attention.

Here’s a quick video showcasing these amazing shows, but read on to learn more about each one and where you can find them on your Fetch box.


Six Feet Under

After their funeral director father Nathaniel Fisher Sr. (Richard Jenkins, Berlin Station) dies and bequeaths ownership of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home to sons Nate (Peter Krause, Parenthood) and David (Michael C. Hall, Dexter), a miraculous show was born. The absorbing drama of this series, created by Alan Ball (American Beauty), centers around the lives of the Fisher clan and their tumultuous relationships with friends, lovers and clients, which also includes widow Ruth (Frances Conroy, American Horror Story), daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose, Servant), mortician Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez, Bull), Nate’s on-off girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths, The Wilds), and David’s long-term boyfriend Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick).

From 2001-2005 Six Feet Under, like The Wire and The Sopranos paved the way of modern television, crafting exquisitely controlled long-view narrative arcs. Operating in the once-upon-a-time HBO-exclusive territory of uncensored art TV, Six Feet Under was a provocative adult series that analysed, through the Fisher’s experiences, the rollercoaster of life when you’re one step away from death. While the other shows mentioned are commonly regarded amongst the great shows Six Feet Under feels somewhat unsung, with it’s legacy and influence amongst the HBO catalogue not fully embraced. The season five finale is famously considered one of the most affecting ever created.

Seasons 1-5 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Barry

Disillusioned low-level hit man Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) is seeking a way out. While on a job in Los Angeles he discovers that the City of Angels may be his sanctuary. Barry finds a new sense of purpose within the eager hopefuls of the acting community, befriending mentor Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler, Happy Days) and aspiring actor Sally (Sarah Goldberg, The Night House). While Barry wants to start a new life his shifty handler, Fuches (Stephen Root, Perry Mason), has other ideas, and it is soon clear that Barry’s criminal past won’t let him walk away so easily.

With unique characters, performed by a roster of elite character actors also including Anthony Carrigan and Glenn Fleschler, Barry walks the challenging tightrope between dark oddball comedy and intense thriller. Hader, who is the show’s co-creator along with former Seinfeld writer Alex Berg, also directs a number of the episodes (including the incredible ‘ronny/lily’). He has also won numerous awards for his complex performance. Barry is a show you need to see to believe, a truly unique offering of risky and ambitious storytelling and water-cooler moments that is destined to become a classic.

Seasons 1-3 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Looking

Three close friends living in San Francisco share the complexities of contemporary gay relationships as they explore a variety of options, both in love and in life. Patrick (Jonathan Groff, Mindhunter) is a 29-year-old video game designer who is dating again after his ex’s engagement; Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), 31, is apprehensive about choosing monogamy and domesticity instead of the excitement of city life; and longtime waiter and sommelier Dom (Murray Bartlett, The White Lotus) is at a crossroads, as middle age approaches and his romantic and professional goals remain unfulfilled.

The trio’s lives unfold against the backdrop of San Francisco’s progressive culture, with filming taking place in more than 40 locations and in various neighborhoods throughout the Bay Area. Ten of the eighteen episodes are directed by Andrew Haigh (45 Years, Lean on Pete), whose intimate, observational style shines through in this series. His wonderful 2011 film Weekend is also essential viewing, centered around a fleeting sexual relationship between two men who learn they are destined to go their separate ways.

Seasons 1-2 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Insecure

Insecure unpacks the story of the black female experience from the perspective of two female protagonists, Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji), who have been friends since their college days at Stanford. Both now in their late 20s, they navigate their careers and relationships while living in their hometown of South Los Angeles.

Insecure is co-created by Rae, along with Larry Wilmore (The Bernie Mac Show), and is loosely-based on her web series ‘Awkward Black Girl’. This funny, heartfelt, sexy and deeply personal series details the life of a modern black woman and has some really charming characters and profound relationship arcs across its five seasons. It is also a strikingly photographed series.

Seasons 1-5 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Bored to Death

This unique comedy series, the creation of writer Jonathan Ames, is sadly only comprised of three seasons and 24 episodes. Jason Schwartzman plays a fictionalised version of Ames, a struggling Brooklyn-based writer who moonlights as an unlicensed private detective. His unorthodox methods are plucked from his favourite detective novels, and the escapades of this double life often involve his loyal (and often hapless) best friends Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and George (Ted Danson).

If there is one unsung comedy series to note in this list it is Bored to Death. This series serves as satirical window into the literary world – Ray is a comic book artist, and George is a magazine editor – and the light conflict evolves from the various challenges to their craft as well as at the hands of some scheming rivals. The different comedic styles of the three leads – each possessing incredible acting pedigrees – mesh to create some of the funniest (and sweetest) scenes in television.

Seasons 1-3 available to purchase in the TV Store.

The Leftovers

Three years after the disappearance of 2% of the global human population, a group of people in a small New York community try to continue their lives while coping with the tragedy of the unexplained nature of the event. The lives of police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux, The Mosquito Coast) and his family, along with grieving widow Nora Durst (Carrie Coon, Fargo) and her brother, Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston, Doctor Who), are the focal points of the series as they struggle to adjust to life after the Departure.

One of the most ambitious series of television ever made is the creation of screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Watchmen) and writer Tom Perrotta (Little Children), based on the latter’s novel. It is unfortunately hard to track down. Career-defining performances from Coon and Theroux lead a spectacular ensemble cast that overcomes its often-punishingly grim and uncompromising tone to tell a powerful story that has an unparalleled thematic density.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, based on the 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel, is a post-apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, telling the stories of the survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew. The series follows several characters in the years and days leading up to the devastation, and also leaps forward 20 years to follow a group of survivors who make their living as traveling performers.

It is a slow burn series that weaves a powerful tapestry of fear and loss, renewal and hope that becomes something truly special to behold. Each episode feels like it has the scope, attention to detail and contained impact of a standalone movie, sharing surprising links to other episodes. You can never be sure where it is headed. The early establishing episodes are wildly different in focus, but patience is rewarded. Don’t binge it. This is one to savour.

Season 1 available to stream on Stan.

Treme

Following the aftermath of one of the worst hurricanes in the USA, folks of a community in New Orleans try to rebuild their lives and homes while upholding their unique culture. This high-wire drama series has drawn acclaim for its portrayal of New Orleans culture, celebrating the vibrancy of the city through it’s residents – musicians, chefs, Mardi Gras Indians and more. But, this series transcends the time and place, proving relevant to anyone who has lived through disaster and has found the will to rebuild, re-connect and thrive within their community and proud culture.

The ensemble cast is one of the most underrated in television history; a mammoth line-up of HBO All-Stars including: Chris Coy (Banshee), Kim Dickens (Deadwood), John Goodman (The Righteous Gemstones), Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones), David Morse (John Adams), Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce (The Wire) and Steve Zahn (The White Lotus) as well as musician Lucia Micarelli and Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo.

Seasons 1-4 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Mrs. Fletcher

A single mother and divorcĂ©e, Eve (Kathryn Hahn), decides to jumpstart her love life after falling into a midlife crisis once her son Brendan (Jackson White) leaves for college. By adopting a sexy new online persona Eve discovers that her world is full of unexpected and sometimes complicated erotic possibilities. In addition the series also traverses Brendan’s sexual experiences as he navigates the complexities of college life.

It’s about time the great Kathryn Hahn (Private Life, Bad Moms) was cast to headline a show. This showcase of her extensive comic talents is a funny, empathetic and poignant exploration of midlife re-invention and sexual re-awakening. Mrs. Fletcher is also based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, who co-wrote the pilot episode with Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said). Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia fame, also directs two episodes.

Season 1 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Enlightened

An ambitious corporate executive, Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) has succeeded despite the fact she can be her own worst enemy. After a series of self-destructive choices leads to a very public, humiliating nervous breakdown, Amy spends three months at a treatment center in Hawaii, where she learns to live a more enlightened existence. Upon returning home, however, she discovers her passionate and honest outlook isn’t accepted by her family, friends and co-workers.

Enlightened is is the co-creation of Mike White (The White Lotus) and Laura Dern, and was unfortunately short-lived. White wrote each episode with the series attracting an impressive roster of directors, including Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense), Nicole Holofcener (Please Give), Miguel Arteta (Yes Day), Todd Haynes (Carol) and David Michod (Animal Kingdom). At the centre of it all is the incomparable Laura Dern, who won a Golden Globe for her dynamic performance.

Seasons 1-2 available to purchase in the TV Store.

Perry Mason

Perry Mason is based on the character created by Erle Stanley Gardner, who appeared in 82 detective novels and 4 short stories, before also inspiring a long running radio show as well as a television series that started in 1957. Here Matthew Rhys (The Americans) takes on the eponymous role.

Telling an origin story of sorts Perry Mason is set in a booming 1932 Los Angeles, with Mason operating as a down-and-out private investigator. He becomes embroiled in a sensational child kidnapping investigation and trial, utilising the assistance of his partner Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), legal secretary Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and beat cop Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) among others. This pursuit becomes the case of a lifetime and begins his transformation into a defense attorney. This is a spectacular re-creation of 1930s LA, a classically-inspired hard-boiled detective mystery-turned-legal drama. It is rich with a grandiose style, as well as a collection of wonderfully realised characters.

Season 1 available to purchase in the TV Store.

The Plot Against America

In an alternative universe, aviator Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1940 United States presidential election and plans to impose a Fascist regime.

This series is created and written by David Simon (The Wire, Treme) and is based on the inflammatory 2004 novel by Phillip Roth (American Pastoral) – a seminal work of American literature. The series, pushing all six episodes to the limits of narrative potential, is about as faithful as it gets; straddling an optimistic insight into everyday Jewish middle-American life and the coming-of-age experience, while presenting a searing indictment of Fascism as it begins to penetrate the country via the the charisma of celebrity. Not the most glamorous television, but it is timely, provocative and well crafted, with a great cast including John Turturro, Winona Ryder, Zoe Kazan and Anthony Boyle.

Season 1 available to purchase in the TV Store.

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