What to watch on HBO while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic

April 4, 2020, 11:30 AM UTC
Bell: Roadside Attractions/Courtesy Everett

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Streaming’s never been busier. In the time of the coronavirus, folks are wisely staying home and self-isolating in droves, leaving plenty of time to peer through streaming services’ myriad offerings in search of the perfect mid-pandemic entertainment. Fortune’s here to make that quest a little easier, breaking down HBO’s surprisingly deep bench of offerings into a few distinct recommendations based on whatever mood our current global crisis might have you in (all of which are completely valid).

First, a quick explainer: premium-network giant HBO splits its streaming offerings across two different services, HBO Go and HBO Now, though the offerings on each are identical. What matters, and really all that matters, is how you get them; if you have a cable subscription or Amazon Prime, HBO Go will be the option available to you. And if you’ve cut the cord, HBO Now exists as the more à la carte streaming option, allowing audiences to subscribe to HBO without dealing with any of theose pesky basic cable packages.

For those without either service, HBO announced this week that it would stream about 500 hours of programming for free and for a limited time starting Friday, which means a few of our recommendations below also fall into that category.

For a badly needed laugh:

Brady Noon, Jacob Tremblay and Keith L. Williams in “Good Boys,” which was a smash hit last summer.
Universal Pictures

In a World… Lake Bell’s creative voice shone through in this witty, offbeat dramedy set in the cutthroat world of Hollywood voiceover artists. Her directorial debut tackled the boys’ club of that niche field through an unusually clever set of protagonists: Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), hailed as the king of voiceovers, and his daughter, Carol (Bell), whose efforts to break into the profession put her on a fraught collision course with her only moderately supportive father. The effervescently funny screenplay does justice to Hollywood, crucially, without sanctifying it; there’s an intriguing fusion of underdog story and screwball comedy in motion throughout, headed up by Bell’s charming, raised-eyebrow protagonist.

Good Boys This comedy became a smash hit last summer, and the sheer audacity of its R-rated setup explains in large part why. Essentially Superbad for the Fisher Price set, it follows the increasingly ribald misadventures of three sixth graders—Max (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon)—as they get tangled up in a nutty day of petty theft, destruction of property, and (of course) truancy in an effort to reach a party being thrown by their more popular classmates. There’s a vein of good-natured camaraderie beneath the gross-out antics that keeps things agreeably light, and some of the punchlines land sharper and smarter than you might expect.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. Before their onscreen pairing in La La Land cemented them as new Hollywood’s response to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone first set the screen sizzling in this delightful, unabashedly sweet romantic comedy, about people falling in and out of love in a way that looks a lot like life. The film’s actors are an embarrassment of riches glimmering brightly: Steve Carell, in an earnest, endearing turn that hinted at his dramatic potential years before Foxcatcher and The Big Short; Julianne Moore, the actor most naturally attuned to this story’s bittersweet rhythms; and Marisa Tomei, so radiant the film lightens visibly upon her entrance. But the moment Gosling and Stone lock eyes, and certainly by the time they update Dirty Dancing one rainy night in his living room, the picture’s theirs for the keeping.

Additional picks

The Nice Guys
American Pie
Team America: World Police
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

For the best stuff you missed last year:

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in 2019’s “Long Shot.”
Roadside Attractions/Courtesy Everett

Long Shot Seth Rogen as a romantic leading man? That’s just the first of a few unlikely, ultimately inspired choices in this romantic comedy about a schlubby journalist who falls for the presidential hopeful (Charlize Theron) who used to babysit him after being brought aboard her speechwriting team. Though the centrist politics don’t hold up to close scrutiny, there’s plenty to love about Long Shot‘s script full of astute zingers and goofy pratfalls, from its larger-than-life action heroics to the hilariously against-type casting of Alexander Skarsgard as the off-putting prime minister of Canada.

Succession HBO’s biggest hit from last year turned out not to be the final season of Game of Thrones, in which rival dynasties dueled for dominion over their fantasy kingdom, but this comparatively svelte, jet-black satire of the 1%, in which members of the fictional Roy family warred for control over their mega-successful media empire, owned by tyrannical Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Succession didn’t need CGI dragons to invest audiences in the craven power-grabs and gleeful backstabbings of his acid-tongued children. In last year’s breakthrough second season, as eldest son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) began to deteriorate in darkly comic ways, and other members of the ensemble cast moved to the fore—especially gangly cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) and the business-savvy Shiv (Sarah Snook)—Succession became at once TV’s most bitingly funny comedy and one of its most uniquely engrossing dramas.

Dragged Across Concrete S. Craig Zahler is one of the few American directors left making real exploitation flicks, ideologically sordid and frequently repellent refractions of our national hellscape in which very bad men do very bad things to the most vulnerable among us and, because of the whole hellscape thing, will probably get away with it. That’s the way of things in Dragged Across Concrete, which follows two disgraced detectives (Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson) and an ex-con (Tory Kittles) who find themselves on different sides of a vicious bank-robbery racket. For those who prefer their crime-fiction pulp hard-boiled and harder-hitting, with sidelong glances into moral philosophy and nasty nihilism, Zahler’s the guy. And in this particularly grueling gutter-epic (it runs 159 minutes, most spent in a state of nauseous anxiety), his filmmaking’s of a sick, slick caliber so high that the resultant movie, tough to look at though it certainly is, cannot be dismissed as empty provocation.

Additional picks

Her Smell
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

For your next binge-watch:

Ben Sinclair in HBO’s “High Maintenance.”
David M. Russell—HBO

True Blood One of the bloodiest, quirkiest, campiest series ever to air on HBO, True Blood was also for a time one of its best offerings. And though this Southern Gothic soap declined in quality across its seven seasons, there are still plenty of colorful characters, smoldering love triangles, and tasty allegorical ideas worth savoring. Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress whose torrid romance with a 173-year-old vampire (Stephen Moyer) serves as a jumping-off point into True Blood‘s bloody swamp of inner-species schisms and supernatural creatures, stands as one of the best horror heroines in TV history.

The Leftovers One of the best TV series of all time is also uniquely suited to speak to the widespread grief and uncertainty of our current cultural moment. This profound, mysterious, deeply moving drama—cocreated by Lost master puzzler Damon Lindelof and suburban chronicler Tom Perrotta, who penned the source material—is set after an event called the Sudden Departure, an unexplained phenomenon during which 2% of the world’s population abruptly vanished into thin air. Left to pick up the pieces of civilization and, impossibly, to move on with their lives, the characters of The Leftovers—from an emotionally anguished police chief (Justin Theroux) to a young wife and mother (Carrie Coon) left behind after her entire family departs—struggle to come to terms with their new reality. And from remarkably heavy beginnings, the series’ three seasons gradually let in light, grace, and meaning, along with plotlines that reached from the ordinary into the bizarre. No series has more insightfully explored loss as a surreal, unknowable process of life, nor found more catharsis in charting its vital ambiguities.

The Night Of Fans of police procedurals and their more modern kinfolk, the true-crime anthology, are strongly advised to seek out this eight-part miniseries from the formidable duo of Richard Price, a crime novelist best known for scripting standout episodes of The Wire, and Steven Zaillian, an Oscar-winning scribe whose work on crime epics like The Irishman and Gangs of New York has never been afraid to stare unblinkingly at the atrocities men commit in service of broken systems. The Night Of constitutes some of their best work, following the injustices that befall a Pakistani-American college student (Riz Ahmed) after he’s accused of murdering a young woman and promptly shipped off to Rikers Island. Only his dogged lawyer (John Turturro) and a detective (Bill Camp) working the case have any shot at clearing his name—but as the series makes devastatingly clear, the accused’s dark journey through the prison system, especially once he encounters an influential inmate (Michael K. Williams) at Rikers, is already certain to change him forever.

Additional picks

The Sopranos
Room 104
Sex and the City
Sharp Objects
High Maintenance

For the whole family:

Lily James, left, and Himesh Patel in Beatles-themed flick “Yesterday.”
Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Agent Cody Banks Teenage espionage movies are a dime a dozen, with plenty of duds (Alex Rider: Stormbreaker and Barely Lethal among them) but Frankie Muniz’s freshman outing back in 2003 was the best to do it this side of Spy Kids. Flanked by a perfectly charming Hilary Duff, Muniz’s Cody Banks was exceedingly, endearingly uncool, a tech nerd whose supposedly debonair suits never fit quite right. Still, someone’s got to save the world, and Banks rose to the occasion, taking on a nanoscientist (Ian McShane) whose dastardly scheme involves disabling the world’s defense systems for his own evil gain.

Big Tom Hanks is said to be in high spirits as he and his wife recover from COVID-19 in Los Angeles; the beloved actor remains one of the most prominent celebrities to test positive for the virus. What better way to wish him well than to revisit one of the actor’s best-remembered films? This Penny Marshall-directed comedy became a huge hit in 1988, when Hanks was still emerging as a leading man; one of that decade’s most adored comedies, it focused on a 12-year-old boy (David Moscow) who finds himself magically grown into an adult (Hanks) after making a wish through an antique fortune teller machine. Sweet, gently humorous, and filled with positive messages about love, family, and adolescence, it holds up as classic family entertainment.

Yesterday The what-if premise of this Danny Boyle-directed comedy is as oddly specific as it gets (what if you were the only person in the world who remembered The Beatles?), but it coasts by on the mega-watt star power of Lily James (as an impossibly lovely romantic interest) and the easy charm of leading actor Himesh Patel, who answers the above hypothetical by picking up a guitar and setting out to rerecord the Fab Four’s discography from memory. Naturally, he becomes a global superstar in the process. Would The Beatles really be as massive a hit today as they were in the 1960s? That’s a tricky question, one Yesterday opts not to answer, instead delivering a chipper, sun-flooded rom-com that’s energetic enough to win over family audiences.

Additional picks

The Kid Who Would Be King
Babe (Also streaming: sequel Babe: Pig in the City.)
Akeelah and the Bee
Bridge to Terabithia
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

For thrills and chills:

Crimson Peak Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic romance is perhaps the film he was always meant to make, marrying his love of the grotesquely beautiful to sumptuous production design that swirls the insectile, intricate, and palatially imposing into a haunted mansion that would make Daphne Du Maurier blush. Del Toro would go on to win Oscars for The Shape of Water, another fairy tale of love and monsters, but the cinephile’s fave of his filmography would be Crimson Peak, for its twisted and sweepingly romantic tale of a Victorian heiress (Mia Wasikowska) lured to a stunning, sprawling mansion in the English hills, where her husband (Tom Hiddleston) and his mysterious sister (Jessica Chastain) hide terrible secrets in the dark amid all manner of specters and skeletons.

Prisoners A slightly lesser-known effort from modern master-of-mood Denis Villeneuve, who’s since become heralded as a sci-fi visionary for his work on Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, this punishingly suspenseful thriller foregrounds the father (Hugh Jackman) of an abducted girl, who captures and tortures the man (Paul Dano) he presumes responsible after the investigating detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) fails to turn up leads. Preeminently brooding and unusually fixated on the broken psychologies of its characters, it’s the rare thriller that earns its unremitting dread with stellar performances and a fiendishly twisty third act.

A Star Is Born There’s a reason we keep retelling this story, about a rising-star singer (here played by Lady Gaga) whose romance with the downward-spiraling musician who discovered her (Bradley Cooper) is fated for heartbreak. It resonates. And this exquisitely devastating update, also directed by Cooper, soars on the strengths of its ideally matched leads, original songs that crash through you like wrecking balls (especially “Shallow,” which you’ve surely heard by now), and an unerring attention to the sincere tragedy of its central romance, which has been stripped of the glamor and mystique found in past iterations and seen as the destructive pairing it always was. Still, when Gaga and Cooper’s doomed lovers take to the stage, pouring their pain and pride and passion into genuinely jaw-dropping anthems, A Star Is Born feels, in all its messy hope and humanity, like the only Hollywood myth that’s ever mattered.

Additional picks:

Side Effects
The Little Stranger
Happy Death Day

More must-read stories from Fortune:

Hollywood’s pandemic diaries: How execs and creatives are working, and coping, at home
What to watch on Hulu while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic
What to watch on Disney+ while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic
What to watch on Amazon Prime while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic
What to watch on Netflix while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic
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