HBO Is Streaming 500 Hours of Shows for Free: The Sopranos, The Wire, and More

We live, one often hears, in a gold­en age of tele­vi­sion. But when did this age begin? Schol­ars of pres­tige TV dra­ma — a field that, for both pro­fes­sion­als and ama­teurs, has expand­ed in recent years — tend to point to The Sopra­nos, which pre­miered in 1999. In its eight-year run, David Chase’s series about a depressed New Jer­sey mafia boss, a pro­tag­o­nist ana­lyzed in the Behind the Cur­tain video essay above, set new stan­dards in its medi­um for craft and com­plex­i­ty. To under­stand how much of a depar­ture The Sopra­nos marked from every­thing else on tele­vi­sion, sim­ply com­pare it to what was air­ing on major broad­cast net­works in the 1990s, most of which now looks unwatch­ably sim­plis­tic and repet­i­tive.

Of course, The Sopra­nos did­n’t air on a major broad­cast net­work: it aired on HBO. Orig­i­nal­ly launched as “Home Box Office” in 1972, the old­est pre­mi­um cable chan­nel of them all has long since expand­ed its man­date from air­ing sec­ond-run movies to cre­at­ing orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming of its own.

Its mid-1990s slo­gan “It’s Not TV. It’s HBO” reflects an intent to go beyond what was pos­si­ble on con­ven­tion­al tele­vi­sion net­works, an enter­prise whose promise The Sopra­nos sig­naled to the world. Crit­ics lav­ished even more praise on The Wire, David Simon’s dra­mat­ic exam­i­na­tion and indict­ment of Amer­i­can insti­tu­tions that ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008. In the video essay just above, Thomas Flight explains what makes The Wire, whose fans include every­one from Barack Oba­ma to Slavoj Žižek, “one of the most bril­liant TV shows ever.”

If you haven’t seen these or the oth­er acclaimed HBO shows that have done so much to gild this tele­vi­su­al age, now’s your chance to catch up. That’s true not just for the obvi­ous rea­son — the threat of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic keep­ing so many shut in at home — but also because HBO will make 500 hours of its pro­gram­ming free to stream on its HBO Now and HBO Go plat­forms. If you’re in the Unit­ed States or anoth­er area served by HBO online, you can watch not just The Sopra­nos and The Wire in their entire­ty, but the vam­pire-themed True Blood, the under­tak­ing-themed Six Feet Under, and such comedic takes on Amer­i­can busi­ness and pol­i­tics as Sil­i­con Val­ley and Veep, a video essay from The Take on whose “satire in the age of Trump” appears above. Of all the ways we can define HBO-style pres­tige tele­vi­sion, isn’t “TV shows good enough to inspire video essays” the most apt? Get start­ed here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Wire as Great Vic­to­ri­an Nov­el

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gats­by, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Clas­sic Crit­i­cism of Amer­i­ca (NSFW)

David Chase Reveals the Philo­soph­i­cal Mean­ing of The Sopra­nos’ Final Scene

The Nine Minute Sopra­nos

Watch Curat­ed Playlists of Exper­i­men­tal Videos & Films to Get You Through COVID-19: Miran­da July, Jan Švankma­jer, Guy Maddin & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (11)
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  • Pamela Gause says:

    I was so excit­ed to start watch­ing these great shows for free. How­ev­er when I went to watch under HBO Go “for free” it asked for my provider. I do not sub­scribe to any cable net­work Does this mean I am not able to down­load 500 hours for free and if not, its mis­lead­ing. Sug­ges­tions?

  • john cassady says:

    dis­ap­point­ed dun­sky that’s me.

    i live in france and i broke my arm this morn­ing.

    thought this might be my sal­va­tion.

    c’mon u.s.every coun­try is a u.s.territory now

    i can’t write any­thing more ow ow

  • john cassady says:

    dis­ap­point­ed dun­sky that’s me.

    i live in france and i broke my arm this morn­ing.

    thought this might be my sal­va­tion.

    c’mon u.s.every coun­try is a u.s.territory now

    i can’t write any­thing more ow ow this is an orig­i­nal com­ment

  • Peggy Houdek says:

    Sounds great but where do you sign up? Do you have to become a pay­ing member?r to get the free hours? Love to know. thanks, Peg­gy

  • Jim says:

    I wish Open­Cul­ture would stop adver­tis­ing this crap — in the U.S. one has to sub­scribe to a 30 day free tri­al which will auto­mat­i­cal­ly and silent­ly con­vert to a $15 a month recur­ring charge at the end of the tri­al. These adver­tis­ing gim­micks are beneath Open­Cul­ture and con­trary to your stat­ed objec­tives. Do bet­ter, please!

  • Janet H says:

    How do you sign up? Or do you sign up for a new account for 7 days and it turns into a month?

  • Melanie Aidone says:

    Thank you for get­ting my mind off being sick and pos­si­bly dying. I’ve been binge watch­ing Sopra­nos!

  • akbright says:

    I went to this page, below, and it brings up the HBO page, where it has the free stream­ing ones. And then just click on the free show/movie you want to watch.

  • Robin L DesJardins says:

    I see essays and arti­cles and a video arti­cle. I see NO link from Source­Forge here…Why dan­gle the car­rot if there is no way to see which way to go?

  • WDS says:

    I just tried HBO GO and I was not asked for any infor­ma­tion … I think they might have changed …

  • OC says:

    Since we post­ed this on Fri­day, HBO has made it eas­i­er to sign up. And we have updat­ed links in the post.

    You can go here and it will be straight­for­ward.


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