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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