HBO enters 2019 preparing for the ending to end all endings: “Game of Thrones” final season is set for March, but closing such a key chapter to the premium cable network’s history only invites questions for its future. What’s next for the franchise? (The much-anticipated prequel series is the first answer, among many.) What’s next for HBO? (“Westworld,” “Watchmen,” and “Lovecraft Country” are certainly a strong focus.) And ultimately, what else can HBO produce to drive viewership, subscriptions, and awards in a crowded TV landscape?
The coming year will hold even more answers, starting with the series listed below. In 2019, HBO is expanding even further — more foreign language series to appeal globally, more TV movies to attract a burgeoning cinematic fan base, and more original programs overall, big and small, to fill the increasing demand for high-quality content. It’s not a question of which series will be the next “Game of Thrones,” but which series (plural) can help HBO retain its premium status. Here’s a few shows that might be able to do it:
“True Detective” Season 3
Release Date: January 13, 2019
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, Mamie Gummer, Ray Fisher
Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch (one episode)
Directors: Jeremy Saulnier, Nic Pizzolatto, Daniel Sackheim
Can “True Detective” be good again? That’s the question lingering over Nic Pizzolatto’s new entry, following a three-and-a-half year break after a much maligned second season. But Season 3 has made deliberate choices to get the series back to its awe-inspiring roots. Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali leads a stripped down cast of characters — with similar partner dynamics to Season 1 — through a rural, Southern setting and a time-hopping mystery spanning three decades. There are interrogation scenes, old age makeup, and plenty of road trip cop chatter. It’s “True Detective” classic, even if Cary Fukunaga, Matthew McConaughey, and Woody Harrelson remain involved in title only, so maybe this season will right the ship.
Release Date: January 19, 2019
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear
Writer: James Grisham
Director: Toby Haynes
A bald Benedict Cumberbatch plays the man to blame for the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union in 2016 — but it’s a lot more complicated than that. This up-tempo, darkly comic movie follows Dominic Cummings (Cumberbatch), the leading strategist and Campaign Director of the Vote Leave effort. Cummings is an eccentric genius, prone to alienating his peers by stubbornly pushing his own agenda — a part Cumberbatch might know a thing or two about playing. But “Brexit” is far from a salve for “Sherlock” fans anxious for a new season: Toby Haynes’ film examines how data-mining is used to manipulate political campaigns, as well as the ethical fallout of the technology’s implementation. Applicable to far more than British politics, the film looks to serve as a cautionary tale for how money and power can influence those without it, all without their knowledge it’s happening. Oh, and Cumberbatch shaved his head for the role, so enjoy that.
Release Date: February 23, 2019
Cast: Jeffrey Wright, William Fichtner, Theothus Carter
Writer: Stephen Belber
Director: Madeleine Sackler
Blending fact and fiction, HBO’s upcoming scripted film “O.G.” was shot inside an active maximum-security prison during production of an HBO documentary, “It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It.” Sackler directed the movie, starring Jeffrey Wright, and co-directed the documentary along with 13 inmates (who also landed small parts in the narrative feature). “O.G.” tracks Louis (Wright) for the last two weeks of his 24-year sentence, as his impending departure is upended by the arrival of a new convict Beecher (Theothus Carter). The new kid on the block gets courted by rival gangs, and though Louis tries to protect him and guide him before he won’t be able to anymore, all of the issues tied to his time behind bars start to stack up and threaten his release. Come for the Emmy-winner Wright, stay for the documentary (which airs shortly after “O.G.” debuts).
Release Date: TBA 2019
Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Ritter
Writers: Craig Mazin
Directors: Johan Renck
The lead of 2018’s best limited series is looking to make it two years in a row with “Chernobyl,” HBO’s five-part production inspired by the true story of the 1986 nuclear accident — one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history. Jared Harris (“The Terror”) leads the cast as Valery Legasov, the Soviet scientist chosen by the Kremlin to investigate the accident, while Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson will be among the brave men and women who sacrificed their own safety for the betterment of Europe overall. Writer Craig Mazin (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) and Swedish director Johan Renck (“The Last Panthers”) are the main creators, while HBO partnered with Sky to bring this epic production to life.
“Big Little Lies” Season 2
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Release Date: Spring 2019
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Zoe Kravitz, Adam Scott
Writers: David E. Kelley, Liane Moriarty
Directors: Andrea Arnold
So far, Reese Witherspoon & co. have done a splendid job of silencing skeptics — sure, “Big Little Lies” was originally conceived as a limited series, and yeah, its would-be series finale is one of the more satisfying twist endings ever, but how can any viewer argue against a new version of the show with Meryl Streep added to this already stacked cast? Season 2 promises the greatest actress of her (or any) generation as the vengeful mother-in-law visiting Monterey to wreak havoc on the lives of Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern), and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz). Plotlines outside of Streep are being kept under wraps, but one Oscar winner is going throw ice cream at another Oscar winner’s head — so get excited.
“Veep” Season 7
Release Date: Spring 2019
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, Sam Richardson, Sarah Sutherland, Clea DuVall, Hugh Laurie
Writers: David Mandel, Lewis Morton, Rachel Axler, Frank Rich, more
Directors: Becky Martin, David Mandel, Brad Hall, more
Even with more original scripted programs than ever, last year felt a bit empty without HBO’s scathing political satire, “Veep.” The Emmy-winning comedy took a year off while Julia Louis-Dreyfus recovered from breast cancer treatment, but she’s back and better than ever — and the show may be as well. Wrapping up with a seven-episode final season, David Mandel’s last go-round with Selina Meyer & co. will answer the ultimate question: Can the second choice ever become a true, unblemished victor? The White House may seem out of sight, but that doesn’t mean Selina can’t find satisfaction… or embarrass herself trying.
“Game of Thrones” Season 8
Release Date: April 2019
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, and Dave Hill
Directors: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, David Nutter, and Miguel Sapochnik
Who will win? Who will die? Who will be teased as a possible lead character for future spinoffs? The end of “Game of Thrones” is, in fact, an ending, but there are implications at stake for the next phase of HBO, as well. Consisting of six, feature-length episodes, Season 8 is going out in aptly epic style — and setting a high bar for the greenlit prequel series to match, whenever it arrives. But more pressing than the distant future is the immediate future. “Game of Thrones” has the chance to go down as one of the most beloved blockbuster series of all time, but if the series finale misses the mark, there could always be an asterisk next to its populist dominance.
“Catherine the Great”
Release Date: TBA 2019
Cast: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Joseph Quinn, Rory Kinnear
Writer: Nigel Williams
Director: Philip Marti
From the writer of “Elizabeth I,” a prominent director of “The Crown,” and starring the Academy Award winning actress from “The Queen,” “Catherine the Great” is built on royalty even before digging into the powerful subject matter. Chronicling the Russian empress’ 18th century rule, the four-part HBO limited series tackles the scandals plaguing her court and the adverse relationships complicating her life. The episodes mainly cover the end of her reign as well as her passionate affair with Grigory Potemkin (Jason Clarke). Given the pedigree, this one should be an awards contender for more than just Mirren.
“The Righteous Gemstones”
Release Date: Fall 2019
Cast: John Goodman, Danny McBride, Adam Devine, Edi Patterson, Cassidy Freeman, Greg Alan Williams
Writer: Danny McBride
Directors: David Gordon Green, Jody Hill
The folks behind “Eastbound and Down” and “Vice Principals” have their sights set on an even more contentious point of Southern pride than baseball and education. Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and David Gordon Green’s “The Righteous Gemstones” tells the story of “a world famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed, and charitable work — all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” John Goodman plays Eli Gemstone, the Patriarch of the family and a world-famous minister who runs a weekly television program and a tight ship around the house. Danny McBride is his eldest son, Jesse, who plans to be his father’s heir while expanding his church for more modern followers, while the rest of the Gemstones deviate from their leader’s wishes only as far as they can.
Release Date: TBA 2019
Cast: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, John Hawkes, Anna Gunn, Dayton Callie, Brad Dourif, Robin Weigert, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens, Gerald McRaney
Writer: David Milch
Director: Daniel Minahan
Buzzed about since the original series ended in 2006, fans’ demand for more Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), and the whole “Deadwood” crew has only grown. In November, their dreams became a reality: Production is underway on the “Deadwood” movie, one last ride for David Milch’s cult favorite HBO series. All your favorite gunslingers are back — celebrating South Dakota’s statehood after a 10-year break — but precious little more is known about the feature. “True Detective” helmer Nic Pizzolatto helped write the story (uncredited), veteran “Deadwood” (and TV) director Daniel Minahan is behind the camera, and Milch’s vision is one giant step closer to becoming a reality. Get those celebratory pistols ready.
Release Date: TBA
Cast: Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Courtney B. Vance, Michael K. Williams, Wunmi Mosaku, Aunjanue Ellis, Elizabeth Debicki, Jamie Harris
Writer: Misha Green
Producers: Misha Green, Jordan Peele, Yann Demange, J.J. Abrams, and Ben Stephenson
Director (pilot): Yann Demange
With names like J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele behind the camera and a cast consisting of Elizabeth Debicki and Courtney B. Vance in front of it, “Lovecraft Country” would be a big freakin’ deal no matter where the core story sprang from, but familiarity with Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name only amps up the excitement. HBO’s hourlong horror/drama series follows sci-fi writer Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) on a road trip across Jim Crow America during the turbulent 1950s. Freeman is looking for his missing father, an unbending, personal quest which makes the racist threats perking up around him worth tackling — not to mention the H.P. Lovecraft monsters springing to life all around him. If Abrams handles the sci-fi and Peele influences the racial overtones, “Lovecraft Country” could be an intellectually stimulating blockbuster — a la “Get Out” or “Super 8.”
“His Dark Materials”
Release Date: TBA 2019
Cast: James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Clarke Peters, Ariyon Bakare, Archie Barnes, Geoff Bell, Georgina Campbell, James Cosmo, Anne-Marie Duff, Mat Fraser, Daniel Frogson, Ian Gelder, Tyler Howitt, Dafne Keen, Will Keen, Lewin Lloyd, Simon Manyonda, Lucian Msamati
Writers: Jack Thorne, Phillip Pullman, Carolyn Blackwood, Toby Emmerich, Deborah Forte, Julie Gardner, Ben Irving, Bethan Jones, Dan McCulloch, Jane Tranter, Piers Wenger, Laurie Borg
Director: Tom Hooper
Everybody needs a young adult franchise, and HBO has been sorely lacking in teen appeal since launching its millennial-friendly streaming service in 2015. “His Dark Materials” is based on Philip Pullman’s three YA novels and originally developed by the BBC, which already picked up a second season before the first premiered. Though there have been many parallels to Christianity drawn from the text — the story invokes criticism of long-held beliefs — the series primarily tracks two kids who come of age while exploring parallel universes. With a respected brand name (New Line tried launch a franchise with the 2007 film, “The Golden Compass”), respected actors like James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as the confident backing of another network, this seems like a no-brainer pickup for HBO — bring it to the States, see if you can snare some extra subscribers, and maybe it will find another popular franchise to boot.
Continue reading for the rest of HBO’s most exciting new 2019 programs.