20 HBO Original Programs to Be Excited About in 2020 — ‘The Outsider,’ ‘Perry Mason,’ and More

New originals from filmmakers Luca Guadagnino and Derek Cianfrance — plus new seasons of "Westworld" and "Euphoria" — highlight a pivotal year for HBO.
HBO 2020 Preview "Lovecraft Country," "Perry Mason," "The Undoing"
"Lovecraft Country," "Perry Mason," and "The Undoing"
HBO / Shutterstock

Having survived the end of “Game of Thrones” with buzzy new series like “Euphoria,” “Watchmen,” and “His Dark Materials,” in addition to well-watched new seasons of “Succession,” “Barry,” and “Big Little Lies,” HBO is preparing for its first post-Westeros year with a similar onslaught of exciting adaptations, enticing follow-ups, and shows skewing toward a younger demographic.

The latter point is perhaps more important than ever, given that 2020 marks another milestone for HBO: the debut of HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s all-in-one streaming platform that bundles its various networks (and their programs) in one app. HBO Max will have its own originals, but HBO is still the service’s crown jewel (as evidenced by those three telling letters right before “Max”). It’ll be up to the former Home Box Office as much as, if not more than, any other WarnerMedia network to drive subscriptions, and that’s harder to do without the No. 1 show in the world.

So what will entice subscribers to keep HBO (or add HBO Max) to their ever-growing streaming library this year? 2020 offerings include “The Outsider,” a Stephen King adaptation from “The Night Of” creator Richard Price; “Avenue 5,” Armando Iannucci’s “Veep” follow-up; “The Undoing,” starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman; “Bad Education,” HBO’s pricey TIFF film festival acquisition starring Hugh Jackman; “Perry Mason,” from producer Robert Downey Jr. and starring “The Americans” veteran Matthew Rhys, and don’t forget more new originals from indie film favorites Luca Guadagnino, Derek Cianfrance, Paolo Sorrentino. Meanwhile, plenty of fan favorite shows are returning, none more important than the rebooted “Westworld” Season 3, but additional entries like “Euphoria” Season 2, “Barry” Season 3, and “Succession” Season 3 cannot be undervalued.

Read on for more HBO series to look forward to in 2020, including an array of new and returning shows, limited series, docuseries, films, and more. With “House of Dragons” not expected until at least 2021, this likely won’t be the only year without a “Game of Thrones” series on the docket — but it might be the most important year for HBO.

“The Outsider”

Release Date: Full season available now
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, Bill Camp, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Julianne Nicholson, Jeremy Bobb, Jason Bateman
Writers: Richard Price (showrunner), Dennis Lehane (Episodes 5 – 10)
Directors: Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinovic

Adapted from the 2018 Stephen King novel of the same name, “The Outsider” is a murder-mystery where the investigators have to believe in the impossible. Ben Mendelsohn plays an Oklahoma detective named Ralph Anderson who encounters a particularly brutal — and particularly confusing — case providing contradictory evidence. Eyewitnesses and DNA indicate a local Little League coach (played by Jason Bateman) is guilty of murder, but irrefutable proof places him hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime — how did he do it? Did he do it? If not him, who? These typical murder-mystery queries are given supernatural answers in what would’ve been a traditional cop drama, save for that Stephen King twist.

“The New Pope”

The New Pope John Malkovich HBO
John Malkovich in “The New Pope”Gianni Fiorito/HBO

Release Date: Full season available now
Cast: John Malkovich, Jude Law, Silvio Orlando
Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contrarello, and Stefano Bises
Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino returns with his second papal story, this time focusing on the mysterious, besuited, eyeliner-wearing New Pope — aka Sir John Brannox, played by John Malkovich. Set after the events of “The Young Pope” and still involving Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) to a better-left-undisclosed extent, the new nine-episode season focuses on finding a successor to Lenny’s Old Testament reign, along with the political turmoil associated with swinging too far in a new direction. If that sounds a bit stuffy, have no fear: The teaser trailer that lit the internet on fire isn’t a publicity stunt: Lenny’s bikini-clad beach walk is an actual scene from Season 2. Even with a New Pope in the spotlight, there’s loads more insanity to behold — including guest performances from Sharon Stone and Marilyn Manson(!).

“Avenue 5”

Avenue 5 Hugh Laurie HBO
Hugh Laurie in “Avenue 5”Alex Bailey/HBO

Release Date: Full season available now
Cast: Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Rebecca Front, Suzy Nakamura
Writers: Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Georgia Pritchett, Will Smith, Peter Fellows, Ian Martin
Directors: Armando Iannucci, Natalie Bailey

After leaving “Veep” to make a few films (including “The Death of Stalin” and the upcoming “Personal History of David Copperfield”), Armando Iannucci returns to HBO with a new comedy set aboard a space cruise ship — a cruise ship to the stars, for the stars, if you will. Hugh Laurie (who guest-starred in multiple seasons of “Veep”) plays Captain Ryan Clark, a suave and confidant commander of a vessel designed for pampering the rich and beautiful. That already taxing endeavor becomes all the more difficult when a slew of technical snafus force Clark and his crew to solve problems they never thought they’d face. An ambitious and fresh challenge for the politically-minded creator, “Avenue 5” should test the creativity of Iannucci in similar fashion.

“The Plot Against America”

The Plot Against America HBO John Turturro
John Turturro in “The Plot Against America”Michele K. Short/HBO

Release Date: Full series available now
Cast: Winona Ryder, Zoe Kazan, Morgan Spector, Anthony Boyle, Azhy Robertson, Caleb Malis and John Turturro
Writers: David Simon and Ed Burns
Directors: Minkie Spiro, Thomas Schlamme

Based on the acclaimed Philip Roth novel of the same name, “The Plot Against America” is a six-part limited series set in an alternate American history. No, this isn’t a secret “Watchmen” sequel, but given David Simon and Ed Burns scripted the episodes, it’s sure to be just as politically pointed. Told through the eyes of a working-class Jewish family in New Jersey, “The Plot Against America” should draw plenty of modern day parallels for attentive audiences, as they watch the political rise of the populist and xenophobic Charles Lindbergh, who becomes president and turns the nation toward fascism.

“Barry” Season 3

Barry HBO Sarah Goldberg and Bill Hader
Sarah Goldberg and Bill Hader in “Barry”Aaron Epstein/HBO

Release Date: TBA (delayed)
Cast: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan, Stephen Root
Writers: Bill Hader, Alec Berg
Directors: TBA

Following the powerful first season of Bill Hader’s black comedy, all the talk was whether or not “Barry” Season 2 was a good idea — after all, the first season was so perfect on its own, how could Hader and co-creator Alec Berg follow it up with something equally awesome? Three Emmy wins and three Golden Globe nominations later, no one is asking the same question about Season 3. Instead, everyone’s just hoping Barry (Hader’s hitman-turned-actor) is going to be OK. After a haunting, well-constructed finale, the only impossibility facing “Barry” is whether its lead will make it out alive. Bring on Season 3.

“I Know This Much Is True”

Mark Ruffalo and Mark Ruffalo
Mark Ruffalo and Mark RuffaloScott Gries/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Release Date: Sunday, May 10 at 9 p.m. ET
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Philip Ettinger, Aisling Franciosi, Michael Greyeyes, Kathryn Hahn, Rob Huebel, Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Rosie O’Donnell, Archie Panjabi, Imogen Poots, and John Procaccino
Writer: Derek Cianfrance
Director: Derek Cianfrance

In case Mark Ruffalo as both Bruce Banner and the Hulk wasn’t enough Ruff for your buck, “I Know This Much Is True” features the Oscar-nominated actor playing two roles — and neither is a green, giant, CGI-version of the star. Ruffalo plays Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, the latter of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and suffers a debilitating loss because of his illness. Dominick, with the support of his larger family (including their mother, played by Melissa Leo), helps Thomas through the ordeal in a six-episode series based on Wally Lamb’s 1998 novel. Per HBO, each episode is written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Behind the Pines,” “Blue Valentine”) and together they’ll form “an epic story of betrayal, sacrifice, and forgiveness, all set against the telling backdrop of 20th-century America.”

“Westworld” Season 3

Westworld Season 3 Aaron Paul robot
Aaron Paul in “Westworld”

Release Date: Full season available now
Cast: Aaron Paul, Lena Waithe, Kid Cudi, Marshawn Lynch, Vincent Cassel, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Rodrigo Santoro, Tessa Thompson
Writers: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
Directors: TBA

“A radical shift” — that’s how Jonathan Nolan described “Westworld” Season 3, the first not set primarily within Westworld, Delos corporation’s western theme park of violent delights. HBO’s new season heads to the real world (a future vision of Los Angeles, to be specific) in the hopes of rebounding from 2018’s sophomore slump, which saw less critical praise and lower ratings than the freshmen phenomenon. It’s also got a slew of new cast members, including Aaron Paul, Lena Waithe, and a robot buddy named George. Many original cast members will return, too, including Evan Rachel Wood and Jeffrey Wright, but this abbreviated, eight-episode season could end up being as much a mid-series reboot as it is an extension. But die-hard fans shouldn’t fret. Thandie Newton’s beloved Maeve is still in the park — and she’s fighting Nazis. For more details, check out our regularly updated preview of “Westworld” Season 3.

“Bad Education”

Bad Education
“Bad Education”HBO Films

Release Date: Available now
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano
Writer: Mike Makowsky
Director: Cory Finley

After a record-setting deal out of the Toronto International Film Festival last year, HBO has high hopes for director Cory Finley’s fact-based film. Based on the true story of the largest public-school embezzlement scandal in American history, “Bad Education” offers the broad appeal — and critically lauded performances — of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, which HBO will need to drive its pricey acquisition to high ratings and truckloads of awards. But the latter challenge is a difficult road these days. You have to go back to 2015 to find an HBO film that won the Best TV Movie Emmy (“Bessie”), and you have to go back two years further (to “Behind the Candelabra”) to find an HBO film that won an Emmy for its actors. Increased competition from streaming services and limited series have made it difficult for TV movies to get their due, but you better believe HBO wants to end that trend this year.


Doug Mathews FBI in "McMillions"
FBI Special Agent Doug Mathews in “McMillions”Courtesy of HBO

Release Date: Available now
Producers: Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, and Archie Gips
Directors: James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte

Did you know McDonalds’ Monopoly game — the one you may have played between 1995 – 2000 — was rigged? Over that five-year period, an ex-cop turned security officer duped his bosses at the firm as well as everyone at the McDonalds’ corporation and walked away with $24 million in stolen winnings; that is, until he was caught. From producers Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, and Archie Gips comes “McMillions,” HBO’s docuseries chronicling the bizarre (and largely overlooked) scam that affected millions of Hasbro-loving McDonalds patrons. Hear the story from the cops, executives, lawyers, and culprits who lived it — before the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s movie comes out.

“The Undoing”

The Undoing HBO Hugh Grant Nicole Kidman
Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in “The Undoing”HBO

Release Date: TBA (delayed)
Cast: Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman, Donald Sutherland, Noah Jupe, Edgar Ramirez, Lily Rabe
Writer: David E. Kelley
Director: Susanne Bier

The “Paddington” villains come together not for the hotly anticipated “Paddington 3” — have we made that happen yet? — but for an HBO limited series about a woman whose perfect life is suddenly… undone. Nicole Kidman plays Grace Sachs, a successful therapist on the brink of publishing her first novel when a violent death brings forth revelation after unwanted revelation. Her husband (Hugh Grant) is no longer the supportive, loving man she once knew, and the public debacle forces Grace to follow the very advice she gives to others. Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel “You Should Have Known,” “The Undoing” is writer David E. Kelley’s first HBO series since “Big Little Lies” and director Susanne Bier’s follow-up to “Bird Box” and “The Night Manager.” Expect this one to be a big 2020 awards title.

“Euphoria” Season 2

Zendaya in “Euphoria”HBO

Release Date: TBA (delayed)
Cast: Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Barbie Ferreira, Sydney Sweeney, Jacob Elordi, Angus Cloud
Writer: Sam Levinson
Director: Sam Levinson

Season 2 details are scarce on HBO’s buzzy teen drama, but viewers can expect at least one answer to be provided whenever the sophomore slate hits: What happened to Rue? Zendaya’s lead character relapsed at the end of Season 1, and her final moments were depicted in an ambiguous, music video-like sequence that left viewers wondering what actually happened. Some speculated that Rue died; others that she’s always been narrating the show from the afterlife; others are more concerned with the other characters, including Kat (Barbie Ferreira) and Jules (Hunter Schafer). Considering the show’s success, don’t expect too many answers before its debut — but that only makes the wait all the more exciting.

“Perry Mason”

Perry Mason HBO Matthew Rhys
Matthew Rhys in “Perry Mason”Merrick Morton / HBO

Release Date: Sunday, June 21 at 9 p.m. ET
Cast: Matthew Rhys, John Lithgow, Tatiana Maslany, Chris Chalk, Juliet Rylance, Shea Whigham, Nate Corddry, Veronica Falcon, Andrew Howard, Jefferson Mays, Robert Patrick, Stephen Root, Gayle Rankin, Lili Taylor, and Justin Kirk
Writers: Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones (showrunners)
Directors: Tim Van Patten, among others

Based on the novels and short stories by Erle Stanley Gardner (and following the same character as Raymond Burr’s ’50s and ’60s TV series), “Perry Mason” is a high-profile adaptation on a network known for making (great) high-profile adaptations. From “Watchmen” and “His Dark Materials” to “Angels in America” and “Band of Brothers,” this period noir set in 1931 Los Angeles is the latest in a long line of star-studded and well-produced TV remodels — and “Perry Mason’s” foundation is strong. Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey serve as executive producers, while Emmy winner Matthew Rhys settles into the eponymous lawyer’s loafers. While America struggles through the Great Depression, L.A. is booming. The Olympic Games are on the horizon and the movie business is serving as a reprieve for the masses. But Mason isn’t concerned with any of that; he’s got to figure out what happened in a child kidnapping gone very, very wrong, defend his client, and save himself in the process.

Continue reading for more 2020 HBO series from the likes of Luca Guadagnino, Jordan Peele, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

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