HBO Max is here – but not for everyone! Here's how to watch, plus reviews of every original show

The WarnerMedia streaming service has library content from "Joker" and "Friends" to new shows like "Legendary"

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"Looney Tunes," "Love Life," "The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo," "Legendary" (HBO max)

The much ballyhooed HBO Max has officially launched as of May 27, just in time to join the glut of other new streaming services and confuse viewers with how this differs from all the other things named HBO. But fear not, Salon is here to break it all down for you, from cost and subscription logistics to library content and new original programming reviews. If you can't find HBO Max on your TV, there might be some very good reasons to check below.

First things first . . . 

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How much does HBO Max cost to be a new subscriber? 

The base cost is $14.99/month for a new subscription, although that may vary depending on providers. A limited-time pre-order special was also offering HBO Max for $11.99/month for 12 months.

Do I get HBO Max automatically if I subscribe to HBO? 

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If you are already subscribing to HBO Now, the standalone streaming service, then yes, you should automatically get HBO Max at no extra cost. You may need to login with your email and password again, but then it should be smooth sailing. There are a few exceptions, depending on who you're billed by for HBO Now, but more partners are being added as you read this.

If you're an HBO cable subscriber with the HBO Go app, many of you will also get HBO Max at no extra cost. But all of this depends on who you've subscribed through. If you're getting HBO through AT&T TV, DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, Hulu, Spectrum, Altice, Suddenlink, Optimum, Cox Contour, and Verizon Fios TV – congratulations, you'll also be transitioned over. Select independent cable and broadband providers will also switch over, with more partners being added daily. Here's the full list of providers

If you meet these requirements and are still having problems finding HBO Max, keep reading.

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Where can I watch HBO Max?

On phone/tablet: Android and Apple devices
Computer: Updated PCs, Macs, Chromebooks
Browsers: The latest Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Safari

TVs: Here's where it gets tricky. Roku and Amazon Fire TV users are out of luck right now because the HBO Max app isn't available for these devices. That's nearly 70% of installed streaming-TV devices in the U.S., which is a pretty big market to miss out on. If you're one of the many who use one of these your choices are to a) watch on one of the devices listed above, b) purchase another streaming TV device, c) stream to your TV through Chromecast or HDMI cable, d) wait until HBO Max works it out, which is who knows when, or e) not watch HBO Max. 

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In the meantime, these are the devices the app is available on: Android TV, Apple TV (and through Airplay from another device), Playstation 4, Samsung TV, and Xbox One. 

What sort of library can I access besides old and current HBO shows?

HBO Max is a bit of a misnomer since there's not just HBO programming, but that's just familiar branding being used as an anchor. Think of it like the launch of Disney+, which accessed the Disney library along with Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. But Fox properties like "The Simpsons" and Nat Geo programming were also part of the deal, along with new Disney+ Originals like "The Mandalorian" and "Forky Asks a Question."

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HBO Max is the streaming service from WarnerMedia, which has many, many properties under its umbrella. Besides all the HBO stuff, you can expect programming from Warner Bros. TV and Studios, the Turner Networks (TNT, TBS, CNN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, etc.), DC, New Line Cinema, anime streaming service Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, and more. It also boosts its prestige reputation by folding in Studio Ghibli films and the Criterion Collection. 

Not everything will be available immediately, but there's already plenty of rich library content like "Game of Thrones," "Harry Potter," "Joker," "Crazy Rich Asians," "Rick and Morty," "Spirited Away," "Casablanca," the BBC's "Doctor Who," "The Matrix," "The O.C.," and TBS' "Search Party" to dive into upon launch.

Here's what you won't find yet, despite advertising to the contrary.

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Will I get Cinemax content?

Nope! Go figure. That's why you shouldn't get too hung up on the HBO Max name.

What sort of HBO Max original programming can I expect?

Below, you can read Salon's capsule reviews of all the Max Originals available upon launch, which includes six shows and one documentary film,  (shades of the Apple TV+ launch, but with a library to back these up). More of course will be coming, including the much-touted Snyder cut of "Justice League," the "Game of Thrones" spinoff "House of the Dragon," a documentary from Monica Lewinsky about public shaming, a new "Adventure Time" offering, and more. 

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Unfortunately, the "Friends" reunion special, which was supposed to be the streaming service's big draw at launch hit a production freeze because of the pandemic, so it is not available yet. But every "Friends" episode is now available to watch until the reunion happens someday.

In the meantime, check out the fresh content upon HBO Max's launch on May 27.

HBO MAX ORIGINAL REVIEWS

"Craftopia"

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We're in the midst of a swell of nice competition television. "The Great British Bake Off" is the archetype of the genre and has spawned endless variations, from the adult crafting series "Making It" to the recent Netflix release, "The Big Flower Fight." I, for one, am a fan of the format: the music is upbeat, the judges are pleasant, the competition is blissfully devoid of snark and backstabbing. "Craftopia" is a welcome — if occasionally faltering — addition to the ranks. 

The premise for all eight Season 1 episodes that are available at launch is simple. Three supremely talented 9- to 15-year-old participants are given a broad directive, like "create a lemonade stand." From there, they scour the Craftopia Store — a brightly colored display containing a dazzling array of glitter, felt, paint, yarn and fabric — for the materials needed to execute their vision, which they will then present to a set of judges. 

The finished creations are, without exception, impressive and whimsical; it's a real testament to what's possible with a childlike sense of wonder and some heavy-duty glue sticks. 

The series is hosted by Lauren Riihimaki (perhaps better known by her social media handle @LaurDIY), whom Forbes has described as the "millennial Martha Stewart." She is a delight, presenting both the contestants and some DIY tips for viewers with a tremendous amount of polish — something the series as a whole sort of lacks as it's riddled with a slew of weird jump cuts that interrupt the flow of the 30-minute episodes. Then again, this is aimed at younger viewers who are used to the frenetic pacing of Disney and Nickelodeon game shows.

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But for HBO Max viewers with kids at home, especially kids who may be heading into a summer sans summer camps because of social distancing recommendations, "Craftopia" is an inspiration — to both follow some of these competitors on Instagram (a lot of them are mini-craft influencers with followings of their own) and to, in turn, execute their own creative visions. —Ashlie D. Stevens

"Legendary"

Can we begin by acknowledging the obvious? "Legendary," the inaugural unscripted ballroom competition series that werk, werk werks on a heady fuel of voguing, hairography, face and shade, would not exist if not for the runaway success of "RuPaul's Drag Race" and the media dominance of Ryan Murphy, who brought the influential underground scene to prime time TV with his drama "Pose."

For the sake of acknowledging the "Legendary" executive producers David Collins , Rob Eric and Michael Williams, "Queer Eye" alums all, we'll give a hat tip to that one too. Having said all that, "Legendary" stands tall on its own stilettos, thanks much. Watch an episode or two – the first couple will do you fine – and you'll witness the kind of show that moves a person to fork over the fee for entry.

True, the format used here was perfected years ago by Mama Ru who, as we know, borrowed liberally from the "America's Top Model" format along with other shows – structures that work in TV get cloned for a reason – but from there "Legendary" quickly becomes its own addiction.

If the poppy-bright color palettes don't seduce you, the sheer gorgeousness of the teams' creativity, not to mention their athleticism, certainly well.

The teams in "Legendary" represent prominent Houses in the ballroom scene, with the first season featuring the House of Gorgeous Gucci, House of Balmain, House of Ninja (the season's sole team comprised of cisgender women, named for the ballroom deity Willi Ninja), House of Ebony, House of Escada, House of Lanvin, House of St. Laurent, and House of West.

Using the performance competition format, "Legendary" takes viewers inside of the ballroom world in a different way than "Pose" – quite admirably! – does by focusing upon the mechanics of each "category" challenge. What goes into a "face" battle? (Hint: Maybelline won't save you with this one; you have to be born with it.) What are the qualifications for a successful team walk? You will soon know, America . . . or the sector of Americans who can afford HBO Max's price of admission!

Each hour, hosted by New York City ballroom luminary Dashaun Wesley, features multiple competition challenges with the overall winning team taking the weekly title of Superior House and the bottom two duking it out in a last-chance voguing battle. In the end, the top house struts off with $100,000.

Evaluating their efforts are the reliably delightful Megan Thee Stallion, celebrity stylist Law Roach, Leiomy Maldonado, aka the Wonder Woman of Vogue, and actress Jameela Jamil, who was already in the Warner family thanks to her hosting duties on "The Misery Index." Jamil also spent years on "The Good Place" proving that she has the bone structure to carry off couture. Which she does! Everyone on this show does! The thread game on display here will crush you.

Ahem . . . on top of his, a rotating bench of celebrities fills the fifth throne each week starting with Tyson Beckford, who looks overwhelmed in the best way throughout his hour.

"Legendary" is a thrill from start to finish, the type of soul-reviving celebration the world sorely needs. Instead of distracting or numbing the viewer it enlivens and hooks us. I wish it were available in a format where more people could see it, and maybe one day it will be. Until then, allow it to give you life and absolve you of any subscription purchasing guilt. —Melanie McFarland

"Looney Tunes"

What's up, Doc? Apparently, a revamped version of Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes" shorts for HBO Max. 

In the 80 11-minute episodes (10 episodes available at launch with the others released TBD), two shorts are separated by one brief visual gag. All the classic characters from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to the supporting cast like Gossamer the monster to Marvin the Martian and more show up. And that's not all (folks) that's familiar. It's clear that the creative team is full of diehard fans of the original shorts, not just paying homage but delivering the full flavor of all the trappings, including the look of the opening credits panel at the beginning and the Carl Stalling-esque music by Joshua Mosier. The warm animation, some old-school onscreen technology (like a tube TV), and even yellow gloves on Bugs Bunny go that extra mile to remind older viewers of the yesterday they didn't know they were missing.

The storytelling leans heavily on action, with the logic of the slapstick animation further emphasizing the retro. Many of the shorts follow a tried-and-true formula: Bugs Bunny is the antagonist who outsmarts Yosemite Sam or Elmer Fudd in elaborately silly ways; Sylvester tries to eat Tweety Bird but is foiled; Daffy Duck is frustrated and ends up leaping all over the screen.

As with the originals, there's an elasticity and lack of permanency to the rather gruesome and violent acts perpetrated that feels almost like parody, much like an "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoon. When Daffy unzips his own skin to allow his skeleton to walk free or when Sylvester dies to release one of his ghostly nine lives – both classic tropes – it reminds us of how far much animation storytelling has changed. 

There are expected changes, of course. The voice cast – including Eric Bauza, Jeff Bergman, Bob Bergen, Fred Tatasciore, and Candi Milo – make a valiant and mostly successful effort in mimicking the original actors, including the incomparable Mel Blanc. One cannot really quibble especially since today's younger viewers will not have that point of reference. 

Overall, the updates made to the new "Looney Tunes" don't feel intrusive, but help smooth the transition from what used to play before features in movie theaters to at-home streaming. These energetic and bite-sized distractions are silly and fun, good for a mental break before moving on to something meatier. – Hanh Nguyen

"Love Life"

It seems more than a little on the nose that we meet Darby Carter, the fancifully named heroine of the ambitiously described "first" season of HBO Max's "Love Life," in the distant era of 2012. Remember 2012? Remember the "Twilight" movies and "Pitch Perfect"? It was a great time to be young and Anna Kendrick. So maybe that has something to do with how Kendrick, who is also an executive producer on the show, finds herself back there now. The series is ostensibly about the love affairs a person goes through before finding The One, but it feels less rom-com and more science fiction. What if a celebrity whose recent roles have been less than inspired could go back in time, to the moment she was America's sweetheart?

If "Love Life" was better, the gambit would be completely forgivable. A generation ago, Julia Roberts bounced back from a string of dour flops with the breezy "My Best Friend's Wedding," proving that giving the people what they want is rarely a bad idea. But "Love Life" is not "My Best Friend's Wedding." At its best, it falls squarely in the "thing I wouldn't mind falling asleep to on a plane" genre. . . .

[Darby] is the flawed, hopeful spiritual kin of Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath, a comparison I resent having to make, because why are we still invoking these characters in 2020? Why are we still being asked to watch these not great women having their mediocre New York City adventures in personal growth while their much more interesting lovers and best friends suffer on the sidelines? Where's the show about Zoë Chao's self-destructive Sara Yang, a character who is sincerely played but judged by our narrator for not being like Darby and "wearing expensive bras and taking taxis to JFK instead of the AirTrain"? Where's the series called "Augie Jeong: Disenchanted Politico Correspondent" starring Jin Ha? Because I'd watch that.

For more, check out Mary Elizabeth Williams full review: "In 'Love Life,' Anna Kendrick tries to bring back 2012 Anna Kendrick."

"The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo"

Live from 123 Sesame Street comes your kids' — and maybe your? — new must-watch talk show. It's 15 minutes long, devoid of political jokes or current events, and hosted by everyone's favorite fuzzy red monster. 

"The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo" starts with its host asking his parents if he can be excused to go do his talk show, and ends with him donning pajamas to begin his bedtime routine. Between these set bookends, Elmo (Ryan Dillon) does magic, extols the virtues of oral hygiene and plays to a crowd filled with human children, some select adults and a smattering of Muppets (including some long-retired familiar faces like Roosevelt Franklin). 

There are some quick cuts to the production team. Bert (Eric Jacobson) and Ernie (Peter Linz) run the control room, Mama Bear (Jennifer Barnhar) runs the house band and Prairie Dawn (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) — armed with a very official clipboard — runs basically everything else. It's a throwback to Jim Henson's original "Muppet Show," which gave a behind-the-scenes peek at producing a variety show.

As with "The Muppet Show," Elmo also entertains some big name guests, some of whom are an immediately obvious fit for the program: Jimmy Fallon, with his trademark geniality (despite condemnable use of blackface); the Disney PR-trained Jonas Brothers; John Mulaney, who just released his own Sesame Street-inspired special that deftly appealed to both children and adults. Then there are other guests like Kacey Musgraves and Lil Nas X who pleasantly surprised me with their gameness to play. 

Speaking of John Mulaney — who spends a large amount of his time on-screen tricycle racing with Elmo — while watching "The Not-Too-Late Show," I kept thinking of a line from "The Sack Lunch Bunch," which debuted on Netflix in December: "What you're about to see is a children's TV special, and I made it on purpose." 

"The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo" is definitely less wry than that show, but is created with the same kind of intentionality. For all its subtle nods to the adults in the audience, at the end of the night (well, evening, since Elmo's bedtime is at 7:30pm) it is a show for children, in all the best ways. 

The first three episodes of the series will be available on May 27, with subsequent episodes releasing on a weekly basis. — A.D.S

"On the Record"

We wanted to review this documentary, a Sundance 2020 Official Selection, to include in this round-up. Alas, despite multiple requests, we did not receive a screener in time for publication. But it is a film that should spark conversation, since it carries on the HBO documentary unit's history of granting a platform to sexual assault survivors whose stories aren't being heard or taken seriously.

Directed and produced by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, "On the Record" features the testimony of music executive Drew Dixon, who is among the first women of color to come forward and publicly name hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons in her sexual assault accusation. Lending their voices to Dixon's account are other accusers who went public, including Sheri Sher and Sil Lai Abrams, to whom Salon previously spoke about her assault case involving former-"Extra" host A.J. Calloway. Warner quietly severed ties with Calloway in 2019.

Meanwhile, Simmons most recently appeared in "Andre Harrell: Mr. Champagne and Bubbles," a live tribute to the recently deceased music producer that aired on BET and Revolt on Sunday, May 24.

"Trigonometry"

This BBC Two acquisition stars Gary Carr ("Downton Abbey") and Thalissa Teixeira as struggling Londoners Kieran and Gemma, romantic partners who share a flat above a café that Gemma runs but can't quite get off the ground. Kieran, meanwhile, is a paramedic and a veteran who often deals with violence, and between work stressors and money strain the pair fights as much as they connect.

Into their lives comes a new roommate named Ray (Ariane Labed), a former Olympic-level synchronized swimmer desiring to forge a new path in a life that's been mapped out for her since childhood. Ray intended to simply live with them and help to pay the mortgage, but this series takes its title from the mathematics branch that studies triangles.

Despite the reasonable assumptions one might make from the series' premise, "Trigonometry" places titillation on the back burner to prioritize the internalized tension and conflict each primary character deals with separately, then in pairs, and down the road, as a throuple. Cultural collisions figure prominently into this story; Carr's and Teixeira's characters each have white parents ill-equipped with understanding the problems their adult children face that are unique to their identity.

Labed's Ray is an outsider as well, but a different sort, which adds to the suspicion with which Kieran and Gemma's friends and family view them. Writers Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods blend all of these pressures together to complexify a story that develops around the need for emotional support and understanding more than the physical urges informing their situation.

The actors embody these entanglements with admirable restraint and grace, selling the drama as wholeheartedly as the premise's sensual implications. After a point, it reminds us, every relationship requires work, some more than others. The question asked and somewhat answered at the end of the series' eight episodes is whether then additional effort required of adding a third party is indeed worth whatever pains life visits upon this working equation. M.M.

 


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is a staff writer at Salon, specializing in culture and food.

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Hanh Nguyen

Hanh Nguyen is the Senior Editor of Culture, which covers TV, movies, books, music, podcasts, art, and food. Follow her at Hanhonymous.

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