Great Rom-Com Guilty Pleasures on HBO Max
Notting Hill (1999)
Hugh Grant is going to show up a couple of times on this list because let’s face it, he’s dreamy and the perfect rom-com love interest. Between his floppy hair and charming British awkwardness, there’s something so strangely sexy about him. Julia Roberts agrees in the classic Notting Hill, where she plays a well-known actress and Grant plays William, a humble bookstore owner. They, of course, fall in love after a series of adorable mishaps like spilled orange juice and mistaken identities. But they must eventually face their radically different lifestyles. One of the film’s highlights is Spike, William’s roommate played by Rhys Ifan, who loves to wear scuba masks and sit around in his underwear.
The Wedding Date (2005)
Going to weddings is an exhausting affair, from deciding what to wear to figuring out if the food will be good or not. It’s even worse when you don’t have a date and you’ll be barraged with questions about being single. This is why Kat (Debra Messing) hires male escort Nick (Dermot Mulroney) to be her date in the aptly named The Wedding Date. What begins as a purely transactional relationship slowly morphs into mutual attraction. Kat sees how funny and kind Nick is, realizing just how well he fits into the family. But of course, things get complicated, especially because Kat’s ex-fiance is the best man. It’s full of wonderful wedding hijinx that will remind anyone of the joy, and occasional torture, of attending a wedding.
13 Going On 30 (2004)
At 13, being 30, flirty, and thriving sounds like the best thing in the world. You can do whatever you want, wear whatever you want, kiss whatever you want, and live a glamorous life. This is what Jenna Rink wishes for on her birthday in 13 Going On 30. That wish comes true as she wakes up as an adult (Jennifer Garner), an editor for a fashion magazine with a closet full of fabulous clothes. But after the initial excitement of quickly growing up, Jenna realizes that being an adult might not be as fun as she thought. There’s a phenomenal “Thriller” dance, Judy Greer is a stunning stuck-up best friend, and the clothes are quite simply to die for.
Music and Lyrics (2007)
Charming and British Hugh Grant is back, this time as an aging superstar with writer’s block. He thinks he’ll make his big comeback if he’s able to write a song for a pop diva but can’t seem to get the words right. He happens to meet Sophie (Drew Barrymore) who has a love of plants and a way with words. As they embark on a musical journey together, their own love song has its own crescendos and diminuendos. But together, they discover more than just love: their true passions.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
This is the film that showed the world that Windex can in fact cure anything. The title is quite self-explanatory: Toula (Nia Vardalos) meets Ian (Jon Corbett), falls in love, gets engaged, and then must introduce him to her very large and very loud Greek family. Importantly, Ian is not Greek which is a major point of contention throughout the film. No matter what Ian does to prove himself, like being baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, Toula’s father never truly accepts him. Part of the hilarity, yet tenderness, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is seeing how eclectic her family is while also understanding their deep love for each other.
— Mary Beth McAndrews
The Essential Shows for Kids on HBO Max
When you need to keep the children busy — and that’s been more vital than ever in 2020, HBO Max satisfies a lot of needs for the young ones, and most of their content is educational and/or progressive as well as entertaining. It’s too hard to choose just a few of the more-modern Cartoon Network stuff, so here’s a reminder of some classic staples available to stream plus one more recently created recommendation. Most of these choices contain tons of hours but come with short running times to occupy their attention adequately.
Every child is required to at least go through a Sesame Street phase, and as proven with the show’s collaborations with CNN this year informing kids about COVID-19, it’s as relevant as ever. In 2015, the iconic PBS mainstay began premiering its first-run episodes on the HBO cable channel and five years later, new episodes are now debuting on HBO Max. You can also watch old seasons going back to the start, more than fifty years, either for your own nostalgia or to show the kids some cultural history and classic bits from its half-century run. Also, check out original Sesame Street offshoots like the new cartoon adaptation of The Monster at the End of This Book and other Sesame Workshop shows like Esme & Roy.
An even longer-running franchise, the Looney Tunes series of cartoons, even as brief as many of them are, could be binged straight for days and days and not be finished. The animated shorts go back to the early 1930s and include Oscar-winners, culturally significant works of art, and some of the funniest slapstick shenanigans you’ll ever see. And they’re always great no matter your age and what you might get out of the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, and the rest. HBO Max has the original goods as well as recent reboots like The Looney Tunes Show, New Looney Tunes, and the latest incarnation, Looney Tunes Cartoons. And don’t ignore the underrated feature film Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
Scooby-Doo Where Are You!
There are countless old cartoon series for kids of today to choose from in addition to all the new options, so why would they be interested in the original Scooby-Doo series? It remains one of the all-timers of engaging children’s television. While not always the most intellectually stimulating, I’ll admit, Scooby-Doo Where Are You! and many of its reboots have the simple satisfaction of setting up a mystery and allowing for viewers to guess the solution along with the gang from Mystery Inc. Even as it becomes obvious and repetitive the older you get, the younger audience can go a long way with its silly ghost stories. Of course, it helps to get them started on the originals if they’ve already watched the 2020 animated feature Scoob!, which is also on HBO Max.
A World of Calm
This year, I discovered the importance of meditation for children, particularly for when they’re stuck at home in quarantine and digital learning, but also in general for their greater health. A World of Calm is a kind of nature docuseries that debuted recently on HBO Max and features soothing narration from celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Oscar Isaac, Keanu Reeves, and Zoe Kravitz. It’s not as in-depth and scientific as the couple of David Attenborough shows available on HBO Max, but it might just be a gateway to stuff like that. As it is, A World of Calm would seem in theory to be boring for young children, but meditative programming, both visually and aurally, has a surprising effect on even the wildest of youths. It might also be a good way to lull the littler ones into their nap or engage older ones into greater exposure to the world. Hopefully, there are more seasons on the way.
I became a fan of Doctor Who thanks to a then-six-year-old boy’s themed birthday party, so there’s no reason to think this British import is for older kids. There are occasional scary episodes, but otherwise, there’s little that is inappropriate for elementary-school-age children up through teens and into adult fandom. HBO Max hosts the entire modern run of the show, which rebooted/continued the classic sci-fi program in the early 2000s. You could start with the current seasons with Jodi Whitaker as the Doctor or dive into the past incarnations of the title character. It’s almost always a delightful timey-wimey adventure serial with some standout one-offs that will also enlighten viewers on subjects of science, history, and most importantly, ethical scenarios without ever coming off like an educational program.
— Christopher Campbell
Related Topics: HBO Max