10 Showtime TV Shows You Should Watch
Ten Shows to Watch
Smaller and less prolific with original programming than rival cable network HBO, Showtime nonetheless produced the first original cable series. In 1982 Showtime began shooting new episodes of The Paper Chase, an acclaimed series about students at Harvard Law School.
What follows are the ten best original Showtime programs, which happen to also be some of the best shows that television has to offer. With great writing, acting, and production values, these series are examples of great storytelling.
Top Ten on Showtime
The United States of Tara
Masters of Sex
Homeland stars Claire Danes (Romeo & Juliet, The Mod Squad) as bi-polar CIA officer Carrie Mathison and Damian Lewis (Life, Band of Brothers) as USMC Scout Sniper Nicholas (Nick) Brody. The series premiered in 2011. The pilot opens with the discovery that Nicholas Brody, after eight years of captivity in Iraq, is still alive. He is rescued and welcomed home as a hero, but CIA agent Mathison believes that Brody actually turned to al-Qaeda’s side and is a threat to the United States. What follows is one of the most intense roller-coaster rides in the history of television.
Mandy Patinkin (Criminal Minds, The Princess Bride) stars as Mathison’s mentor Saul Berenson, the only person she can turn to with her suspicions. Morena Baccarin (Firefly, V) plays Brody’s wife, Jessica.
Homeland won the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, the 2011 and 2012 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series (Drama), as well as the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Damian Lewis and Claire Danes.
With four seasons under its belt, the series will air its fifth season in September of 2015. In this season, Carrie Mathison lives in Europe and is no longer an intelligence officer.
One of history's most popular and controversial television series, Dexter aired on Showtime from 2006 to 2013.
Dexter stars Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) as Dexter Morgan, a Miami Metro Police Department blood splatter analyst who was orphaned at the age of three. He lives a secret life as a serial killer, hunting down and killing other violent criminals. In spite of being a killer, Dexter is able to maintain the appearance of a normal life.
James Remar (Jericho, Sex and the City) stars as Harry Morgan, a Miami police officer who adopts Dexter and discovers his homicidal tendencies. Begrudgingly, Harry teaches Dexter to channel his gruesome urges in a "constructive" way: Killing only heinous criminals who have slipped through the cracks of the justice system.
Dexter also stars Jennifer Carpenter (Quarantine, The Factory) as Officer Debra Morgan, Dexter's adopted sister, who was neglected by Harry for most of her life while he focused on guiding Dexter's unsavory appetite to kill.
Throughout the years, Dexter attracted a plethora of guest star talent: Keith Carradine, Colin Hanks, John Lithgow, Jimmy Smits, Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Flannery and many more.
This series enjoyed widespread acclaim and won four straight Primetime Emmy nominations for Best Drama. The season four finale, which aired on December 13, 2009, had a record-breaking audience of 2.6 million viewers. The eighth season premiere was the show's most watched episode ever, with over three million viewers, and the series finale (September 22, 2013) drew over 2.8 million viewers, the largest overall audience in Showtime's history.
If you enjoy a good marathon, now is the time to sit down and experience one of the most memorable shows in television's history.
Weeds aired from 2005 to 2012, earning the channel's highest ratings at the time. Mary-Louise Parker (Red, The West Wing) stars as Nancy Botwin, a widowed mother of two who decides to sell pot to support her family after the sudden death of her husband. Using a bogus bakery business to move her goods, Botwin becomes incredibly successful even as she struggles to keep her new livelihood a secret from her two teenage sons and nosy neighbors.
Weeds also stars Justin Kirk (Jack & Jill) as Nancy’s brother-in-law Andy and Kevin Nealon (Saturday Night Live) as Doug Wilson, a pot-smoking Certified Public Accountant and Nancy's partner in crime.
The series as a whole averaged nearly one million viewers and received many awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Satellite Awards, one Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, and a Young Artist Award.
Throughout the show's eight seasons, Weeds featured its share of guest stars: Mary-Kate Olsen, Alanis Morissette, Martin Short, Zooey Deschanel, Richard Dreyfuss, Michelle Trachtenberg, and many more.
Jenji Kohan (Mad About You, Sex and the City) created the show with executive producer Roberto Benabib (Ally McBeal).
According to Jenji Kohan, the series title refers to many things, including cannabis and widow's weeds, but mainly alludes to "hardy plants struggling to survive." Now is the perfect time to experience this witty dark comedy!
Nurse Jackie premiered in 2009. The show stars Edie Falco (Oz, The Sopranos) as Jackie Peyton, an ER nurse at All Saints' Hospital in New York City. Jackie struggles with a stressful job and personal problems. Her primary coping strategy: popping pills. While running the Emergency Room nursing staff, Jackie trades sex for drugs and is having an affair with a pharmacist.
Nurse Jackie also features Merritt Wever (Tiny Furniture, New Girl) as Zoey Barkow, a gleeful, inexperienced nursing student from community college and Paul Schulze (24, The Sopranos) as Jackie’s lover Eddie.
Nurse Jackie Trailer
The series premiere was Showtime’s most-watched ever, with a million viewers. The show was immediately denounced by professional nursing organizations for its depiction of a nurse who is constantly violating the code of ethics.
Shameless premiered in 2011. The original British version aired from 2004 to 2013.
The American series stars William H. Macy (A Civil Action, Thank You For Smoking) as Frank Gallagher, the alcoholic father of six dysfunctional children who have learned how to take care of themselves in spite of their father’s drinking. Frank is a narcissist and illegally collects disability checks, but he is capable of care and concern for his family when things get really bad. Most of the parenting is left to the eldest child, Fiona, played by Emmy Rossum (The Day After Tomorrow, The Phantom of the Opera). Fiona quits high school during her junior year and takes several minimum-wage jobs to support the family.
The producers sought to distinguish Shameless from other American shows about working-class people by highlighting how Frank's alcoholism affects his family.
"It's not My Name Is Earl or Roseanne,” says the show’s creator, Paul Abbott. "It's got a much graver level of poverty attached to it. It's not blue collar; it's no collar."
Shameless also stars the wonderful Joan Cusack (Saturday Night Live, High Fidelity) as Sheila Jackson, an agoraphobic, germaphobic neighbor who tricks Frank into marrying her so she can adopt five Native American children. Other great actors who play recurring characters include Amy Smart, Jane Levy, Joel Murray, Marguerite Moreau, and Louise Fletcher.
Shameless has been nominated for its fair share of awards, thanks to plenty of positive critical acclaim:
- Joan Cusack was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Sheila in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
- In 2011, William H. Macy was nominated for a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
- In 2012, Emmy Rossum was nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series.
- The show received a nomination for the 23rd GLAAD Media Awards for Outstanding Drama Series in 2012.
The Tudors is a historical fiction TV series set in 16th century England and is loosely based on the reign of King Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty.
The show aired from 2007 to 2010. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as King Henry VIII and the series begins when Henry is about to marry his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. During this marriage Henry has numerous affairs and overall Henry is depicted in the series as a lustful and competitive monarch. James Frain stars as Henry’s primary advisor, Thomas Cromwell, and Natalie Dormer is Anne Boleyn, the woman Henry pursues and takes as his second wife. Nick Dunning is Anne's father Thomas and Maria Doyle Kennedy is Katherine of Aragon, to name just a few fantastic cast members.
The Tudors Trailer
More than a few events in the series stray from historical fact. Liberties were taken with character names, relationships, physical appearance, historical costumes, and the timing of events.
"Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history,” says the show’s creator, Michael Hirst. “And we wanted people to watch it... any confusion created by the changes is outweighed by the interest the series may inspire in the period and its figures.”
If you are a fan of period dramas, add The Tudors to your list immediately. You won't be disappointed.
The Borgias premiered in 2011. Unfortunately the show was cancelled in 2013, just one season short of its planned four-season story arc, because production was so expensive.
The show is set near the beginning of the 16th century and follows the Borgia family, an Italian dynasty of Spanish origin. The Borgias stars Jeremy Irons (Die Hard: With A Vengeance) as Rodrigo Borgia, and chronicles his villainous journey to becoming Pope Alexander VI.
The Borgias Promo
Created by Neil Jordan, The Borgias is an international co-production. It was filmed in Hungary, directed by an Irishman, and produced in Canada. Filming primarily took place west of Budapest, at Korda Studios in Etyek.
Neil had previously tried to direct a film about the Borgia dynasty and the project had come close to fruition, with stars Scarlett Johansson and Colin Farrell attached. However, in 2010 Steven Spielberg suggested that the film be turned into a cable drama, which caused Jordan to take the idea to Showtime.
After two seasons Showtime announced that the two-hour series finale script would be released as an e-book, since a movie would also be too expensive to produce.
Even though it never saw its final season, I highly suggest experiencing this beautifully corrupt period piece!
Californication debuted in 2007 and ran until 2014.
The series stars David Duchovny (The X-Files) as Hank Moody, a best-selling author, womanizer, and all-around hedonist. Hank is a New Yorker living in Los Angeles and suffering from severe writers’ block. He does whatever he wants, with whomever he wants, but happiness eludes him. His narcissistic lifestyle complicates his relationship with his daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) and with his longtime lover Karen (Natascha McElhone).
Another main character is Hank’s equally debaucherous agent Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) and Charlie's wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon). Californication's recurring themes are sex, drugs, and rock & roll and former punk rocker and journalist Henry Rollins makes a number of guest appearances.
Californication won two Emmys and one Golden Globe. With episodes at thirty minutes each, it won't take long to bang out all six seasons of this hilarious dark comedy full of self-loathing and nihilistic apathy following the misadventures of a troubled novelist.
The United States of Tara
United States of Tara ran from 2009 to 2011. The series follows the life of Tara Gregson (Toni Collette), a suburban wife and mother who is affected with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
United States of Tarawas based on an idea by executive producer Steven Spielberg. When under stress, Tara transitions into one of her alternate personalities. There are several: a flirty teenager called simply “T,” a housewife named Alice, a loud, beer-drinking male Vietnam vet named Buck, and others that develop as the show progresses. Tara and her family live in a suburb of Kansas City and appear, from the outside, to be perfectly normal.
United States Of Tara Trailer
Toni Collette won the 2009 Primetime Emmy and 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her role. The opening title sequence also won an Emmy, and the show itself was nominated for four awards.
Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex follows the work and relationship between William Masters and Virginia Johnson, two pioneering researchers of human sexuality at Washington University in St. Louis. The story begins in the 1950s, when Masters proposes a study on human sexuality but is rejected. He proceeds anyway and hires Johnson as his assistant. The show proceeds into the early 1960s and follows the drama of conducting controversial research as well as the stories of research subjects themselves.
Based upon historical fact, the series was developed by Michelle Ashford and is based on Thomas Maier's biography Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love.
Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as Masters and Johnson. Both actors received Golden Globe nominations for their work on the show.
Writer/producer Michelle Ashford assembled a majority-female writing staff, although she says this was unintentional. In June 2013, the series was honored with the Critics' Choice Television Award for Most Exciting New Series.
If you're looking for a new show to follow, this just might be the one for you.
An Abundance of Great TV
We are living in a golden age of television, with quality writing and acting on cable, commercial networks, and public television. These Showtime series are just a few of the outstanding examples of storytelling on the small screen. Leave a comment about your favorites below!
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