Showtime probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. In the era of Peak TV, the network has managed to keep pace with more high-profile networks, and has produced plenty of shows that have stood the test of time. On some occasions, Showtime has also taken risks that other networks ultimately decided against, and managed to break new ground for what TV was capable of as a medium.
Across its history as a network, Showtime has produced some truly great shows. Some of those shows had limited runs, and others went on for many seasons. However long they were on the air, though, these Showtime series stand up to the best TV series ever made by any network.
When the second season of Twin Peaks ended in 1991, many thought that they would never get to see how the story ended. Instead, Showtime did something truly great. It gave creators Mark Frost and David Lynch the money they needed to make 18 more episodes of the show, and the results were tremendous. Twin Peaks was never a show about plot, and that became even more true in The Return. The story of Dale Cooper and the town of Twin Peaks remained just as captivating as ever, though, and resulted in some of the best TV we’ve seen this century.
Creators: David Lynch and Mark Frost
Main Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Naomi Watts, Robert Forster
Total Episodes: 18
IMDb Rating: 8.5
The miracle of Billions is that it makes the world of finance seem comprehensible. The show is set in New York, and follows a game of cat and mouse between a powerful U.S. Attorney and a hedge-fund king. Billions is a show filled with surprises, but it also features just the right level of wealth porn. It’s not as searing an indictment of the ultra-wealthy as a show like Succession, but Billions knows how to keep viewers hooked as these two power-hungry New Yorkers go after one another, each trying to stay one step ahead and prove that they can out-think the other.
Creators: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin
Main Cast: Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Maggie Siff
Total Episodes: 56
IMDb Rating: 8.4
The first season of Homeland is basically perfect, and while the rest of the series doesn’t quite live up to that incredible start, Homeland remained a compelling spy series throughout its seven-season run. Although it has a distinctly American perspective, Homeland was often a piercing look at the cost of America’s 21st-century entanglements in the Middle East. The first season follows Carrie Mathison as she becomes convinced that a returning war hero is actually a terrorist. The series spirals out in many different directions from there, but it remains focused on the human cost of America’s forever wars.
Creators: Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
Main Cast: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin
Total Episodes: 96
IMDb Rating: 8.3
The United States of Tara may not be a world-class depiction of mental illness, but it is a great opportunity for star Toni Collette to show off just how capable she is as an actress. The series follows Tara, a housewife who has dissociative identity disorder and therefore presents as multiple different personalities. Each of these personalities are totally different people, and they allow Collette to show off an incredible range. Ultimately, though, what makes The United States of Tara worth checking out are the ways in which Tara’s struggles stay grounded in reality, even when the comedy gets a little broad.
Creators: Diablo Cody
Main Cast: Toni Collette, Rosemarie Dewitt, John Corbett
Total Episodes: 36
IMDb Rating: 7.9
When Queer as Folk premiered in 2000, there were still 15 years to go before gay marriage was legalized in the U.S. The series was groundbreaking, but that’s not the only reason it’s worth watching. The series was based on a British show of the same name, and quite simply followed the lives of five gay men living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In telling their stories over the course of five seasons, Queer as Folk humanized people who had been totally marginalized by mainstream American society. It’s not a grand, epic story. It’s just about people living their lives, and that’s more than enough.
Creators: Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman
Main Cast: Gale Harold, Randy Harrison, Hal Sparks
Total Episodes: 83
IMDb Rating: 8.3
Although horror remains a dominant genre at the box office, there aren’t many TV series that have found ways to successfully adapt it for the small screen. Thankfully, Penny Dreadful is an exception to that general trend, giving many of the most well-known horror monsters origin stories of sorts. The series follows Sir Malcolm, an explorer in Victorian London who has lost his daughter, and recruits a clairvoyant and an American to help him get her back. Penny Dreadful features plenty of scares, and its high stylization and roster of classic monsters make it a show well worth exploring.
Creators: John Logan
Main Cast: Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green
Total Episodes: 27
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Based on the true story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Masters of Sex tells the story of their groundbreaking work to study the science behind sex. Although that premise doesn’t sound like it would lend itself to intriguing drama, the show manages to provide just that, even as it explores the complex gender dynamics that govern the lives of its characters. The show’s 1960s setting made it a natural point of comparison for something like Mad Men, but the ideas in Masters of Sex are much more about how sex governs our lives, even in the moments when we’re not thinking about it.
Creators: Michelle Ashford
Main Cast: Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin Fitzgerald
Total Episodes: 46
IMDb Rating: 7.9
The American dream is nice on paper, but it can also curdle into something much more sinister. In On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Kirsten Dunst plays a minimum wage worker at a water park in 1990s Florida who wants a better life. To get it, she becomes part of a cultish pyramid scheme and begins to do whatever it takes to ascend the ranks of the company. Dunst’s character gets the better life that she wanted, but it comes at the expense of all of her relationships. When you’re willing to burn everything down to get to the top, you may find that the top is lonelier than you anticipated.
Creators: Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky
Main Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Théodore Pellerin, Mel Rodriguez
Total Episodes: 10
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Another series based on a true story, Escape at Dannemora is a thrilling miniseries that chronicles the escape of two inmates from a maximum security prison in upstate New York. The series follows two inmates who both become sexually involved with a prison guard, and ultimately use that relationship to facilitate their escape. Starring Patricia Arquette, Benicia Del Toro, and Paul Dano, Escape at Dannemora is thrilling to watch. It was directed entirely by Ben Stiller, who may be best known for his comedies, but on Dannemora, he proves that he’s more than capable as a director of more action-oriented shows.
Creators: Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin
Main Cast: Patricia Arquette, Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano
Total Episodes: 7
IMDb Rating: 8.0
Dexter famously ended badly, but that rough ending doesn’t erase all the great stuff that the show had done up to that point. When Dexter was at its best, it was one of the best shows on TV. Starring Michael C. Hall, the show follows a Miami-based blood spatter expert who harbors a secret identity as a serial killer. Dexter justifies this habit by only murdering people who have committed heinous crimes, but the series focuses on the tension within the character as he realizes that his bloodlust has little to do with whether the people he hunts have done anything wrong.
Creators: James Manos Jr.
Main Cast: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas
Total Episodes: 96
IMDb Rating: 8.6
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