Showtime's been around forever, but it's no longer the destination for serious dads with shows like Ray Donovan and Dexter, or harried moms with shows like United States of Tara and The Big C. (No offense, serious dads and harried moms.) The network has undergone serious changes in recent years, and Showtime is better than it's ever been, choosing complicated, emotionally complex dramedies to represent its most recent facelift.
While we all sit inside socially distancing ourselves from the global pandemic, there's an opportunity for everyone to see what Showtime has become as it's offering a 30-day free trial for new subscribers, no catches if you sign up before May 3. This is a no-brainer as you quickly realize that your stockpile of shows to catch up on is already depleting — sign up for the trial, binge for 30 days, and cancel if you've had enough. This is free TV, people, and good free TV!
Yes, it's totally OK to go back and watch Homeland or The Affair (especially the early seasons of both), or dip into Black Monday or Shameless, but Showtime has plenty of other shows that didn't get as much fanfare that are worth watching first. We've put together a list of Showtime's best shows below.
Genre: Testosterone warfare Wall Street drama | Seasons: 4 (and counting)
Stick with this finance drama through its shaky first season. It took some time for it to figure out exactly what it was, but once it nailed down that it was a sophisticated soap for grown-ups, it became one of the most energetic shows on TV, with a murderer's row of great actors — Damian Lewis! Paul Giamatti! David Costabile! Maggie Siff! — sinking their teeth into juicily loquacious dialogue about double-crossing about backstabbing. -Liam Mathews [Trailer]
Genre: Intimate reality television | Seasons: 1 (and counting)
The term "reality television" gets a bad wrap thanks to many shows in the genre that loosely define "reality," but in its purest, uncut, unscripted form, reality television is captivating. Couples Therapy, from the documentary team that brought us Weiner, is the most raw, unfiltered reality show I've ever seen. It's exactly what it says it is, which is real couples sitting down for therapy sessions to work out their problems, air out some dirty laundry, and find answers under the wise tutelage of Dr. Orna Guralnik, who has occupational issues of her own that we see her discuss with her mentor. It's beautiful, intense, and, most of all, real. [Trailer]
Genre: Whimsical, melancholic comedy | Seasons: 2 (and counting)
Jim Carrey plays both the sock and the buskin in this tragi-comedy about a childrens' show host named Mr. Pickles (Carrey) whose relentlessly optimistic and innocent outlook on life is slowly chipped away by family tragedy. Kidding is a tug-of-war of emotions wrapped up in dark comedy as its characters process grief and the complicated obstacle course of life, and director Michel Gondry adds his surreal touch via dream sequences, musical numbers, and kids' show segments. Plus, Tara Lipinski and Arianna Grande make shocking cameos. [Trailer]
Genre: Pyramid-scheming dramedy | Seasons: 1 (and counting)
On Becoming a God in Central Florida started as a YouTube production before Showtime swooped in and saved it, which makes a lot of sense as it fits right in with Showtime's sense of mixing dark comedy with compelling drama. Kirsten Dunst, in her best role in quite some time, plays the wife of a man who got roped into an MLM scheme and finds herself stuck in that world after a gator makes a snack of her husband. (It's Florida, after all.) It's a story of revenge, capitalism, and building yourself up, amplified by the cult-like atmosphere of a predatory company conning its believers. [Trailer]
Genre: Victorian-era monster mash-up horror | Seasons: 3
Showtime's tastefully gory gothic horror is the ideal watch if you're looking to escape into an underworld where everything is creepy, but in a literary way. Penny Dreadful stars Eva Green as a medium, Vanessa Ives, who keeps company with characters like Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), Dracula (Christian Camargo), and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), not to mention her star-crossed romance with a gun-slinging American werewolf (Josh Hartnett). The drama is tightest in Season 2, as Vanessa and friends face off against a coven of witches led by Helen McCrory, but Green's ferocious performance is unmissable throughout. Plus, it's a great primer for the Penny Dreadful spin-off City of Angels, which hits Showtime on April 26. [Trailer]
Genre: Undefinable David Lynch head trip | Seasons: 1
We don't recommend watching Twin Peaks: The Return without watching the original Twin Peaks (available on Netflix, Hulu. and CBS All Access) and the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (rent it on Amazon), or you'll be even more lost than you would be otherwise. But if you're ready to watch some crazy sh--, Showtime's 2017 continuation of David Lynch and Mark Frost's groundbreaking drama series will show your fear in a handful of dust. There's never been anything like this on TV and there might not be ever again. -Liam Mathews
Genre: Self-deprecating queer comedy | Seasons: 1 (and counting)
Abby McEnany is a "fat, queer dyke" (her words, not mine) living in Chicago in this Curb Your Enthusiasm-style comedy set in the LGBTQ communities that entertains and educates. Abby has her own set of romantic struggles, some of which are relieved when she begins to date a trans man, and frequently fumbles her way through situations that seem like living nightmares, like when she confronts Julia Sweeney for making her life hell because of the genderless Saturday Night Live character Pat. But it's the show's take on Abby's mental states, which include serious looks at anxiety, OCD, and more, that make Work in Progress a must-watch. Coupled with a pulled-curtain look at queer communities, it's one of the most important new shows of the year. It's also extremely funny. [Trailer]