Showtime was launched in the 1970s to compete against high-caliber premium cable companies like HBO. Since then, it has proved itself to be a worthy opponent, serving up some of the best original series television has to offer.
Some of their hit shows, such as Shameless and Homeland, have been nominated for a slew of Emmy, Golden Globes, and SAG awards, among many others. The network casts its net wide, too-- creating shows of all genres, Showtime has something all types of viewers enjoy.
However, nobody can be perfect, and even the best networks release a few duds in their time. With all of its successes, Showtime has its fair share of failures as well. Many of these series started out as promising, but only ended up disappointing viewers in the end.
While some Showtime originals are TV critics’ darlings, others have proved as a critical feeding frenzy and have become infamous as some of the most disappointing series on television.
This list will highlight which shows to look out for and which ones to avoid at all costs. This is a break down of television series that make up the most impressive (and most lackluster) shows Showtime original programming has to offer.
Here are the 10 Best (And 10 Worst) Showtime Shows, Ranked.
20 Best: Guerrilla
Set in 1970s London, the 2017 miniseries Guerrilla follows politically active couple Marcus (played by Babou Ceesay) and Jas (Freida Pinto) as they become increasingly militant when they decide to free a political prisoner and form an underground network of followers.
The tense and engrossing series was written and created by John Ridley, who is perhaps best known for his Oscar-winning script for Steve McQueen’s 2012 film 12 Years a Slave. Idris Elba and Rory Kinnear also star in the miniseries. Guerrilla was enjoyed by an array of critics who all praised the show’s exceptional performances, surprising twists and turns, and tragic storyline.
Though this miniseries isn’t one of Showtime’s most popular or well-known shows, its six episodes delivered a powerful political punch. One of Guerrilla’s most memorable qualities is the fact that its subject matter resonates with today’s current affairs, despite its historical setting.
19 Worst: Weeds
Weeds was a show that started off strong. In its first few season, the comedy racked up the highest ratings Showtime had seen up to that point, and it went on to win several awards.
The show’s concept is pretty unique, and showed promise in its first few runs. After a California woman’s husband unexpectedly dies, she turns to dealing pot to make up for his lost income. At first, Weeds showed promise to go down as one of Showtime’s strongest series.
However, after its third season, Weeds lost its touch. As the show began to jump around with its setting and plotlines, the comedy grew stale. Both critics and regular fans grew bored with the show, and ratings began to fall rapidly.
Weeds met some of the worst critical receptions the show had ever seen with its last season, and audiences were glad the show had finally seen its end after limping along in its last few years on air.
18 Best: Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex is one of those shows that is able to grab its viewers’ attention immediately thanks to its provocative title and shocking – yet compelling – subject matter.
Based on Thomas Maier’s biography of the same name, the show follows Dr. Maier (portrayed by Michael Sheen) and his assistant (Lizzy Caplan) as they conduct scientific studies to answer a simple question: what happens to the body during sex?
Though the show has its fair share of revealing scenes, at its core is a fully entertaining drama with top-rate performances from its two leads. In 2013, the show was even nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Drama Series.
Unfortunately, Showtime decided to cancel Masters of Sex last year after its season 4. Many attributed the cancellation to the series’ season 3, which was considered by many to be far weaker than seasons 1 and 2.
Still, the show is one of the strongest dramas Showtime has created and is available to watch on the network’s online streaming service.
17 Worst: The Affair
Few protagonists in today’s television series are as narcissistic as The Affair’s Noah Solloway. The Affair follows Noah season after season as he fails to learn from his mistakes and continues to indulge in self-serving behavior, breaking up his family in favor of a series of flings.
Maybe these qualities sound a bit familiar, reminiscent of such flawed male protagonists as Tony Soprano or Walter White. But The Affair is nowhere near the quality of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, and the show only serves as a platform that allows Noah to do as he pleases without offering any serious critique of his flaws.
The Affair has managed to amass a strong and devoted following, and Showtime has renewed it for a season 4. Still, this is one Showtime drama to avoid.
16 Best: Dexter
Celebrated for its fresh originality, bold twists and turns, and Michael C. Hall’s skillful performance as the show’s lead, Dexter might just be Showtime’s most popular drama.
Hall plays Dexter Morgan, a forensic scientist who also happens to be a serial killer. Dedicated to locating killers who have evaded capture, Dexter must walk the fragile line between his two lifestyles.
However, Dexter isn’t just known for its thrilling qualities. In 2013, the series completed its 8 series run with one of the most contested series finales of all time. Many were frustrated – and some were even angry – over the series’ conclusion, which has generally been labeled as a baffling letdown.
Despite its notorious series finale, Dexter is a must-watch series that is twisted, gruesome, and shocking in all the best ways.
15 Worst: Californication
Following his role as Fox Mulder on The X-Files, David Duchovny returned to work as a TV lead with the Showtime comedy Californication. Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a one time best-selling author who now suffers from intense writers block and turns to alcohol, women, and drugs as the cure.
The series split critics and viewers right out of the gate, with some enjoying what they saw as a witty take on Los Angeles life and others finding it flat and contrived. However, as the series went on, more and more viewers grew to see Californication as a show that was increasingly inconsistent, clichéd, and just plain unfunny.
Californication saw its end in 2007 with its seventh season. By that point, just about everybody had turned against the series, with ratings at an all-time low.
The show is now remembered as one of the most uneven and disappointing Showime original series.
14 Best: Nurse Jackie
After her run with HBO on The Sopranos, Edie Falco turned to Showtime and took up a lead in the black comedy Nurse Jackie.
With her role as Jackie, Falco plays a refreshingly complex female lead that is a force to be reckoned with on the floor of the ER in which she works, but is not without her flaws.
The show enjoyed a seven series run and concluded in 2015. Critics enjoyed the show, and the series was repeatedly nominated for Emmy, SAG, and Golden Globe awards. Falco won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy in 2010 for her lead role on the series.
Nurse Jackie is a comedy that holds its own amongst Showtime’s many impressive dramas, and while the series is rife with funny moments, it’s able to dish out deeply emotional scenes at the same time.
13 Worst: Billions
Melodramatic, heavy-handed, and with a complete and utter lack of likable characters, Billions can be a difficult series to handle. The show is brand new for Showtime, with its first season premiering last year. However, Billions might go down as one of the network’s most frustrating viewing experiences.
Damian Lewis plays hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod, who soon comes under investigation by US Attorney Chuck Rhoade (played Paul Giamatti). The show revels in its own wittiness and drama, but fails to push its narrative forward in any serious fashion.
Its clunky narrative combined with the ham-fisted dialogue makes Billions a struggle to get through. Nevertheless, Showtime just renewed the series for a third season, so Billions isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
12 Best: Brotherhood
Many American dramas with an urban setting tend to choose well-worn cities such as Boston or New York for their backdrop. However, Showtime’s Brotherhood turns the urban crime genre on its head and chooses Rhode Island for its setting, following a pair of Irish-American brothers in Providence navigating the worlds of crime and politics.
Jason Clarke plays ambitious politician Tommy Caffee while Jason Isaacs plays his criminal brother Mike. The edgy drama managed to transcend the old and tired stereotypes of its genre and with its impressive writing and memorable performances, won over critics and casual viewers alike.
Unfortunately the show never managed to grab the large audience Showtime had hoped, and the show ended in 2008 after three seasons. Brotherhood has flown under the radar since, but this is one drama to add to the “to watch” list.
11 Worst: House of Lies
Despite its promising cast, including stars like Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, House of Lies is forever branded as being one of the most irritating comedy series Showtime has produced.
Its plot is immersed in the high-class business world, with management consultant Marty Kaan (Cheadle) navigating personal and professional problems alongside his team Jeannie (Bell), Clyde (Ben Swartz), and Doug (Josh Lawson).
Its dialogue is often cringe-worthy and its characters are nearly impossible to like or relate to. Many critics pointed to the show’s over-the-top efforts to prove itself as edgy and cynical as one of the main reasons the series is so painful to watch.
House of Lies ended up being cancelled by Showtime in 2016 after its fifth season, no doubt due to the notorious reputation it had built up over the years.
10 Best: Homeland
Showtime’s spy thriller Homeland has amassed a huge and loyal fan following over the years, and has since gone down as one of the most entertaining television series of all time.
The series centers on CIA Agent Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) and US Marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) as they work to hunt down the terrorist network of Abu Nazir.
The show won the prestigious Peabody Award with its first season and though the later seasons have generally been though to struggle to compete with the show’s fiery first season, Homeland still continues to impress viewers today.
Homeland’s seventh season will premiere some time in 2018, so there’s still time to catch up on the series before it comes out with its latest installment.
9 Worst: The Borgias
Showtime doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to period dramas. Its series The Borgias is one of the best examples why.
The lavish historical drama is seen as too melodramatic and ridiculous by some viewers, who feel the series falls on its face despite the luxurious costume design and impressive performance by lead Jeremy Irons.
The show has outrageous moments involving family politics, assassinations, and sex, but The Borgias does not embrace its more ridiculous side – instead, the show simply takes itself too seriously. This results in an uneven viewing experience that ultimately fails to grip its audience.
The series ran for three seasons, but was cancelled in 2013 as Showtime shifted its attentions and financing to other shows.
8 Best: Ray Donovan
Ray Donovan is one of those rare shows that is able to maintain a high quality with each new season. The series has been popular since its very first episode, with the pilot episode breaking viewership records for Showtime.
Ray Donovan hasn’t let up since, continually serving up exciting and investing storylines every year. The crime thriller follows the titular character (portrayed in top form by Liev Schreiber) as he navigates the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles, fixing the various shady problems of the city’s rich and famous.
The series is regularly nominated at many awards ceremonies and is renowned for its tense plotlines and excellent performances by Schreiber and Jon Voight. Ray Donovan is currently in its fifth season and is still proving itself to be one of Showtime’s top performers.
7 Worst: Episodes
At first, Episodes was celebrated for its satirical look at the Hollywood business and lifestyle. Matt LeBlanc’s playful lead role poking fun at himself was enjoyed by many, and the show’s jokes played well. The series was even nominated for a number of awards.
As time went on, however, Episodes began to grow stale and audience numbers began to steadily decline. Viewers have stayed loyal to the show mainly due to LeBlanc’s humorous performance, but the satire that was once a biting look at Hollywood has now turned into an overly cynical, stale routine.
Episodes just saw its final run with season 5, whose last episode aired this month. Showtime and Matt LeBlanc are now on to bigger and better things.
6 Best: Penny Dreadful
One of Showtime’s most unique series is its gothic thriller Penny Dreadful. Weaving the genres of horror, costume drama, and fantasy together with expert ease, Penny Dreadful served up some serious thrills when it was on air.
The series, executive produced by renowned British filmmaker Sam Mendes (known for Skyfall, American Beauty, and Road to Perdition), draws in classic horror characters such as Van Helsing, Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and more, as protagonists Vanessa (played by Eva Green) and Ethan (Josh Harnett) venture about Victorian-era London to battle supernatural forces.
Unfortunately, Penny Dreadful only lasted three seasons. The show had a strong following and was not cancelled by Showtime, but creator John Logan simply felt that the storyline had seen a fit ending and wanted to end the show on a strong note.
Though the series only had a brief run, Penny Dreadful is like no other series on air and is a surreal, memorable viewing experience.
5 Worst: The Tudors
The Tudors boasted an extensive and impressive cast, including actors such as Henry Cavill, Natalie Dormer, Peter O’Toole, and many others. However, even all of these talents combined couldn’t save this shallow period drama.
Following the early years of King Henry VIII’s reign in England, The Tudors at the very least had eye-catching visuals and elaborate set designs and costumes. But the show failed to stir up a truly captivating tale with its storylines, and The Tudors simply resorted to petty dramas and eroticism to drive its plot along.
The period drama ended in 2010, with four seasons total under its belt. Though it had its merits, The Tudors remains an example of a Showtime drama that could never quite reach its best potential.
4 Best: Shameless
Despite the fact that Shameless is a remake of a UK television series, it’s proven to be one of the most successful American television shows in recent memory. Set in Chicago, Shameless is centered on William H. Macy’s dysfunctional father Frank Gallagher and his six children.
Though the series is a black comedy, it carries some significant emotional weight and works to explore alcoholism, poverty, and the nature of family.
Macy serves up one of his most memorable performances in his career with this lead role, and critics have flocked to celebrating his portrayal of Frank Gallagher as well as the show as a whole.
Season 8 of Shameless arrives this November, so be sure to check out this sharp black comedy while it’s still on air.
3 Worst: I’m Dying Up Here
I’m Dying Up Here is one of Showtime’s newest series, with its premiere airing just this past summer. Nevertheless, it’s already earned its spot as one of the worst Showtime series in the network’s history.
On paper, the show has promise. Starring Michael Angarano, Melissa Leo, and Erik Griffin, I’m Dying Up Here follows young comics trying to hack it in the 1970s Los Angeles comedy scene. It’s a relatively fresh and engaging concept, but I’m Dying Up Here never follows through.
Instead, the show has been labeled as lackluster and aimless, with its dialogue and general plot trying far too hard to come across as genuine and humorous. In the end, I’m Dying Up Here really only succeeded in disappointing hopeful viewers.
Interestingly, despite the negative reputation the series built up over the course of its first season, Showtime has renewed it for a second season in 2018.
2 Best: Twin Peaks – The Return
Everybody’s heart broke when Twin Peaks was cancelled in its second season back in the '90s. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s bizarre cable drama seemed like it was just ramping up, but nevertheless, the show was cut down in its prime. Fans of the show never thought they would see a proper conclusion to their beloved series.
However, in 2014, Twin Peaks was revived when it was announced that the series would return for a limited run. The newest installment certainly wasn’t without its share of behind-the-scenes drama. Lynch's involvement was in question for a period time, and the release date was later pushed back from 2016 to 2017.
But all the trouble and waiting was well worth it. Twin Peaks: the Return proved itself to be one of the best series of the year. With every question the revival answered, it raised at least two more, but Twin Peaks: the Return was one thrilling ride of baffling, Lynchian drama.
Unfortunately, there’s little to no chance of Twin Peaks returning for a fourth season. However, it finally got its chance to end on a triumphant high, cementing itself as the best Showtime original in the process.
1 Worst: Happyish
With series such as The Day Today and Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan has established himself as one of the most talented comedic actors in England. Unfortunately, his partnership with Showtime in the series Happyish did not fair so well.
Coogan plays Thom Payne, a middle-aged ad man whose bitter worldview is meant to be cutting and funny, but only comes across as mean-spirited and forced. Critics and casual viewers alike were turned off from the show’s failed humor and heavy-handed judgements on the modern lifestyle.
Happyish was so hated, in fact, that Showtime only allowed it one season before giving it the boot. Since then, Happyish has been labeled the worst original series that Showtime has to offer.
What do you think? What is your favorite (or least favorite) Showtime show? Let us know in the comments!
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