The 25 best Showtime original series (2024)

In the era of endless streaming options, it might be hard to imagine a time when there were only a handful of pay-TV cable channels. Showtime has come a long way since its launch in 1976, evolving from a 24-hour premium channel (that was HBO's first competitor) into the eight 24-hour multiplex channels, multiple streaming platforms, and video-on-demand service that it is today.

Along with its renowned sports broadcasts and stand-up comedy specials, Showtime's original series are some of prestige television's best (and, often, most underrated) programs. Unfortunately, not all of the network's big hits are available on its current streamers, but there are still plenty of new juggernauts ready for you to watch now. Keeping that in mind, EW has compiled the 25 best Showtime series.

01of 25

Dexter (2006-2013)

The 25 best Showtime original series (1)

Based on Jeff Lindsay's series of novels, Dexter follows the eponymous Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a blood-splatter analyst working for the Miami police who, in his off time, hunts down and murders other serial killers.

Showtime's signature series still stands as one of the best procedurals of the current century. It's gruesome yet fairly lightweight, with a propulsive pace, beachside setting, and tension reminiscent of author Patricia Cornwell's forensic thrillers. In particular, the first four seasons are a flawless example of serialized storytelling, culminating in a Golden Globe-winning performance by John Lithgow as the only villain who was ever truly a match for Dexter.

Watch Dexter on Showtime.

02of 25

Escape at Dannemora (2018)

The 25 best Showtime original series (2)

If there is any justice left in this world, director Ben Stiller's galvanizing account of the 2015 escape of Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) from an upstate New York prison will one day be widely recognized as a crowning achievement in limited-series storytelling. There is not a wasted breath or false note in the entire seven episodes. And the show's beating heart is Patricia Arquette, who walks a brilliant tightrope between a tragic and comic performance as Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell, the unfulfilled wife and prison guard who assists Matt and Sweat in their escape.

Watch Escape at Dannemora on Showtime.

03of 25

I Love That for You (2022-present)

The 25 best Showtime original series (3)

This darkly delightful comedy manages to be acid-tongued and openhearted in equal measure, following an entry-level host on a QVC-style network who lies about a recurrence of cancer to keep her job. The series stars Saturday Night Live alum Vanessa Bayer, who created the show with Jeremy Beiler and is clearly enjoying the opportunity to wade into slightly more dramatic waters. There's also room for masterful performances from fellow SNL vet Molly Shannon (as the shopping network's longtime star) and Jenifer Lewis (as the network's icy CEO).

Watch I Love That for You on Showtime.

04of 25

Nurse Jackie (2009-2015)

The 25 best Showtime original series (4)

Edie Falco won an Emmy for her performance as Jackie, a great ER nurse with a painkiller addiction. While trying to juggle her high-stress shifts at the hospital with family responsibilities, the pill-filching RN has an affair with the hospital's pharmacist (Paul Schulze) under the nose of her devoted husband (Dominic Fumusa) and two daughters. Nurse Jackie pulls few punches in its seven seasons; it's a scabrous, brutally honest series that delivers big emotional moments without overbeating them.

Watch Nurse Jackie on Amazon Prime Video (to buy).

05of 25

Weeds (2005-2012)

The 25 best Showtime original series (5)

Along with her wisecracking stoner brother-in-law (Justin Kirk), merry suburban widow Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) begins selling weed to support her two young sons (Hunter Parrish and Alexander Gould). Much of the joy within Jenji Kohan's amiable, well-structured dramedy comes from the supporting cast: A revitalized Kevin Nealon, as city councilman Doug, does great work, but it's Elizabeth Perkins as Nancy's frenemy neighbor Celia who frequently steals the show.

Watch Weeds on Hulu.

06of 25

House of Lies (2012-2016)

The 25 best Showtime original series (6)

Five seasons was nowhere near enough for this effervescent dramatic comedy, in which Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell go toe-to-toe in improvised sparring matches alongside the likes of Lauren Lapkus, Wanda Sykes, and series regular Ben Schwartz (now better known as the voice of Sonic). As the morally dubious and cold management consultant Marty Kaan, Cheadle shows audiences he's a tremendously adept comic performer, just as sharp and physically alive on screen as Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell.

Watch House of Lies on Showtime.

07of 25

Billions (2016-present)

The 25 best Showtime original series (7)

Would there be Succession without Billions? Showtime's watershed proved American audiences love nothing more than men and women in quality fitted suits sniping at one another in boardrooms. Damian Lewis stars as renegade hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod, who comes under scrutiny by United States Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Based on the investigations conducted by former New York attorney Preet Bharara, Billions is a white-knuckle thriller that continues to elevate and subvert itself well into its sixth season. The seventh and final season is set to premiere later this year, while two spin-offs (cheekily titled Millions and Trillions) are currently in the works at Showtime.

Watch Billions on Showtime.

08of 25

Black Monday (2019-2021)

The 25 best Showtime original series (8)

Another wonderfully deranged Don Cheadle comedy from Showtime, Black Monday follows a group of cutthroat stockbrokers in the lead-up to (and fallout from) the stock market crash of October 1987. Created by Jordan Cahan and David Caspe, and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Black Monday approaches its subject matter with an equal amount of respect and absurdity. Perhaps deeper than you would expect it to be at first sight, the show is admirably willing to plumb the darkest depths of its characters without always falling back on a laugh.

Of the stacked ensemble, which also includes Andrew Rannells, Paul Scheer, and Regina Hall alongside Cheadle, Casey Wilson never misses an opportunity to walk away with a scene — or an entire episode. As denim heiress Tiffany Georgina, and wife-of-convenience to Rannells' Blair Pfaff, Wilson perfectly captures the tone of the show in her whip-sharp performance. Behind the gaudy spectacle, just below the surface, is a scarcely contained tragedy; she's laughing, but just barely.

Watch Black Monday on Amazon Prime Video (to buy).

09of 25

United States of Tara (2009-2011)

The 25 best Showtime original series (9)

In 2009, did we realize how lucky we were to have Toni Collette (playing a mother suffering from dissociative identity disorder) and Rosemarie DeWitt (as her well-meaning but fed-up sister) sharing the screen with one another? It's tempting to think we did, but as with most things in life, you usually don't realize what you've got until it's gone. (Collette and Dewitt did reunite, however, in 2022 for the fairly amusing and extremely raunchy comedy The Estate.)

What's so remarkable about Juno scribe Diablo Cody's series is the willingness and nuance with which it addresses the subject of mental health. It's a silly romp through and through, but one which allows its characters to behave realistically and to have complicated feelings. As a result, it's the rare dramedy that you can trust to never go too dark while still challenging your expectations.

Watch The United States of Tara on Showtime.

10of 25

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

The 25 best Showtime original series (10)

David Lynch's masterful, winking fantasia of cinematic and interdimensional influence arrived in 2017 to sighs of relief, since his original Twin Peaks series run is as famous for its brilliant first season as it is for its compromised, fractured second one. By all accounts, expectations for Lynch's follow-up series — and his first project since 2006's Inland Empire — were exceeded. Twin Peaks: The Return is exactly what you would expect from Lynch, featuring a profane, bob-wigged Laura Dern and Michael Cera giving French biker baby vibes, plus a dreamy pop-industrial soundtrack throughout. Despite some signature Lynchian indulgence, The Return might be the filmmaker's most satisfying work since the '90s.

watch Twin Peaks: The Return on Showtime.

11of 25

Shameless (2011-2021)

The 25 best Showtime original series (11)

The 11-season saga of the Gallagher family, overseen by frequently sauced single pop Frank (William H. Macy), is consistently ribald but mostly grounded thanks to smart writing and a wonderful cast of supporting players including Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, and Joan Cusack. Much like Dexter and Weeds, the earlier seasons of Shameless are the most astute. Yet even as the situations grow wilder, the show remains tethered to a common reality. And the ensemble cast is superb at milking scenes for their comic potential while exposing the hidden meanings underneath.

Watch Shameless on Showtime.

12of 25

Masters of Horror (2005-2007)

The 25 best Showtime original series (12)

Created by genre historian and director Mick Garris, this anthology series presents hour-long films from famous horror visionaries Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Takashi Miike, and more. Each of the 26 episodes are worth your time, but particular notables include the astonishingly demented Deer Woman from season 1, directed by John Landis, as well as the pilot episode helmed by Phantasm's Don Coscarelli, entitled Incident on and Off a Mountain Road.

Watch Masters of Horror on Tubi.

13of 25

Web Therapy (2011-2015)

The 25 best Showtime original series (13)

Showtime produced four seasons of this magnificently staged yet somehow under-the-radar farce, composed of a series of proto-Zoom calls between celebrity therapist Fiona Wallace (creator Lisa Kudrow) and her Rolodex of deranged clients. Recurring guests Lily Tomlin (as Fiona's disapproving mother Putsy Hodge) and Jennifer Elise Cox (as her spacey receptionist) are the two actors who make the biggest impact opposite Kudrow, who must be one of the top five improv talents of all time.

Web Therapy isn't currently available to stream.

14of 25

The L Word (2004-2009)

The 25 best Showtime original series (14)

When The L Word hit screens in 2004, it was the first time lesbian and bisexual women had ever been given their own TV show to explore life, love, and sex. Showtime's groundbreaking series — co-created by Ilene Chaiken, Michele Abbott, and Kathy Greenberg — tackles a multigenerational cast of interrelated characters orbiting around Los Angeles and looking for any sort of connection. The L Word also wisely subverted expectations (and fears) about what direction a paid-cable channel would take this concept. Rather than being leery or exploitative, the show provides a dignified window into sex and dating from a female point of view.

Watch The L Word on Showtime.

15of 25

The Outer Limits (1995-2002)

The 25 best Showtime original series (15)

This thrilling update of the seminal series, which ran on ABC from 1963-65, enjoyed a considerable six seasons on Showtime before the Sci-Fi Network (now Syfy) adopted its final run of episodes. In the style of Tales From the Darkside (and the slightly better-remembered Tales From the Crypt), this iteration of Limits treated viewers to a new story of the strange and supernatural each week, some of which would then return for a sting at the end of that season. Nearly every episode is a time capsule of that specific mid-'90s milieu, while the spirited direction from a cadre of genre stalwarts (Paul Lynch, Tibor Takacs, and even Rebecca De Mornay) keeps things moving at a jaunty clip.

Watch The Outer Limits on the Roku Channel.

16of 25

Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

The 25 best Showtime original series (16)

In the titular role of a Hollywood fixer who is unstoppable at work and all too human at home, veteran actor Liev Schreiber finally found an iconic role that suited his protean skill set. After seven increasingly electric seasons, Showtime made the stunning decision to cancel the show just before the eighth (and final) season was to go into production. Fans quickly revolted, and in 2022, Ray Donovan: The Movie, directed by series creator David Hollander, gave Schreiber's finest character to date the send-off that he deserved.

Watch Ray Donovan on Showtime.

17of 25

The Chi (2018-present)

The 25 best Showtime original series (17)

Creator Lena Waithe's mosaic of Chicago's South Side (a location shared with Shameless) is one of the network's most potent shows, one which surprises and rewards its audience with some of the most humanistic storytelling currently on television. The Chi straddles the same, vaguely magical-realist prism which Waithe's other projects (Master of None, Queen and Slim) have occupied, with impressive direction from Gandja Monteiro and Nancy C. Mejía.

Watch The Chi on Showtime.

18of 25

Yellowjackets (2021-present)

The 25 best Showtime original series (18)

Showtime's most recent hit (currently in its second season) is a perfectly mounted sugar rush. Buoyed by inspired production design and '90s period detail — not to mention a killer soundtrack — the story of high school soccer players who survive a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and reunite 25 years later also boasts one of the best ensembles currently on television. It's very meta to cast quintessential '90s ladies Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, and Melanie Lynskey as the older versions of the teammates, but the supporting cast is equally stacked, with Jasmin Savoy-Brown and Ella Purnell being two particular standouts.

Watch Yellowjackets on Showtime.

19of 25

Masters of Sex (2013-2016)

The 25 best Showtime original series (19)

The indelible pairing of Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen sparks this steamy dramatization of the lives of human sexuality researchers Virgina Johnson and William Masters. While Masters of Sex takes an explicit look at sexuality — be prepared for for lots of nudity! — it's a terrific serial, broad in scope but always sensitive to the rhythms and threads of its individual characters.

Watch Masters of Sex on Amazon Prime Video (to buy).

20of 25

Queer as Folk (2000-2005)

The 25 best Showtime original series (20)

Based on the U.K. series that ran from 1999-2000 and starred, among others, Aidan Gillen and Charlie Hunnam, this hit American version was just as groundbreaking as The L Word, if slightly edgier and willing to tackle more outrightly outré topics. Queer as Folk struck a rare balance between self-effacing comedic touches and more intense dramatic arcs. At a time when the most nuanced portrayal of queer identity on television was occurring on , it's fairly remarkable how straightforward and frank Folk managed to be, even on Showtime.

Watch Queer as Folk on Showtime.

21of 25

Fat Actress (2005)

The 25 best Showtime original series (21)

In the interest of complete transparency, it must be said that there are elements of Fat Actress which do not hold up too well in the cold light of 2023. It's creator and star Kirstie Alley's stab at a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style improv hit, done in that post-MADtv, post-Farrelly Brothers key of raunch that was popular circa 2005. (Frankly, some jokes would give even Andrew Dice Clay a thoughtful pause.)

What sets it apart, in 2005 and now, is Alley's complete commitment to the bit. This is the opposite of a vanity project — if anything, you wish she would be a little more vain. Via Alley's well-shaded, entirely ego-free performance, the show manages to ask some tough questions about the accountability of an industry that routinely sexualizes and humiliates women, often at the same time.

Watch Fat Actress on Showtime.

22of 25

Who Is America? (2018)

The 25 best Showtime original series (22)

Sacha Baron Cohen's limited series Who Is America? takes the boundary-pushing comedian's penchant for prank character comedy that we all love and transposes it into a seven-part documentary, wherein Baron Cohen's various creations attempt to illuminate what drives America. The answers are fairly predictable (bigotry, misinformation, religion), and, occasionally, so are the targets. But there is no one better at this game than Baron Cohen, and to watch him perform is to be in the company of a master.

Watch Who Is America? on Showtime.

23of 25

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre (1982-1987)

The 25 best Showtime original series (23)

Showtime's very first piece of original programming was this luminous retelling of classic fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and many others. Faerie Tale Theatre quickly became known for its singular production design, presided over by such guest designers as Norman Rockwell, Gustav Klimt, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, as well as the inspired direction by imagineers Tim Burton, Monty Python's Eric Idle, and Francis Ford Coppola to name a few.

Creator Shelley Duvall's program, launched on the set of Popeye when she asked costar Robin Williams his opinion on "The Frog Prince," remains top-shelf children's entertainment. It's the sort of thing that nowadays might be relegated to a very niche broadcast station, but in the '80s and early '90s, it set alight the imaginations of many children who stumbled upon the VHS tapes at their local video store.

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre is not available to stream.

24of 25

Kidding (2018-2020)

The 25 best Showtime original series (24)

Dave Holstein's series, which stars Jim Carrey as a beloved children's television presenter who faces a complicated existence off screen, is the best use of the legendary comedian's skills we've seen in the last 20 years. It's a show which navigates the many faces of grief with enviable confidence while aligning some of the best actors around (joining Carrey as series regulars are Judy Greer and Catherine Keener — need we say more?) with thoughtfully written material well matched to their individual assets.

Watch Kidding on Amazon Prime Video (to buy).

25of 25

Penny Dreadful (2014-2016)

The 25 best Showtime original series (25)

In many ways, Penny Dreadful feels like the pay-channel show you used to stay up late watching on mute, hoping that your parents wouldn't be alerted to your presence before you could catch a glimpse of either carnage or kink. You'll find a great deal of both in Penny Dreadful, which wears its unhingement with elegance and aplomb.

Watch Penny Dreadful on Showtime.

The 25 best Showtime original series (2024)


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