Showtime: The New HBO


Although it has recently been brought back to life (ironically) by the vampire saga True Blood, and maybe by the too-soon-to-tell Hung, HBO has lost a lot of cache since its days of The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex And The City. Big Love has never gotten the big love it has deserved (Emmy nomination for Chloe Sevigny!) and Entourage seems stale. The It’s Not TV It’s HBO network passed on the AMC hit Mad Men and decided not to even show 12 Miles of Bad Road, starring Lily Tomlin and Mary Kay Place and executive produced by the team behind Designing Women.

While HBO has been floundering, Showtime has flourished. Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall as a  conscientious serial killer (he only kills bad people), is a certified hit and so is Weeds, starring cutie pie Mary-Louise Parker. Weeds started out as a story about a recently widowed suburban mom who took to selling pot to make ends meet for her and her two sons. Now in its fifth season Weeds has evolved into something else. This season Parker’s character Nancy Botwin is pregnant by a corrupt Mexican mayor, while both her sons continue the family tradition of dealing. Parker is ably supported by Justin Kirk (Angels In America) as her flighty brother-in-law, and a wry Elizabeth Perkins as her ex-neighbor who just won’t go away. The writers continually come up with great situations for Perkins to play. Kidnapped earlier this season (by her own daughter) no one would ante up the ransom money, and Perkins’ reaction to each slight was priceless.

Parker is such a likable actress, it’s hard to believe that her character would ever risk losing her children. And as the show has gone on, her Nancy has become increasingly less parental and more selfish in her choices. Her moral compass is gone, which makes her and the show even more watchable. You won’t see a mother or a family like this on network TV.

Californication starring David Duchovny is another popular show for Showtime. Duchovny plays novelist Hank Moody, a N.Y. transplant living in L.A. looking to repeat his first novel’s success and win back Natasha McElhone , the love of his life and the mother of his precocious teen daughter (Madeleine Martin) That he does this by indulging in promiscuous sex, drugs and drinking is beside the point.

Evan Handler (Sex And The City) and Pamela Adlon (who also provides the voice of Bobby on King Of The Hill) are hilarious as Hank’s agent Charlie and his wife Marcy. Their foray into the adult industry last season was a highlight, with Charlie becoming a porn star and Marcy developing a nose candy addiction.

Like Parker in Weeds, Duchovny plays flawed flawlessly and that makes Californication a must-watch.

The most recent addition to Showtime, and its newest hit, is Nurse Jackie. Edie Falco (Carmela of The Sopranos) is Jackie, an ER nurse with a pill addiction, a husband and two daughters, a pharmacist boyfriend, and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. Despite all her failings, Jackie makes sure her patients get the treatment they need, even if it means stealing their meds, or lying on paperwork.

Falco is ably supported by the spot-on Merritt Wever as a student nurse learning from Jackie, Eve Best as a self-absorbed fashionista doctor, Peter Facinelli (Twilight) as a self-absorbed idiot doctor, and gay nurse Haaz Sleiman (The Visitors). The whole cast is terrific and Falco is equally as good here as she was as Tony Soprano’s long-suffering spouse.

Showtime also has  The United States of Tara created by Oscar winner Diablo Cody and starring the newly Emmy nominated Toni Colette, The Tudors, a rowdy bawdy look at the reign of King Henry VIII, the British import Secret Diary of a Call Girl, the visual version of NPR’s This American Life, and Tracey Ullman. That’s a pretty good line-up for a network that was considered the Avis to HBO’s Hertz.