The first of two pre-2010 shows in this slideshow, Dexter might’ve received plenty of flack for its ending but still deserves attention for its solidly thrilling run leading up to its finale. One of the first antiheroes to kick off the long string of antihero television leads, Dexter helped contextualize how good Showtime shows could be.
Who’d have thought that Ben Stiller could be responsible for one of the best limited series of the 2010s? The big wigs at Showtime certainly thought he was capable, otherwise they wouldn’t have backed his miniseries Escape at Dannemora, which tells the true story of a woman who helped two prisoners break out of jail (all while engaged in an affair with the both of them). You can’t go wrong with Paul Dano, Benicio del Toro, and Patricia Arquette as your three leads.
Beginning in the 1950s and stretching into the 60s, Showtime’s Masters of Sex is based on real-life trailblazers in the realm of human sexuality. Don’t let the title fool you—this show is not that kind of premium television. It’s gripping drama.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Patrick Melrose was a limited series that ran for just a handful of episodes back in 2018. Regardless of its low number of episodes, the show completely blew critics and audiences away and is well worth seeking out.
A gothic hybrid of a whole slew of classic characters, Penny Dreadful comes from executive producer Sam Mendes and follows Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Grey, and Dracula as they lurk around London. It might’ve been short-lived, but it left quite the impression on audiences.
The only show in this slideshow still on the air, Shameless is incredibly raunchy but just as funny. Starring William H. Macy as an alcoholic father who seems to be raising his kids just as well as they’re raising him, the show remains a highlight after nearly a decade on TV.
A slow-burning drama about a novelist and waitress who begin a sordid relationship that changes their lives forever, The Affair has never not been on countless critics’ year-end best-of lists. Starring Dominic West and Ruth Wilson, the show will be dearly missed when it comes to an end after its fifth season.
Easily the tippy-top of Showtime’s offerings, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks revival completely redefined what “peak TV” can be—just like they did nearly 30 years ago with the show’s original run in 1990. The show is mind-bending and challenging and hilarious and thrilling and just about every adjective imaginable. You wouldn’t be wrong to call it the best TV show of the 21st century (or the best film of the century, depending on which side of the debate you fall on).
The only other show on this list that predates 2010, United States of Tara was bound to be a hit when it cast Toni Collette in the leading role—especially when you consider that the “leading role” is actually multiple parts. She’s playing the titular Tara, who suffers from dissociative personality disorder while trying to manage motherhood.
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to identify what the root of the problem is. That’s always been the case with the comedy of Sacha Baron Cohen, whose Borat and Bruno remain scathing satires of the US. His limited series Who Is America? takes that relentless (and often invasive) humor and applies it to the country post-2016, managing to harp on every type of person living in the US in just seven half-hour installments.