It used to be that premium cable was little more than a way to have three or four extra movies playing on TV that you probably didn’t ever want to watch anyway. The only people who had HBO, Cinemax and Showtime were the rich families with money to throw around or those who wanted to watch soft-core pornography at a rate quicker than 28.8kbps. But we’ve come a long way since Taxicab Confessions.
Sometime around the turn of the millennium, these premium networks started realizing that if they produced exclusive, in-house serials, maybe people would pay the extra $10 per month for access. And it worked: Terrible as the show Arli$$ was received critically, there was a significant portion of HBO’s subscribers who paid for the network each month simply for the privilege of watching it 30 minutes each week.
Since then, premium channels have produced some of the best-loved and most exciting series on TV, all presented gloriously uncensored. With streaming video on the internet and digital providers offering on-demand services, television has entered a new age of high production values and constant boundary-pushing, extending from basic cable through network television. This trend looks to continue, with great new shows like Shameless and Boardwalk Empire starting off the next 10 years. And for all that, we largely have the following fun, compelling, often groundbreaking shows to thank:
10. Eastbound & Down (2009-present)
Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, this show looks to be wrapping up production just as it was gaining momentum, ending its run after its upcoming third season. Following former Major League Baseball pitcher Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) as he falls from grace, returning to his middle school to teach physical education, the show is consistently funny in spite of the occasional dramatic moment. Add to that the occasional great cameo by Ferrell, Adam Scott or Matthew McConaughey and you’ve got the makings of a show the kids just won’t shut up about.
9. Californication (2007-present)
This might as well be called The Erotic Adventures of Hank Moody (David Duchovny), because that’s what this show amounts to. It follows Moody, a novelist who has been displaced from New York to Los Angeles as one of his books becomes a movie. Hank Moody lives a rock star’s life as he wanders LA drinking alcohol and bedding women, oftentimes with his terrier-esque agent Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler). The show is as clever as it is sexy, and there is definite on-screen chemistry between its characters, even if it does seem mostly like all other actors are playing catch-up to Duchovny.