It’s not a concentrated effort to win over female viewers, and it’s definitely not contrived. But somehow lately, Showtime has become the go-to channel for original series that feature strong, yet sometimes a little bit zany, leading ladies. And in a landscape of programming that is often for the boys and by the boys, this is a major shift in things.

To be certain, not all of the women leading up Showtime’s most praised lineup yet are what you would refer to as obvious role models. In fact, given the premium channel’s tendency towards the gritty and darkly funny, it’s pretty obvious that some of them wouldn’t be immediately considered anything other than the latest kooky characters on satellite tv. A mother suffering from dissociative identity disorder, a pot-dealing suburban widow—recently remarried, and a pill-popping ER nurse are some of the favorites. And let’s not forget the fictional account of what was once a real-life career as a call girl.

But Showtime is getting something right, and that is why millions are tuning in to watch each episode, both male and female. For the first time on satellite tv, there is a careful balance between women who are unapologetic about the way they live their lives and sensitive characters who are trying to do a good job with their own relationships. You have Nancy Botwin, expertly played by Mary Louise Parker, as the one reason that «Weeds» hasn’t gone off the air yet. Even as the writers seem to be smoking something of their own and creating plot holes miles wide, Parker understands her character so well that she keeps her from getting dragged down with mediocre writing. Thankfully, a twist of last season’s finale has things poised and ready for some serious redemption.

But it’s not just «Weeds» that has captivated satellite tv viewers. In its second season, «Nurse Jackie» is still grabbing more viewers than Showtime has ever seen before. Bringing Edie Falco back to television, and in the role of an emergency room nurse who is anything but plaintive and demure, was a brilliant move on the network’s part. Whether it’s bantering with coworkers, dealing with the demands of the job through chemical enhancement, or taking care of personal relationships, Falco plays Jackie masterfully, making her anything but a caricature.

Such is the same case with «The United States of Tara,» which despite great writing would be doomed if it didn’t have equally fabulous performances. Considering that you have one actress playing—at last count—six main characters, it is truly incredible that the show manages to be as strong as it is. And the main character, Tara, could easily turn into Lifetime Television Movie territory, with lots of sobbing and remorse. But instead, she’s compelling, poignant, and relatable—even to those without mental illness. Again, another fabulous performance by Toni Collette.

Perhaps the real strength at Showtime, and the reason that the channel is currently dominating satellite tv, is the fact that there are just as many strong women playing these roles, and that this is where the actual believability and talent is coming from. In the cases of so-so writing, great acting is managing to triumph, and in the cases of the perfect balance of great writing and a fabulous performance, viewers can’t seem to stop tuning in. Don’t go thinking that a night of Showtime is just a girl’s night, either; these are some of the best dramedies in television history, and anyone who enjoys great writing will find themselves captivated.

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