Nurse Jackie, Edie Falco, United States of Tara, Toni Collette, Secret Diaries of a call girl, Billie Piper

Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Seven 7 (Countdown Numbers)

All this week, we're counting down the most anticipated series of the new year and telling you what to watch and what highlights to expect from 2010's top TV. Coming in at No. 7 is Showtime's lady-centric winter lineup:

Nurse Jackie

Premieres March 22, 10 p.m.
Starring: Edie Falco, Merritt Wever, Eve Best, Peter Facinelli, Anna Deavere Smith
Status: Returning for season two

United States Of Tara

Premieres: March 22, 10:30 p.m.
Starring: Toni Collette, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Corbett, Keir Gilchrist, Brie Larson
Status: Returning for season two

Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Premieres: Jan. 25, 10 p.m.
Starring: Billie Piper, Iddo Goldberg, Ashley Madekwe
Status: Returning for season three

Why should you tune in to these premium-cable series when there's so much good stuff on free TV? Here's what we can tell you:

Premium cable continues to kick ass. Despite the existence of woman-centric channels like Lifetime and WE, some of the smartest and best female-led programming on TV might just air on Showtime. And lucky for us, three of those programs, Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara and Secret Diary of a Call Girl, are all premiering new seasons this winter! (We'll have to wait until summer for another round with the fourth great lady of Showtime, Mary-Louise Parker of Weeds.)

For Jackie and Tara, both entering their second season, this year seems to be about consequences and being forced to pay the penalties associated with their problems. New York nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) can't get an easy drug fix anymore—a new (and newly sober) nurse has his eye on her, ex-flame/drug dealer Eddie (Paul Schulze) is gone from the hospital and is semi-stalking her, and even pushover Coop (Peter Facinelli) isn't taking her crap anymore. While all those problems do kill some of the joy of watching Jackie be Jackie, they also raise the stakes of the show and make for a pricklier and more entertaining series. (Meanwhile, Eve Best, Anna Deavere Smith and Merritt Wever have all upped their already excellent comedy games. You will giggle early and often.)

Meanwhile, Tara Gregson's (Toni Collette) multiple personalities are anything but under control, and her problems are exacerbated by an intriguing desperation to be "normal," an ambition that might ironically come at the cost of her sanity and perhaps her closeness with husband Max (John Corbett). The more aggressively Tara seeks to control her surroundings, the worse things seem to get. It's harrowing for us viewers to watch her struggle so helplessly, but again, good TV.

Last but not least, over in the world of high-class British call girls, Belle (Billie Piper) is daring to fall for her book editor, while Bambi (Ashley Madekwe) takes up with a dashing young duke who could very well be Alan Cumming's lookalike younger brother. The girls' attempts at romance are punctuated by the usual dirty doings in the bedroom—the show keeps expanding Belle's sexual palette—and the eight-episode season is a refreshing return to form after season-two's misguided attempt to produce a show about a prostitute while the lead actress was heavily pregnant.

Quality-wise, Nurse Jackie is the must-see, United States of Tara is the acting showcase, and Secret Diary is the guilty pleasure, and you can take or leave them in that order, but generally speaking, all three series are very much worth a watch in this winter season.

Can you guys still afford premium cable despite this crappy economy we find ourselves in? Which is your favorite of the three: Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara or Secret Diary of a Call Girl?


Check out our winter premiere-dates calendar to find out when your fave series return!


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