By Caryn James | James on Screens January 5, 2012 at 8:30PM
Showtime’s best series don’t have much room for the warm and fuzzies – that’s one thing I like about them, from The Borgias and Homeland (both returning for second seasons, The Borgias sooner and Homeland later) to dark comedies like Shameless, which begins its second season on Sunday. Premiering after Shameless is the new House of Lies, with Don Cheadle as a high-powered management consultant so cynical and manipulative he makes the series’ title sound understated. You can see both shows and sample other series and films during the free Showtime weekend, from Friday through Sunday.
Shameless, which started out as the American version of the British series transplanted to Chicago, has made the story thoroughly its own. The terrific William H. Macy plays Frank Gallagher, the unapologetic, drunken, layabout father of six. Emmy Rossum is Fiona, the oldest daughter who somehow finds time in her day to take care of the kids and have sex with a stranger on the beach, and Joan Cusack is Sheila, Frank’s agoraphobic girlfriend, who in the first new episode takes some baby steps out of the house. Here’s a preview of the wonderfully acerbic series.
On House of Lies Cheadle plays Marty Kaan, who has a small son, a father who lives with them, and a lunatic ex-wife who is also a business competitor. There’s a personal life, but he’s pretty much a screw-up at it. He is a master at pulling off Machiavellian business deals, though, getting rich by telling the 1 per cent how to get richer. Kristen Bell is the token woman on his team.
The series is timely enough to touch a cultural nerve. Where Margin Call plays the economic crisis for drama, House of Lies gives us comic exaggeration that somehow reflects the depth of so much of the country’s distrust of big business. And Cheadle is the series’ greatest asset, letting us disapprove of Marty yet leaving just enough room to make him - not warm and fuzzy, just human.
Here’s are some clips.
You can also watch the whole episodes of Sunday's Shameless and House of Lies at the Showtime website now.
Among other highlights of the free preview: the television premiere of The King’s Speech, in case you want to time-travel back to last year’s awards season.