The 'POP'-ular View: Showtime's Resurgence


As HBO bid farewell to its brand-building classics such as “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Sex and the City” and “Six Feet Under,” Showtime slowly began lining up its own roster of “must see” programming.

Scripted shows, “Californication,” “The Tudors” and “Brotherhood,” allowed the network to find its own relevance while HBO struggled to keep its viewers.

True, HBO is catching up again with great projects in development from the creators of “The Wire” to Martin Scorsese’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

The network’s latest Sunday night lineup includes “Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union,” “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” and a new show, “La La Land.”

“Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (10 p.m.) stars Billie Piper (“Doctor Who’s” Rose Tyler) as Belle, and this season she’s doing double duty: maintaining her job as a call girl and providing her editor with a new book that chronicles her bedroom exploits. Her first book is already finding an audience, but she has yet to reveal her secret identity.

“Secret Diary of a Call Girl” has everything you’d come to expect from such a title. Sure, there’s sex scenes, but it’s truly what happens between those scenes that really makes this series more than the sum of its parts. Belle is strong, intelligent, funny and charismatic. I wouldn’t say this glorifies the world’s oldest profession; what it does well is create character portraiture, relatable and surprisingly, endearing. If the first episode is any indication, season three is very promising. Not my usual viewing taste, but Billie Piper sells it.

Curious to see where it all started? Forget season one. Try reading “The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl” by Belle de Jour. Talk about intimate. The book gives new meaning to leaving it “to the imagination.”

“Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union” (10:30 p.m.) stars Tracey Ullman as, well, pretty much everyone. And occasionally, like Eddie Murphy, she performs all the parts in a scene. As much as I enjoyed the premier of “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” Ullman’s show hits some wonderful highs and throws in some fine social commentary.

The beginning is a bit rocky with a sort of Michael Jackson tribute at an airline checkpoint, but once she gets into satirizing our dependence on technology (with all our modern devices) the episode really takes off – a character even becomes so addicted to her communication devices that her family stages an intervention.

“La La Land” (11 p.m.) stars award-winning British comedy sensation Marc Wootton in a half-hour series about three wannabes struggling to find fame and fortune in Los Angeles. A kind of documentary/comedy hybrid, Wootton plays fictitious characters but everybody else in the show, including his accomplices such as Kiki (Brendan’s assistant), Chico (Shirley’s driver) and Ruta (Gary’s mentor), is completely real and utterly unaware they are talking to an actor.

Encore presentations of these premiers will be showing throughout the week. or if you’re a cable subscriber, just use your On Demand feature. That’s what it’s there for. I prefer On Demand to live television anyway.

Overall, an intriguing mix of comedy.

Showtime is definitely the network to watch.

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