From its launch in 1994 to re-branding in 2005 Starz was primarily a movie-based service. In 2005 the channel began to introduce original programming to compete with rival premium TV services HBO and Showtime. Even though Starz has still yet to produce as many prestigious TV Series to be considered in the same league as HBO or Showtime, they have had some great shows throughout the years. And some mediocre ones too to be honest, the channel had some rough patches and the start to the their eventually wonderful original TV Series catalog didn’t go as well as they’d hope. Crash -based on the 2004 academy award winning film of the same name – was their first original series, a series that premiered in 2008 and also one you might not have heard of because it didn’t gather much of a buzz. The series ran for 2 seasons before the death of lead actor Dennis Hopper in May 2010 lead to its abrupt end. Weirdly coincidental this is only the first of two times the lead actor in a Starz original series died, as Andy Whitfield star of Starz first original hit series Spartacus suffered a similar fate in September 2011 after only one season, which lead to a recasting of the role. Crash is a series I myself have not seen because it isn’t available for streaming online, not even on Starz on Demand. Gravity, Head Case and Hollywood Residential are other early short-lived Starz Originals that are also not readily available to watch online. So the wild guess here is these shows are average at best so Starz prefer to keep them buried.
After a collage of misses Starz started to find its stride in 09-10 with the arrivals of Party Down, Spartacus, and the historical drama adapted from the Ken Follett novel that earned them their first Primetime Emmy Award, ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Spartacus soon after became Starz first original hit series with its gory, bloody and softcore-porn level erotic blended style. After Spartacus ended these are aspects most Starz Original Series seemed to have acquired as the network to this day continues to follow in the footsteps of Spartacus producing dark-themed TV Series with extra added gory and strong sexual content. It has become quite the modus operandi for the network. By 2014 Starz was known for having mostly short-lived series with Camelot, Boss and Magic City, all canceled after only one-two seasons. But the quality of their shows were definitely improving and miniseries The White Queen – co-produced with BBC One – was even more proof. Black Sails became Starz longest running TV Series ending with 4 seasons (if you identify ‘Gods of the Arena’ as a separate miniseries prequel to Spartacus), and with their current series such as Power, Outlander etc. and very promising upcoming series The White Princess and American Gods, Starz continue their slow but steady ride up the ladder to being recognized as one of the best television network. So let’s take a look into Starz Network’s catalog and track record by ranking their top 10 best original series:
10. Ash vs Evil Dead (2015 – ongoing)
Starz continues to solidify itself as the ‘land of gore’ with a continuation of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy titled ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’. Instead of going down the ‘gritty drama’ route of shows like The Walking Dead, or taking the ‘straight horror’ approach of Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead remake, creators Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell fully embrace the over-the-top goofiness and playful tone of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, while still delivering the scares of the first film and plenty of bloody gore. Seeing Bruce Campbell step back into this iconic character is simply hilarious; it still fits him like a glove or, perhaps more accurately in his case, a chainsaw. But there was never a doubt in my mind that he would deliver as it seems Ash is a character Campbell was born to play. The production values in general are quite good, and the writing is what you’d expect from a Evil Dead TV Series. But while this show is great it is most definitely not for everyone, and can be easily cast off as too comical or too gory. Evil Dead is beloved cult-franchise though so this series isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
9. Power (2014 – ongoing)
Even though Power has had quite a landslide drop in quality since its first season, one cannot deny that its first season was quality television and arguably one of the best TV seasons of 2014. The Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson executive produced series revolves around a wealthy businessman based in New York, Jamie Saint Patrick A.K.A ‘Ghost’ who is a known club owner but also as one of the most notorious drug dealers in New York City. Being a Starz Original Series and all, Power is not lacking of good production and visuals, and even had good writing to back those up in the first 2 seasons with many plot twists and edge-of-your-seat moments, which kept viewers anxiously awaiting the next episode. But with its previously aired season 3 it’s clear the writers have no idea what direction they want the story to go, and the show’s quality has dropped to that of a mere cliche Broadcast TV drama but this time trying to use gratuitous steamy sex scenes to cover up a badly written script. The first season did leave quite an impact on viewers though, as Power continues to break many records for the Starz network. Even though it was an underwhelming season, the season 3 premiere of Power was the most viewed episode of any Starz series; and Power by itself is the most watched Starz original series ever beating Spartacus, Outlander and Black Sails. So it wouldn’t feel right leaving Power off this list now would it?
8. Black Sails (2014 – 2017)
If you ask most people about Black Sails, they’ll probably say it’s a series that got off to a rough start but got better with time. It is an action-adventure with quite a few flaws and mishaps, and while the first season might have felt a bit underwhelming to some, with a bigger budget, better writing and better action sequences season 2 made for a thrilling pirate drama. The characters in Black Sails are imaginative marauders alongside strong ambitious females, all played by a strong cast and none lacking depth at all. The productions values were great where visuals, writing, sets and costumes were concerned. Black Sails could’ve arguably been Starz next Spartacus but it was focused on being more complex, adding pirate politics into the mix and following along the lines of historical events. This is something the action-sex craved subscribers wouldn’t expect from a Starz Original action series, especially not one based on pirates. So being, Black Sails’s semi-pretentious dialogue and gratuitous scenes where characters have dragged out conversations about politics and whatnot, gave a lot of its episodes a prolonging experience for viewers and may have been the reason Black Sails fell under the radar for many. But even so the series was able to develop a dedicated cult-like fan base. Season 2 was were Black Sails hit its peak – well in my opinion at least -. With seasons 3 & 4 being good follow-ups, Black Sails is definitely good enough to be one of Starz highlights, and if my sources are correct, might be Starz most expensive series to date with a 8 million USD per episode budget.
7. The Missing (2014 – ongoing) [co-produced with BBC One]
Though both seasons of The Missing told 2 different stories of 2 separate kidnapping cases, the 2 seasons had much in common. Both are told over multiple timelines and are set in multiple locations throughout Europe. The Missing is the mysterious and emotional series which not only tells the story of its victims, but shows that a kidnapping is a stressful and sorrowful situation for everyone involved. With the season season’s plotline being more intriguing and darker than the first, there is such a brooding moodiness and at the same time a gleaming beauty to how everything is shot, and the dark mood seen in the lighting and how the scenery is like a character of its own are furthermore striking. The music score is not overused or intrusive, yet is enough to compliment the mood and make the series even more atmospherically haunting and distinctive. Story wise it is slow-burner, and takes on topics such as pedophilia,rape and abuse which makes it harder to watch for some viewers. But given Starz reputation for dark-themed TV Series, The Missing is a British series that is perfect for the network.
6. Party Down (2009 – 2010)
Let’s admit Starz doesn’t do too well when it comes to comedies. Not even their newer comedies Blunt Talk and Survivor’s Remorse lives up to their own potential. Party Down is one major exception. For one this show had an amazing cast. Kristen Bell, Adam Scott, Ryan Hansen etc. The synopsis of this show is that people who work for this crummy cater waiter company are entitled to their dignity. It deals with inequality and unfairness unflinchingly, but also with good humor. Party Down is pervasively bleak but also riotously funny. It was canceled after 2 seasons because of low viewership. Starz mishandled this show from day one, from not securing actors’ contracts correctly to not marketing the series properly. This is the one series I know Starz regret not running with a bit longer.
5. Flesh and Bone (2015)
Starz like to make series that target specific demographics. But Flesh and Bone is a series that gathered quite the controversy when viewers saw it portray the ballet world in such a dark, dreary, negative light. But what else would you expect from a Starz series? Sharing a similar tone as The Missing, Flesh and Bone covers topics such as incest, abuse and rape in such a darkly manner it makes a premise one would not expect to be this disturbing very hard to watch. But once you get around watching it, you’ll realize that Flesh and Bone is a great miniseries with a compelling story, but sadly one that should’ve had a sequel. Flesh and bone follows a young girl who runs away from home and comes to New York to join a ballet company. Sarah Hay plays our main character, a ballet dancer named Claire with a very dark past mostly rooted from her sadistic brother. Flesh and Bone remains one of Starz most visually pleasing shows, with fantastic cinematography and lighting which perfectly fits the mood. The pacing throughout most of this 8-episode miniseries was pretty consistent until it took a big jump to the finale, leaving viewers with some unanswered questions. Reason being, Flesh and Bone was initially not going to be a miniseries but because of production issues Starz decided not to move forward with a second season. Despite that Flesh and Bone was able to give viewers a mostly satisfying ending, and was good enough to be #5 on this list.
4. Outlander (2014 – ongoing)
If Starz was looking for another hit series after Spartacus they definitely found one in Outlander. This mash-up of sci-fi fantasy, action-adventure, and historical fiction is arguably the best thing Starz has going on currently. Based on the Diana Gabaldon book series there is no other network that could’ve adapted these books so perfectly to highlight almost every single detail (well, maybe HBO). The locations and sets evoke each of the time periods portrayed. The costumes and music are a perfect match, and it seems the lead actress Caitriona Balfe was born to play Claire Fraser. The series might be a bit slow-paced at times but for a book series over 800 pages long I’m quite content that Starz chose to develop this story properly, instead of giving it ‘The White Queen effect’ of cramming 3 books into 10-episodes. But a well paced story isn’t the only thing Outlander is known for; it is praised by many critics for being the best portrayal of sex on television. Having great sex scenes and ton of nudity is an accolade Starz Originals have been running away with for years now I guess.
3. Magic City (2012 – 2013)
Magic City is just another Starz Original where sex and nudity is just apart of the art to be honest. Set in the late 1950’s in the era of a flashy and turbulent Miami Beach, Magic City was quite a voyeuristic experience with beautifully nude women and rich men wandering around while drama unfolds in the Miramar Playa Hotel. Sounds a bit cliche if you haven’t seen it, but Magic City is unique in that the 1950’s was never before portrayed in such a raw and erotic manner. As we know, all TV Series, Movies etc. starts with the writing, and the Starz presentation of Magic City was one of the best written shows at the time of its premiere. The writing was consistently good. In essence the writers with great creative craft and skill, wrote a movie that ran about 24 hours while maintaining consistency in the storyline and the character development. The acting top to bottom was good; Jeffrey Dean Morton, Danny Houston, Steven Straight, and all the rest was quite the dream cast. Unfortunately, Magic City did not live long enough to finish telling its story. It was canceled because it was deemed “too expensive to produce”. Production issues has become quite the annoyance in Starz Original Series throughout the years ending many of its potentially great series before its time. Even so, Magic City is a fantastic watch and is easily one of Starz best series to date.
2. The Girlfriend Experience (2016 – ongoing)
My guess is most people would pass it off as another prostitute fluff show after watching a few episodes, but trust me The Girlfriend Experience offers much more than realistically bland sex scenes. The show takes a cold, intriguing look into the world of escorting. But this series is way more character-driven than plot-driven, as it takes a deep and somewhat mysterious look inside – the Riley Keough played main character – Christine Reade’s psyche. The Girlfriend Experience did a great job characterizing Christine’s borderline near-sociopathic personality and transformation into the world of sex-for-pay. Christine is a smart, bold and easily the most complex of any other character from a Starz Original Series. It’s amazing how she schemes around every obstacle thrown in front of her and can swiftly make the best out of the worst situation. Complimented by an amazing electronic-genre soundtrack and stunning visuals, the writers should also be commended for a well written and structured script. They took many twists and turns and pulled off some of the most intense episodes I’ve ever seen. ‘Boundaries’, ‘Blindsided’ and ‘Separation’ were the best in the series with very chilling pay-offs. This show certainly knows how to build up the tension to a point where it’s scary. The Girlfriend Experience is a slow-burner but never feels drawn out due to the episodes being only 24-26 minutes. This short episode format worked quite well and allowed it to faultlessly jump from scene to scene without any notified timeline. I would love to see more TV adapt the International style of 30 minute dramas. With that being said, a 2nd season of The Girlfriend Experience has been commissioned with a new cast and new stories making it an anthology series. Until another season is released for critiquing, The Girlfriend Experience remains the most intense and one of the best Starz Original Series.
1. Spartacus (2010 – 2013)
Spartacus still remains Starz most prominent and prestigious TV Series. It is a visual hybrid between ‘Gladiator’ and ‘300’, but with way more sex and action sequences than HBO’s ‘Rome’ could even imagine. There’s no other show on television that can do what Spartacus did; giving viewers a great deal of fight scenes and erotica while still telling a well-paced, progressive story. For the ones that want to see fights, blood, brutality, sex and men looking like gods etc. this is a show for you. But despite its gruesomeness, Spartacus is cooled down by it’s editing and special effects which gives it a distinctive comical tone. And yes, the CGI wasn’t traditionally good, but that’s just another quirky aspect that fitted in well with the show’s overall comical appeal. Spartacus did not have a compelling first episode though. I know people would see the substandard pilot episode and dismiss it as time-wasting perversity. And they would be mistaken. The series builds on itself as it goes along, increasing the stakes, throwing in some genuine twists and shocks you won’t see coming. The plot is so varied, so deep, full of plot twists and unpredictable outcomes that you may find yourself glued to the screen. The characters are quite imaginative and overtime gained so much depth and perspective. The late, lamented Andy Whitfield is all heart is still the best Spartacus there is. Spartacus: Blood and Sand is most definitely one of the greatest TV seasons of all time. Having to continue the series without Andy was quite unfortunate. A drop in quality was hardly visible but no one season of Spartacus was as prestigious as its first.