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Not two weeks into the new year and Showtime is delivering to us with Shameless what may dominate most people’s list of best things to happen on television in 2011. The Gallagher clan, with all of their street-smart working class affinity, may not be the Huxtables, but they are the most tried and true family seen on TV in a long time. Based on the British series, the Americanized version is an example to everyone that wishes to translate their show. Shameless’ original creator, Paul Abbott, worked directly with the American producers to ensure the Gallagher’s made the trip intact.
The Gallagher’s are a working class family living in Chicago, led by the dour and drunk Frank (William H. Macy). The patriarch of the family, and the show’s biggest name, is all but absent in the pilot episode. Those wishing to see whether Macy is going to be Emmy worthy will have to wait until the second and third episodes. Because Frank is a drunkard, a compassionless prick, and unlike flawed heroes in other shows is without a redemptive bone in his body. Frank’s only contribution to his family is that he fathered them all (or the majority), and somehow helped raise Fiona.
Macy is fantastic in his role, but it’s Emmy Rossum as the eldest daughter Fiona and mother-figure of the Gallagher’s who is the brightest light in Shameless. The house is kept relatively organized by her leadership, which is immediately apparent in the pilot as Fiona travels throughout the house announcing the time so that her siblings can start making the mad dashes about the house to begin the day. The first episode of the series takes the time to unveil the inner workings of the Gallagher family. By it’s conclusion you like these people.
A few episodes into Shameless and you’ll not only like the Gallaghers, you’ll want to live with them. You’ll want to have your own five minute window of morning bathroom time, your own seat at the table eating from the economy sized cereal box while pouring ill-gotten milk, and you’ll want to kick Frank as he lies drunk on the floor for being a bastard and then smile as you notice the cup of coffee left for him by his youngest daughter. These are good people. And they are going to offend you with their misdeeds.
Do not think that the title of the series is solely referencing Frank’s hundreds of dollars lost at the bar while his kids each put in whatever cash they can to pay the electric. The Gallagher’s do what it takes to survive, and sometimes that includes breaking the law or getting a blowjob from a girl. Fiona falls for the somewhat shady and charming Steve, played impressively by Justin Chatwin. With Fiona’s anger at her father a core of her being, the relationship with Steve has the appearance of being out of necessity to survive rather than just feelings. Steve is the audience’s way into the Gallagher clan, but he’s not without his own illegal proclivities. In a house that survives based on the ability to bend or break the rules for the greater good of the family Steve fits in just fine.
And as much as you don’t want to like Frank, there’s a certain something to the man. Perhaps that’s why agoraphobic, and crazy, housewife Sheila (Joan Cusack) is attracted to him. Macy plays Frank like a true drunk, meaning that no one likes the guy when he’s drinking. And he’s not much better sober, but he’s tolerable. The horrific sexual violations Frank endures leave you feeling satisfied that he got what was deserved, but also a little happy that Frank enjoyed himself.
The cast, like the family, is large. And they work together seamlessly to make Shameless what is likely to be, for a while at least, the best new series of 2011. Lip (Jeremy Allen White) may be able to give his brother grief about being homosexual, and Fiona may fight with her father, or any number of familial arguments may occur. But each one of the Gallagher’s knows that they always stand together when attacked. It’s a beautiful thing to behold as these down on their luck kids scratch and kick to survive, and still find the time to hold each other up.
Shameless premieres Sunday, January 9th at 10:00 pm ET on Showtime.