Meet Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy): proud, working-class patriarch to a motley brood of six smart, spirited and independent kids who, without him, would be... better off. In Frank's booze-addled view, parenting just eats into his hard-earned bar-crawling and carousing time around Chicago -- so he leaves it to eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) to hold down the fort. Bearing the de facto parent badge/burden, she's donned the proverbial apron and makes sure her younger siblings do their chores, keep a clean(ish) home and feed the kitty -- the Gallagher family fund jar -- because the gas bill is due, and everyone (no matter how small) works to keep the house lights on, as well as food on the table. Brothers Lip , Ian and Carl use their intellect to break every rule in the book to survive and make the bank, while younger sister Debbie would sooner steal her share. The Gallaghers are irreverent, endearing, resilient -- and they're absolutely, wildly and unapologetically Shameless.
In one of the making-of featurettes accompanying this two-disc set of all 12 episodes from the first season of the Showtime series Shameless
, a member of the creative team reports that in adapting the show from the British version that preceded it, the producers and writers were determined to depict "real Americans." They succeeded admirably--assuming, of course, that one's idea of "real" includes a family headed by an unemployed single father who spends his waking hours blind drunk or hung over and the other ones passed out, scams the government out of money to buy more booze, and blames his six kids for his problems while contributing absolutely nothing of substance to their welfare, while the kids in question support themselves by lying, stealing, cheating, and other dubious activity. That doesn't mean Shameless
isn't well written and well acted, beautifully produced, consistently entertaining, and often very amusing--it is. On the other hand, The Waltons
it ain't. But "real"? Not so much.
The estimable William H. Macy stars as Frank Gallagher, the drunken paterfamilias and all-around loser. While he may have a shred of a conscience in there somewhere (as one character says of him, "Deep down, I think Frank is capable of doing the right thing"), far more often than not it's his children (one of whom turns out not to be Frank's after all) who keep this family afloat. That's especially true of the oldest and most responsible, daughter Fiona (the excellent Emmy Rossum), who acts as de facto mom while balancing a complicated love life (the two main men in her world are a car thief and the cop who wants to nail him), and Lip (Jeremy Allen White), a smart and enterprising teen who makes money taking tests and writing papers for other students but also looks out for his younger siblings, who include Ian (Cameron Monaghan), Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), Debbie (Emma Kenney), and Liam (an infant played by twins), all of whom have issues of their own. These (and various others in the sizable cast) are the folks who, we're told, put the "fun" in dysfunctional, and along with a steady dose of raunch (nudity, sexuality, and profanity all flow as freely as the liquor at Frank's favorite bar) and serious issues such as school bullying, cancer, suicide, prison, and Ian's burgeoning homosexuality, Shameless does have a darkly comedic sensibility. Perhaps most striking is that the kids, against all odds, are generally far more mature and sensible than the grownups, who also include Frank's agoraphobic girlfriend Sheila (Joan Cusack), her very snarky husband, Ian's older lover (who happens to have a wife and children), and various others of questionable character. Indeed, it's the younger Gallaghers, not Frank, who are the most dedicated to keeping the family together, and the grit, determination, and guile they use to do that are Shameless's heart and soul. --Sam Graham