Shameless: Season 1
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Shameless: Season 1

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This year comes to an end with the Showtime premium cable network releasing first season sets of two of their newest original series. Both are concerned with highly dysfunctional families creating an inadvertent but fascinating contrast. ‘The Borgias’ set in 1492 follows the forceful grab for power by one of the deadliest families in history while ‘Shameless’ considers the life of a poor alcoholic single father in modern times. The dysfunctional family has become a common archetype that usually borders on the precipice of Hackney. What Showtime has done is brilliantly reinvent the dysfunctional family motif breathing new life into the plot device. Yesterday the Papal contention took center stage but here it is time to return to more familiar circumstances with an American family barely eking out a means to survive. E ‘Shameless’ as presented here is a retooling of the long-running British series of the same name. The standards for the implementation of mature themes, adult language, and sexual situations are more permissive over on that side of the pond. This would immediately preclude a successful transition without necessitating the significant dilution of the underlying premise or forceful execution of the original. The Showtime network not only can explore mature themes they have firmly established themselves as the producers of original series that excel in craftsmanship and artistic expression. In much the same way that the British series investigated the family and social dynamic of the lower rung of its cultural ladder, the American incarnation casts its unblinking eye at a family that unfortunately is part of a growing segment of our population. The series expertly navigate the complexities of the social issues without sacrificing the touching drama or the sharply honed dark comedy. Some may hold to the opinion that the graphic language, nudity, and substance abuse is gratuitous a strong case may be offered that in the context provided here the infusion of mature themes is integral to the proper telling of the story. This is a grittier consideration of one of the most enduring social issues in history- poverty. Television typically looks at families living below the poverty line in a sitcom format as in ‘Good Times’ or the early seasons of ‘Roseanne’. The humor is generated from a deeper source, one with greater emotional realism.

The initial monologue given by the protagonist of the series, Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) provided an economical introduction to the rest of the principal cast. Gathered around a trash can fire in the park Frank informs the audience about is a good size and diversified clan. The youngest id Liam (Brennan Kane Johnson & Blake Alexander Johnson) who is still in diapers but is loved by his father even though it is exceptionally obvious Frank is not his biological father; Liam is black and bears a striking resemblance to Frank’s first AA sponsor. Debbie (Emma Kenney) is ten and possesses the greatest overt affection for her drunken son of a father. Her relationship with her father is touchingly shown when Debbie finds him past out on the floor as usual. Lovingly she lifts his head, places a pillow under it and tenderly kisses his forehead. This amazingly simple act sums up a complicated relationship between father and daughter and the extent that Frank alcoholism forces his kids to become enablers. Next, there is the perennial rule breaker Carl (Ethan Cutkosky) who is eight and a bit of a loner. Ian (Cameron Monaghan), is 15 and is in ROTC. He maintains a solid work ethic by working at a local grocery store. He is having a sexual relationship there which leads him to face the issues revolving around being gay. One of the Gallaghers most frequently at the center of any trouble is Phillip (Jeremy Allen White), better known as ‘Lip.’ At seventeen he is exceptionally bright straight ‘A’ student who excels in science and tutors his classmates. Lip also licitly supplements that income by taking State exams for them. He has a lusty libido that frequently leads to complications. The eldest of the Gallaghers is Fiona (Emmy Rossum) who at twenty-one is the only responsible adult in sight, or at least the closest this show can offer. She works hard and does her best to keep this family from crashing into the rocks. This includes finding work to pay down the bills and any iota of personal happiness she might be able to find. In constant attendance, if Fiona’s friend and neighbor the very lusty Veronica Fisher (Shanola Hampton).

A typical morning at the Gallagher apartment finds Fiona waking her siblings getting then ready for the trials and tribulations of the coming day. This includes checking the board for which bills are too overdue and passing the hat for contributions. If the kid can walk, he or she is expected to toss in whatever possible. Repeated dilution stretches milk with tap water and turning shirts inside out. Life is not easy for this family, but they get by with loyalty and love. This show does not depict a family we wish we had; it looks at one we fear to become. The financial struggle is difficult and when you give it a moment’s thought members of this demographic are not likely to be a subscriber to premium cable. Still, ‘Shameless’ offers a realistic view of how an increasing number of Americans live. The humor is derived from the humanity of the characters and the ability the showrunners and cast to project it. Macy remains one of the most accomplished and versatile actors of this generation. From his solid work as a much sought after and constantly working character actor to his steady transformation into an acclaimed leading man. He takes a fundamentally unlikeable character such as Frank by infusing him with pathos tinged with a dusting of pity. That feeling is readily transferred to the excellent young actors forming the ensemble cast of the children. The most impressive of this group is Ms. Rossum who is solidly established for her classically trained singing voice. Here she proves that this ability is only the slightest aspect of her considerable talent. A lot has been made about the numerous scenes in this first season for her willingness to remove her clothing. This is understandable considering her beauty, but it renders a disservice to the extent of her acting ability. Rossum her emotions bare far more effectively than her skin and in a fashion that will be much more enduring. The stories here are real and ring true to the audience. This is what pulled in the audience and makes this such a spectacular show.

Posted 12/30/11                Posted 02/19/2018

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