Sunday, March 6, 2011

TV Watch: "Shameless"

The problem with cable television series is that they tend to show a lot of sex, especially among non-married individuals, drug and alcohol abuse, crime commission, and the entire array of man's worst and basest actions. "Shameless" has all of that.

The greatness of cable television series is that they don't hide from any of those very real elements of the struggles, tragedies, and triumphs of modern men and women. It would be nice if families were perfect, whatever that is, but as human beings we are imperfect. To ignore rather than explore that imperfection would be a disservice.

Showtime has become perhaps the leading television network for presenting quality series, and it's new creation "Shameless" gives it yet another hit. The Gallagher family is certainly shameless in their actions. They are willing to and do lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to keep their dysfunctional, lower-class "white trash" family afloat.

The family is also shameless in their love, affection, and dedication to one another individually and the entire family as a unit. In this regard they do what so many other cable television series have been able to do, they draw us in and get us to sympathize, empathize, and root for their efforts to overcome the great obstacles that are thrown in our life paths by both circumstance and our own poor decisions.



The "name" star of the show is veteran actor William H. Macy playing family patriarch Frank Gallagher. Calling Frank an alcoholic is an insult to alcoholics everywhere. Frank is a fall-down drunk, saved from homelessness only by his inspired children. The back story says that the family was once intact until the mom left for reasons that have yet not been fully explored. When she took off, leaving him with six kids to raise, Frank instead took to the bottle, leaving the kids to largely raise themselves.

The job of raising those kids has fallen on eldest daughter Fiona, played by the edgy-beautiful Emmie Rossum, the real star of the series. Fiona works dead-end jobs, organizes the household, juggles the roles of big sister and surrogate mother, all while also trying to find herself as a woman. Besides her family obligations, the show also highlights her relationships, particularly with hustler boyfriend Steve played charmingly by Justin Chatwin.

The eldest Gallagher son is Phillip, known as 'Lip', played by Jeremy Allen White. Lip is a high school genius who has decided to utilize his intellect to make money for the family in illegal pursuits such as charging other students to take their SAT exams for them in exchange for money. The middle son, Ian, is played by Cameron Monaghan as a teen exploring emerging homosexual feelings. The youngest son, Carl, is played by Ethan Kutkowsky as an early serial killer, the kind of dark kid who tortures animals and draws pictures of his family dead at his hands.

The youngest daughter, the tween Debbie, is played by Emma Kenney, and is probably the most sympathetic character to this point. Deb seems to have a good head on her shoulders, wants only the best for her family, and is always trying to help others. She clearly has a good heart, and is beginning to struggle with the reality of her dysfunctional family while doing everything she can to help the clan individually and as a group. She is basically a tiny Fiona, without the worldliness of maturity.

The supporting cast is good as well, especially Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey as mixed-race neighbors Veronica and Kevin. As best friend to Fiona, 'V' and her live-in boyfriend Kev are almost members of the Gallagher family, not always to Kev's liking. Lara Slade Wiggins has a regular role as Lip's girlfriend, Karen, whose family is going through it's own issues. Playing her kooky mom is veteran comedienne Joan Cusack.

The show airs original episodes every Sunday night at 10pm on Showtime, with replays during the week and the series available to subscribers via OnDemand services. It is currently approaching the end of the first season. The show features outstanding acting turns by both the adults and the kids involved. Despite having plenty of action involving those kids on the show, it is in no way for kids to watch. This is an adult TV-MA series all the way with sex, drugs, booze, and mature themes and situations dealt with on a regular basis.

For some reason, cable series seem to have a fascination with the gay topic. There are absolutely more gay characters involved in cable series than you will ever run into as a percentage in real life in most families. In that regard, "Shameless" is no different in featuring the issue with one of the Gallagher sons. But aside from that, there is much to like here. The acting is top notch, the issues are real ones faced by many in America's oft-neglected underclass, and the togetherness of the family is commendable.

Some who are a bit more squeamish and sensitive than I am about showing even hetero-sexuality and dealing with mature, serious issues will cringe at the shamelessness of "Shameless". For me, this is yet another homerun for cable television in general, and for Showtime in particular. I am looking forward to watching the Gallagher clan battle their demons for years to come, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new show to enjoy.

NOTE: this is a continuation of the "TV Watch" series of articles, all entries of which can be read by clicking on that below label. Also, as always, the title of this post is a link to further information on the main topic.

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