Shameless (2011-present), the title of Showtime's fine "dramedy" adapted from a same-named British series, suggests something that it's not. The title implies the poor (it's "not blue collar - it's no collar," says co-creator John Wells), dysfunctional Gallagher family has something to be ashamed about. Further, the box art (look to your right) suggests One Wild Party, also misleading. It's not Rosanne meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or anything like that because except for its patriarch the Gallagher brood has nothing at all to feel ashamed about. Perhaps a better title would be No Shame or Unashamed?
I've not seen the long-running (since 2004 and still going strong) British version, created by Paul Abbott, but the Americanized Shameless is very good so far, with strong characters, a unique and admirably explicit and frank approach to sex, and it shows a lot of potential for a great American series in these troubled times of ours.
The Warner Home Video Blu-ray of Shameless - The Complete First Season is up to the standards one might expect for a brand-new, high-profile television series in high-def. The two-disc set has all twelve 50-minute, first season episodes in 1080p, plus a lot of self-promotional but undeniably informative extra features.
The series is set in Chicago, though eagle-eyed viewers will notice that some scenes are faked using L.A. locations. In any case, the Gallaghers lives in a big old house in Chicago's South Side "Back of the Yards" neighborhood. Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) is a single father of six children, though "father" is a term used loosely in this case. That's because he's an alcoholic and a mean drunk at that, putting that next drink ahead of all concerns, including his kids.
And yet the family functions surprisingly well, mainly because of Frank's eldest, 21-year-old Fiona (Emmy Rossum). Burdened with matriarchal responsibilities, she pools together money to pay the bills, and schemes to find new ways to bring staple supplies into the home at little or no cost. She's taken aback when handsome, apparently wealthy Steve Lishman (Jutsin Chatwin) takes an interest in her.
Second child Phillip "Lip" Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White), 17, is the comparatively responsible big brother, a gifted student who contributes vital funds to the household coffers by tutoring classmates and taking college entrance examinations on their behalf. He also watches over 15-year-old brother Ian (Cameron Monaghan). In the first episode Lip learns that Ian is gay and secretly having an affair with the married liquor store owner who employs him.
The other children play less of a role, though Debbie, 10, maintains a sweet attitude toward all. Unashamed, for instance, of her drunk of a father, she gently places a pillow under his head after he passes out each night, sometimes on the kitchen or bathroom floor.
Veronica (Shanola Hampton) and Kev (Steve Howey) are the Gallagher's sexually voracious next-door neighbors, the former a disgraced medical student who provides the Gallaghers with unlicensed but nonetheless free medical care, and the latter the bartender at the single neighborhood saloon that hasn't banned Frank.
Finally, there's eccentric Shelia Jackson (Joan Cusack), the mother of a student (Laura Slade Wiggins) Lip is tutoring, who suffers from crippling agoraphobia, and who out of desperation takes Frank in as her lover.
Shameless impresses in myriad ways. Despite somewhat overly colorful characters, it's refreshing to see a fairly realistic depiction of the working poor (and disabled, and unemployed) in a setting other than the South and/or based in a trailer park, both of which Wells strenuously avoided. These are folks who've learned to survive and keep their family together by any means necessary, sometimes by playing an unjust system that couldn't care less about their well-being. The older children pilfer toilet paper from motels where they sometimes work as maids, at other times those little handy hairdryers after the gas company turns off their heat, while the younger kids pocket some of the money they raise for school charities.
Refreshing too is the program's very adult attitude toward sexual relationships. It pulls no punches and is even frequently startling in ways not seen since the breakthrough movies of the late-1960s/early-'70s. By the end of the second episode nearly all the adult actors have bared all at least once, in various straight, gay, and kinky sex scenes.
Macy, who nearly became typecast as troubled, Milquetoast everymen following his hilarious performance as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo, makes a strong impression as Frank. Anyone that's known a mean drunk or two will appreciate Macy's and the writing's verisimilitude, particularly Frank's cockeyed way of rationalizing his abhorrent and unpardonable behavior. If not for the fact that Macy is one of the most recognizable faces in American film and television, you'd accept his characterization completely.
The series is consistently clever, with funny and surprising scripts: after an especially liquid night of carousing, Frank wakes up on a park bench in Toronto, Ontario, penniless and disoriented. In "Aunt Ginger," it's learned that Frank has been cashing his aunt's social security checks, no matter that she's been dead these past 12 years. The family hurriedly recruits a doddering Alzheimer's nursing home resident to take her place when investigators come a-calling, and Debbie forms a bond with their newly adopted "Aunt Ginger," leading to an unexpectedly touching moment near the end of that episode.
Shameless runs the risk of spreading its interesting characters a little too thin, and letting "B" story threads slide on their outrageous premises alone. But, so far, so good. I'm hooked and looking forward to more.
Video & Audio
Shot in high-definition but resembling 35mm film, Shameless looks great on Blu-ray (in 1.78:1 format) and, Los Angeles filming aside, really captures the cold gray skies and muted colors of the American Midwest. Audio is equally impressive, in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks and optional subtitles in all three languages. Menu screens helpfully allow viewers to resume viewing where one last left off, rather than go through various FBI warnings and menu screens to get there. A booklet insert offers episode descriptions with writers, directors and original airdates noted, along with plot summaries and extra features.
These include deleted scenes on six of the 12 episodes and audio commentaries on two shows; three features entitled "Bringing Shameless to America," "Shameless: Bringing the FUN to Dysfunctional," and "A Shameless Discussion About Sex." Finally, there's a "sneak peak" at Shameless's second season.
So far anyway, Shameless is a fine and promising show with much to like, benefiting further by a fine HD presentation and lots of good extras. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san, a DVD boxed set, is on sale now.