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Shameless - The Complete First Season

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // April 24, 2007
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 2, 2007 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
White trash is the same the world over

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Good dramedies
Likes: British TV
Dislikes: Trashy people
Hates: That icky hopeless feeling

The Show
I have many guilty pleasures (many of which I don't feel all that guilty about), but one I try to keep quiet (and thus will share with all you readers) is my enjoyment of the show "Cops." I just love watching the lowest of the low fall down further. It all stems from a general distaste for those who refuse to improve their lot in life. It's also why I was so surprised to find I love "My Name is Earl," which wallows in the daily struggle of white trash society. That's just a place I don't want to be.

But that's exactly where "Shameless" lives. A quick bit of research tells me that the British council estates where Frank Gallagher and his brood live are the royal equivalent of America's projects: homes for those who can't afford anything better. That sums up Frank and his family pretty well. Six kids, no mom and a dad who's best known for sleeping-off his benders. If that's not the makings for feel-good family fun time, I'd like to know what is.

The first seven-episode run introduces the Gallagher clan, including oldest sister/surrogate mom Fiona; tough, but smart son Lip; quietly crazy Debbie; painfully introspective Ian; and the youngest, and oddest boys, Carl and Liam. With the exception of Carl and Ian, each member of the family has plenty of drama in their lives, in addition to the drama caused by their father, who lives off the government and spends the majority of his time drunk. Frank is a definite anti-hero, as he is the star of the show, but no one you could pull for, as he actively ruins the lives of his children. Meanwhile, the Gallaghers' mom ran off a few years earlier, leaving Fiona to run the household, something she's actually done relatively well. Though it all sounds very soap-opera-ish, the series is at least partially autobiographical, based on creator Paul Abbott's life, so he knows of what he writes.

There's a ton of story that unfurls in the span of these 50-minute episodes, including meeting Fiona's new boyfriend, a good guy by the name of Steve, Lip's new girlfriend, a whore by the name of Karen, and Ian's boyfriend Kash, a married Pakistani man with two kids. Dysfunctional relationships are key to the whole tale, which eventually intertwines and crosses over itself, as Frank becomes involved with Sheila, a kinky agoraphobic, who happens to be Karen's mom. The only truly healthy relationships in the mix are Fiona and Steve, which has plenty of problems though, and Kevin and Veronica, the Gallaghers' neighbors. Kev and Veronica are the most "normal" of the bunch, though Veronica has been fired from her job for theft. There's a little bit of everything in here, except for respect for a respectful life. Police, and anyone with a proper job who wants to make a living, are treated like losers and morons.

Though I start to cringe when I think about lives like the Gallaghers', watching them unfold in this series, mixing drama and comedy to create a world that's very real, it's quite entertaining. Partially it's the artistic, almost documentary-like style of the production, but it's mainly the storyline and acting. When things really start to come together and fall apart, the series gains serious momentum, becoming a show that wouldn't be out of place on HBO. The problem is, the story becomes too big for the show to contain in just seven episodes. Because of that, when Debbie gets the spotlight for one brilliant episode, Kevin and Veronica try to get married, and the question of Mom's status is raised, the Karen and Kash stories, both of which have a lot of promise, are basically shoved to the side. Maybe they come back in Season Two, but they disappear without a mention, which was frustrating.

There are plenty of stand-out episodes in this season's offerings, especially the previously mentioned Debbie episode, which is as good a caper as any I've seen lately, but you can't pick out just one or two to check out. Like the new trend in American TV, "Shameless" is a serial, and each episode builds off the last one. You have to be willing to buy in, which shouldn't be too hard after the first episode. Like a car wreck, you may not want to look, but you can't really look away.

The DVDs
The seven episodes in the first season of "Shameless" are spread over two discs, which come packaged in a standard-width keepcase, with a tray for the second DVD. The discs have animated, anamorphic-widescreen main menus, with options to play all the episodes on the disc, select episodes (with chapter stops within), adjust subtitles and check out special features (on the second platter.) There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfers look very nice, with a very clean image, proper color and a high level of detail. There's no obvious dirt or damage in the transfer, and the whole thing would be a bit more vivid, but some pixelization occurs along hard edges, and some edge enhancement crops up as well. Overall though, it's a solid presentation.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is clear as a bell, which is good, considering the weight of the actors' accents. The frequent use of music comes across well also, though there's nothing dynamic about the track, which is center-focused pretty much the whole way.

The Extras
There are only two extras included on this set, starting with "Meet the Cast with Debbie and Carl." The youngsters who play Debbie and Carl spend 11 minutes getting to know their castmates and their experiences on the show. Making the kids the interviewers is an interesting idea, as they steal interviews wherever they can, even between shots on the set, but the results aren't all that much different than your usual behind-the-scenes piece. Good featurette though.

The other extra is a 10 minute interview with the show's creator. Paul Abbott. The production is a bit dark, but the info shared gives some good insight into the series, as Abbott talks about the inspiration for the show, his connection to the characters and the show's surprising success, despite the very edgy subject matter.

The Bottom Line
"Shameless" may be a bit depressing, thanks to the mostly hopeless lives the characters live, but the storylines are highly entertaining, and the production is high-quality and stylish. Getting to know the Gallaghers is a pretty good way to spend seven hours, though you've got to be able to deal with the cultural differences, something many viewers just can't get past. The DVDs look and sound very nice, and the few spare extras provide a bit more info about the show. Fans of underdogs and the people who live on the fringe of society will find a lot to like about this series, and should check it out.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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