Friday, 6 April 2012

The Gallagher Family: Showtime’s Shameless

Last Sunday one of my new favourite shows HBO’s Shameless wrapped up its second season in typical outrageously, emotional, hilarious fashion. Sooner or later I presume that something shall have to give and I shall have to stop increasing my TV viewing, but hopefully it’s not soon. I only began the first season of the show three weeks ago and caught up with the show just in time for the third to last episode of the season and it’s been such a thrilling ride I think I must set aside a space for it only. Even if I’m finding it incredibly difficult to get back into the groove of writing paragraphs of analysis. So, allow me my shortcomings and let me note some fine things about this show – point form, a few musings on Shameless to celebrate their great 24 episode run.
- The show centres on the dysfunctional Gallagher family – a family of six children and their alcoholic father Frank. Frank visits the family home whilst older sister Fiona takes care of it. The show’s ability to balance the filial relationships is such a treasure and makes for the show’s best beats both comedic and dramatic.

- Speaking of the comedic and dramatic – the most interesting thing Shameless for me is its tone. The show maintains a decidedly frenetic tonal movement overlapping between farce, comedy, and drama and ultimately I think of it as a dramatic comedy. A consistent comedy with significant dramatic beats, which is odd because it’s submitted as a drama for awards’ consideration.

- Which, of course, brings me to the issue of awards. It’s not directly related to the actual show but the paucity of awards love this show has received surprises both because of how excellent in quality it is on all fronts and because of how different from almost everything on television. Generally, awards’ bodies tend to reward that, alas not here.

- Shameless features some of the finest casts on television at the moment – they’re all casted to perfection and on top of that have exceptional rapport among themselves which is one of the reasons the show manages to get away with some the conceits like older sister Fiona’s boyfriend’s hidden identity (just the right amount of dashing, pretentious and adorable courtesy of Justin Chatwin) work.

- Characters have been poor on the small screen before, but I struggle to remember any which tackles it with as must gusto as Shameless does. Because of its comedic overtones they poorness never seems truly chronic but in a show with so many minor, but firmly established, details like struggling to pay for heat, a washing machine or even getting lunch for the brood the show approaches the issue honestly, and sincerely without making it seem like an element of martyrdom or something gratuitous.

- I suppose, now is as good a time as any to note that Shameless, like The Office and a slew of other shows, is based on a British series. I mention specifically only to note that James McAvoy and his wife Anne Marie Duff starred as lovers on it, even though – naturally – as the American version develops it gets more and more different. I’ve seen only the pilot of the UK version and even with my overwhelmingly anglophile nature I prefer the US version.

- Joan Cusack, an excellent comedienne, is not a part of the family but plays an agoraphobic woman who Frank was in a relationship and whose daughter is dating one of the Gallagher boys. With a character painted so broadly this could be the show’s most tenuous arc, and yet Joan Cusack delivers as one of the finest performers on the show. For one, she’s the most adept at being comedic and better yet being comedic WHILE being dramatic which is something embarrassingly few performers are capable of doing (see Bening in Running with Scissors, Lemmon in The Apartment or Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, for example.)
- (This is a continuation of the previous point, but it was getting too long.) There’s a scene in the season 2 finale where SPOILER Sheila’s daughter after having given birth to a baby is bent on giving it up for adopting. Sheila kidnaps it and hides it in a basket when the police come looking for it. The scene works on a dramatic level as Sheila struggles between choosing daughter or grandson, but all the while Cusack is delivering beautifully on the comedic beats in a way that’s just unbelievably beautiful.

- And, the way I’m talking her up it’d seem that Cusack is my MVP and I can’t even be sure because the performers are all so on point. Emmy Rossum, who has never truly been allowed to reach her potential on film, is astounding as the de facto matriarch of the family. She’s admittedly better in the character’s dramatic beats. In her comedic beats she has this adorable, but occasionally annoying, tendency to play it too cutesy but when tragedy strikes the family and Fiona must steel herself and give up for her siblings Rossum breaks your heart. The fact than more than half of the 12 women nominated for Best Actress at last year’s Emmy only makes her lack of laurels that much more unfortunate.
- Ultimately, it’s the characters, though. Shameless is not my favourite show on, but it’s the one where I feel the most for the characters. Each episode I watch I’ve become so immersed in the story being told that I worry about the results of machinations. “How will such and such character fare? What’ll happen to this children in the long run.” And, maybe from a critical standpoint it’s best to not get too immersed because then you forget to keep your critical lenses on and you miss things like poor plot development or writing. I can’t be sure. With two seasons under its belt, and so few people who seem to watch it I recommend Shameless vehemently. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be entertained. And, there's also a whole lot of sexy and nudity. You know, if that's your thing.

Season 1: A-
Season 2: B+
Any Shameless to commiserate with me?


Ryan T. said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this show. I gave Emmy Rossum my Best Actress prize last year and as I also wrote I would've nominated Emmy Rossum, Cameron Monaghan, and Joan Cusack for last year's Emmy Awards. This year, for this second season, I'd probably nominate Rossum and Cusack again but trade out Monaghan for Jeremy Allen White. Also Louise Fletcher. She was fab!

I still think the show is more drama than comedy. And reading your thoughts made me realize why. While Cusack is probably the show's real MVP and definitely the most adept at both drama and comedy, Fiona IS the central figure of the show. So Rossum looms large and as you said while she's been great overall its her dramatic scenes, not her comedic ones that stand out most about her character.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ryan MAJOR kudos, you just explained why this could be a drama in a way that makes sense to me. and ugh, so little of monaghan this season, this will not STAND!!!! (i miss it already. sigh.)

Anonymous said...

Amerika in the time of OBAMA. SHAMELESS it's called and shameless it is. Scamming the system, thievery, entitlement, debauchery, deviancy the themes of each episode. Oh wait, the show is called shameless so what was to be expected? Well keep this shit show Hollyweird, the pendulum will swing back one day. Oh you show runners, do you get your jollies pushing your fey agendas? Ahhh so much love in this dysfunctional family, see how they can make it all work? BULLSHIT.

Anonymous said...

will you relax? the show is hilarious! the characters are great, and the story is amazing in both drama and comedy. Don't be a hater