Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shameless: Messy American Life

It seems that the latest trend in Hollywood is to take successful British television shows and remake them for American TV. There are three of these premiering this month: Shameless on Showtime, Skins on MTV, and Being Human on SyFy. The original British versions of these have all actually aired here on BBCAmerica, but Shameless is the only one I'd never watched. I'll be reviewing the other two when they premiere next week but since I've watched and am a fan of the originals, I expect that there'll be a lot more comparisons to the originals, for better or worse.

Anyway, I don't even have Showtime, so the likelihood of me keeping up with Shameless is pretty low. But the first episode was streaming on their website so I decided to check it out. I'd known that in the UK, Skins was from the same people as Shameless so I sort of knew what to expect and I was right. The Gallaghers are a large Chicago family with well, really messy lives.

Frank, the patriarch, played with sloppy abandon by William H. Macy, is a drunk, and he basically spends the entire episode either passed out on the floor or ranting incoherently. His wife and mother of his six children (one of which is clearly not biologically seen in the photo above) is gone, so it's up to Fiona (Emmy Rossum, definitely a breakout role for her) to keep the bills paid and food on the table. I'm not positive how old she's supposed to be--I'm guessing 20 or 21 years old. She works an assortment of minimum wage jobs and has clearly been in charge for a long time. She's disappointed in her father and fiercely protective of her family but she's not exactly a good-two-shoes striving for the straight-and-narrow. She's still rolling joints and um, having sex on the kitchen floor.

Her storyline in the pilot involves being pursued by Steve (Justin Chatwin), a guy who's spotted her dancing at clubs. He drives expensive cars and has nice watches and "defends her honor" by punching out a bouncer, but it's clear from the beginning that not all is as it seems. No offense to Justin Chatwin, but he's really not the type of actor you hire to play someone clean-cut. Sure enough, it's revealed that he makes his money by stealing and selling cars. Which only turns on Fiona more. Steve makes some grand, romantic speeches and buys the Gallaghers a new washing machine and isn't deterred by all the facts of Fiona's messy life but something about him makes me uneasy.

The other two kids with plotlines in the pilot are high schoolers Lip (short for Phillip) and Ian. Lip is a straight-A student who makes money tutoring physics and it's through him that we come to one of the more off-the-wall segments of the show. His new pupil, Karen, spends tutoring time uh, servicing him under the kitchen table while her kooky mom (Joan Cusack) is oblivious in the kitchen. When her dad finds out, he blows up and moves out along with his clown figurine collection. Yes, it's just...bizarre. And it seems they're regulars on the show so I have no idea where all that is going to go. I really liked Lip and the actor who plays him (Jeremy Allen White), though.

As for Ian, he's in ROTC at school, also seemingly on his way up and out, but turns out to be having an affair with the married Muslim owner (and father of two kids) of the convenience store he works at. This is obviously controversial for several reasons but I was mostly disturbed by the fact that the actor who plays Ian looks like he's about 12...

Despite some of the darker subject matter, the tone of the show is actually very fun. The stuff with Steve and Fiona even came off as romantic. I can imagine some things getting really serious as the show goes on, but true to the title of the show, the Gallaghers know their lives aren't cushy and perfect but they're not ashamed and they're going to keep having fun. Like I said, I don't have Showtime, so I think this might be one to check out on DVD.

Also, I'm now curious about the original British version, especially now that I've found out that James McAvoy played the Steve character...

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