After seeing Shameless patriarch Frank Gallagher (played by the fabulous William H. Macy) in action, you might wonder why any family would tolerate his deplorable antics. An alcoholic father of six who leaves the care and feeding of his brood to his eldest daughter wouldn’t last long in most households. But despite the fact he passes out on whatever floor is handy and supports the local bar with his disability payments, he is still considered family.
“None of us gets to choose who our parents are, and if you end up with one like Frank, you love him anyway,” executive producer John Wells said in a recent interview. Wells is no stranger to quality television, having been a creative force behind such highly lauded shows as ER, The West Wing, Third Watch, and China Beach. He has joined forces with writer/producer Paul Abbott, who also has a formidable track record, starting his career in 1983 as a writer for the long running British series Coronation Street. Shameless is based on Abbott’s original U.K. series, which is now in its eighth season on British TV.
“Frank doesn’t know what he looks like from the outside”, Abbott explains. “He actually believes every word he says. It is our biggest weapon to make him more lovable…he’s an antihero with so little perception of what makes him chronically repulsive”.
Bearing the brunt of her father’s shortcomings is Fiona (Emily Rossum), Frank’s oldest daughter. She runs the family’s household and does her best to make sure her siblings don’t end up living on the Chicago streets. Her love interests are a cop and a car thief (whose efforts to ‘rescue’ her from this life that’s been foisted upon her nearly backfire).
If Shameless sounds like it’s all doom and gloom, it’s not. Growing up in this environment has taught the kids to cope and be as happy as they can be in their sloppy, politically incorrect world. “The world the Gallaghers live in is messy,” Wells says. “There’s never enough money, always lots going on”. Messy is an understatement. The house is in a shambles and the kids are forced to pool whatever money they can get their hands on (legally or otherwise) to pay the bills.
Frank’s two teenage boys, the book smart Lip and middle son, Ian, are going through some pretty heavy changes in their lives: Lip now has a steady girlfriend while Cameron admits to Lip that he is gay and having an affair with his boss at the convenience store. The brothers are fortunate to have each other to confide in, since no positive adult male influence exists in their world. Then there’s Debbie, the pre-teen, who loves her father unconditionally. When he collapses on the floor after a long day at the bar, she puts a pillow under his head. She is her daddy’s girl.
Rounding out this crew are Carl and Liam, the youngest. Nine year old Carl’s idea of fun is hiding in the bathroom to sneak a can of beer. Liam, still in diapers, isn’t able to cause much trouble. Yet.
Veronica, the Gallagher’s highly sexed but goodhearted and supportive lives next store with her boyfriend Kev. She is frequently Fiona’s sounding board and helpmate.
Obviously, Shameless is not your average weekly dramady. And some might take exception to the show portraying a household of poorly disciplined kids, stumbling through life with no real adult supervision and who rarely suffer the consequences for their actions. If Shameless was a reality show, the folks from child welfare would have poked their collective heads in the door of the Gallagher home long ago. Still, this is scripted TV, and the acting and writing are strong enough to allow the viewer to cut Shameless some slack in that regard.
After three episodes we don’t know when or why Frank’s wife ran off or how Frank got to be such an irresponsible lout, and why baby Liam is black and the other kids are white. But those answers will come in time. The show has its unexpected turns which make it intensely watchable. When Frank hooks up with Lip’s girlfriend’s agoraphobic mom (played to ditzy perfection by Joan Cusak), bathes, trims his beard, combs his hair and becomes a kept man, it’s a totally unexpected plot twist. “Now what?” were the words that came to mind when Frank’s status totally changed.