There was a LOT going on in the first episode of Showtime’s new drama, Shameless. With a staggeringly large cast, including the huge Gallagher family at the center, my biggest worry going forward is how everyone will get a fair shake. And yet, so much was packed into the first hour, and so many characters got to shine, that the worry is minor, at best. It was a delightful romp, full of all the delicious sin you want in a pay cable show, plus some real, gripping story. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and know already that this will quickly become one of my favorite shows. It is based on a long-running British series, and after last night, I know I’d like to see that, too.
At the center of the Gallagher family is patriarch Frank (the incredible William H. Macy), although I use the term ‘patriarch’ pretty loosely, because it’s not like Frank does anything to care for his boisterous brood. Frank got some funny bits, but no real plot of his own in the pilot, though next week’s episode is called “Frank the Plank”, so I assume that will change soon. The series would not dare waste a great like Macy, and it has already been said that Sheila (Joan Cusack) is in the cast as a love interest for him, not just some girl’s mom. Which makes sense, because I was curious on why someone with the gravitas of Cusack took such a small part in the pilot. However, for now I am content to watch Frank fall over, and the scene where he found the new washing machine probably defines the character best.
The real center of the Gallaghers is eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera), who raises Frank’s other kids as if they were her own. While it is unclear how old exactly Fiona is, she is certainly far too young to be taking on the responsibilities she does. Following her example, all of the kids make money however they can, and kick together a pot when bills are due. Frank does not contribute. To get him to even pay for a field trip, Fiona shook his pants leg while he was passed out and picked up the coins that rolled out. Luckily, Fiona seems to have a life outside of her hell beckoning to her in the form of Steve (Justin Chatwin), a car thief who likes her and wants to shower her with gifts, so far in the form of the aforementioned washing machine and a big breakfast for the family. These two are a real joy, with authentic chemistry.
My favorite story in the first episode, though, was between brothers Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and Ian (Cameron Monaghan). Lip found gay porn stashed away by Ian, and set about trying to get confirmation on Ian’s sexuality. Lip took him to Karen (Laura Slade Wiggins), a girl Lip tutors that doesn’t mind handing out blowjobs, and his suspicious were put to rest. What was sweet, though, was that after Lip got over his initial shock and disgust, he found a way to accept his brother for who he was. The tough world Lip and Ian inhabit can’t be kind to homosexuals, but Lip put family first. He loves his brother, and will stand by him, no matter what.
That’s what holds the Gallaghers together: love. Despite their crazy, messed up world, love was a theme that shone through in the pilot. They are a family, much more realistic than many on TV. They’re lower class, struggling to get by, but by sticking together, they manage to. Everyone helps out where they are needed, with the typical sibling squabbling, of course, but won’t abandon the others. Fiona could have, should have, left when she reached adulthood sometime recently, but she didn’t. She cares too much about her brothers and sister.
Of course, there are plenty of other elements. Like in most Showtime shows, there is lots of drinking and other drugs, though Frank is the only one who takes them too far. Sex is a part of their life, and I find that enjoyable and realistic, too. Already in the pilot, we saw neighbor Kev (Steve Howey) passed out naked, two boys got oral sex, and Fiona and Steve got it on on the dirty kitchen floor. Rossum, who has avoided nudity up til now in her career, said the writing makes it worth it; the scenes that are shown are important to the story. She’s right. If the Gallaghers were sanitized, they wouldn’t be who they unapologetically are, and the series would suffer.
Although adapted from a British series, the world the Gallaghers live in is also very specific. It’s a Chicago neighborhood, and there’s a tone that is very clear. The setting feels like a character, more than just a place they live. The neighbors build a rich tapestry around the Gallaghers, and the cops are integrated, not willing to toss their people in the clink for minor crimes. There is a bigger community there, inspiring in its bonds.
The series also stars Shanola Hampton, Jane Levy, Tyler Jacob Moore, Ethan Cutkosky, Emma Kenney, and Brennan Kane Johnson and Blake Alexander Johnson as baby Liam. See? I told you it was a big cast.
I look forward to the next Gallagher story. Shameless airs on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on Showtime.