Recently at a friend’s house, I had the fortune to stumble across an episode of Shameless, a moderately new addition to the Showtime channel lineup. The episode I originally viewed was from the second season of the show and addiction occurred in a matter of minutes. After returning home, the first season was in my possession very soon, as I’m sure that serial addictiveness isn’t a rare feeling in the media world. For me, the same thing happened when It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia began airing in 2005, and also with the beginnings of another Showtime series, Weeds, which premiered later that year. Showtime has had quite the run with serial blockbusters to the point where it’s starting to surpass HBO’s long-time reign over uncut serial broadcasting. With such great long-running “dramedies” as Dexter, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and Californication heralded in the footsteps of the channel’s hard-hitting history that included Dead Like Me, The L Word, The Tudors, and Queer as Folk, Showtime has caught their niche and has yet to let go.
In January of last year, Shameless premiered to an amazing reception that catered to nearly a million viewers (982,000) which took the crown from Dead Like Me’s 2003 pilot. By the fourth episode of the first season, Shameless was contending with a whopping 1.4 million viewers per episode. Originally created by Paul Abbott and aired on the BBC back in 2004, Shameless is a very forward and risky television series. The show stars William H. Macy as an alcoholic father of six who leaves survival and the household up to his children during his wild drunken escapades. In an interview with the New York Times, Abott stated that the theme of the show isn’t to expose “blue collar, but no collar.” The theme is evident in the pilot as Frank Gallagher (Macy) is virtually absent on screen for the majority, yet ever-present as his alcoholism and poor parenting are seen through his children. The oldest of the six, Fiona Gallagher – played by a stunning Emmy Rossum – acts as the mother of the house even though she’s only 21, doing the cooking and cleaning for her father and younger siblings.
The other Gallagher children take on typical narrative positions. Phillip (played by Jeremy Allen White) is near high school graduation with straight As but he gets into fights and schemes around the city. Ian (played by Cameron Monaghan) is slightly younger than Lip and involved in the Army ROTC. Debbie and Carl Gallagher are the middle children (aged 10 and 11 respectively) who serve to bring home the hard-hitting elements of the series. Debbie seems to frequently have trouble with missing her mother and Carl takes out his frustrations on stray animals. Lastly, Liam is a black toddler despite having two white parents. Writer John Wells has opened up massive possibilities with these characters as they each serve different narrative functions and carve plots of their own with the adolescent freedom that is interwoven into broken homes. In an attempt to avoid ruining plot elements, the series gets crazy and maintains its original addictive quality within that spontaneity. Even though it’s an adaptation, with its British counterpart approaching its ninth season, Shameless still manages to stay original with, among many resonating elements, the drunken introductions to each episode from Frank Gallagher (Macy). As the social situation showcased is fueled by chaos as is the invisible string between episodes. I’ve yet to watch a show that can carry so many plots as well as this one does, and with an agoraphobic and germophobic character played by Joan Cusack highlighting an array of great other characters, I can shamelessly say that I’ll keep watching.