Quick Take: Shameless, "Pilot"
In which we meet and fall in love with Frank and Fiona and the Gallagher family.
Review: Shameless, "Pilot"
(S0101) Welcome to the family. You enter any Showtime family knowing that you aren't getting the traditional television nuclear family. This premium channel deals in dysfunction. On any given night you might meet the unique families on Weeds, United States Of Tara, Californication and the criminally dysfunctional Dexter. This week Showtime introduced a new, larger family to the mix. The Gallagher's are not Parenthood and this isn't NBC. No, the Gallagher's are Shameless.
The series is a remake of the very popular and very awarded British series by the same name. In fact, this can't be called a "based on" series -- the first episode is almost a Gus Van Sant's Psycho-shot-for shot of the debut episode of the UK series. The series has been moved to Chicago and the sex has been Showtime'd up but there's no deviating far from the source. And who can blame them? It's a little seen show over here except by TV devotees and the original stories won awards. Over the 12 episodes this season I'll try not to reference back to the British series too much -- it was those reviews of The Office during the first season that couldn't get beyond their love for the UK version that drove me crazy. I won't subject you to that.
The first season's story arc is going to play out over twelve episodes. The initial questions for me always involve: how do you set the tone for the series? What general pacing can the viewer expect? And whose story is this?
The pre-credit scene is a monologue from the father of the Gallagher family, Frank (played by William H. Macy channeling a slightly younger, drunken Jeff Bridges). Frank is single and raising six children who are quickly introduced often with ironic video that shows the characters more out of control than the father's description. I didn't find the initial monologue to tell me much about the family or the series. I wouldn't remember any of the kids' names until I met them later in the show and it didn't do much more than show me that Frank likes to drink and party.
The tone for the series was perfectly set right after that as the eldest daughter, Fiona (played by Emmy Rossum, who already is getting award buzz for this role), who acts as the mother of the house, getting everyone up for school and collecting money from the kids to pay the electric bill. This morning routine gives us more insight to the role that each child plays in the grand scheme of the household. It also tells us that the family is low income and the children have learned to beg, borrow, and steal to make their way in the world.
The show is beautifully shot. I'm reminded of the shots of Baltimore in The Wire as we see the seedier sides of Chicago's West Side. This isn't the suburbs of the North Side or the glitz of The Miracle Mile. These are neighborhoods of people who have known hard times -- they are working class folks living paycheck to paycheck. The pacing is quick. There isn't a lingering over the scenes. There are also too many characters and even within the hour format, there's a need to keep each of them moving forward.
Despite Showtime's commercials and advertisements for the show, this appears to really be Fiona's story and not Frank's. She's our leader, just like she leads the family. I think the best storyline to come out of this first episode is that of Fiona and Steve's budding relationship. Nothing is going to be easy. Fiona isn't built to trust a man and Steve is working hard to convince her otherwise. The big reveal by Steve of his career choice had a nice, "what the hell was that?" last beat to it but the show didn't end on that moment as it had to find it's way back to Frank. There's more interesting stories to come out of the older boys, but the "my brother's gay" shocker didn't help me bond with Lip -- his anger and then forgiveness felt very forced within the time frame of the episode.
Shameless? Shame suggests a recognition of something wrong in one's own behavior. It implies a regret or uncomfortableness. Is there a lack of regret and shame in the Gallagher family? That's to be seen. There are healthy doses of improper behavior or at least anti-social behavior in the first episode, but this is a show airing only 30 minutes after Hank Moody in Californication and it's going to be compared to families that sell drugs and ones that murder people. There's a long way to go to make the shame determination.
Video: Shameless, "Pilot"