In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
Shameless is exactly its namesake: utterly shameless. Irreverent, funny, heartfelt, saddening and at times completely unbelievable, the show has a fantastic ability to get under your skin—in the best possible way.
In both the UK & USA versions of the show, we are introduced to the Gallaghers. A family of doing-it-tough children who’ve made the best of their untimely situation. A situation, which in this case, has a name: Frank Gallagher. Frank’s the sometimes hilarious, mostly alcoholic sad-sack excuse for a patriarchal figure. He acts as the device for conflict in the show. It’s he who collects his disability cheque (he was struck in the ribs by an airborne chicken) and steals from his deserving children. It will not take you long to begin loving-to-loathe this bastard.
Luckily, the rest of the Gallagher clan are far more endearing. You’ve got the eldest boy Phillip or ‘flip’, the borderline genius living in a part of town where smarts don’t get you as far as your firsts. He spends most of his time coasting on his superior grey matter as opposed to really giving it a red hot ‘go’. An arc that persists throughout the series.
Ian, the middle brother grappling with his homosexuality, is suffocated by the zip-code he’s been saddled with—the projects of Chicago are a bit behind the times when it comes to the progression of sexuality and gender roles. We also have Debbie, the youngest girl in the family who still has some time for Franks Bullshit. It’s heartbreaking to see her let down again and again by Frank. Carl, the second youngest is a troubled youth if I’ve ever seen one. Lastly, we have Liam who’s either too young to have any dialogue or barely has any when he is.
Our main character, however, is the female protagonist, Fiona. The beating heart of the show.
It’s the sacrifice of her time, nay youth, that glues the episodic Shameless shenanigans together. While the show is a series of misadventures, one after another, the remaining constant is Fiona’s struggle to make a life that she can call her own.
It’s Fi’ that’s making breakfast for the kids, doing the laundry and listening to the tirade of problems her family and friends dump on her. In fact, it’s actually bloody heartbreaking to watch the chaos that ensues whenever she tries to take a time-out from her responsibilities, thrust upon her through Franks negligence.
Fiona’s 7 season (so far) journey of self-discovery begins in the first episode when she meets Steve, played by James Mcavoy in the UK series and some former Disney child actor in the American show. Steve spots Fiona dancing at a nightclub, spellbound by her enigmatic presence and proceeds to tastefully lust after her.
And that’s where Shameless kicks off, with upper-middle-class Steve coming into the lives of a rag-tag crew from the projects. Through better food and working washing machine, he buys his way into their hearts. Steve’s character is a well-bred car thief with stars in his eyes. He reminded me of Heath Ledger’ss character in a Knights Tale, full of wonder but a bit stupid.
He’s great for the Gallaghers, at first. Alas, Steve makes some really, really stupid, character destroying decisions throughout the series and ends up disappearing into the busy annals of Fiona’s ex-lovers.
Steve’s place in Shameless is not in vain, however. He teaches Fiona to feel less guilty for having hopes and desires. Encouraging her to go back to school and allow her siblings to grow up he is the catalyst for the idea of a fully-formed Fiona.
As for the rest of the show’s cast, we’re introduced to some fantastically imaginative characters. Neighbours Veronica & Kevin are always there to lend a hand. That’s when Veronica isn’t pegging Kevin dressed as Catwoman, that is. Joan Cusack plays the neighbourhood agoraphobic, Sheila, perfectly, even winning an Emmy for her performance. Sheila’s not in every episode but when she is, it’s hilarious and slightly nerve-inducing. Her journey from inside to the outside world may be a relatable one for those who have experienced social anxiety, despite the comedic interpretation of the issue.
The hard question is though: did the Brits get it right the first time or did the Americans manage to tone it down for once and re-cast the show with a spellbinding ensemble? The answer is, it’s a little bit of both.
Just like ‘The Office’, there is a strong camp on both sides of the Shameless battlefield. The vocal minority are goddamned certain the UK original is better and thus, the show will remain a tidy cult-hit. In some ways they are right. James Mcavoy’s Steve is far superior, by an astoundingly large distance. Considering the critical nature of this character, Merica’ loses points here.
On the other hand, I completely understand why some may favour the more easily digested USA Shameless. One need not dig too deep to find the soul of the show. Showtime ensures this with their carefully curated choice of music and often breathtaking cinematography. Rest assured, you’re gonna feel something.
The UK, however, looks like it was filmed on a Handycam. The fact that the show was still a hit is a testament to the magnificent script and talent. Impressive as a result, but still a bit annoying.
The truth is, both are fantastic. While the UK really nails the realism component (its stars are not as kind on the eyes, whereas the USA cast is outrageously good looking considering they’re meant to be underfed and poorly rested).
Overall, Shameless is a total must-see.
You’ll laugh, cry, rage and rave with the Gallaghers, season upon season. And with the series finale coming up, now’s the perfect time to get cracking. If you live with your folks, I’d caution you to avoid viewing this one in a shared family space, the likelihood of a parent awkwardly walking in during a sex scene is high.
I give Shameless UK & USA a combined: 5/5
One should not exist without the other and to fully appreciate the story you should try and catch both.
Shameless UK & USA is streaming now on Netflix.