Considering the broad social spectrum that America inhabits despite its preoccupation with The American Dream, it’s surprising that, when it comes to television, the majority of America’s popular comedy output focuses on the educated or ambitious. There have been exceptions, in the form of Roseanne and My Name is Earl, but these exceptions are in the minority for a nation with such a divide between the rich and poor. The United Kingdom doesn’t seem to have such a preoccupation with its social standing, almost revelling in its class system. From My Family through Outnumbered, onto Two Pints of Lager (and a Packet of Crisps) and Shameless, we’ve got it all covered.
This brings us to the US interpretation of Shameless, guided by the Paul Abbott, the creator of the British original, and featuring the naturally quite talented William H Macy as Frank Gallagher. Though the UK series saw its debut in 2004, it wasn’t until 2011 that the US decided to get in on the act. Shameless fills an unusual position in US television; it’s not as comedic as My Name Is Earl, nor is it as heavy as The Sopranos. On the other side of things, it’s not a benefit culture variation of The OC, nor is it as moralistic as The West Wing. It sits in the middle somewhere, being neither light or fluffy, nor dark and maudlin.
With the UK version of Shameless having graced our screens for so long, it’s hard not to compare the original with the US interpretation. That said, whether you know the Channel Four series or not, you’re in for a treat with this. Some of the storylines reflect the UK first series and bring in characters and situations that are broached in later series, but they don’t feel second-rate or shoe-horned in. The storylines aren’t just transplanted across the pond, but feel relevant to the USA that many of us in the UK have probably only seen in satirical programming or Michael Moore’s documentaries.
The Gallaghers are a dysfunctional family, with an older sister acting as parent to her various siblings. The day-to-day life of the family runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous as they tackle absent parents, police intervention, social services and the difficulties of living in a time where money is key to everything. The children are growing up fast and with shady, handsome and wealthy Steve coming onto the scene, eldest child Fiona finds herself yearning for more and is struggling to keep things together, whilst Ian discovers his sexuality and Lip wants something better. Frank moves from problem to problem whilst drunk or high and finds ways to exonerate himself from any form of responsibility, leaving that to those around him.
The locations may have changed, but the heart of the story, family, hasn’t, with the Gallagher family still as tight knit and ever, suspicious of strangers and concerned that, one day, they may get caught out by a system that is weighed against them. In all of this chaos, neighbour Kev is the voice of reason whilst his girlfriend/fiancé Veronica remains a rock for her best friend, Fiona, despite the varied antics to which they find themselves involved.
The setup will be familiar to UK audiences, with characters traits and storylines replayed for a new audience, with an American twist. The creative team, which includes Abbott as Executive Producer and Alex Borstein (better known as Lois from Family Guy) on the writing team bringing sharpness and brazen clarity to what is on screen.
Season 1 really belongs to Fiona and Steve with Emmy Rossum and Justin Chatwin are at their best when their relationship is at the forefront. William H Macy gets a variable amount of screen time and his acting ability is never in doubt, really coming to the fore when he’s ranting. Frank may be dislikeable, but Macy manages to bring sympathy to the character. Joan Cusack is on form (though perhaps not cast far from type) as neurotic Sheila and, whilst he may not have the jack-the-lad appeal of Jody Latham, Jeremy Allen White is a compelling Lip. Cameron Monaghan and Steve Howey may not be familiar names, but their performances as Ian and Kev are up there with Macy and Cusack’s performance.
The US version of Shameless is just as charming and irreverent as its UK counterpart and is well on its way, in its first season, to carving out its own path, with a nod toward to the original series. The character traits are all familiar, though the actors craft their own interpretations of that familiarity. Whilst there’s suggestion that UK series may have fallen into self-parody and have, arguably, lost its focus and what made it interesting in the first place, the US series has most of the cutting social satire intact, wrapped up in the larger than life antics of the Gallagher family and their friends.
The pilot episode has a commentary with John Wells and Andrew Stearne (executive producers) and Emmy Rossum providing ample insight into the creation of the series and the episode itself. Stearne and Wells provide the technical and creative background for the series, whilst Emmy is able to bring her experience on the set. There’s a bit too much time spent on socio-economic differences, but it’s worth listening to as a compliment to the Bringing Shameless to America feature. The secondary commentary is on the episode Frank Gallagher: Loving Husband, Devoted Father is just as engaging, with more titbits uncovered.
Bringing Shameless to America is a 13 minute feature that, with the amount shovelled into its short run time feels much longer, about the bringing the series to life. Paul Abbott, John Wells and others talk about the struggle to get such a bawdy series made and why they went with the Showtime network. Writers and cast talk about how this is ‘Real America’, with Abbott commenting that soap operas are mostly blue collar, whilst discussing the sense of warmth and welcoming within the world of Shameless.
Bringing the FUN to Dysfunctional looks at the use of sex within the series in a light-hearted way. It’s a throwaway feature, but fun all the same.
Deleted Scenes can be played from the episode menu or from the Extras menu. They’re variable in content, but are worth watching as they occasionally fill in gaps in continuity that you don’t really notice until you watch the excised scene.
Shameless Season 2 Sneak Peek is, as the name suggests, a preview of the second season of Shameless. It doesn’t spoil what’s coming, but does leave you wanting more.
All the episodes are also provided as Digital Copy though the Ultraviolet Digital Copy system using the Flixster service.