Cable’s brightest (and darkest) new series is over…till next year.
Showtime’s Shameless has proven it really is a family show — not to say that it should be watched by the whole family (unless everyone is over 18). But the cohesiveness of the Gallagher bunch is to be respected, especially considering some of the powerful social issues they regularly deal with: alcoholism, inner city crime, underage sex (straight and gay), car theft, police corruption, child abandonment, online sex videos and suicide. Still, it is amazingly easy to care for the characters and become emotionally invested in the family’s experiences.
The series is first and foremost a comedy. We come for the drunken Frankisms that are often spoken as sublime truisms: “Hanna Montana, those oversexed kids on Glee —think they’re selling good, wholesome all-American fun? Hell, no. Flesh and underage temptation.” And we come for the humorous children who cuss like sailors and put up with their idiot adult caregivers. But we are also hooked by the drama: Fiona’s struggle with Steve’s offer to take her away to Puerto Rico, and her decision to turn away from the station and head back home.
Steve has been deceiving his wealthy parents, who think he is attending college in Michigan, while he is actually living in Southside stealing cars. He makes a deal with cop Tony in order to save Ian and Lip from car theft charges and agrees to leave town and give Tony the title to his new house. (Tony doesn’t tell him that he already got the boys off.) Fiona’s love for Steve, however, is not powerful enough to pull her from her family.
There is some seriously good screenwriting going on here. When Karen (Laura Wiggins) apologizes for having sex with a drugged Frank, something that all began as a desperate expression of anger after her own father called her a whore, Lip delivers the best line of the episode, a double entendre gem: “Fucking fathers, huh?”
But one of the series’ most touching scenes involves being pissed on. After Lip has severely beaten Frank, after the tension has grown to its limit, Frank stands outside the house yelling up at Lip asking how he can say he’s sorry. The reply comes with a rain of urine that at first repels Frank before he mumbles, “If that’s what it takes” and steps under the flow. As Lip closes the window and Frank walks away we witness the like-father-like-son, wry, knowing grins on each of their faces.
The last two episodes have given Wiggins the opportunity for some strong performances. The sweet, promiscuous teenage Karen changes into a goth-like, vindictive daughter whose impulsive actions turn many a life upside down, including that of her father Eddie, who has apparently killed himself by plunging through the ice of Lake Michigan.
The writers even helped to give us reasons to at least see some justification for Frank and Karen’s tryst, if not to completely forgive them for it and for Eddie’s suicide:
1. Frank was completely zonked on an overdose of pain pills.
2. Eddie had horribly embarrassed Karen in front of his Promise Keepers group by calling her a whore.
3. Lip had actually agreed that Karen was a whore, giving her a reason to hurt Lip.
4. Karen was right in the middle of her retaliation on Eddie when Frank showed up.
5. The few friends Eddie had were now watching the Karen-Frank video and laughing behind his back.
Most of the show’s cliffhangers were resolved, but there’s enough left to greatly long for season two. Will Steve return? What does Jasmine, Fiona’s suddenly close friend, really want? Will Lip go to college? What will Sheila do when she learns about the video? Maddeningly, we won’t know anything till 2012.