Shameless Episode 1 "Pilot"

1/17/2011 Posted by Admin

Shameless Episode 1 "Pilot"

Television Review

By our guest blogger, Nick Hanover

There's a proud tradition in America of taking British series and "translating" them for the unwashed masses. The spectrum for the process could be said to feature harebrained, thoughtless imports on one end, like the disastrous "Little Britain U.S.A.," and on the other are shows like "The Office" that soon transformed into their own, singular personalities. While it's still extremely early, Showtime's "Shameless" looks like it's following the latter route.

Much news has already been made of the success "Shameless" was on its opening, drawing in nearly a million viewers and giving Showtime's its biggest premier since the sorely missed "Dead Like Me." But the pilot episode of "Shameless" felt very much like the first season of "The Office," which hadn't quite found its footing yet and so tried to be several different things at once.

Boiled down to its bare essence, "Shameless," in both of its incarnations, is a show about a family of underdogs, led by William H. Macy's Frank Gallagher, the most misbegotten patriarch since Royal Tenenbaum, but with a tenth the resources and style. Frank is the neighborhood drunk in his pocket of Chicago, living off of disability checks that barely pay his bar tabs let alone keep his family afloat. Luckily, Frank's offspring are a resourceful bunch, mining jobs both legitimate and not. His eldest, Fiona, holds down multiple wage slave positions while her brother "Lip" tutors a girl who seems to be more concerned with (his) anatomy than physics. Middle brother Ian works at a local corner shop for a man who, in the words of "Lip," is using him as a "kept girl" and even the youngest daughter, Debbie, is working a Unicef scam. The only kid not pulling his weight in coin is the youngest, Carl, who's mostly silent anyway.

"Shameless" plays it smart by making that complicated plot more casual in the pilot, allowing visuals to get across most of the story though the awkward, ill-advised voice over by Macy that explains the family dynamics sinks the grade a notch or two. Also working against the pilot is the bizarre, poorly formed relationship the writers thrust Fiona into right from the beginning with Steve, played by the otherwise affable Justin Chatwin ("War of the Worlds," "Lost"). Rather than let the family dynamic just play out and count on it to draw in the viewers (which it will, since that is where the meat of the story unarguably lies), the writers seem to lack confidence and place an inordinate amount of attention on Steve's courtship of Fiona.

From the get-go, Steve is established as someone who doesn't exactly think things through, as we learn when he tries to "save" Fiona from a purse thief and winds up in a heap on the dancefloor instead. Not much is explained to us about Steve or why we should care about him, other than the quick establishment that he's inexplicably (at first) wealthy and head over heels for Fiona. And how do we know that last part? Because he tells her. Incessantly. Steve even goes so far as to admit he's been "watching" her at clubs in the city for a month. And after Fiona's drunk, unconscious father interrupts their initial coupling and he leaves in an embarrassingly hurried way, Steve attempts to make it up by having household appliances delivered to the Gallagher's door.

To say it's an intensely confusing romance would be an understatement.

Also better left forgotten are the subplots involving Joan Cusack's seemingly insane housewife Sheila (somehow meant to be a later love interest for Frank...) and the sexual escapades of the Gallagher's neighbors. But make no mistake, the family dynamics in this show are alone worth the effort of tuning in and once the show runners realize that "Shameless" doesn't need to be cluttered with poorly planned romantic entanglements and nudity for nudity's sake (something that plagued "Boardwalk Empire" as well, it should be said) the show could quickly turn into the kind of dysfunctional ensemble comedy "The Office" blossomed into. There's real chemistry in the Gallagher clan and right now, in this economic climate, they're exactly the type of family more than a few of us can identify with.

Conversation Starters

* As much as Justin Chatwin's character Steve is just kind of irritating right now, it's great to see him on a show that deserves his skill. Was I the only one hoping "Lost" would have used him more than just the once?

* What the hell is Joan Cusack's character supposed to be on?!

* Speaking of which, how about that Brian Doyle Murray cameo?

* Any plot points from the original "Shameless" you all are hoping to see this show explore?

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