TV Review: “Shameless”

Written by Television, TV Reviews

Chaos abounds in the promising pilot for “Shameless,” the new dramedy on Showtime.

In Showtime’s newest dramedy, Shameless, the Gallagher family is barely getting by. Dad, Frank (William H. Macy) is an alcoholic living off of disability checks, Mom left years ago, and the six kids ranging from toddler to teens are mostly left to fend for themselves. The household, understandably, is complete chaos with broken appliances and clutter everywhere. But the bind between the siblings is solid.

Fiona (Emmy Rossum), the eldest Gallagher kid, is the closest the family has to a matriarch. Working several jobs to make ends meet, and clearly damaged by her parents, Fiona is distrusting and guarded. She hardly takes time for herself. But the little time she does take, to go dancing with a neighbor, leads her to other-side-of-the-tracks Steve (Justin Chatwin). Steve is smitten with the attractive yet frazzled Fiona, and their chemistry culminates in a heated moment on the kitchen floor. But Steve has secrets of his own, and while he may be able to help the Gallaghers, Fiona is in for a wild ride.

Philip, a.k.a. Lip (Jeremy Allen White), is a typical sex-crazed teen boy. But when he discovers his military-minded brother, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is gay, he’s not sure what to think. Between difficult discoveries, and an awkwardly humorous chase scene involving Joan Cusack as a crazy mother of a girl who gets a little too turned on by science tutoring, Lip has more than family to worry about. But the absurd is balanced with the emotion, and a heartfelt moment of truth between the brothers is one of this episode’s finest moments.

Frank is hardly present in the pilot, aside from a few moments of drunken partying, and many more passed out on the floor in the middle of the action. For such a big draw in William H. Macy, the focus will very likely shift in Frank’s favor over the upcoming episodes. But in the pilot, Emmy Rossum breaks the mold and shines as the lead of an otherwise solid cast. The family chemistry comes through well, and had me hooked to come back for more.

Shameless seamlessly moves from humor to heartache. The episode is fast-paced, and feels very frantic at times, because of both the disorganized feel of the family and the bit over-stylized editing and filming. The pilot doesn’t give too much indication of how the series will continue (and I will admit, I never watched the British show on which the series is based). Particularly, it’s unclear how the Joan Cusack subplot will factor in long-term. But the unconventional Fiona/Steve romance brings out some of the most sentimental (although arguably over-the-top) moments, and certainly the best dialogue in the episode.  At it’s core, Shameless is about misfit family of underdogs that you can easily root for and laugh at simultaneously. And that’s a family I’m happy to invite into my home every week.