Moving Pictures

When Shameless Is Really Good

It's a whole lot better than season three so far.

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My Sundays have been a bit slow over the past month. With all my regular fall TV shows wrapped up, I'm left with only Shameless, Showtime's kinda/sorta comedy about an impoverished family in Chicago's south side. I know there's more out there I could be watching, I'm just not. I've officially given up on Californication and its tired bullshit; I find Girls completely unwatchable for all sorts of reasons I'd rather not go into here; and I've yet to sit down and watch House of Lies, though I've heard some good things. So, for now, it's just me and the Gallaghers (at least for a couple more weeks and then The Walking Dead comes back from its mid-season break, so I'll have that to complain about too).

The problem with Shameless has always been its lack of real storylines; the show functions in small arcs, some funny and some sad, that never really come together and after the fetishism of something less than working class poverty wears off, we're left with a bunch of characters who really aren't that interesting, and definitely aren't going anywhere. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the show, I just don't expect a lot out of it. Frank (William H. Macy) is the best example here. I don't pity him and I don't take him seriously. As comic relief he's really not that funny—I didn't need half the season three premiere to be about Frank's latest bender; waking up in Mexico or passing out drunk at the neighborhood bar, what's the difference? We know he'll make it home, put some God awful burden on his family, let everyone down, and be thrown out again, which is exactly what happens halfway through Sunday night's second episode. Later, when he drunkenly reports his own family to Social Services to get back at them, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to think. Surely it can't be shock at just how low Frank will go, because I don't have any expectations left for Frank. He's not a character, he's a device; a convenient way to introduce some problem that the show can hinge on for an episode or two. This doesn't make for very compelling… well, anything.

We already know from writer and producer Nancy Pimental that Social Services will take the kids away. Pimental revealed as much in an interview with Danielle Turchiano last summer.

Ian and Lip are in a group home because they are still under eighteen, so the city or the state are responsible for them… [Carl] is kind of a pawn in a lot of people’s lives. What will happen with Debbie is she’s going to have… an awakening about her dad—that he’s not always going to be there. She’s always that last man standing when it comes to him, and she gets a slap in the face when it comes to that this season.
Considering that last part about Debbie already happened in episode two—along with another storyline Turchiano mentioned (Fiona using the family's property tax money to book a club night, prompting an angry confrontation with Lip)—I have my doubts about how long the kids will actually be in foster care. My guess is we'll get back to normal pretty fast (I'm saying three episodes, tops), because Shameless isn't a show that takes a lot of risks, and when it does the results can be pretty damn mixed. Take, for example, the scene from 3x1 where Estefania's drug cartel father, Nando, shows up, shoots Marco in the head, and has Jimmy (Steve? Whatever the hell we're supposed call him now) help him cut up the body. It's too horrific a scene to be funny, but Shameless isn't a serious enough show for it to be affecting.

Mostly I just have the same problem with Jimmy that I have with Frank (and Sheila and Jody and Kevin and Veronica). I don't really care about these characters. I'm not even sure I'm supposed to. And I certainly don't want to watch a whole season of Jimmy trying to hide from the drug cartel; we already know where this will end up, putting the Gallaghers in danger for an episode or two until the crisis is solved, some hijinks have been had and everything is status quo again. When Shameless is good—Lip and Karen's relationship, Monica gone off her medication, most of "But At Last Came a Knock"—it's really good; otherwise, it's just another raunchy mediocre cable comedy.

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