I’ve always considered HBO to be the gold standard of cable television, but I believe the balance has now shifted, with Showtime tipping the scales. Though Showtime first knocked me off my feet back in ’06 with “Dexter” (which deserves its own post and will, in the near future, as soon as Annie gets caught up!), they did lose me a little after the 3rd season of “Weeds.” Last season, “The Big C” made me all warm and snuggly, but left no lasting impression. They’ve since pulled out all the stops, however, and released unto America’s viewing public: “Shameless,” a remake of a British series of the same title, and the folks at HBO should be shaking in their boots.
William H. Macy stars as Frank Gallagher, the patriarch of his poverty-stricken family, who is perpetually drunk and more often a hindrance than a help to his 6 motherless kids, ranging in age from early 20s to toddler. He spends several minutes of almost every episode in a drunken stupor, leaving his oldest child, Fiona, played by the surprisingly believable and charming Emmy Rossum, to act as mother to her younger siblings. She and her boyfriend, Steve, who steals cars for a living and has secrets galore, are usually the focus of the show. But the two boys following Fiona in age, Lip (short for Philip) and Ian, as often as not steal both my attention and affection and are more interesting than any teenage boys I’ve ever met, even when I was a teenager. Next up is Debbie, an elementary-age sweetheart who is as helpful as she is cute, and then there’s Carl, the malicious 3rd-grader who finds creative ways to kill his sister’s Barbie dolls and gets in trouble at school for torturing his fellow students. More chilling than watching him do these things is his response when told by Fiona and Lip that he can’t be so cruel to his peers: “How else will I make them cry?”
The true delight, however, comes in the very able hands of Joan Cusack, whose darkly comedic skills are sharper than ever. Never did I think I would find myself laughing raucously at an agoraphobic sexual deviant dressed up as June Cleaver. She’s introduced as the mother of Lip’s girlfriend but plays a bigger and more hilarious role as the episodes stack up. This show is certainly for an adult audience only, since sex, violence, nudity, profanity and alcohol/drug use are rampant in every episode, and Showtime appears to have no plans to water it down. I truly hope not because it has more promise than any other new show on TV this year. Finally, a television show that captures the irony and humor of the less-than-blue collar as acutely as it does their struggles.
Tell me I’m not the only one digging on “Shameless.”