'Shameless' Season 1, Episode 1 (Series Premiere) Recap
by Laura Prudom, posted Jan 10th 2011 5:40AM
['Shameless' - 'Pilot']
As you might have heard, adapting a successful UK series for a US audience is a risky business -- maybe you tuned in to Showtime's other new Sunday series, 'Episodes,' which illustrates the pitfalls of such an endeavor all too well.
Adaptations are often criticized either for being too slavishly faithful to the original, or for deviating so far from the source material as to make the new version practically unrecognizable, which leaves a decidedly narrow margin for success somewhere between the two extremes. Somehow, 'Shameless' manages to walk that tightrope with surprising confidence.
Though I'm British, I never watched the UK series, but decided to check out the original pilot after seeing Showtime's interpretation, just for the sake of comparison. While the US 'Shameless' undoubtedly falls into the 'slavishly faithful' category of remakes, this actually seems to work in the show's favor, transplanting a practically identical script to an American setting and miraculously managing to improve upon its predecessor.
I'll admit, I'm strangely biased against certain shows from my motherland (except the comedies), and 'Shameless' always seemed (based on what little information I could glean from the commercials) to represent the very worst parts of British society, parts that I had no desire to spend an hour with on a weekly basis. Case in point: A negligent, alcoholic parent and the kids that needlessly suffer (and consequentially make others suffer) because of his lack of responsibility. Who wants to watch a show like that?
Apparently, I do, as long as it's an negligent, alcoholic, American parent (maybe I just have a thing for your accents). Hopefully, American audiences will be less biased against such imperfect examples of their own culture than I was against members of mine, even if these seemingly outlandish characters are more recognizable than we'd like to admit. There's nothing aspirational, nothing inspiring about Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), but who says that all escapism has to be aspirational? We laugh at Homer Simpson, but that doesn't mean we'd take parenting advice from him.
If 'Sex and the City' still makes you blush, or those crazy kids on 'Skins' seem far too wild and irresponsible for TV, then 'Shameless' isn't going to be your cup of tea, but for the rest of us, seeing these seriously damaged people doing some seriously damaging things promises to be excellent entertainment, even if we won't be inviting Frank over to baby-sit for us any time soon.
The pilot does an excellent job of introducing us to the entire, messy Gallagher clan, from the aforementioned alcoholic patriarch, Frank, to his long-suffering kids, Fiona, Lip, Ian, Carl, Debbie and Liam.
Fiona's the one with the unenviable task of holding the fraying ends of her ragtag family together, and it's clear that she's used to settling for less for the sake of her siblings, forced to be mother to all of them and to Frank.
Emmy Rossum shines in the role, even when Fiona is at her most pale, worn and grungy. She's hard-edged out of necessity, but her fragility is all too apparent, especially in those quiet moments when she's left alone with her thoughts -- or her comatose father. The scene in which she gives herself the pat on the back that's clearly been lacking from Frank is particularly heartbreaking.
Many of my favorite scenes in the pilot involve Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who are as much best friends as they are brothers. Early on in the premiere, Lip discovers a surprising secret about his younger brother's sexuality, and their subsequent scenes together are fraught with tension, emotion and pathos.
Lip's scheme to test out the depths of Ian's attraction to men via some ill-timed oral sex during a study session is particularly inspired, especially since it leads to such a hilarious confrontation with study-buddy Karen's disturbingly clown-obsessed father. Joan Cusack also makes a fabulously offbeat appearance as Karen's mother, and we haven't seen the last of her -- I'm looking forward to seeing what else she brings to such a decidedly weird role.
Although William H. Macy is the lure that drew many cast members (and likely many viewers) to the show, I was glad to see that he was used sparingly in the opening episode. Frank is a fascinating, if abhorrent, character, but I liken him to Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean' -- there can certainly be too much of a good thing when it comes to quirky characters, especially when the people surrounding him are much more compelling.
The real emotional center of the show is undoubtedly Fiona, and I'm looking forward to seeing the other Gallagher kids develop meatier roles as the series progresses, especially Debbie and Carl, who we saw little of this week.
I also love the frenetic energy of the group scenes, especially over breakfast, when we truly get a sense of the family dynamic, seeing the Gallagher clan working as a well-oiled machine, regardless of whether they're scraping together money for the bills or playing pass-the-baby over who will be saddled with baby Liam for the day.
The whole main cast is stellar, but Shanola Hampton's Veronica was one of the surprising stand-outs for me, managing to steal many of her short scenes with some excellent one-liners and pitch-perfect delivery.
I don't want to spend too much time on the comparisons between the original series and the US version (especially since my only frame of reference is the pilot) but I have to praise William H. Macy's interpretation of Frank -- he seems a lot less sinister than David Threlfall's version, and that breezy amiability adds an interesting dimension to the character. I'm not sure whether he'll be a man that we love to hate or hate to love just yet, but he's certainly unpredictable.
I'll be interested to see what fans of the UK series think of US attempt, since the script, and in some cases the shots, are almost identical, aside from the aforementioned creative differences in characterization and budget, with the same solid scripting and a poignant message on the importance of family buried amid the bluster.
Overall, I'm interested to see how the series progresses from here. True, it's a little jarring to see "kids" drinking and smoking and swearing up a storm, but the show's ethos is in its title, and I'm not expecting 'Shameless' to shy away from anything. Let's face it: If the first episode tackled alcoholism, homosexuality, religion and at least three different kinds of sex, there's no telling where it could go next.
'Shameless' airs Sundays, 10PM ET on Showtime.
What did you think of the first episode of 'Shameless'? If you're a fan of the original series, how would you compare the two? Share your comments below!