Welcome to Shameless, a contemporary adult series that effortlessly weaves a canvas of depression, sex, homosexuality, sex, melancholy, unemployment, benefit fraud, woe and lots more sex. If that lot is your idea of fun, then read on, otherwise...
Shameless revolves around a low income one parent family living in Manchester. The family is composed of the father, a compulsive alcoholic, called Frank Gallagher (David Threlfall) and his five kids. They try to live something approaching a normal life with no income and less hope of ever getting income in the near future. Frank is a loser of epic proportions who does little to help his children at any stage in their lives, the mother having left the family some time ago. The children try their best with the eldest daughter, Fiona (Anne-Marie Duff), providing the only real support for the whole family. Lip (Jody Latham) seems to be trying very hard to pass his GCSE's, despite domestic and school issues. Ian (Gerard Kearns) who is, well I can't say without spoiling the series. I could go on to describe the whole cast, but that would reveal poignant story highpoints, too.
Fact is, Shameless is a pretty dense series that can't really be watched when you have missed an episode. There are some shocking imagery (its not called Shameless for nowt!) funny scenes, bright support characters and sharp dialogue. I think that Shameless is a program that isn't afraid of social taboos nor will it allow itself to be ensconced in mundane characterisations or plot. There is even a sense of family union, despite Frank encapsulating all that is deplorable in parenting. And, despite all that, I hated the series.
I have spent some considerable time trying to pin down what it is, exactly, that puts me off Shameless and I think I have narrowed it down to two themes: Firstly, for my first fifteen years on this fragile planet, I grew up on a council estate with no money and no reason to expect to excel academically. I had friends who lived in similar circumstances and at no point did I see anything like the images in Shameless. I find it annoying that all down at heal family representations show smoking, drug addicted sex mad individuals when this is not always the case. Now, I am not saying they don't exist; they do. However, someone has made the decision that not having smoking, drug addicted sex mad individuals would make poor TV. That means the substance of that family has been skewed in order to fulfil shallow precepts of a target audience that makes me, having been brought up in a council estate, feel slightly affronted. Secondly, that sex thing. There are some fantastic scenes that grab perfectly the modern outlook on sexually explicit material. One in particular, involving an ironing board, had me on the floor laughing. However, sex in Shameless is usually used in a more mundane fashion: to liven up an otherwise flat scene or just to shock. Thing is, the times when sex, or sexual innuendo, could shock an audience went with the passing of the carry on movies. After the first episode, you get used to the sexual content and take it as given such-and-such a character is a lesbian because that is the only way a sexually driven plotline can be derived. At this point the sexual images seem nonsensical, pointless - boring even. I was watching a scene in a corner shop where two men were shagging each other and I wished the focus could move away from this overly used monotonous drivel into some of the other, infinitely more interesting plotlines. The whole bailiff theme, for example, was superbly done and serves to highlight the series' faults. Frank owes money big-time, which the rest of the family doesn't know about. Some of the less reputable creditors send the bailiffs around to the Gallagher household to “learn” where Frank has disappeared to. The children play dumb, which doesn't go down too well with the bailiffs, eliciting a well-aimed kick to one of the sons. That was shocking, but at the same time, the whole family unit still held firm, still stood up for the only solid foundation they had in their lives: each other. Call me old fashioned, but that last point is worth more than the whole series' worth of mundane sexual material rolled into one.