When I first heard about Shameless, it sounded a little too tripe for me. Drink, drugs, sex and crime on a Preston estate did not, in my mind, make for the stuff of enduring TV comedy-drama shows. It did not help that the Gallaghers - the family it focuses on - consisted largely of a bunch of delinquent miscreants, whose solution to every problem seemed to be theft or violence. The head of the table was single father Frank, a degenerate waste of space who spends his days pickling his liver with alcohol and drugs, often spouting forth utter garbage. His wife left him and his family for another woman and now he leaves his children in the charge of his eldest daughter, Fiona, who appears to be the only semi-responsible one of the whole sorry bunch of them. Throw in elements of underage sex (including teen homosexuality), arson, tourettes, burglary, car crime and rampant abuse of drink and drugs on this dirty council estate, and I could not possibly see how this would-be adult soap was going to engage TV audiences. It is not politically correct, not in the least bit restrained and does not in any way try to cover up the blemishes of this underclass community. But, despite my initial doubts, it is actually a highly underrated and truly entertaining TV series.
A lot has happened on the Chatsworth estate over the past two seasons of the show, as well as the Christmas Special sandwiched in between. Cutting a long story short, Fiona has eloped with her boyfriend and left the family ostensibly in charge of the youngest daughter Debbie. Frank is still the alcoholic loser he's always been, only now he's hooked up with single mother Sheila, who has issues of her own - mainly involving taking lots of anti-depression pills and being extremely agoraphobic. The other members of the family are no better off, with the eldest boy 'Lip often getting into fights and also getting one of his many young sexual conquests pregnant, and the younger brother Ian having overcome his initial fears about his homosexuality getting out, and now apparently going 'straight' with somebody else's husband.
The third season kicks off with the Feature-length New Year Special, which sees Debbie trying desperately to avoid the wrath of Social Services by pretending the young Carl has cancer. Of course the leads to no end of trouble when Frank finds out - and believes that he really is diagnosed with the big 'C'. The rest of the series continues in the same occasionally cringe-worthy manner, with Lip making dangerous friends with a dishonest boy racer and his pregnant ex-girlfriend suffering premature birth after a thief causes trouble in a shopping market, Debbie resigning from her self-appointed role as new leader of the family and instead pursuing a career in heavy makeup and inappropriate clothing, as you might only expect from someone her age, and Ian finding a new, younger man to share his bed, paving the way from jealous complications with the married man he was previously enamoured by. Of course we also have Frank and Sheila's impending wedding, where several well-kept secrets are finally uncovered.
It's an eventful third offering, adopting the same no-holds-barred nature that made the first two seasons so popular and ground-breaking. There is nothing which is out of bounds for this show, no racial, sexual or moral boundary that the excellent writer Paul Abbott (famous for quality TV dramas like Clocking Off and State of Play) is not willing to trample all over and the end result is, though extreme, also very compelling. If I had one gripe, it is that two of the best characters - Fiona and Steve - have departed, leaving a void which they simply cannot fill with the people they have. I understand why the two left as the actors (Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy) have gone on to do a wider range of popular productions (the TV film The Virgin Queen and now a movie for Duff, and the TV Macbeth as well as numerous movies like Narnia for McAvoy) but I think the show suffers significantly without their presence, arguably as bad as it would be without the main man, Frank (the excellent, almost unrecognisable David Threlfall - Patriot Games, Master and Commander). Nevertheless, as they say, the show must go on, and with the impending fourth season it is clear that this drama is still decent, compelling viewing.