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Weekly Watch: ‘Shameless’

| Monday, January 23, 2017

PrintFERNANDA URTEAGA | The Observer

At this point, it’s tough to make a new series about “real life.” With so many existing, the feeling that all possible real life situations have already been done is inescapable. For this reason, fantasies like “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld” are getting more attention for the worlds they create, while stories of our own world are missing.

“Shameless” takes the premise of a no-frills everyday life series, like “Malcolm in the Middle” and, more recently, “The Middle.” But it transcends the realm of feel-good sitcom and establishesitself as a full-fledged drama, not without frequent absurd comedy. The result is relatable yet turbulent, familiar enough to relate to while keeping us guessing.

Of course, we root for our favorite characters, but before they become our favorites they need to go through struggles that win us over. There’s no romanticizing the city life the Gallaghers lead on Chicago’s South Side, which is instead approached with a scrappy realism. The kids of the Gallagher family impress by supporting one another and achieving their goals, but they do something even more important — they screw up.

A major actor in the“Shameless” plot is the Gallagher father, Frank. He is portrayed brilliantly by William H. Macy, who is known for sleazy characters like Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo.” The damage done by Frank is less calculated than accidental, but that’s not to say he isn’t crafty at times. He’s the perfect deadbeat alcoholic father, spending every day at the Alibi lounge, and doing more harm than good in his children’s upbringing. Frank is unusual as a main character because he doesn’t function like the others — we don’t sympathize with Frank, instead we relate to dealing with the Franks of the world. Sheila (Joan Cusack), is Frank’s antithesis yet his counterpart — innocent but equally incompetent — whose agoraphobia is a major comedic, but also dramatic, component.

The brilliant host that makes up the rest of the characters gives the series a theme of acceptance. Each embraces the actual role they have in the family, rather than wishing they had a more typical dynamic.  They’re independent, smart, resourceful and impressive in ways they’re never praised for. This is most true of the oldest sibling Fiona, who holds the leadership role in the family, sacrificing the typical life of a twenty-something to parent her younger siblings. Lip, the oldest brother, is gifted yet self-sabotaging, but continually prioritizes his family. All the Gallagher kids embrace their relationship with their neighbors-turned-family, Veronica and Kevin. Like any series with main characters that are children, “Shameless” changes dramatically over its seven seasons as the younger siblings enter adulthood, and transition from juvenile conflicts to more serious challenges.

Through both jaw-dropping drama and enduring mundanity, “Shameless” assures that life is a wild ride, but it turns out okay. This feeling comes partially from knowing that, no matter how badly you screw up, you can never be more of a degenerate than Frank Gallagher.

Adapted from a British series of the same name, the gritty Showtime series has completed seven seasons, but experienced a seemingly mysterious surge in popularity in recent months. The explanation is Netflix, where “Shameless” recently became available to shamelessly binge watch.

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