Shameless: Prettyin' Up Poverty

Don't be fooled by the camera tricks, naughty misadventures, and shocking (shocking, I tell you!) scenes from Showtime's new dramedy Shameless. Despite a fantastic cast that's only going to get better, the pilot wasn't that good.

That's not to say the show won't improve. Showtime's Shameless—which is yet another U.S. remake of a well-respected U.K. series—has plenty of potential. But it doesn't get an automatic pass because its on a cable network praised for its original programming.

Shameless tells the story of the Gallaghers, a family with an absent mom that's struggling to get by on limited income. Eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) holds the reins as clan leader while boozehound father Frank (William H. Macy) spends his exploited disability pay on his bar tab and makes a nightly routine of passing out on the living room floor. The Gallaghers' financial crisis is so bad that all the family members (even the tykes) chip in to pay the electric bill, cereal is served with watered-down milk, and one entrepreneurial daughter steals from Unicef. To say they're poor would be an insult to poor people.

Right there, you've got a great premise for a strong family drama, which is what I expected from of the pilot. The family's struggle is obvious, their bond is well laid-out, and viewers naturally want to root for them—it's a Gallaghers-versus-the-world scenario.

Unfortunately, the pilot episode relied too heavily on shock value and not enough on family values. Sex and violence can be very effective tools for carrying a story and developing characters, but none of the scenes featuring either were anything more than slapped-on chest-thumping. If you're going to jump to a three-second cutaway of the neighbors engaging in BDSM sex, it's gotta have a point. If your characters include a daughter who gives blowjobs to people who talk science to her (it turns her on for some reason), a mother (Joan Cusack) who's both a germaphobe and a present-day Julia Child, and a father with a clown fetish, they've got to have more of a purpose than just serving as a sort of circus-freak sideshow. It's slightly odd when a plot involving a gay teenager named Ian boinking his married, male, Middle-Eastern corner-store boss is the most believable of the bunch.

Character behavior also left me wondering. Why would Fiona spend her nights (and money) clubbing when the family is on the verge of living in a cardboard box? Why would Fiona's one-nighter Steve (Justin Chatwin) get up to answer the Gallaghers' front door when whoever's there has just interrupted his raunchy kitchen-floor sex (and put a shirt on, please)? Why would Lip bring his gay brother to science girl's house to get fellated while her parents are in the room? These "wacky" situations are too forced. I completely understand that television often requires the suspension of disbelief, but the pilot took it too far, especially since Shameless is set very much in our world.

Further gussying up Shameless' shock value are unnecessary camera tricks meant to distract us. The occasional freeze frame and slow-mo sequences don't serve the story, and have been included out of arrogance or some Guy Ritchie obsession. Showing a drink tray knocked over from three different camera angles and at quarter-speed may work in a music video, but it's a complete waste here. At least the producers got the overall look spot-on, by toning down colors and using low-angle shots to accentuate the dire situation of the family.

Where Shameless does shine is in its casting. Rossum tackles the strong-yet-defensive Fiona full on, and Macy lights up the screen as the drunk lug Frank (though defenders of the U.K. version will say he's no David Threlfall). Special shout outs go to Cameron Monaghan as the "normal" Ian and Jeremy Allen White as "Lip." The media may latch on to Monoghan's portrayal of a gay teen, but I would not be surprised to see White go on to become this show's real star. It's also a decent showcase for the charming Chatwin as conman Steve. You may remember him as the undercover fed who tricked John Locke in one of Lost's flahbacks, or the teen drug dealer from the pilot of Weeds.

Shameless has plenty of potential, and at least some of it will be realized as we spend more time with these characters. But the pilot fell victim to too many premiere episode trappings. Too much flash and not enough heart. If the show keeps its talented cast from making stupid decisions, adds a little bit more emotional punch, and cuts down on its excess, it should be able to overcome this initial misstep.

There's still one more day left in Showtime's free preview weekend (it ends sometime today), so you can check out the Shameless pilot for yourself if your local cable provider has it on demand. For a limited time you can also see the full episode online here.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

Comments (13)
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The middle meets weeds?
I was hoping the charcters would be more real, instead they are infuriatingly retarded. Sure Drugs will pop your braincells but thats not funny. Im not sure if they are trying to make a commedy or a drama show here. in effect its neither.
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Tim is like the Jersey Shore of Tv.com. He's entertaining, totally useless, and the big man is keeping him because he draws the crowd.

Lol, not enough heart, really?

I like Shameless because it was entertaining enough and interesting at the pilot. Couldn't they give a show at least three episodes before they judge or "review" them. It's way to early to say things like this.

(Ok, sometimes, this tim makes ok reviews, but not great. Should they cancel him?)
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This show is fantastic! Well atleast so far. I haven't seen the UK version so I can't compare but I'm really excited for the future of this show, it looks great. My one complaint is that I felt the baby gave a better performance than Macy, if I had it my way Macy would be recast. I just cannot believe him in this character. Other than that I absolutely loved the pilot, maybe I'll warm up to Macy...
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The show is very interesting. I really like it.
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never seen the original, but i am already a fan of this show!
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How was there no heart? We got a scene of the youngest daughter putting a pillow under her drunk father's head. We got all of the kids pitching together to pay a bill. We got Emmy Rossum's character crying over her father. We got a brother accepting his homosexual brother. This was by far the best of the four shows that premiered on Sunday. I'm already committed to watching the full season. I haven't seen the UK version, but one thing I know didn't come from it was giving a wonderful sense of Chicago, which was one the things I really liked about it.
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Being from the UK and an avid follower of Shamless UK I was very interested to see the US version. The main problem was the interpretation of transferring the pilot script from the UK original. Apart from small necessary changes to make the characters from Chicago etc., the script was virtually word for word from the original UK pilot. Therefore, some of the plot lines didn't quite fit or translate. This problem covers most of the issues/complaints raised in the review above. I do think the show has potential and as the characters develop you will see the importance of these little snippets thrown into the pilot which at present seem out of place. I was impressed with most of the performances, if Macy is allowed to make Frank Gallagher his own it will be amazing as trying to imitate David Threlfall will not be possible. Emmy Rossum owned Fiona. I felt let down by the actors playing Lip and Ian but I was comparing them to the UK characters so that's just a personal thing. I urge viewers to watch the UK version, even if it just gives you a better understanding of the characters and their environment it won't be a waste of time. I will definitely keep watching the US version - unlike other remakes it really has potential.
More+
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not bad but the original is still much better
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Wow!!! now thats what i'm talking about, this was awesome can't wait for the second one.
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did you even watch it? I was amazed by the dysfunction of this family but with all that dysfunction came just as much love if not more! and you gotta have heart to have love... right? I for one loved this show. I was so pumped for this show and for me it did not disappoint. loved everyone and everything about this show.
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I'll be tuning in to see more of Veronica and Fiona. Hopefully, much much much more. Other than that, Macy hasn't found his groove yet.
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Steve was a car thief, not a confidence man. Emmy was absolutely terrific. Macy's character could have been replaced with a bag of flour, though he did fine with what they gave him. I disagree with the reviewer completely. If this show showed more heart I wouldn't bother watching a second episode. I don't want a deep emotional connection with these people. I am more than a little tired of reviewers thinking every show has to elicit an emotional connection with it's audience. When I get home from a long day's work I want to be entertained, I don't want to expend what little energy I have left on a show that jerks my emotions to-and-fro, I want escapism. This show was entertaining without requiring me to invest something I didn't want to.
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I watched this show and after reading this Tim must not of payed any attention to it. I'm not going into detail just that I think Tim has no clue. And I feel like I just wasted my time reading this.
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