Shameless: Rinse and Repeat

Showtime's Shameless lived up to its name in Season 1, starting with a pilot full of shocking behavior and never really letting up. While the violence and sex often felt forced -- it's Showtime, so here, have some nudity! -- the show also developed a lot of heart as storylines focused on what the Gallagher family was missing, both materially and spiritually, and always required them to come together to solve the problem at hand. Sometimes the hardships were trivial, like having to steal a hot water heater or organize a sham wedding, while at others they struck a deeper chord and redefined relationships, as happened when the family's absent mother returned.

Great acting trumped some of the more unbelievable scenarios, and several great characters emerged as the younger Gallaghers were forced into maturity -- especially Jeremy Allen White as Lip and Emma Kenney as Debbie. Most of all, Shameless was extremely clever about its depiction of poverty. None of the kids seemed to suffer, because they're far too smart for that; they'd simply hatch a new money-making scheme or seek out the right neighborhood barter to achieve their goals.

The second season began Sunday night with "Summertime," an episode that essentially reset the series, at least to the point that new viewers can easily jump on board. The setup is the same: William H. Macy's alcoholic, degenerate Frank generally leaves his six kids (ages 2 through 22) to fend for themselves in Chicago with no substantial means of income. The kids are now a year older, but they're mostly the same mischievous bunch, and Fiona's (Emmy Rossum) romantic endeavors -- which dominated large swaths of the plot in Season 1 -- have been largely reset in the wake of her standing up Steve (Justin Chatwin), her car thief boyfriend with a double life, as he made his way out of town in the Season 1 finale.

The most notable difference is that Shameless has traded the bleak Chicago winter that so defined the first season for a scorching summer. This change of seasons greatly frees up the characters to return to their darker instincts -- a handy way to rev up some wacky situations. With no kids to get to school, Fiona gets a true summer vacation: She's waitressing at a club, partying all night and sleeping all day, and leaving her younger sister Debbie responsible for a babysitting/summer camp service run out of their living room.

With sure-to-return love interest Steve gone for now, Fiona is playing the field a bit, even with friendly/creepy (but still interested!) policeman Tony living next door -- in the house he blackmailed from Steve. Got all that? Good, because Fiona's got a new flame, a hotshot from J.P. Morgan who can almost keep up with her partying ways, and she's also crushing on a bartender who won't give her the time of day. There's surely drama ahead, but for now Fiona is bizarrely carefree.

Lip has taken to new business ventures -- a fight club and an ice cream truck (with weed available if you ask nicely and have ID to prove you're at least 14 years old). He still isn't tempted by the offer of higher education, but he's happy to sell weed to the college professor who tried to do right by him. He also continues to pine after Karen, who's now dating a 38-year-old fellow Sex Addicts Anonymous member/Lip lookalike (Lip-alike?). Ian, whose Season 1 storyline wrapped up quite nicely when he came out to Fiona, is focused on getting into West Point with Lip's help as a tutor. Kevin and Veronica are battling over Kevin's "accidental" farming of a bit too much weed in the basement of The Alibi Room. And other minor characters have progressed in small, but meaningful ways. Joan Cusak's agoraphobic Sheila has progressed to 100 steps outside the house, and may soon see Frank for who he really is. And Amy Smart's Jasmine, a late addition to the Season 1 cast, has come a bit unhinged (at least relative to Shameless standards) as she cheats on her husband and parties with Fiona, much to Veronica's disapproval.

If you can stomach Shameless's excessive... well, everything, you might find a show you love. Or at least a few characters you can relate to, if you're from a dysfunctional family yourself (and who isn't, at least to some degree?). Season 2 is poised to deliver plenty more cleverly written solutions to improve life at the Gallagher residence -- trading babysitting a fireman's children for a free fill-up of the family pool made me smile. And the major characters all face ticking time bombs in their unsettled relationships, so the insanity has only begun.

One thing is for certain -- very few shows on TV today could end a season premiere with an entire neighborhood coming together to celebrate a marijuana bonfire and have it feel just right.

What did you think of the Season 2 premiere? Are you excited about where the Gallaghers are headed, or do you wish they had learned a few more lessons from Season 1?

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