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Shameless is a comic drama about the impoverished Gallagher family living in suburban Chicago. Alcoholic-absentee father Frank is nominally patriarch of the family but the real work is done by daughter Fiona. Then Lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl and Liam make up the rest of the family. Showtime 2011 - ???


Episode 3 - I'll Light a Candle For You Every Day

23 February 2012

Credit Showtime

Synopsis: Lip investigates options for Ian and agrees to work on a military project. Jody plans on proposing to Karen but Frank steals the ring. He proposes to Dottie and she agrees. He then picks up a page offering her a heart and tells the hospital that she died. She is so depressed when she learns about the heart going to someone else that she asks Frank to sleep with her. Fiona finds a purse on the train and spends all the money. She returns the bag and then feels guilty when it belongs to a girl like her. She also begins seeing her high school crush Craig, who is now married. Debbie becomes preoccupied with death and Kev begins to worry about his Dad.

The Good: Given that morality is such a crucial theme on Shameless this episode tied together nicely around a couple of moral dilemmas. We are always being asked to balance the poverty of the Gallaghers against their petty crimes. The show has a sort of Robin Hood attitude when it comes to doing the right thing. For example Veronica is clear that fooling around with a married guy is wrong but if you find someone's bag on the train then you have the right to keep it.

It's easy to forgive Fiona some things. She has had to give up her life to raise a family and she doesn't complain about it. When Craig says he's sorry to hear it she simply responds "it is what it is." She does agree to return the purse she found (after spending all the money in it) and then feels guilty when the owner is similarly weighed down by children. Anyone might rationalise away Fiona's actions because another person might have taken the money and dumped the bag. She even then raises more money to pay the woman back.

In Frank's case however there can be no forgiveness. By denying Dottie a heart transplant he may as well have killed her. Don't underestimate how serious an act that was. This puts Frank up there with almost any TV villain short of those who kill multiple people. It was a despicable act and made for compelling viewing. The question is though, where is it heading (see The Unknown)?

I enjoyed the Fiona story for the way it balanced her morals out and showed us the pressures and temptations her situation leads to. She and Craig were really good in their flirtatious interactions. I also liked the use of on screen text bubbles as a neat way to keep the story moving. The nasty confrontation with the purse owner was a surprise and led to her angrily turning to Craig to try and make herself happy. Instead it goes badly and she turns to Steve and opens the door for him to perhaps move back into her life.

Elsewhere things continue to build. Kev endeared himself to me further with his sweet but dim attempts to buy the bar and pay for his Dad's care at the same time. Karen agrees to marry Jody and ends things with Lip at the same time. Debbie continues to grow in thoughts and feelings. I enjoyed all those subplots and Veronica came across really well in the way she was able to be sensible and supportive ("You're better at doing one thing at a time").

The Bad: Fiona's return visit to the North side of Chicago was awkwardly scripted. Fiona had clearly come out of her way to visit again and was brandishing money. Instead of accepting this turn of event gratefully the bad lady just turned on her and threw out insults in a contrived way. It served its purpose in Fiona's story but was poorly executed.

I'm not thrilled to see Steve return as I felt, like Frank, that he made the moral ambiguity harder to buy into. The blue screen shot of him on his South American balcony was a little cheesy too.

Frank's brilliant sales pitch to Dottie (about why they should get married) could have been even better if we had heard her fret about her legacy before this.

The Unknown: Frank has been a constant problem for Shameless. Any TV show is manipulating viewers emotions and the vast majority of the time we are supposed to feel a certain way. There are rare occasions when something can be left up to your interpretation but I don't see Shameless as that kind of show. So the question becomes what are we supposed to feel when we watch Frank?

This was a fascinating story. Frank's proposal was so cunning that you really could imagine her accepting this gold digger in the hope that he might keep her memory alive. He then lies to the hospital in order to make sure she dies and he can get her pension. It's really as evil an act as you can imagine. His drunken justifications show that his conscience is still functioning but that excuses nothing. He then agrees to euthanise her (which is a moral question in itself) before feeling some genuine grief over her passing. Finally he visits a church to remember her before stealing the collection box.

If this story leads to some karmic payback on Frank where he is royally screwed for his crime then maybe it was all worth it. Unfortunately the tone of all this remained worryingly comedic. There is something shocking about Frank lying naked next to a woman whose heart just failed. But this isn't Family Guy, I can't switch off the part of me that sees that as bad and not funny.

The final moment where Frank steals the collection box sort of implied that Frank is supposed to be a lovable rogue. The upbeat final music hits as he walks away with it, leaving me to assume that this is a shake your head moment and not a "this guy is the scum of the earth" moment. Part of Shameless' appeal is the depths to which its characters can sink and I do think there is a place for dark comedy. However the show too often presents Frank as somehow worthy of affection when he deserves less than none.

Best Moment: Frank turns down a heart for Dottie. The show may end up turning me off with its Frank stories but this was pretty shocking and entertaining.

The Bottom Line: This is a very difficult episode to score. It was entertaining and largely well produced but the worrying presentation of Frank continues.



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