Episode 1 - Summertime
28 March 2012
Synopsis: The Gallagher extended family are all working on their Summer money-making ventures. Fiona works in a club at night and sleeps in the day. Debbie looks after neighbourhood kids, Lip manages local amateur fighters while also selling weed out of an ice cream truck with Kev. Kev has been growing weed in the basement but the electric bill is now enormous. Frank makes a bet with a local muscle head and has to make ten grand or start losing toes. Sheila is slowly taking more steps out of the house and Karen is attending a sex addicts group.
The Good: This may sound less like one of my normal reviews and more like a recap on what works about Shameless. That's partly because I haven't written a single episode review yet and also because not a huge amount happened in this episode.
I was very pleased with what I saw. Shameless is rare at the moment in being a genuine comedy-drama. I would say that it probably is more comedy than drama and I think it's a breath of fresh air as a result. Like a sit com there is a lot of hijinks going on and like any good comedy there is a rough formula to how things proceed. This episode followed that formula neatly with Frank squandering everyone else's hard work but the togetherness of Fiona's brood meaning that no one loses any toes and baby Liam is safe and sound when the credits roll.
That formula was somewhat incidental here as this episode was more of an old fashioned "welcome back, here is where everyone is at and now here are their stories for this season" affair. Fiona is still getting over Steve which sort of implies he will come back at some point. Tony is still pining for her next door and new friend Jasmine is still trying to encourage her to enjoy life more. Lip's fight club antics have potential and Ian's desire to join the army are intriguing and will hopefully get a lot more attention. Debbie's imminent entry into teenagehood was well expressed and her self aware frankness remains in place. Frank is living under the threat that Sheila will soon be able to leave the house, stop cooking him meals and discover what an a-hole he really is.
I list those plots just to point out the sheer number of characters the show is successfully servicing all at once. I was particularly pleased to see Karen going to a sex addicts group as I was once afraid that her behaviour would be ignored or blown off. I also continue to enjoy Kev as a kind of male Fiona. He is looking after his decrepit father and learning to be one himself while still very much being a young man. There's something very endearing about him and there seems a natural conflict with adopted daughter Ethel (from the Mormon sect) who he has to lie to about his weed growing. There could be a lot of potential there for touching and funny stories going forward.
That remains the key to Shameless as it should with most sit coms - it's heart warming. The poverty brings a togetherness and the love the characters have for one another is immensely watchable (see Best Moment). I wish more sit coms would do what Shameless does when it comes to the hijinks too. Most twenty two minute shows are too lazy to write really detailed plots and scenarios. On the average network comedy the idea of a twelve year old running day care or a baby being handed over to thugs would seem preposterous. Yet the Shameless writers weave a believable Chicago suburb where these things get explained and made a part of the world. Similarly Kev can't grow a shed load of weed without incurring a massive electric bill and Veronica rightly points out that if they just become drug dealers they will all be locked up quickly.
The Bad: The treatment of Frank within the story is always a bit problematic. Here he begins to either give or receive sexual acts (it wasn't entirely clear) from random men in a bar to raise money. That's such an extreme scenario that it fell a bit flat without a clear emotional direction. There was none here. It wasn't played for big laughs as if Frank deserved it or played as trauma that Frank was willing to suffer.
The Unknown: The idea of Frank dumping a ten thousand dollar bill at Fiona's door (essentially) also pushes you to wonder why she doesn't try to do damage to him (like getting him arrested or telling Sheila about him etc). It's an ongoing tension within the show and sometimes it is handled better than it was here where it was brushed aside.
The only other story handled with less skill than perhaps it should is the presentation of Fiona's new friend Jasmine. Veronica is so overtly suspicious of her that you suspect her role in the story is to lead Fiona astray. If it isn't then my fears will be unfounded but so far that antagonism has been played too clearly to be ignored.
Best Moment: Although it was brief Lip's dedication to Ian's happiness has always touched me. Lip clearly thinks the whole world is about lies and self interest. His comment that American drones only function was to murder Afghan shepherds made it clear what he thinks of the military-industrial complex. So when he finds out that Ian has been looking into Westpoint Academy he flips out at the thought of him becoming cannon fodder. However he calms down quickly and begins to turn his problem solving skills toward making it happen.
The Bottom Line: It's good to have Shameless back. It doesn't seem to have missed a beat and the Summer setting made a nice change from the snow.
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