I've never been much of a fan of Frank Gallagher, the patriarch of the perpetually down-but-never-out Gallagher kids of Chicago's South Side on "Shameless" (8 p.m. CT Jan. 13, Showtime; 3 stars). But I love the show.
It's not that William H. Macy doesn't nail the role. Frank's a deadbeat, a drunk and anything but lovable--a smart decision that keeps the show from being overly sentimental. Ever the narcissist, Frank sees his kids as a means to an end. He exploits them; he neglects them. He steals from them--all to score cash for cigarettes, booze or drugs.
It's fun to watch Frank's misadventures when they don't involve his kids, but when he commits offenses against them I want to strangle him. IHis eldest daughter, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), needs to kick him to the curb permanently--like restraining order permanently.
In the Season 3 premiere of the series, which films its exteriors in Chicago, Frank's youngest daughter, Debbie (Emma Kenney), counts the days until he returns from one of his binges--he's got himself into a pickle he's uniquely equipped to handle thanks to old girlfriend Sheila (Joan Cusack). It's not long after he comes home that Frank's actions cause Deb to turn on him in a shocking way.
The scene is heartbreaking, and just another example of how finely modulated the tone of the series is. Exec producers Paul Abbott and John Wells deliver dark humor, a full heart and a real desire to illustrate--no matter how outlandishly--just how difficult it is for impoverished families to make ends meet.
But when your show is called "Shameless," I suppose the pressure to live up to that title weighs more heavily from season to season. When a drug lord comes calling for Fiona's boyfriend Jimmy, alias Steve (Justin Chatwin), you can almost hear the show runners demanding ever more outrageous situations.
I won't spoil the scene, but suffice to say it didn't feel especially funny--even as gallows humor--or affecting. But so much happens so fast on "Shameless" it's easy to forget about such a misfire and move on. The show rightly remains focused on the Gallagher kids, including oldest brother Lip (Jeremy Allen White), gay West Point hopeful Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and budding sociopath Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), and their efforts to improve their situation.
But of course, all that is threatened by Frank, who makes a hasty decision after his battle with Deb that could destroy the family for good.
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