A few years ago, a new series appeared on Showtime called Shameless. As noted by Entertainment Weekly, there have been a lot of comedy shows that attempted to reveal the inner workings of American working-class families. Shows like All in the Family, Good Times, Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle, and many others have portrayed ordinary people –and mostly ordinary families – and their struggles just to get by. None are quite like Shameless.
At first glance, Shameless appears to have a good deal in common with all of these other sitcoms about working-class people and their lives. This show, which airs on Sundays on Showtime, follows the daily doings of a single-family living in the South Side in Chicago in modern-day America.
William Macy plays Frank, the family’s alcoholic and completely good for nothing father. Frank spends most of his time – and much of the family’s money – finding new and better ways to get blind stinking drunk. Frank’s preoccupation with inebriation leaves the rest of his family to largely look after themselves financially, emotionally, and otherwise.
An interesting feature of the series, and the principal reason it remains a comedy despite the dramatic elements, is that Frank’s six children somehow are able to stay together as a family, although admittedly it is an incredibly dysfunctional family.
As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, more recent seasons have deviated somewhat from the original nature of the show, for the most part Shameless has managed to reinvigorate and reinvent the dramedy by injecting equal measures of sentiment and humor and mixing them together in wild abandon. This show aims for the viewer’s heart and funny bone at the same time and does an effective job of hitting the target every time.
Humor’s critical role in the Shameless series is undeniable. The show’s opening credits provide both a raunchy and revealing preview of the nature of these characters as each goes through his or her morning routine in the home’s single bathroom. Each character is revealed to be odd or extreme in a variety of ways, but also as typical of the average American family – in a way.
We see the character of Fiona wiggling out thong to pee, followed by the somewhat shocking image of Ian enjoying porn. The smallest child dips a brush into the toilet bowl to brush teeth. The interaction of each family member in turn with the same filthy toilet bowl helps us understand the individual personalities and the family dynamics in general.
More than this, the opening scene of Shameless has become as iconic and watchable for viewers as the opening credits for The Simpsons. However, The Simpsons have never been as gritty and hard-hitting as this show can sometimes be.
As must be obvious from the above, this show doesn’t use the humor to trivialize or ignore the family’s poverty or the complexity and depth of the family’s relationships. The show’s writers don’t hesitate to reveal to viewers the unpleasant surroundings and situation in which this family lives. For example, the oldest son of the family has had the responsibility of being the “father” figure foisted upon him by Frank’s utter disinterest and incompetence.
While hardly ideal himself, especially given that he earns money to support the family by selling marijuana out of an ice cream truck, at least he is trying to do something (however illegal) to keep the Gallagher’s from going under entirely.
But at the same time, the writers temper this unpleasantness and overall sense of doom with the real and strong emotions that all of the characters feel. Viewers get the sense that the characters in this show are clear reflections of real Americans living in real America as they experience the same hardships that so many people are having to endure today. Of course, many of the hardships seen afflicting the characters in Shameless are self-inflicted injuries.
[Featured Image by Showtime]