I have mixed feelings about Showtime's new drama, "Shameless," which stars William H. Macy as a shiftless alcoholic who lets his six motherless children fend for themselves while he drinks away any nickel he can get his hands on.
The show (which is a remake of a successful British show) has a superb cast and is very well acted. And the way the children (who appear to range in age from 1 to 20) pull together and work as a team to keep each other clothed and fed and with electricity, is compelling. After three episodes, I care deeply about those kids. I also deeply detest their father.
I don't hate the Macy character because he's an alcoholic, I hate him because he actively and without any remorse makes his kids' lives even harder than they already are. Not only are the children forced by necessity to work and scam and sometimes even steal for food and basic needs, they also have to deal with their shiftless dad showing up to berate them, assault them, steal their groceries, or do whatever else he wants to do.
But what I really don't get about the show, what I find utterly unbelievable, is that the kids all still adore him. Okay, I can see the little ones pining for his attention and affection, even though he treats them with the same regard he might treat a mangy stray dog. But it's the older siblings who have taken on the role of holding the family together and protecting the little ones -- they are the ones who confound me. I just don't get that they would still, after all that neglect, defend the dad so aggressively.
There's a scene in the second episode where the father viciously assaults one of the younger kids and an outsider who is present (the boyfriend of the oldest daughter) tries to intervene and remove the dad from the house. The kids -- even the older ones -- rush to protect and defend their dad and banish the outsider.
I don't get it. I can't imagine in that situation that the older kids wouldn't do everything in their power to protect their younger siblings from harm, even if that harm comes in the form of their worthless father.
From what I can tell from the first three episodes, the father simply doesn't care anything about the children. He's not that "dad with a problem" who tries to do the best he can for his kids, but ultimately fails. We've all seen that story and it's a totally different one. This dad only shows up when he wants something or when the cops drag his unconscious, urine-soaked body from the streets and dump it in the family's kitchen. He doesn't like the kids, and admits that he never wanted them to start with.
Also, I'll admit to being really, really put off with a scene at the beginning of the pilot which comically portrays one of the small boys as a torturer of animals. Macy's character is jokily introducing the kids in a voiceover, and as indication of how little he knows about any of his kids, he describes one as an animal lover, noting that the boy is always bringing stray animals home and taking them up to his room. They then show the boy standing in a room holding a blowtorch in one hand a stray cat in the other.
What the #*&! Is that supposed to be funny??
I found it extremely offensive that Showtime would think it was humorous to depict animal torture, and in all likelihood, a budding serial killer, in a comical way. I almost turned the show off right then.
So there's all that to get past.
But if you can get past that, and after a handful of episodes, maybe you can, it's a solid show. There's very little of Macy in the first episode, but they use him more and more in subsequent installments. Much to my regret. And don't get me wrong, Macy is great in the part, I just think the show, much like the Gallagher children, would be better off without the character.
And I also admit to not being a fan of shows (or movies) about junkies I'm supposed to feel sorry for or feel inspired by. So you should also take that into consideration.
I really wish "Shameless" would just stick with the children. The children have such compelling stories and are awesome as a unit.
The oldest daughter (Emmy Rossum) is torn between her responsibilities to her siblings and her attraction to a handsome suitor (Justin Chatwin) with money, all of which is complicated because the young man doesn't find her father as endearing and lovable and forgivable as she does (I'm with him!! Get rid of the bum!!).
The next oldest (Jeremy Allen White) is super smart, so you're instantly sad when you consider the limits his family situation have placed on his future. He tutors other kids and takes SATs with fake IDs for cash to support his family. The next oldest (Cameron Monaghan), a young teen, is gay but no one in his family knows. He's the one the dad really hates, possibly because he most resembles their absent mother.
The next is a young girl (Emma Kenney), the one most obviously yearning for any sort of parental love or interaction (in the third episode, she breaks your heart). Then there's the little cat killer (Ethan Cutkosky), who is consistently portrayed as a psychopath, and then, a toddler (Blake Alexander Johnson). Side note: The toddler is black. The best I can figure, mom had an affair and left him there when she split. I'm hoping we learn more about the mother later.
Oh, there's also Joan Cusack as a completely freaky agoraphobic neighbor/friend of the family. I love Joan Cusack but I'm a little creeped out by her in this show.
"Shameless" debuts Sunday night at 10pm on Showtime.