Sunday, January 13, 2013

'Shameless': So It Is for a Lotta (White) Folks

Jimmy aka Steve (Justin Chatwin) and Fiona (Emmy Rossum) have a complicated relationship in "Shameless." Photo courtesy of Showtime.

YOURS Truly was in high heaven one week ago, thinking Sunday would be a banner night. You see, it would bring with it the Season 3 premiere of two of my favorite shows: “Downton Abbey” on PBS’ "Masterpiece Theatre” and “Shameless” on Showtime.

I found out soon enough that I was wrong and contented myself making a few comments about the Crawleys of “Downton Abbey” (Episode 2 airs tonight at 9 http://www.bit.ly/XcStLG) and the splendor in which they lived. Both the Crawleys and the Gallaghers of “Shameless” are straight out of Dickens – “A Tale of Two Cities” of sorts.

Where “Downton Abbey” is a sight for sore eyes, “Shameless” is just a sight! The Gallaghers is a poor family that lives in chaos and squalor near an elevated train track line in Chicago. These people will do just about anything for money. They have no shame. None.

The overarching question in “Shameless” is whether Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy in a brilliantly over-the-top role) can straighten up and fly right in an attempt to save his massively at-risk family. Essentially, take some damn responsibility for the first time in his sorry life. The answer is not likely – at least not without rigorous, relentless intervention.

Last anyone heard, Frank was trying to spring his ex-wife Monica (Chloe Webb) out of a psychiatric facility. All of his trouble somehow turns him up in Mexico without I.D. as viewers will see in the season premiere tonight. This seems to be a pattern with Frank. In season 1, he wound up in Toronto similarly paperless.

The Bundys of "Married With Children." Archive photo.

Meanwhile, it continues to be up to Frank’s oldest, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), to hold the family together, including a two-year-old mulatto or black brother, Liam (Brennan Kane Johnson and Blake Alexander Johnson) – the offspring of estranged mother Monica and Frank no less.

“Shameless” has not elevated low-class living to an artform, but it sure makes poverty look almost palatable and kinda cool. Here, it is stylized and romanticized. The Gallagher clan is white trash – ghetto; just as ill-mannered, immoral poor black folk are ghetto or black trash. The same applies to all other ethnic groups when one gets right down to it.

This is a show that puts a spotlight on a segment of America that is barely visible in popular entertainment: poor, white folk – and there are plenty of them. It is rare indeed that white Americans are depicted thusly on American TV aside from those “Judge” shows. And “Shameless” does come with an asterisk. Frankly, it is refreshing.

The Gallagher living room is often in need of a little tidying up. Photo courtesy of Showtime.

Of course, no one is suggesting that all or most poor whites are up to the kind of shenanigans that the Gallaghers are, but this stuff is not all made up, albeit it is satirized. As close as commercial TV could seemingly get was Fox’s “Married With Children” back in the day when that network was truly cutting edge. Interestingly enough, the Bundys lived in suburban Chicago, though clearly not an Evanston or Wilmette.

It should be noted for those not in the know or those who’ve forgotten that “Shameless” is a remake of the British series of the same name. This is the asterisk. The original is set in fictional Chatsworth Estate in suburban Manchester and surrounding areas.

“Shameless” is an import from the UK where poor whites are very visible in popular entertainment. For those who don’t know the lingo, in “English” estate means projects. Many whites in the United States know that they don’t live nearly as large as they are depicted on TV and in films, just as many blacks know they don’t live nearly as low on the hog as depicted in the same mediums.

The Gallagher clan of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Showtime.

In the U.S. version of “Shameless,” the Gallaghers reside in the poor/working class South Side neighborhood of Canaryville near train tracks – get it, tracks? For the U.S. audience, “Shameless” represents a bit of social engineering. It allows nonwhites living in this country – namely those who live in places like New York City who are newer to this country and associate being white with economic prosperity – to see that there are whites who struggle like those of any other U.S. ethnic group, who may have a few too many moral lapses.

It’s also cool that “Shameless” does it with such zest, making “crappily ever after” look downright virtuous.

Visit http://www.sho.com/sho/shameless/home to learn more about “Shameless.”

Even More Shameless Behavior in ‘House of Lies’

The cast of "House of Lies." Photo courtesy of Showtime.

DIRECTLY following the conclusion of “Shameless,” comes more shameless behavior in “House of Lies.” It is a perfect bookend.

Don Cheadle plays Marty Kaan (surname is pronounced con), head of a management consultant team that uses every con in the grifter guide to make corporate deals and break CEOs. Last season, I was eager to add this new show to my viewing schedule solely because DC is tied to this project. He is also executive producer.

What first struck me is how much it reminded me of the BBC series “Hustle” about a ring of con artists. Then I noticed how far it fell short of “Hustle.” Where the latter is smooth and suave, the former is coarse and vulgar.

This material is so far beneath DC. How disappointing, for DC is such a fine human being and actor. Clearly, not everyone shares my humble and steadfast view. Last year, DC was nominated for both an Emmy and Golden Globe for his performance.

Perhaps a season makes all the difference, and maybe I’ll take a gander or watch it later on Showtime OnDemand. Tonight, MK&Co. do their usual, as suggested by the season premiere guide: “mischief, mayhem, and mergers.” (See video above.)

Visit http://www.sho.com/sho/house-of-lies/home to learn more about “House of Lies.”

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