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The network's description: "SHAMELESS, a new drama series from John Wells ("ER," "The West Wing," "Southland") and Paul Abbott ("State of Play," "Touching Evil") is based on the long-running hit UK series and stars Emmy(R) Award winner and Oscar(R) nominee William H. Macy (Fargo, Pleasantville, The Cooler) and Emmy Rossum (The Phantom of the Opera, Mystic River). Macy plays a far-from-stellar working class patriarch of an unconventional Chicago brood of six motley kids (headed by eldest sibling Rossum) who keep the home afloat while he's out drinking and carousing. SHAMELESS is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with John Wells Productions and Warner Bros. Television. Wells and Abbott are executive producers; Andrew Stearn ("The West Wing," "Southland") is co-executive producer."
What did they leave out? Allison Janney originated the role of Sheila in the pilot but was recast with Joan Cusack following the news she would be a series regular on ABC's "Mr. Sunshine."
The plot in a nutshell: "Nobody's saying our neighborhood is the Garden of Eden," Homan Square native Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) notes through slurred speech in the opening narration. "Hell, some people say God avoids this place altogether. But it's been a good home to us." Us then refers to his clan of six children: Fiona (Emmy Rossum), the family's de facto mother as the result of Frank's alcoholic proclivities; Lip (Jeremy White), the ace student who's not exactly an angel; Ian (Cameron Monaghan), an aspiring paratrooper who's struggling with his sexuality; Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), who's always melting his action figures or torturing stray animals; Debbie (Emma Kenney), who's in the most denial about what's going on; and youngest Liam (Brennan Kane Johnson), whom Frank's MIA ex-wife fathered with his old sponsor.
Also along for the ride are their sexually progressive neighbors Kev (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton), whom Fiona counts as her best friends. Each day then is a whirlwind of activity to keep the Gallagher household running as everyone pitches in to watch Liam, forge parental signatures, pay the electric bill and make sure dear old Dad doesn't choke on his own vomit. It's a hard knock life for sure, but also one filled with moments of humor and joy: Lip finds his latest tutoring gig with Karen (Laura Slade Wiggins) comes with benefits; Fiona meets Steve (Justin Chatwin), a charming - and seemingly well to do - fellow who's surprisingly patient with her complicated life; and there's always Frank's almost "Weekend at Bernie's"-esque antics.
And on the flip side there's just as much trouble: whether it's Ian, at Lip's prodding to see if he's really gay, getting caught with Karen by her parents (Joan Cusack, Joel Murray; the latter of which splits as a result); or, well, the realities of Frank's almost "Weekend at Bernie's"-esque antics. Ultimately they're just spokes on the wheel of the Gallaghers' lives.
What works: Macy, Rossum and company all come across as solid, more than capable actors. The problem is the show, at least three episodes in...
What doesn't: ...leaves me pretty cold. It just feels very repetitive: Frank is an asshole drunk, the kids bristle about it, then laugh about it, wash, rinse, repeat. The gaps then are filled in by the at best shrugworthy, at worst tedious - albeit high energy - accounts of the Gallaghers' lives, which mostly consist of the scams they pull to make ends meet and their various personal foibles. They're not particularly funny or clever, they're just... there: Ian finds unexpected consequences to turning down the advances of a girl at school; Steve tries to ingratiate himself into the Gallaghers' lives to mixed results; Frank tries moving in with aforementioned Sheila (Joan Cusack), revealed to be an agoraphobic; and so forth.
The end result - even through Showtime's "edgy" filter (various male and female nudity dots each episode) and my admitted Chicago homer-ness when it comes to TV and film - isn't exactly memorable stuff, whether you take it as a hardscrabble portrait of modern city of life or a madcap comedy about a falling down drunk and his worse for the wear kids. Sure there's a few moments of pathos (Lip and Karen ask each other about their respective parents' issues while lying underneath the el tracks; Ian finds himself coming out to the last person he thought he would) and playfulness (Veronica and Fiona are never seen doing the same career twice; Steve always seems to find a way to get Fiona to smile) however they just wind up lost in the hustle and bustle of the status quo. Perhaps you'll find something in those to keep you coming back...
The bottom line: ...or move along.