Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Families That Play Together, Stay Together

"Shameless" is really all about what the characters are willing to do - or often times, subject themselves - in order to make a few bucks. Selling marijuana, gambling, even underground fight matches are not beneath the Gallagher family when it comes to paying rent. (Or, as Fiona elegantly put it, "feeding the children come winter," which sounds more at home on the Oregon Trail.) Although the second episode in season two, called "Summer Loving," had a fair share of just that – both gay and straight sex scenes – the storyline really hung on the omnipresent need to score a quick buck.

Let's set the storyline: Frank has been living with Sheila for several months, but Sheila doesn't know about Frank's cantankerous alcoholism because she suffers from agoraphobia and can barely take 100 steps outside her front door. With her condition improving, Frank worries about keeping a roof over his head. When he hears that his old drinking buddy Dottie might have only a few weeks to live, he goes to her house with dinner and offers his services around the house. What’s in it for Frank? Dottie has a city pension to last him a lifetime. 

While watching Frank take advantage of yet another human being it's becoming hard to stomach him. You just want to scream: go to AA, you asshole. In the beginning he was heartless, we know, but we hoped he, at least, had a soul. After he remarks to his pre-adolescent son that the boy should wake up everyday and thank him that his sperm made it far enough inside his mother that he was even born - well, it's becoming harder and harder to keep up the facade.

The other main character, Fiona is a bit like the anti-Frank. The 21-year-old takes care of Frank's family not because they are his children, but in spite of that fact. They are her siblings first and foremost. She really is quite competent and heads the family in sophisticated style. Managing to work all night at a night club, keep the kids in order, and clean up after Frank, before slapping on a sleep mask and passing out all afternoon is actually impressive.

The episode begins with her older friend Veronica trying to set Fiona up with a sugar daddy. She's not interested, but after talking with her prospective suitor, says: "So, how does this work? I look pretty and hang on your arm, and you buy me really expensive things that I don't really need." I think she’s forgetting something…

But for all her good deeds, the Gallagher family regularly plays with fire. Although the teenage sibling Ian has aspirations to apply to West Point, his budding relationship with ex-con Mickey is of growing concern. Ian went to meet Mickey as he was released from prison and the first thing Mickey did as free man was turn back to the cops, who were standing behind a barb-wired fence, and scream: "Fuck you, fuck you, and especially fuck you."

Although you’re rooting for the rebellious Gallaghers, the viewer secretly enjoys peeking in as the family struggles to survive this rowdy Chicago neighborhood. The tragedy of a family that has resorted to almost everything besides prostitution to support themselves makes for entertaining television so long as you can watch it from a safe distance.

But, the real soul of the show is how the family is able to stick together and look out for each other in the face of real danger. Although the whole family should be sent to jail, you have to admit they are kind of heartwarming. It’s like they say, Families that play together, stay together.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

'Shameless' Season 2 Doesn't Dissappoint

The second season of the Showtime hit-series “Shameless” (now in its third season) premiered last January and true to form leaves little to the imagination. Sex, drugs and drunk driving run rampant through the destitute Chicago neighborhood of Canaryville, and often comes off as a bit scandalous, if not deplorable, especially to the uninitiated. But that’s all part of the charm.

Admittedly, if I grew up with these perfectly unguided youths, I’d be right next to Lip and Kev Ball pushing pot out of a beat-up ice cream truck to 14-year-olds at the local park. See, once you get to know them, the gangs really not that bad, they’re just trying to get by... they’re not hurting anyone but themselves, and that turns out to be the most entertaining part of all.

The first episode, called “Summertime,” opens up with the alcoholic head of the family Frank Gallagher running his mouth at the only local bar that hasn’t banned him, “The Alibi Room.” He bets this gigantic South-Side gangster that the man couldn’t take two shots to the chest with a taser gun and still be standing. Well wouldn’t you know, there’s a taser gun behind the bar, and long story short, Frank loses. Big. $10,000-big.

Between slinging back Budweisers and trying to seduce a chronically ill woman from his past, Frank uses his infant son Liam to panhandle change on a street corner to pay back his newfound debt. But, when the gangsters find him, they bring him and the boy back to their warehouse, and Frank reluctantly surrenders Liam to the gang as collateral.  

The show is quite funny at parts, and somehow sad. It’s much like HBO’s “Entourage” with memorable over-the-top storylines, but without all the Hollywood money, glitz and glamour. You could say "Shameless" is the poor-man’s “Entourage.”

Of course the gorgeous actresses are still a mainstay like the female lead, Fiona Gallagher, portrayed by the beautiful 26-year-old scarlet Emma Rossum. She’s a standout and certainly engaging playing the hopelessly unafraid Fiona.

Once you realize that the characters aren’t flaunting their dirty little habits like Vince seems to on “Entourage,” you find that the characters seem like normal people. They’re not horrible, they are who they are: unapologetic.

There are parts of the show that strangely remind of my own life, although unlike our characters, I’ve never grew dozens of pot plants in my basement or brawled in an underground, no-holds-barred fight ring. Some situations, however, seem somehow familiar, albeit not entirely similar.

I caught myself thinking about my own friends or family while watching, which is a hallmark of a good show. It’s like well-written fiction is a foggy mirror that when done just right, you can find parts of yourself in the smooth glass. There’s a missing memory here, or a notion there, something vaguely reminiscent. If that’s the case, then Showtime’s “Shameless” is polished very close to perfection.