Why Shameless is so hopeful
As much as we hate an alcoholic father for abandoning his kids in Chicago, their fortitude and resilience are reminders of how great humanity can be. Start watching Shameless now on Showmax.
To say Frank Gallagher has no shame is an understatement. He’s the hard-drinking, irresponsible, drug-taking, liar, thief and reprobate father that we should all despise.
But who doesn’t (secretly) love Frank Gallagher?
He’s a selfish, self-serving ingrate with no loyalty to his own kids, who live like a ragtag bunch of urban survivalists in his house, scraping by while trying to do the right thing by each other. Having abandoned his six kids, they are raising themselves, led by the eldest Fiona (Emmy Rossum) as their stand-in mother. They go to school, scrape by doing odd jobs, contribute to the household kitty, while looking after each other.
It is, in its way, a very real representation of the state of so many families in big American cities that have been left behind by the system. And yet, despite their hardships, despite the ceaseless grind of getting by, they flourish by caring for their siblings.
All this in spite of Frank, the neighbourhood alcoholic who is always trying to steal a drink, steal some form of drug, and – often – steal food and money from his own kids.
Frank is played with such aplomb by William H Macy, arguably one of the great actors of his generation, that we’re filled with moral outrage but also a deep sense of sadness that such a dastardly man could be, well, so dastardly.
What makes Frank so endearing is that he is blessed with a Shakespearean tongue and Macy delivers his monologues with superb diatribes against an uncaring system. Despite his loathsome character, Macy’s eloquent soliloquies are often the lament of the disaffected, stirring battle cries against the injustice of capitalism – even if they are spoken by a flawed, broken and irreconcilably self-destructive man.
In a way Frank is the Fool, the foil Shakespeare inserted into the text of his great plays to juxtapose the protagonist, to poke fun at them, to remind them of the absurdity of this life. Frank is both the architect and the chronicler of his own demise.
Shameless is masterful in how it combines so many current themes that are being debated in the world – from the coming out and sexual adventures of brother Ian; to exploring transgender sexuality in latter seasons; to teenage pregnancy, teenage alcoholism and mixed race families. It is often uncomfortable viewing, but it manages to keep from sinking into self-righteousness and forlorn self-indulgence with the periodic episode of Frank’s shameless behaviour. As much as bad things happen to this unlucky, fractured family, good fortune also strikes. It’s just like real life. Only more entertaining.
Along with the black humour, this is what makes Shameless such compelling viewing. Just as you wonder if Frank can behave any worse – or his absent wife Monica, who abandoned her own children – this rag-tag bunch of hardy kids are the reminders of human decency and the tenacity of the human spirit.
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