Welcome to the Weekly Binge, where we’ll be taking a closer look at the shows that are worth your time. This week, we head to the South Side of Chicago to hang with the dysfunctional Gallagher family of Showtime’s Shameless.
What’s the premise? An unconventional family tries to make ends meet while dealing with their delinquent booze-hound father.
What’s it like? John Wells is the big name behind this one, and if you’re familiar with his previous work, you know he’s pretty good at what he does. He’s produced and directed both film and television throughout his career, and his latest directorial outing, August: Osage County, has earned a couple of Oscar nods. As for television, his credits include Southland and The West Wing. So take the grit of Southland and combine that with the wit of West Wing, then add the dysfunctionality of August: Osage County, and there you have it.
Where can I see it? Season four began Sunday, January 12 on Showtime. The next day, episodes are available on Showtime Anytime for subscribing customers, as well as Showtime.com. Past seasons are available on iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, and on DVD from Netflix.
How long will it take? There are 12 episodes per season, with three seasons already in the bag. So that’s only 36 episodes to consume, plus the three that have already aired this season. With Showtime running their hour long dramas anywhere between 47 and 59 minutes, we’d say give it a few weeks if you indulge at a slower pace. But if you’re quick to get it done with, two weekends should do you just fine.
What do the critics think? All four seasons are Fresh on the Tomatometer, with the three most recent seasons coming in at 100 percent, and most of the critics agree that the cast of kids makes Shameless shine. David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle says, “In its own, yes, quirky way, Shameless is irresistibly heartwarming. It’s also great television,” while Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe reassures us, “Despite all the booze, illegal activity, open sexuality, and adult narcissism, the kids are all right.”
Why should I watch this? To put it bluntly, it’s bats— crazy! Watching run-of-the-mill, wholesome family drama is overrated; it’s 2014 and raw cable TV is where it’s at.In order to differentiate it from other American working-class shows, the producers decided to highlight Frank’s (William H. Macy) alcoholism and how it affected his kids. The creator of the original UK series (upon which the Showtime series is based) said, “It’s not My Name is Earl or Roseanne. It’s got a much graver level of poverty attached to it. It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar.” In the effort to break stereotypes and make the show feel grittier, John Wells had to fight off the studios, who want to set the show in the south or in a trailer park. He explained “We have a comedic tradition of making fun of the people in those worlds. The reality is that these people aren’t ‘the other’ — they’re people who live four blocks down from you and two blocks over.” If anything, this show will help remind you that you don’t have it so bad after all — at least, not as bad as the Gallaghers. This is escapism at its best, and isn’t that a big part of why we love TV?
What’s my next step? If messed-up family drama is your thing, take a look at TV shows such as: Six Feet Under, United States of Tara, and Weeds. As for the film side, August: Osage County, Rachel Getting Married, and The Ice Storm are worth a look in all their dysfunctional family glory. And of course there is always the UK version of Shameless, which has 11 seasons behind it, and currently seasons 1-9 are streaming on Netflix.
What do you like about Shameless? How would you explain it to a newbie? Get in on the conversation here.