January 12, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Shameless”


SHAMELESS:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime

The Gallagher family is undergoing transitions as Season 4 of Showtime’s SHAMELESS begins, and the tone is considerably less rambunctious than in previous seasons.  That’s not to say that bad behavior doesn’t still abound, but it’s a less brazen and unfettered, and comes labored with thoughts about consequences.

As we rejoin the clan, the family’s oldest daughter and de facto matriarch Fiona (Emmy Rossum) has held down a steady full-time job (in the office of a cup company) for 3 months, is learning about 401(k)s and having a relationship with her boss Mike (Jake McDorman) that isn’t about the two of them ripping each other’s clothes off.  Father Frank (William H. Macy) is finally experiencing his lifestyle catching up with him–his liver is failing, he’s bedridden, and he has to endure painful humiliations just to get some alcohol into his system.  Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is alienated at college, and brother Ian, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, enlisted in the Army (under Lip’s name) after his sometime boyfriend Mickey (Noel Fisher) married a now-pregnant Eastern European prostitute.  Younger sister Debbie (Emma Kenney) is–literally, on Fiona’s borrowed heels–teetering on the edge of womanhood with older boys who have cars.  Family friend Sheila (Joan Cusack) is so lonely that she’s become the Gallagher’s unpaid housekeeper, and Fiona’s best friend Veronica (Shanola Hamptom) is dealing with–at the very least–her mother’s (planned) pregnancy by her own husband.

Based on the Season 4 premiere, written and directed by John Wells, creator of the US version of the series, Shameless has reached the morning after.

Wells spent the off-season directing the film version of the play August: Osage County, and it’s tempting to think that some of the more melancholy tone of this season’s premiere has come to Shameless by way of his exposure to that darker family material.  (The relationship runs both ways, and less positively:  as a film, August plays more swiftly and broadly than on stage, and it loses an important part of its depth and gravitas.)  Then again, those shades were present in Shameless from the start, and perhaps it was inevitable that at some point, the fun would have to drain away.  The cast has always played the material straight, and is more than capable of hitting the new notes:  Rossum continues to give one of the most underrated performances on television, her Fiona a convincing portrait of tangled responsibility, heedlessness, boundless assurance and sudden spasms of insecurity; and in a way, the new Frank is more like the William H. Macy we know from other work than he’s ever been before.  The supporting players are, as ever, a superb ensemble, with Kenney’s awkward 11-going-on-16 Debbie worthy of special note in the premiere.

If Shameless continues down the path of its season’s start, it’ll be interesting to see how the series, and its viewers, adjust to the tonal shift.  Shameless has been quite successful for Showtime, with Homeland-caliber 18-49 ratings in the 0.8 range and as many as 1.8M total viewers for initial airings, and part of the show’s appeal has been its what-the-hell ethos of social irresponsibility.  The series seems to be betting that at this point, fans care enough about the characters to follow them into darker territory, and while the result may end up being more of a conventional family soap (a more downscale Parenthood) than it’s been before, the quality of the writing and acting should keep its viewers loyal.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."