January 13, 2013



SHAMELESS:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime

SHAMELESS often feels like the raging id of its showrunner and (US) creator, pillar of the Hollywood establishment John Wells.  Wells is the man behind ER, the senior producer who guided Aaron Sorkin on The West Wing and took over when Sorkin left, and as a filmmaker, his next project is the screen adaptation of the Tony-winning, Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County, with a cast headed by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.  But on the Season 3 premiere of Shameless, which Wells wrote himself (directed by Mark Mylod), there’s an extended bit addressing America’s seamy history of slaveholding and a porno website, and it might have given even Quentin Tarantino some pause.

All of which is to say, Shameless is back, along with the Gallagher family, both as unapologetically disreputable as ever.  Several months have passed since the end of season 2, a passage marked mostly by the continued absence of drunken paterfamilias Frank (William H. Macy), who finally awakens to find himself in Juarez, without money or passport.  Also, the Down’s Syndrome baby born to Karen at the end of last season, adopted by her mother Sheila (Joan Cusack) and her own ex Jody (Zach McGowan)–at which point Karen vanished, still unseen in the premiere–is proving to be, as expected, a challenge to raise.

As usual, though, the main action is in and around the Gallagher homestead, where eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) valiantly raises all of Frank’s other children while trying to preserve some life for herself.  For now, she has the committed help of Jimmy (Justin Chatwin), who’s living with her after having confessed his real identity and other secrets last season.  However, he’s acquired a new one:  the South American drug kingpin whose daughter Estafania (Stephanie Fantauzzi) Jimmy was supposed to marry, has come to Chicago and discovered that Estefania is actually living with her unapproved boyfriend.  Dad takes care of that problem very efficiently, and now Jimmy knows the consequences if he doesn’t begin a true marriage with the mob boss’s daughter.

As the season develops, there will no doubt be other plots for all of the Gallagher brood.  Tonight Lip (Jeremy Allen White), reluctant genius of the family, developed a killer robot, while we learned that brother Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is still involved with his older lover (Harry Hamlin), a situation that will become more complicated when Ian’s semi-boyfriend Mickey–the brother of Lip’s semi-girlfriend Mandy (Emma Greenwell), both of them from a family that makes the Gallaghers seem well-adjusted–gets out of prison.

Shameless isn’t exactly Parenthood when it comes to realistic depiction of family dynamics, and its plotting can leave something to be desired (Frank makes it from Texas to Chicago in the course of the episode so quickly that it suggests teleportation).  The show has a pleasing gift for chaos, however, and even in his less-starched indie mode, Wells is an expert hand at juggling the multiple storylines.  The show also has a superb ensemble cast, from Rossum and Macy (there’s an amusing moment in the season premiere where Frank gets cleaned up for his return to the US, and ends up looking like… William H. Macy) to all the children and minor characters.  The show has been a fair success for Showtime, with ratings nosing toward a 1 in the 18-49 demo, and although this season it will be facing what could be a big Season 2 gain for HBO’s Girls in the same timeslot, its fans, upon seeing that the series has no more shame than it did before, should continue to find it on its many replays and platforms.

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."