SHAMELESS “Pilot” Advance Review

SHAMELESS (Showtime) Pilot

SHAMELESS “Pilot” Episode 1 (Series Premiere) – John Wells’ American transplant of the quirky British hit series SHAMELESS starts tonight on Showtime and I was lucky enough to see the pilot early. While it follows-almost word for word-the British original, fans shouldn’t be put off because this version has its own voice and is ridiculously fun to watch. It also has a tremendous amount of heart and depth to go with the raucous comedy, so prepare to be sucked in.

The Gallaghers are a poor family in Chicago that does–or at least the kids do–whatever they have to do to keep afloat. Dad Frank (William H. Macy) is a falling down drunk, sleeping it off in the kitchen alcoholic who may not be much help to his kids, but he’s still a huge factor in their lives. Daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is the heart and backbone of the clan, holding everyone and everything together. Lip (Jeremy Allen White) is the oldest son, a sarcastic straight-A Student with a plan to escape, with Ian, a very layered gay ROTC member, next in line. We don’t see much of the younger Gallaghers in the pilot, but there’s Deb (Emma Kenney), who heartbreakingly tends to her father; Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), who has a bad habit of melting things, and toddler Liam (Blake Alexander and Brennan Kane Johnson), who doesn’t exactly look like Frank.

Thankfully, the Gallaghers aren’t completely alone in the world. Sexy and sassy neighbor Veronica (Shanola Hampton) is Fiona’s rock and she and her man Kevin (Steve Howey) are always up for a party. Lip tutors Karen (Laura Slade Wiggins) who *really* likes it when Lip talks science, and Joan Cusack plays Karen’s germ phobic, agoraphobic, very eccentric mom. There’s also Steve (Justin Chatwin), a guy Fiona meets in a club who becomes her very worthy love interest and Kash (Pej Vahdat), Ian’s Muslim boss at a convenience store.

It’s a big ensemble of well-drawn characters, and it’s also incredibly well-cast. Macy is terrific in the showiest role of Frank. From a big scene where he drunkenly interrogates Fiona and Steve to a tiny one where he examines a washing machine, he’s a blast to watch. Not to be outdone, Rossum is outstanding. I admit, when I heard she had been cast, I was leery because this is far from her usual turf, but she is luminous as the gutsy surrogate mom. You can see the too-heavy responsibility weighing on Fiona, but she’s resourceful and tough, and while she’s a bit closed-off, she’s not bitter. Chatwin intrigues as Steve and he and Rossum share a terrific chemistry.

White and Monaghan are equally good as they portray the rich, complicated relationship between Lip and Ian. These two characters feel as real as any I’ve seen recently, and they are a joy to watch. Hampton has pitch perfect comedic timing and presence as the more than meets the eye Veronica and she’s well-matched by Howey’s Kevin. Honestly, every character–even the ones you don’t see much in the pilot–adds a great deal to the show’s colorful tapestry.

Shameless is a unique blend of racy comedy, heavy issues given a wonderfully light but never disrespectful touch, and smartly authentic dialogue. The switch between drama and dark comedy happens seamlessly and often, and despite their shady dealings, it’s impossible not to root for the Gallagher kids. It can be harder to stay in Frank’s corner, but wow, is he fun to watch.

The pilot is an excellent introduction to the Gallaghers and their world. From the hilariously cluttered full-family breakfast scenes to a heartbreaking moment where Fiona “confronts” her passed-out father, Shameless fires on all cylinders. Successfully transplanting a British show on American soil is ridiculously hard, but executive producer John Wells, with a big assist from original show creator Paul Abbott, seem to have managed it and I can’t wait to watch the Gallaghers’ American shenanigans every week.

Once you’ve had a chance to watch Shameless tonight on Showtime at 10pm eastern/9pm central, I hope you’ll come back and let me know what you thought. What character will you be rooting for most? Fans of the British Shameless, is it too jarring to have it so closely track the original? Post away in the comments.

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