From the estates of Manchester to the projects of Chicago, Shameless tells of the Gallagher family. A group of six kids aged from two to twenty with an absent mother, a severely alcoholic father and how they get by – breaking the law, getting into trouble, but always finding ways to support each other.
The show was created by Paul Abbot in England and started being screened in 2004. The family patriach, Frank, was played by a David Threlfall, a repulsive, pants wetting, staggering, muttering creep. Yet, somehow he is love/hated by everyone he knows. This was the character who was played by William H Macy in the US version, which first screened in 2011, and while I have seen Macy in a variety of roles, playing a wide range of characters, I just couldn’t see it. Yet… I should have known that he would be fabulous. It’s not quite the same Frank – some of the edges have been softened, but the essence is there.
I was a huge fan of the first two seasons of the UK show – perhaps even three seasons. But by the fourth season, many of the actors who had started the orginal cast – we’d lost Fiona (Anne-Marie Duff) who was the oldest sister who kept everything together – or lost it all. I seem to recall we only had James McAvoy playing Steve McBride for the first season, but he did go on to have a big-time Hollywood career, so what can you do? I think it was when the neighbours, Veronica (Maxine Peake) and Kev (Dean Lennox Kelly) went that I really started to lose interest. Storylines became more and more outrageous, and I just couldn’t be bothered anymore – which really says a lot given how much I hate leaving things unfinished. According to IMDB, it ran until 2013. Perhaps one day I’ll attempt a revisit, but unlikely.
Perhaps because the UK version had lost me, or perhaps because I couldn’t see it translating well to the US, I avoided the US version for a long time. Why oh why? It’s one of those shows, like The Office, that started from something unique in the UK then actually worked as well, or possibly better, in the US. The first season was essentially the same script as the first season from the UK but slightly Americanised and with some storylines somewhat lighter. After this, it felt as though they had found their feet and were able to take the series wherever they wanted.
For me, special highlights have included the addition of Joan Cusack in the cast in early seasons and in the most recent season I have watched (Season 6 which has just come onto the Australian Netflix), it’s been great seeing Sherilyn Fenn.
I’d recommend starting both. If you like them, obviously keep watching. But if you find, as I did, that you started to lose interest in the UK version, don’t beat yourself up for letting it go.