Sunday, January 27, 2013

"He'll be back, Debs. He always comes back" -- "Shameless"'s Fiona Gallagher to her sister, about their father


He's ba-ack! Frank (William H. Macy) has rewarded the devotion of Debbie (Emma Kenney), his last remaining fan among the Gallagher offspring, just the way you would expect.

"The only way to make money when you're poor is to steal it or scam it."
-- Lip (Phillip) Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White),
in Episode 2 of Season 3 of Shameless

by Ken

It's one of the most dependable plot formulas the people behind Showtime's Shameless having going: the return, yet again, of the utterly useless, parasitic Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) to what he always points out is his home. And darned if the producers didn't work it yet again for the opening episodes of Season 3.

You have to give them credit. They've already done Frank Being Dumped in Canada, which relatively speaking is a hop, skip, and jump from the Gallagher domicile in Chicago. The operative comparison is Mexico, where Frank ever so torturedly woke up from his customary alcoholic stupor in the season opener -- following a gap of 137 days, as we know because of the virtual shrine assembled by young Debbie, the last of the seven Gallagher offspring to retain her devotion to this waste of a human being. Forget "devotion"; setting aside baby Liam, Debbie is the last of the Gallaghers to retain as much as an impulse to tolerate Frank.

Even if we didn't know that William H. Macy is thought to be one of the show's major attractions, we would have known after two seasons with the Gallaghers that Fiona was unquestionably right: Frank would be back. And so as not to be a total spoiler, I will just say that the eventual working out of the relationship between Frank and Debbie yielded a grand scene that was the subject of a wonderful on-air feature with interview clips from a number of cast members, obviously including young Emma Kenney, who as the heartbreaking Debbie has been one of the show's consistent treasures.

The great strength of the show, for me at least, has been the convincing depiction of the human potential of all of the older-than-infant Gallagher kids (except for the ragingly sociopathic young Carl), potential all but certain to be wasted owing to the circumstances of their barely-making-ends-meet life, attempting to raise themselves with poor Fiona (Emmy Rossum) sadly forced into the role of fill-in mom. So many of the Gallaghers have so many appealing qualities, as do so many members of their circle in their South Side Chicago neighborhood, that it's easy to keep returning and keep rooting, and there's ample room for comedy.

I do worry, though, about the long-term potential for warmth and fuzziness as the Gallaghers' challenging day-to-day realities give way to the long-term crushing kind. For example, the creative team has made such a persuasive case for Lip's brilliance, his unlimited intellectual potential, along with his limitless personableness and resourcefulness, that for all the street-sassiness of his refusal to fall in line for other people's hopes and expectations for him, is there much hope of a future for him that is other than a tragic waste?

That said, now that I've finally caught up with the new season of Shameless, I'm relieved. I had sort of half-watched some of it, then went back via "On Demand" to rewatch the final episode of Season 2, and was much relieved to have quite a good time when I attacked the season opener again.

I also half-watched part of the season openers of Showtime's Californication and House of Lies, and while I've formed some interest in some of the characters (most obviously in the case of the many seasons of Californication), I had a pretty terrible feeling about the general repulsiveness of so many of the characters -- really, all the characters in House of Lies. My feeling going in is that by and large they deserve whatever happens to them. Same deal with HBO's Girls and Enlightened.

I guess I really am too old. There appears to be a whole other ethos among the target audience of today's TV developers. If this is the new face of "hip" TV, I guess I'll be having a lot of free time opening up.

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