TV Review: Shameless Season 3, Or Dysfunction Without Compunction

April 29, 2014



Shameless: The Complete Third Season (18DLNSV)


Making a television series where part of the appeal is that every episode is likely to expose viewers to something more worrying, debauched or dysfunctional than they’ve ever experienced – well, since the previous episode, at any rate – is a huge challenge.

Number one, it’s not easy to consistently steer clear of scandal for scandal’s sake: the Gallagher family at the centre of the series are poor but grittily resourceful, a combination that means just about avenue is open for a scriptwriter with an imagination and a low scruples threshold.

Number two, there’s a need, while keeping the plot moving forward in as realistic a way as possible, to still make the series shocking enough to hold the attention of viewers who have become fans during seasons one and two.

Getting the balance right re the above is just one aspect of the issue, though, as those taking into account both of these concerns must also consider the strong, superficially unlikeable characters with which the series is peopled.

This is where Shameless: The Complete Third Season sets itself apart from – and above, in quality terms – much of the fodder that fills the late-night viewing slot it occupies (and sensibly so; you don’t want your kids watching this). The Gallaghers and the bulk of the other characters with which they fraternise could charitably be described as a bunch of inter-related petty thieves with a massively dysfunctional family set-up. If you were as direct (read: crude; aggressive; insensitive) as many of the individuals on the screen, you would use different descriptive words, most of them four letters long.

Yet behind the cussing and the cheating and the backstabbing and the occasional absence of any ethics whatsoever, there is a twisted, non-textbook take on love, compassion, loyalty and even decency that, even though it takes a while to discover (established fans will know it’s there, but if this series if your first, you may, if you’re honest, watch the first couple of episodes purely for titillation value before your intellect begins to get engaged), will be the lure that keeps you coming back for the next episode.

William H Macy’s Frank, the would-be patriarch of the Gallagher clan, is the hardest to love – even in a group of people who don’t mind using the front of a speeding car as a bargaining tool from time to time. His kids and their hangers-on need love, leadership and providing for, and Frank fails dismally on all counts, but gives frustrating glimpses of his potential – enough to know that he’ll remain involved in whatever shenanigans are on the way, but not enough to want him to stay on the team.

Emmy Rossum’s Fiona, the oldest of the siblings and their de facto parent, has more on her plate than ever, with her brothers and sisters growing into ever more complicated tweens and young adults and her love and work life never running quite according to plan.

The writing is so brash and audacious that it occasionally leaves you breathless. At the very least you will regularly shake your head and, in the most unbelievable moments, look away from the screen as you do so. The acting, somehow, is up to the challenge of making the ideas in the script materialise and seem possible, to the extent that a regular thought during your viewing of this season might be: “These people have their moments, but damn, I’m glad they don’t live in my neighbourhood”.

Shameless is not for the overly sensitive or the faint of heart, but it is challenging, entertaining and often thought-provoking viewing.