Feeling shameful about ‘Shameless’

There’s a new series on Showtime, and my first attraction to it was that it featured William H. Macy — who’s been one of my favorite actors ever since I saw Boogie Nights (and especially since I saw The Cooler). And when I heard he was going to play a hopeless alcoholic con man who sort of headed a similarly crazed family — and that this was going to be an alleged comedy — I went, “Hmmm.”

Thus was I pulled into Shameless, which premiered a couple of weeks ago. Now, some people — especially some people who live normal, healthy, somewhat protected lives — very well might be repulsed by this program. Me, I howled with laughter, and was ashamed of myself, and howled some more, and was ashamed some more. But mostly I howled.

I won’t even attempt to explain Shameless here — you can look at the show page and try to decide if it is for you (or perhaps check out the BBC series on which it is based). I just watched the second episode, where one of the key characters’ boyfiends decides Macy is a bad influence and needs to go — so he hauls a passed-out Macy from Chicago to Toronto and dumps him there in a park. The fact that this scenario seems entirely plausible is probably all you need to know about the show’s moral underpinnings.

There are several other good actors in Shameless, including Emily Rossum and Joan Cusack (who in the second episode, holds an…apparatus that is going to haunt me for a very long time). There also are some painful (really painful) scenes for people who have been around serious hard-core falling-down alcoholics — for example, in the second episode (remember, this is a comedy), a drunken Macy head-butts one of his children so hard that he splits the kid’s nose open. And there is an awful lot of enabling going on that is likely to make people squirm.

In short, the show lives up to its title. But it’s also often hysterical. And you won’t be able to look away. You may not like yourself very much afterward, but the ride is a lot of shameless fun.


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