“Jesus, you really don’t remember what happened last year? Pay some fucking attention this time.”—Frank (William H. Macy), opening Season Two of Shameless.
There is nothing quite like Shameless on television today. Its humorous take on a motherless (and essentially fatherless) family’s struggle to survive on the poor side of Chicago mixes bizarrely well with a bit of pathos and an astonishing amount of typically avoided, heavy-duty adult sexuality and drug references, especially for a show starring several adolescents and grade-schoolers. And, as numerous groundbreaking series have proven since the dawn of television, it’s going to take a while for the Showtime series to gather the attention it deserves. (Joan Cusack did receive an Emmy nomination last season for her portrayal of the ditsy, agoraphobic Sheila Jackson.)
Following Frank’s advice, new viewers got a good handle on the first season thanks to a three-minute synopsis. For this year’s first show, we find the Gallaghers and friends doing what they can to earn a summertime buck.
Now that Sheila’s husband has disappeared (he committed suicide by jumping into frozen Lake Michigan) she has one less paycheck to contribute to Frank’s shiftless lifestyle. So Frank “borrows” his youngest son, Liam the toddler, to panhandle some sympathy funds from drivers. In this scene, we witness an example of how the show’s creators sweat the small stuff that you can miss if you’re not paying attention. On the backside of his “disabled vet” sign is a backward-written “Fuck you” that he quickly aims toward a non-donating driver’s rearview mirror.
His plan backfires, however, when a muscle-bound gangster holds Liam hostage for money Frank owes him. Frank unsuccessfully tries every illegal way he can think of (even bathroom fellatio) to raise the money.
With Steve (Justin Chatwin) exiled from the city by Tony the cop (Tyler Jacob Moore), Fiona (Emmy Rossum) begins a flirtatious affair with someone who V (Shanola Hampton) calls a rebound lover. The guy, however, convinces Fiona to work at matching her high school track record. (Another one of those out-of-the-blue happenings.)
Lip works a fight club (even participating) to bring in cash. And he joins with neighbor Kevin (Steve Howey) to run an ice-cream-truck/weed-vendor/bookmaker operation. Steve’s small basement growth of pot, however, has greatly expanded thanks to the green thumb of V and Kevin’s foster daughter Ethel (Madison Davenport)—something V will not stand for. Thus, the plants must be buried, burned or given away. A show-ending neighborhood bonfire is enjoyed by all.
When Fiona discovers what’s happened to Liam she and her siblings brazenly burst into the gun-filled apartment of his kidnappers and take the boy back. Once again, with family dysfunction running rampant, the Gallaghers’ adhesive affection for one another shines through. Fiona also gifts some of the illegal plants to the gangster as payment for Frank’s debt.
Ian (Cameron Monaghan) still works at the Kash and Grab where his boss and ex-lover Kash continues to cheat on his wife before he ups and leaves to points unknown.
Eighty-eight-year-old veteran comedian Jack Carter does an excellent, curse-filled cameo as Steve’s father who lives above the bar.
Macy will surely get some due this year for his amazing performance as deadbeat father Frank—if the series can hang on for the inevitable accolades, that is.