Set on a fictional sink estate in Manchester, England, the original British version of Shameless debuted in 2004 on Channel 4, the self proclaimed home of ‘alternative voices and fresh perspectives’. Thanks largely to the uniquely deprived upbringing and singular talents of its creator Paul Abbot, TV had never been fresher than this. One of eight kids, Abbot’s mother left home when he was nine and his father followed suit two years later. Living a hand to mouth, chaotic existence in a two bedroomed terrace, he slept where he could find a space. A 4am wake up call to deliver newspapers gave the teenage Abbot precious money for the family kitty, and the valuable private time that kicked off his lifelong commitment to superlative storytelling and escape through invention.
The original BAFTA award winning series of Shameless reflected his life – though this was a reality most of us could only gape at. Survival by swindling, scrounging and stealing from the state- or the local shop. Frank Gallagher, the father, shambles about drunk and largely indifferent to his brood, and they duck and dive, smoke dope and generally try to get by - when they’re not in prison. Not, you would have thought an assured model for TV success, but actually fabulous and thought provoking black humour.
Fiona, the older sister and surrogate mother looks after her siblings as well as her feckless father, and hangs out with Steve, her posh London boyfriend who was bred for better things but prefers to make a living stealing cars. At the end of Series 1, Steve announces he has bought them both the house next door, then sets fire to it to claim the insurance.
Always darkly funny, the ‘reality’ factor of the lives of the Gallagher clan has become somewhat more caricatured and sensational as Shameless has progressed over the years. In a later series and in contrast to the relatively understated nature of the early years of the drama, another burning house results from a revenge attack. The mother of a girl dead from a drug overdose blows up the home of the dealer who dealt the fatal drugs – and thereby killing both herself and the dealer’s own daughter. Somewhat overblown some may say, yet the Shameless fan base is still going strong.
In January 2011 Showtime’s American version of Shameless, with William H Macy in the role of Frank Gallagher premiered to great acclaim. Pairing up with John Wells, the Emmy award winning producer of ER and The West Wing, Paul Abbot co-wrote the pilot, modelled on the original UK version and based in Chicago. With the same integrity of purpose, commitment to reality- based humour and creative accountancy – daughter Debbie takes up a Unicef collection which deftly supports the family unit and her Physics whizz brother Lip gets paid to tutor neighbouring girls ‘in kind’ – Showtime’s Shameless looks set to be a success. The cast is endearing, the acting is entirely convincing and the strong bond which keeps this dysfunctional family together is apparent from the start.
Shameless: The Complete First Season [DVD] US
Shameless - Series 1-7 - [DVD] UK
Eileen O'Sullivan recommends these DVDs from Amazon US and Amazon UK.
She enjoyed the original UK version of Shameless on British TV.