'Shameless' and 'Skins' feature bad behavior
William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher in Showtime's "Shameless" Chuck Hodes/Showtime
Emmy Rossum plays Fiona Gallagher in "Shameless."
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In most cable series about antiheroes, there's at least something about the morally ambiguous characters that gives viewers something to cheer. On "The Shield," Vic Mackey was a corrupt cop but he also tried to protect innocent citizens. On "The Sopranos," Tony Soprano was a mobster but viewers saw his internal strife over the job and his attempts to balance his mob family with his immediate family.
Two new series test the bounds of viewer likability by asking us to care about ill-behaved, selfish, boorish characters. Coincidentally (or not?) both shows are American remakes of British series.
Starring: William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum.
In "Shameless" (10 p.m. Sunday), Showtime's attempt at a family drama, it's a challenge to find the silver lining in this family headed by an always-drunk patriarch, Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), and a household run by his eldest daughter, Fiona (Emmy Rossum). Yet the more time spent with the family -- three episodes -- the more interesting their lives became (more so the kids than their terrible, wreck of a father).
But it's also easy to understand if viewers bail. Like so many premium cable shows, this one is not for viewers with delicate sensibilities. Profanity and nudity are rampant. Fi has sex on the kitchen floor with Steve (Justin Chatwin, "Weeds"), a guy she meets at a club who becomes her boyfriend, except when he makes her mad and then she sleeps with a neighborhood cop.
Teenage brainiac Lip (Jeremy Allen White) receives oral sex -- in addition to a tutoring fee -- for helping a classmate while her oblivious, agoraphobic mother (Joan Cusack) dallies in the kitchen nearby. Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is secretly gay and having an affair with a married-to-a-woman man.
Despite some bad behavior by the kids that lives up to the show's title -- they are also scam artists thanks to their father's tutelage -- the children are little saints compared to their father. It's probably good that the focus of the premiere is the kids and not Frank, who, in episode two steals one child's shoelaces, which seemed more objectionable than when the kids stole milk with the help of their adult neighbor Veronica (Shanola Hampton).
Frank's behavior gets worse in episode three when he head butts one of the kids in the face, making his son's nose bleed.
The producers of "Shameless" may think this show makes a statement about the lives of the underclass in modern America, and I'm sure there's, unfortunately, some truth to the behavior depicted, but sometimes the outrageousness seems to exist merely for its own sake. It's best not to think of "Shameless" as a deep, important show. Tune in for the character drama and recognize the characters' anti-social behavior for what it is. There's no shame in that.
Starring: James Newman.
MTV's remake of "Skins" (10 p.m. Jan. 17) -- the British version already airs on BBC America -- feels like a carbon copy of the original with a few significant changes tossed in (a gay boy is now a lesbian girl). As in "Shameless," "Skins" depicts an ill-behaved, disrespectful group of characters, this time led by the charismatic, cocky Tony (James Newman), who is intent on his friend Stanley (Daniel Flaherty) losing his virginity.
"It's embarrassing," Tony tells Stanley of his sexless life, which is probably not what parents want their teens to see affirmed on TV -- even though it's the same attitudes they likely hear from peers in school on a regular basis.
To achieve Tony's goal, Stanley sets off on a quest to acquire drugs in exchange for sex.
"I only like really great narcotics, understand?" Cadie (Britne Oldford) tells Stanley.
Parents are generally absent or depicted as rageaholic buffoons (Tony's dad).
And so it goes as the series merrily bleeps the worst profanity -- including the F-word -- grinding along in a premiere episode that's awfully reminiscent of the British series, which also ended with an auto full of teenagers splashing down in a lake.
There is a cheerful nihilism about "Skins" that "Shameless" lacks but the characters are harder to embrace. Snotty teenagers are somehow easier to take when you can see the root of their behavior problems is their alcoholic father.
First Published January 9, 2011 12:00 am