“Shameless” analyzes family conflict through clever comedy

Showtime’s “Shameless” is now in its fourth season and beginning to pick up that vibe that it handles so well, despite the absence and estrangement of several main characters.This American remake of the acclaimed British series – much like “The Office” counterparts – follows the Gallaghers, an ultra-dysfunctional family living in poverty. Though brash, crude and very raw in its portrayal of these characters, this dramedy series proves that it still has much to offer in its complex family relationships and Chicago “hood rats” that we simultaneously hate to love and love to hate. It seems there’s a new and quite satisfying trend in TV dramedy: characters being exposed in realistic and gritty fashions. HBO’s “Girls” is another great example, with Hannah Horvath’s “unconventional” body type and vulnerable situations involving nudity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, uncomfortable romantic forays and constant financial instability. This emerging trend proves that TV can, paradoxically, still be glamorous in its unglamorous portrayals of beauty and true human nature in modern society. The real star of “Shameless” is not the enduring Gallagher family as a whole but the character of Fiona. Played by The Phantom of the Opera’s Emmy Rossum, Fiona is technically the protagonist. As the eldest sister of the family, she acts as the woman of the house because her father Frank, played by the terrific William H. Macy, is the epitome of alcoholism. Seriously, this guy is probably the biggest drunk/drug addict of any real person or fictitious character I have ever seen. In addition to Frank’s reckless semi-presence in their lives, the family also consists of two teenagers, one a troubled homosexual who is currently MIA in the fourth season and the other a street-smart but intellectually gifted ladies’ man who scored a full ride to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Alongside them are three younger siblings and a network of neighborhood regulars who intermingle with the family frequently. It’s actually pretty difficult for any newcomer to the series to pinpoint who lives in the Gallagher household and who doesn’t. Explicit language spurts from the mouths of prepubescent kids and graphic sex and drug abuse are common in this all-too-real world. Fiona has to fill in for horrendous – pretty much nonexistent – parenting and keep what’s left of her family’s potential in line. But here’s what makes this all so powerful: It’s raw but beautiful. “Shameless” shows a family constantly on the brink of tragedy, yet it maintains a sentimental, if tough, attitude in terms of love and familial closeness. They’re still linked and they’re there for each other – still attached and nostalgic in the end. Despite their dysfunction and pretty screwed up lives, the Gallaghers remain a healthy family at the core, especially since Fiona threw away her shot at being a normal, independent adult to care for them. Even Frank has a heart – and a drug-ravaged liver – and is essentially a harmless, goofy wanderer. Whether Frank is roaming the streets in a drunken stupor and neglecting his struggling family or Fiona is working to keep the kids at least somewhat in school, “Shameless” does not fail to tackle controversial issues in a poignant manner. Gripping drama and brash, raunchy comedy has seldom been done so effectively. It’s one link in a growing chain of similar series, showing a more genuine side of life and the relationships within it.