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Shameless (US) 1.02, “Frank the Plank”

“I didn’t split like your mom did. I could’ve!” – Frank Gallagher

Debbie offers her dad a beer.

The pilot of the show impressed me, offering a wide range of intriguing and likeable characters. Does the second episode stack up? A review of the episode, written by Paul Abbot & John Wells and directed by John Wells after the jump…

And Shameless officially enters the regular blog rotation as my new favourite show of the 2010/2011 season. In this episode, Steve makes a massive, massive mistake. He’s confused because it doesn’t look like a mistake, at first; it looks like a blessing in disguise. Clearly he’s never seen Fiona when someone threatens her family. Steve, after seeing a drunk Frank headbutt his own son in the face, decides that he should do what Fiona would never dare: take Frank out of the picture by dropping him off in Toronto, letting the family think he’d wandered off.

But Fiona doesn’t do that because, like an unruly child, she loves him. They all do. And making him disappear doesn’t make their lives easier. It almost tears them apart. This is a family of six children who have lost one parent, constantly worried the other will decide to walk out too, and Steve decides to make their remaining parent vanish. And Fiona begins to regret letting this arrogant, overly genereous pretty boy into her home after all, with his grand romantic gestures that always carry the whiff of paying for her affection.

I like Steve, but now I see why Fiona was reluctant to let him in… and why she’s gravitating towards her ex, the very-likeable cop Tony. Frankly, Steve should leave this family alone. He fucked up, and to a degree that shows a shocking lack of understanding about what family means to Fiona and her kin.

In the pilot, Frank was barely a presence, but this episode showed the man at his best and his worst. Though it makes up for nothing else he does, his tenderness with Debbie is the first good thing we’ve seen about him so far. She knows he’ll never change, and he knows she sees through him, but as long as they both pretend he’s heroic, they have a warm relationship. It’s the closest thing Frank Gallagher comes to being kind. Meanwhile, this is also the episode in which he headbutts Ian in the face after a violent encounter with Karen’s angry father over the ‘playing pool with a rope’ incident in the previous episode, so this episode doesn’t whitewash his awfulness. It merely explains that Frank does matter deeply to this family, and why.

I suspect I’ll be campaigning for an Emmy for Jeremy Allen White as Lip. His work these past two episodes has been superlative. He gets two great sequences here: first, as Lip follows his dad on his ill-fated attempt to find a place to sleep, and the two verbally spar over his role in the household. Lip is confronting Frank, but its gentle, knowing. And then, he comes home and faces Steve, and is able to have two completely different conversations at once: one with his words, in which he has a perfectly civil conversation with Steve about his chances at winning Fiona back, and one with his eyes, in which he’s deeply hurt, angry, and disdainful of this outsider trying to downplay the attack he just made on their family. Steve entered their lives with a dishwasher and breakfast, and then kidnapped their father and tried to pretend it was acceptable that he rejoin them when caught.

Frankly, the show is wonderfully complex only two episodes in, with a varied cast that has great chemistry in amongst each other. I’m enjoying the bulk of them, with a few not bad, just nonentities (particularly Ethan Cutkosky‘s Carl).

This leads to the one part of the episode I’m really uncomfortable with. That would be the resolution of Frank’s newfound relationship with Sheila (Joan Cusack), in which she forcibly drags him into her bedroom, shackles him to the bed, and rapes him with a giant dildo while he screams for her to stop. And there’s something about the way its played that makes me feel it was done for laughs…? Macy and Cusack played the hell out of the scene, but there’s always been an odd feeling to Sheila, like she’s supposed to be hilarious and wacky, and this feels like its being put forward as another ‘crazy wacky’ thing she does. It made me uncomfortable, and really sours me on Sheila, even if Frank seems to accede to his new life of pain.

But I’ll keep watching, because this is a vivid cast of characters, well-written, well0drected and well-acted. It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited after an episode of a show to see the next. Let’s hope the quality keeps up.

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