Episode Title: "Pilot"
Writers: Paul Abbott and John Wells
Director: Mark Mylod
Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy) is an unapologetic drunk with a several children and apparently no wife. While the oldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) picks up the slack, the entire family is off beat, slightly criminal and as the title promises, "Shameless."
The Gallagher family awakens and Fiona realizes that the power bill is due, so she gets a cash collection from her much younger siblings over breakfast with her dad noticeably absent. It soon becomes clear that the entire family has at least a small job to keep things afloat. The oldest brother, Phillip "Lip" Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White) tutors a girl in science after school, paid for by her mother Sheila (Joan Cusack). The blow job he gets under the table from her daughter Karen is just a bonus. But his day is darkened when he finds a porno mag in his room that suggests that his younger brother Ian (Cameron Monaghan) is gay.
Blowing off steam from her multiple day jobs, Fiona dances with her friend Veronica (Shanola Hampton) at a nightclub until her purse is snatched. A young man named Steve (Justin Chatwin) tries to intervene but gets a cut on his head for his troubles. When the trio are refused readmittance to the club and insulted by the bouncer, Steve decks the man and wins the admiration of the girls. Later at the Gallagher house, Steve is dismayed when the large family and Veronica’s boyfriend Kev (Steve Howey) tell him that the bouncer has killed men for less. But Fiona shows Steve her gratitude with some quick sex in the kitchen.
However, their romantic interlude is interrupted when the police arrive with her drunk father Frank, whom Fiona leaves passed out on the floor. Steve leaves the home and the next day, we see Frank arrive at a bar and use his entire disabilities check to pay for his bar tab. He also boasts that the investigators trying to prove that he’s not disabled will never catch him doing anything. Meanwhile, Lip brings Ian to Karen’s house for some science blow job action, but they are soon discovered by her clown obsessed father who chases the boys around the house. Lip only escapes by jumping out of a second story window, injuring his ankle in the process.
Elsewhere, Fiona rejects Steve’s attempts to start a relationship when he returns the next day. But he notices her buggy dryer and has a new one delivered and installed for her. Initially offput by the gift, Steve explains that he had seen her at the club before and tried to work up the courage to talk to her. He takes her to a fancy restaurant, where she starts to reject him because she thinks he’s too rich and privileged. He lets her believe it for a while before he steals an expensive car in front of her and explains that’s how he makes his money. At that point, Fiona eagerly joins him for a joy ride.
Lip eventually catches Ian just after having sex with a married Muslim man who is also his boss. The brothers argue about it, but Lip eventually comes to terms with his brother’s orientation. Back at the Gallagher home, Steve finally meets Frank in a fully sober state. But not for long, as Fiona, Frank and Steve share drinks and a joint for what becomes a late night party with Kev and Veronica. The next day, Fiona and Steve wake on the floor mattress together. Steve even makes a big breakfast for the family after youngest daughter Debbie (Emma Kenney) lies and tells him its her birthday. Even when the lie is exposed, Steve doesn’t care and joins the family to eat, with the exception of Frank who is still passed out on the floor.
From all of the promotional materials and trailers, I thought that "Shameless" would be a breakout project for William H. Macy. But he’s barely in this. And in the few scenes that he’s in, he spends most of them passed out on the floor. Frank could prove to be an interesting character, who I suspect loves his family. But I do wonder why he makes seemingly no effort to support them at all. The elder siblings (Ian, Fiona and Lip) all seem to be fed up with him and its only Debbie who cares enough to get her dad a pillow on the floor.
With Macy sidelined for most of the episode, "Shameless" rests most of its narrative on Emmy Rossum’s Fiona and she delivers a compelling, interesting performance. She’s not quite as criminal as her younger siblings or father, but she clearly gets off on Steve’s true profession. She’s far wilder than she lets herself be and she’s basically the mother for the family. Her problem is that there’s no escape hatch for her. The youngest Gallagher is a toddler, which would tie her down for years to come. One of the episode’s best scenes comes in which Ian points out that Fiona essentially has a job for life keeping her family from going under and she responds by making her unconscious father give her the approval and thanks she always wanted.
Justin Chatwin is also really good as Steve and he is so likeable that I don’t care whether he’s rich or a very successful car thief. Weirdly, I get the sense that Fiona would have broken it off with him if had he just been relatively wealthy. Steve also seems to really like her family and isn’t put off by the kids, which suggests that he may not have a family of his own. And with Macy more or less off the table, Chatwin is basically the male lead for the series. Thus far, the Fiona and Steve courtship is really fun to watch. If "Shameless" was just a movie, I would have been happy leaving things the way they were at the end.
The other big story of the episode was between Lip and Ian, over Ian’s homosexuality. Cameron Monaghan is actually 17, but Ian comes off as disturbingly young in his scenes. I would have guessed that he was only 13 or 14. And it’s that sense of youth that makes his affair with Cash (the married Muslim man) so uncomfortable. Given how closeted Cash is and how conservative his wife is (and possibly his mother as well), I doubt that this is going to end well when the truth comes out. And you know that it will happen. Drama almost always plays out on TV.
But the brotherly bond between Ian and Lip is convincing and of the cast, they seem more like real siblings than any one else. Their escape from Karen’s home was also the comedic highlight of the episode. "Shameless" actually had quite a few funny moments that worked really well, which balanced out the drama nicely.
"Shameless" is off to a good start and I want to see more… especially of Macy. He’s too talented to waste for long.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.