Review: 'Shameless' - 'But at Last Came a Knock': How we met their mother
It's been more than a month since I last reviewed "Shameless," and though I'm a day late this week, I thought the most recent episode was strong enough that I have some thoughts on it - and on the series to date - coming up just as soon as I remember where I parked the follow car...
In that last review, I noted that the series couldn't seem to make up its mind between laughing off the Gallagher lifestyle and treating it like something that was going to leave most of the kids irreparably damaged. The next few episodes continued that tonally-awkward struggle. The episode about Carl was particularly schizophrenic in that regard, one minute taking very seriously the idea that Carl was a budding sociopath, then ending on a weird, triumphant note in which the family celebrated Carl's maiming of the football player (who had, by that point in the scene, ceased to be a threat.) Based on what this show has done so far, and on what little I know of what Paul Abbott and company did in the original version, I imagine this is something the American show is always going to struggle with, and that struggle will keep me from ever fully embracing the series. I'm not saying that there can't be laughs about the family and the way they live - this is supposed to be a black comedy, after all - but I think the show would be better off with a specific point of view. If it wants this all to be a laugh, then go for that completely and stop having those occasional scenes where Fiona or Lip or someone pauses to consider the emotional toll this is taking on all of them.
I don't think that approach plays to the show's strengths, though. So much of the show's comedy spins out of things Frank says and does, and unfortunately William H. Macy continues to feel miscast - at least he is if we're actually ever supposed to find Frank likable and/or funny, as opposed to a cretin who ruins everyone and everything he touches. For the most part, this season has been at its strongest in the episodes and scenes that acknowledge the darkness of the Gallaghers' lives, which is part of why "But at Last Came a Knock" worked so well for me. Yes, Frank tries to run a lame scam to get estranged wife Monica (played by Chloe Webb) to sign the legal paperwork(*), but the meat of the episode is in seeing the kids - particularly Debbie, who's at that perilous crossroads between still being salvageable and becoming just as cynical and screwed-up as the older siblings - react to their mother's brief, unapologetic return. Debbie's already freaking out about the idea of Fiona - the only real mother figure she's known - moving out to be with Steve/Jimmy, and I thought Emma Kenney played those final scenes really well. So did Emmy Rossum, in showing Fiona's understandable disbelief that her mom might come back and try to walk off with their baby brother while absolving herself of responsibility for the other five kids.
(*) Frank's lawyer was played by the episode's credited screenwriter, "Mad TV" alum and "Family Guy" regular Alex Borstein.
Based on the schedule on which I'm watching the episodes, I imagine my reviews are going to be sporadic through the rest of the season. Showtime has already ordered a second season, and I'll be curious to see whether Abbott and John Wells make any notable changes to the show. This first season was produced in something of a vacuum, in that Abbott knew what had worked in the UK, but neither man knew how the material would fit these actors, how it would play in this setting, etc. Maybe everyone involved feels like they've been successful enough that they don't need to change anything, but I hope not. I feel like there's a potentially very good show in here that only makes itself visible some of the time.
What does everybody else think?