Monday, March 28, 2011

'Shameless' season finale recap: 'Father Frank, Full of Grace'

Spoilers for the first season finale of "Shameless" below - don't click through if you don't want to know.

Throughout its first season, Showtime's "Shameless" (an American adaptation of a successful British series) has established itself as part pitch black comedy, and part devastating family drama. Both those parts were on full display during Sunday's season finale but it did veer more toward the dramatic side, as most finales do.
We saw the repercussions to last week's tryst between Karen and Frank and, though I still don't buy that Karen was quite devastated enough to do something that depraved (or, at least, I believe she would have thought better of e-mailing the link to the web video to her father), I felt the reactions were realistic, particularly Lip's. Jeremy Allen White has been one of this show's standouts as the intelligent, sensitive Lip. The scene where he confronts Karen, doing little more than stand behind Karen uttering his father's name with fury and disbelief, was really heartbreaking. Likewise the reaction of Joel Murray's Eddie, whose hurt and rage is, at first, played for laughs, then for tragedy. Did Eddie really kill himself in the ice-fishing shack? I'm pretty sure he did, though I'll miss Murray's performance. Of the established actors on this show, I felt he did a much better job of finding the humanity inside his outlandish character than William H. Macy and Joan Cusack, who have mainly created caricatures of Frank and Sheila.
Having said that, the finale provided some of Macy's best material to date, as we saw that Frank isn't completely without morals or conscience. He feels genuinely bad about hurting his son and allows himself to be humiliated by Lip if it means a chance of settling their score (is getting peed on by your son an appropriate punishment for sleeping with his girlfriend? I have no idea, but it seems fair). Though Sheila doesn't know about what happened between Frank and her daughter, Frank eventually feels guilty about betraying her, too -- especially after he comes to the belated conclusion that she's the only person who is truly nice to him.
A Frank with a shred of decency in him is Frank that I can relate to much better than soulless human wrecking ball he's been all season, and Macy is much better at playing the life-sized version of the character. I hope, as the show continues, Frank is either used less or allowed to be just sympathetic enough that we understand why his kids haven't totally written him off.
At any rate, the rest of the episode was also strong, though I didn't completely buy that Lip and Ian would have gotten out of the auto theft rap easily. Still, it helps to have a cop who's infatuated with your sister (and, I guess, somehow has unlimited access to Bear's tickets?).
But, in watching "Shameless," I've learned not to get caught up with things like that and, instead, to enjoy much of the truly excellent acting by the show's young cast. Throughout the season, Emmy Rossum has been nothing short of a revelation as the emotionally bruised Fiona, and the past few episodes have really highlighted how gifted she is. Her pain and indecision as she mulls whether to run off with Steve in last night's episode was deeply affecting, as was her quiet anguish while waiting for her brothers at the police station (the moment when they're released and she alternates between hugging them and smacking them for making her worry, was beautifully done).
Other standouts in the cast included White, as well as Cameron Monaghan as Ian and Emma Kenney as the precocious Debbie. I've also liked Justin Chatwin's work as Steve, though I don't think he's quite as believable in the scenes of emotional heavy lifting as his co-stars are. Still, he's charming and attractive enough to make us understand why a strong, no-nonsense girl like Fiona would fall for him.
Like all Showtime shows, "Shameless" has flaws, but is intriguing and well-acted enough to make the flaws mostly bearable. I hope it finds somewhat stronger footing in future seasons, but this was a strong start.

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