When I am not busy mowing, reading, writing, hunting ancestors, catering to chickens, or chasing the dogs in or out of the house, I usually try to beat the summer heat by vegging out in front of the boob tube. And, because I am too cheap and easily offended to subscribe to a cable or satellite television service, my viewing is limited to what is available over the streaming device that I employ - a little gizmo called a Roku.
I am currently involved in a series called Shameless, and by involved, I mean really involved! I am watching two versions of the same program - the original which is set and filmed in England, and the obligatory American ripoff which takes place on the south side of Chicago.
The original, situated in a fictional public housing authority called the Chatsworth Estates in Manchester, England, began in 2004 and ran through 2013 - a period of time covering 139 episodes. I watched the first season as it played out on the BBC, and I liked it so well that I bought two sets of the DVDs - one for myself and the other for aspiring screenwriter, Tim Macy. Moving, or some other misadventure, caused me to lose contact with the program and I wasn't able to reconnect until the Roku entered my life last year. The series streams on Netflix.
The American version, which premiered on Showtime in 2011 and is still running, has 71 episodes in the can - the first 48 of which are available on Netflix on the Roku. Back when I had cable I usually couldn't afford the premium channels like Showtime, so I only caught occasional episodes of the program. But, I liked it and was pleased when the first four seasons showed up on Netflix a few weeks ago.
As of this evening, I will be watching episode 91 of the British version of Shameless, and the 14th episode of what the Yanks did to the series.
It is a bit disconcerting to see the same family operating in two distinct, yet somewhat similar environments. The characters are the same, with the same names and general descriptors, but they are played by different actors in different ways. The show focuses on a family living off of welfare and doing all that they can to survive. Sometimes their actions are illegal, or disgusting, or sad, or outrageous, but the Gallaghers always manage to pull together and make it from crisis to crisis.
Frank Gallagher is the father, a chronic drunk and illegal drug user, who is far more focused on meeting his own needs than he is of taking care of his six children. Frank thinks of himself as a hard worker who has been marginalized by immigrants who took all of the jobs he should have had, and an uncaring government - even though his ability to survive is directly dependent on checks from that government. The only thing of Frank's that actually works is his reproductive system. The British Frank is portrayed by the exceptional character actor, David Threlfall. He has also directed many of the British episodes.
The American Frank Gallagher is performed by stage and film actor, William H. Macy. His take on the useless drunk is as spot-on as that of Threlfall in England. Macy even wrote one of the episodes that aired on U.S. television.
Frank Gallagher has apparently spent most of his life drunk and on the dole. His wife abandoned Frank and the kids a couple of years prior and disappeared. When she finally reappears during the first season of the show, she is living in a lesbian relationship with a black truck driver.
The kids, at the beginning of the first season include the beautiful Fiona, in her early twenties, who is having to hold down part-time jobs while functioning as the surrogate mother, Lip (Phillip), an older teen with a voracious sexual appetite who is also brilliant and on a fast track to either college or prison, Ian, the gay fifteen-year-old who is having an affair with his boss at the convenience store, Debbie, a young adolescent who has an assortment of ways to make money and is always who the others turn to when they need quick cash, Carl, a pre-teen and a bit of a juvenile delinquent who likes to inflict pain, and Liam, the toddler.
Fiona, in both Liverpool and Chicago, picks up a new boyfriend, Steve, during the first episode, and he becomes part of the household as well. British Steve was played by James McAvoy who left the series after the first season and went on to become a successful film actor (Atonement, The Last King of Scotland).
While the two versions of Shameless were much the same when the series began, as actors left the series the plots began to necessarily diverge. And now, many episodes later, each series, while still focused on the same family, has spun off in different directions and developed unique story lines. It's sort of like watching a family gathering through a cracked lens - a bit of a schizophrenic experience.
The Gallaghers are good people, in their own way, but probably not the family that you would want to discover moving in next door. They are unkempt at times, disorganized, and the cupboards are likely to be bare - but, as Frank is quick to point out, they "do know how to throw a party!"
And isn't that what life is all about?