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Review: ‘Shameless’ – ‘Father Frank, Full of Grace’: Stairway to heaven?

A review of the “Shameless” season finale coming up just as soon as I tell you I don’t love you…

“We all do things… Well, not ‘all.'” -Frank

“Shameless,” like most of the Showtime original series, falls in that weird middle ground between comedy and drama. I’d say it’s more overtly a comedy – or more overtly trying to be a comedy – than, say, “Nurse Jackie,” but the problem is that so much of its attempts to be comic revolve around Frank. And as I’ve said, the combination of the writing of the character and the casting of William H. Macy rendered Frank a kind of anti-comic character, where the harder the show tried to make me laugh at or with him, the less funny I found the show.

Where “Shameless” has been most consistently effective is when it plays things more seriously, and “Father Frank, Full of Grace” was almost all seriousness – including a good chunk of the material involving Frank. Though Frank spends the early part of the finale trying to deny and/or justify letting himself be seduced by Karen, it’s clear he’s doing it because he’s finally recognized a line he shouldn’t have crossed. Karen’s own reaction to what she did is never treated as a joke, nor is Eddie’s response to the video, Lip’s to the news, etc. It’s all one big ugly mess that ends with Eddie drowning himself in his ice hut, a self-loathing Karen breaking up with Lip, Lip savagely beating on Frank, and then a self-loathing Frank standing there and letting Lip pee on him from on high. And in making Frank human and vulnerable, instead of an oblivious, shockingly selfish and destructive joke, that moment finally did something I’m not sure I’d previously done this season: it made me laugh at something involving Frank. Well-done, show.

Beyond that, “Father Frank, Full of Grace” was yet another showcase for just how terrific Emmy Rossum has been all season as Fiona. That look Fiona has on her face as the boys are let out of jail – half protective, half furious, all mama bear – was fantastic, as was her response to Steve’s Costa Rica invitation (and then Lip giving her permission to go). Paul Abbott, John Wells and company put so much of this show on Rossum’s shoulders, and ask her to say so much without speaking (because Fiona’s not the type to go on endlessly about her problems), and she carries it all off, consistently. It can be fun to watch the Gallagher kids pull off a scam, but where this show really feels like something special is when it tries to show – through the fine performances by Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Kenney – what it’s actually like to be a part of this dysfunctional but not unhappy family, to understand the weight that Fiona feels while also recognizing that it’s more than guilt that keeps her from getting on the train to the airport.

When the show comes back next season, I’ll be curious to see if Abbott keeps trying to stick largely to what he did in the UK, not only in terms of story, but tone, or if he begins to feel that the new show has different strengths and weaknesses from the original one. Based on the way Showtime series generally work out (a subject I’ll discuss more tomorrow with my reviews of the new seasons of “Nurse Jackie” and “United States of Tara”), I’m not holding my breath for a significant change in direction. But as of now, the parts of “Shameless” that work for me work so well that I can live with the parts that don’t.

What did everybody else think, of both the finale and this first season?

By Alan Sepinwall – A messy family has a messy finale

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