Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Shameless: "Frank The Plank"

Illustration for article titled Shameless: "Frank The Plank"

Hey, y’all. I’m stepping in to tackle the remainder of this season of Shameless. I thought it might be difficult to take over after the esteemed Todd VanDerWerff, especially if his impression of the show was vastly different from mine. Luckily for me, Todd’s opinion overlapped with mine pretty much entirely. The only difference is that I haven’t seen any of the original series and don’t plan to, so I won’t be analyzing the show through that lens. (Side note: Should the opportunity to meet one Mr. VanDerWerff avail itself, you’d be wise to do so.)

At the risk of sounding all grad school flunk-out, the most interesting thing to me about Shameless is its title. The Gallaghers are shameless in whose eyes? That of polite society? The word shameless has a not-quite-literal connotation, that the accused is aware of shame but chooses to live without it. That’s not the Gallaghers. The Gallaghers are practically pre-shame, which explains why Kev and Veronica, the Adam and Eve of this Windy Garden of Eden, don’t seem to realize it’s not quite normal to have casual conversation with neighbors while having vigorous anal sex. They aren’t as self-aware of their situation as say, the Connors of Roseanne were.

That’s why the main engine of this episode—Steve and his inherent inability to stop judging Fiona—is a thematically fascinating one. Can Steve be judgmental of her situation and still be a good partner for her? Does accepting her mean accepting her entire family, including her deadbeat father? Is it ever appropriate for an outsider to try to “fix” someone’s family situation, however well-meaning the outsider might be? What if the person doesn’t want it fixed? I’d be really invested in a show that could explore those questions in a thoughtful, subtle way, and Shameless is in the same neighborhood as that show.

But as many of us seem to agree, Justin Chatwin isn’t a terribly charismatic actor, and beyond that, Steve is just creepy and, at this point, still sketchily drawn. I can only assume based on these two episodes (I haven’t watched the third yet) that part of the plan for the season is to continue to expose the different components of Steve’s life and character. But for now, I’m still not entirely clear if Steve is a son of privilege who decided to enter a life of crime out of Bret Easton Ellis upper-crust ennui, or a well-groomed thief, or both, or… hell, neither. I’m still not entirely sure about anything about Steve, even as he says and does things that are supposed to define him for me, and that’s probably because of Chatwin. I am clear on this: Steve is a stalker, and seems to derive some voyeuristic pleasure from vacationing in Fiona’s family. Hence, any of the questions I might have had about Steve’s relationship with Fiona aren’t as interesting because Steve’s just kind of gross.

But in “Frank the Plank,” Fiona finally starts to see it. The washing machine was one thing, but when Steve kidnaps Frank and drops him off in Toronto, he finally exposes to her—and to us—the whole deal with him. He saw a girl in a club and thought she was hot and might even be a little bit white-trash slutty. Then he decided that, in spite of what he thinks is his acceptance of her lifestyle, what she really needed was to be rescued, one extravagant and desperately needed gift at a time. When he shows up with a van to tote the kids around in, she offers him a down payment on the washer. No one likes feeling like a charity case. Emmy Rossum was impressive again in this episode, in that scene especially.

This episode was more Frank’s show though, and it’s clear now why William H. Macy would take this job in a way that the pilot didn’t convey. It’s a tricky thing to make Frank this detestable. After dragging home from the bar, with a face all bloody from having it smashed by Karen’s dad, he takes his frustrations out on Ian. It was an awful moment, and Steve can’t be blamed for rushing in to stop it, even if he took his retribution a bit too far. But the episode was a showcase for Macy. Between the scene of him crammed behind the false wall of the trailer and the segmented monologue in which Frank attempts to explain to an audience of none the reasons he ended up this way, there was a lot for Macy to do, and he handled the bulk of it beautifully.


What didn’t work for me as well is Frank’s abrupt and far too lengthy wooing of Sheila. Although the scene in which Eddie has an olive-branch beer with Frank and inadvertently exposes Sheila as Frank’s dream woman was pretty hysterical, what followed was a little clumsy. The scenes of Frank and Sheila moving from the living room to the bedroom to the bathroom weren’t terribly funny or compelling, and they just sort of sat there. (And the reveal of Sheila’s regulation-size javelin of a dildo went a little broad.) I never thought I’d wish for Joan Cusack and a scuzzy-even-after-bathing Macy to skip the foreplay, but I needed that sequence to be over as quickly as possible.

I’m still not convinced that the show’s funny, off-kilter slices of life are enough of a skeleton on which to drape a twelve-episode season. While I'm charmed by stuff like Debbie’s coupon hoarding and Veronica and Lip’s dairy heist—anything regarding the quirky minutiae of the Gallaghers’ by-any-means-necessary daily grind—I can’t say those kinds of scenes will continue to pack the same punch six episodes from now. But then, the Gallaghers don’t seem to think too far ahead, so I suppose I shouldn’t afford myself that luxury either.


Stray observations:

  • Deadliest Catch is truly the great equalizer.
  • I hope we’ll get back to Ian’s unfortunate dalliance with his boss. It totally weirds me out, but it’s also the closest thing to an arc outside of the respective romances of Steve and Fiona and Frank and Sheila, both of which are problematic in their own ways.
  • “You look like a pre-menstrual Filipino.”
  • Does the term reach-around technically apply in an adjacent cell situation? Discuss.
  • Veronica's domestic-chore themed webcam business reminds me of a plot from this season of Desperate Housewives. Which, yeah, I still watch.