Shameless – UK TV Series Review

Review by Michael Farrie, Edited by Jack Bromby

Has anyone watched “Shameless“? I didn’t watch it at all when it was going out new, and have watched up to Series 7 this year because a friend got me into it, it’s a very addictive drama and comedy and it’s more intense than just watching soaps like Coronation Street. As a left winger I pretty much side with Frank and just root for him, right wingers probably watch being entertained by their disapproval of him, and I’ve watched for anything that seems Shameless-Frankideological and stereotyping of those of us on benefits and the view of being “poor”. One thing is if life can be as interesting as it is on that Chatsworth estate I’d ditch the somewhat middle class town I live in in a heartbeat, and Frank of course whilst a very fun character (somewhat similar to Ozzy Osbourne, isn’t he?) I don’t think is a very realistic portrayal of the type of character they think he is.

 

He is portrayed as not generally giving a toss about his kids, being very selfish and being firmly dedicated to his vices of drinking and taking drugs, they are very vague on the drugs though. He gets some generic E’s from behind the bar of The Jockey and then he gets vaguely blotto and drunk, it kind of feels just like the whole programme what people from outside the world think it’s probably like to take drugs, and live in a rough estate on Manchester and yada yada yada. Of course Frank really has a heart of gold and comes through where it really counts, and strictly only then of course, but is dysfunctional enough most of the time to be one of Britain’s greatest sitcom characters, and the show isn’t particularly dedicated to bashing people on benefits, it is mostly affectionate and the real core themes aren’t that dissimilar to Coronation Street, love and relationships.

 

The writer Paul Abbott of course should not be out of tough he grew up in a similar environment to the characters he’s written with a similar father to Frank, his deeply cynical view of human nature is also sardonic and fairly affectionate.

 

The hilarious line mumbled and laughed out by a drunk Frank Gallagher in the opening titles from around Series 5 onwards “they s**t on our heads, but YOU pay the taxes” is probably the most direct nod to a right wing judgemental view of the characters and lives and its relationship with benefits, but a left winger like me watching would rather cheer on their very colourful, very community spirited bonded together world, rather than wish they all got kicked off benefits to possibly find boring 9 to 5 jobs and went and lived in little boxes with identical nuclear families. Right wing politicians have referred to the programme with disdain though, giving us a hint that the stereotyping could be rather damaging. But benefits are not actually mentioned particularly often.

 

  • Frank is shown to commit benefit fraud, by impersonating a woman’s dead husband.
  • Many of the negative sides to Frank’s behaviour could be linked in to his being on benefits in the minds of viewers
  • In an episode aired after the Coalition came in which I haven’t got to yet, Frank is actually forced to get a job in a McDonalds type place, it is unclear as to whether this is some form of workfare, or whether it has been shown that he actually applied for and got the job (which would be consistent with with the typical right wing message that it’s easy enough to get a job pretty much straightaway if you have been kicked off benefits, we all know that it isn’t, a Shameless episode showing a job hunt struggle would be good!). Frank’s job doesn’t last, so I cheer him on!
  • Everyone in the pub goes off and hides if someone from “the social” is known to be on the estate. Reinforces the narrative that most on the estate are on welfare
  • Frank is forced out the house and to the pub to a Job Centre scheme, which turns out to be advantageous for him because he meets a temporary love interest. When he is later forced to do community service for something criminal, he also meets a love interest, the librarian.
  • Given I do protests, I found it interesting to see their coverage of the library cuts protest in Series 7. This was the most stereotyping the programme had ever been, everybody protesting was shown to be rowdy and violent, bottles were being thrown and Frank’s love interest, the female librarian even goes to jail for her involvement in the protest, presumably by just facilitating it she becomes criminally responsible for the violent actions of the ones who attend. That seems out of touch with both the actual law, and also with the likely reality of most protests which are by far and large peaceful, but it wouldn’t make dramatic TV.
  • Many characters are shown to be morally or legally dubious in one way or another, whilst having a “heart of gold”, it stays in line with a right wing view that people on benefits are dishonest, whilst at the time I feel it shows how necessary benefits are to their survival.
  • In terms of other values, Shameless’ other most significant character Paddy McGuire, a hardman who is introduced to the series by beating someone senseless with his sons in tow as violent thugs in the style of a football game (he shoots, he scores as he kicks!) is unremorsefully homophobic. He has a gay son and seemingly never uncovers this, but is given comeuppance for his prejudice in one episode which reveals that he has a twin that he has become deliberately estranged from, the reason, he is gay, but he needs him for impersonation so they must get back in touch and he must apologise for his prejudice!

 

Frank: “Make poverty history, cheaper drugs now” – Definitely a line that rather trivialises the existence of real poverty, seems to be saying that somebody involved in it isn’t even bothered and it’s not really poverty!

But it’s one of the greatest programmes on British television!

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