'Tis the season of waiting for premium cable lovers. Most of the truly addictive programs shown on HBO and Showtime (and on many basic cable channels, for that matter) wrapped up in late fall and now all the Dexperts, Trubies and Maddicts are starting to get the shakes because it'll be swimsuit weather before their favorite shows return and it seems like Two and a Half Men is taking over the tube.
Well, worry not, humans-who-aren't-too-cool-to-admit-they-own-a-television, because Showtime's offering a winter crop of decent shows on Sunday night to tide you over.
Last night, a new season of Californication and two series premiers aired on Showtime. The first of the new offerings, Episodes, stars Matt LeBlanc and follows two married writers who move to Los Angeles to remake their successful British TV series. I missed this one (possibly due to the "Joey" jokes made in the commercials), but I've heard one person dub it "the cable version of 30 Rock." That's rather blasphemous, but it shows that Episodes might be an alright series.
Ironically, Shameless, the other new series that premiered, actually is based off an award-winning British show of the same name, which is still on the air. I haven't seen the original series, but American re-makes of high-quality imports usually suck. Not always, but usually. I gave it a shot anyway.
The show takes place in Chicago and centers around the Gallagher family. William H. Macy plays an alcoholic POS dad with like 50 meddlin' kids who have to fend for themselves. OK, not really, but that's all I knew about the show going into it.
The pilot opens with a cliched hobo scene: a bunch of bundled up dudes huddled around a trash can fire drinking from paper bag-wrapped 40s. Frank (Macy) narrates and describes each of his kids from oldest to youngest: Fiona (Emmy Rossum), "the rock" is the matriarch (no word on who/where Mama G. is); Philip "Lip" is a crazy smart high schooler, but is also a crazy smart ass who gets into trouble; Ian is straight-laced, military-bound teen and a closeted homosexual; little Debbie steals money she raises for Unicef to help pay the family's bills; Carl is a little squirt (don't know much about him yet); and since no quirky modern family would be complete without a little black child, Liam is the adorable baby brother most certainly from another mother.
The first couple minutes of the show struck me as a bit wishy-washy, but Frank's happy little thought bubble pops when the episode truly begins. I was expecting the show to focus on Frank, who is obviously the hottest mess in the food stamp line. It isn't, though, and I believe that's for the benefit of the show. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE me some Dub H. Mace. But centering on the kids and their reactions to their dad, instead of Frank himself makes for a much smarter, darker dramedy. You don't see much of Frank getting sloshed with his buddies; you do see Fiona help a cop carry her passed out, piss-stained dad inside the house.
The children who play the Gallagher kids are really talented. Each has a very specific character to play, and they all do so without falling into a stereotype. For example, initially I felt Fiona was kind of way too hot for the projects. It's like in She's All That when we're supposed to believe that Rachael Leigh Cook is ugly when she wears glasses and has paint on her shirt, but once that pony tail is down, she's a total babe.
MY EYES! MY EYES! That's sick! Oh, hey, she's hot.
Obviously, Emmy Rossum is not a little hoodrat - am I really supposed to believe that once she swaps her unflattering work garb for under-eye concealer and a little Forever 21 dress (which she keeps tagged so she can return), rude douchebags will stop making fun of her and a good looking, well-off dude will notice her? Well, yes, that's kind of what happens, but it's believable. As soon as you see a glimmer of triteness in Shameless, the storyline and cast's acting chops take the show in a really interesting direction.
Is it going to be a long winter? Yes. But Showtime will keep you company as you count down the days 'til The Walking Dead returns. (Only 9 months, 2 weeks, 6 days, 3 hours and 20 minutes!)