Showtime's 'Shameless' (2011) is a more self-conscious, fanciful, and decompressed adaption of the original BBC program of the same name. But, while 'Shameless' aggressively celebrates its inversion of traditional American values, it is important to keep in mind that it represents as much an idealization of the values it does uphold as 'Leave It To Beaver' (1957-1963) and 'Father Knows Best' (1954-1960) did in their era.
While 'Shameless,' which is essentially a comedic soap opera with dramatic overtones, explores 'the broken home,' adultery, alcoholism, teenage sexuality, homosexuality, mental illness, suicide, child sociopathy, sexual fetishism, theft as a way of life, and other elements traditionally consigned to life on 'the other side of the tracks' in America, note that very little genuine harm of any kind ever comes to any character, no matter how young or vulnerable, as a result of their behavior.
In traditional American television fashion, physical injuries heal within moments or by the next scene, emotional trauma seems to be only of the readily-manageable kind, and characters fall asleep drunk in the snow in the dead of the Chicago winter without freezing to death or losing toes or fingers.
Despite the abundance of threats and dangers surrounding and intruding upon them at every turn, including extreme violence and, in at least one case, a murder, nothing of permanent significance ever happens to any of the Gallaghers, who are clearly the heroes of the series, so what might be called 'the traditional unspoken American television show contract between the producers and the audience' applies: "The Gallaghers will persevere."
Even secondary characters seem impervious to trauma: teenage psychopath Mickey (Noel Fisher) is sent to juvenile prison, but reappears in the narrative when the producers need him to reappear; his months-long incarceration is brushed off as if completely inconsequential.
Another secondary character commits suicide with apparent success at the climax of Season One, but nothing nearly as final happens to any of the Gallaghers, with their almost a superhuman ability to recover from arrests, loss of employment, beatings, expulsions from school, kidnappings, and other experiences which most people find very difficult to assimilate and overcome in real life.
Despite the relative deprivation, chaos and squalor the Gallaghers are presented as existing in, note that their household is typically flooded in warm amber hues mornings and evenings. Though food is constantly implied to be in short supply, the motherless Gallaghers are constantly seen eating, and no one ever complains of anything approaching actual hunger.
While the Gallagher children's alcoholic and habitually grifting father, Frank (Willam H. Macy), is typically absent, the Gallagher children nonetheless receive genuine abundant love and oversight from oldest son Lip (Jeremy Allen White). Elder daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) and her best friend and neighbor, Veronica (Shanola Hampton), and their respective lovers, professional car thief Steve (Justin Chatwin) and bar owner Kev (Steve Howey) are regularly on hand to hold the figurative roof up and thus prevent outright catastrophe.
Which is to say that the American branch of the Gallagher clan, despite the show's trappings, actually have it pretty good.
As in 'Father Knows Best,' 'The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett' (1952-1966), or 'The Brady Bunch' (1969-1974), most episodes of 'Shameless' end in 'feel good moments' in which some or all members of the Gallagher family reassert their love and concern for one another, though here in a hearty 'us against them' fashion that wouldn't have been out of place on 'Married With Children' (1987-1997).
As the degree of sentimentalization remains identical, regardless of the values esteemed, 'Shameless' no more presents an accurate or honest view of American life, or a segment of American life, than 'The Donna Reed Show' (1958-1966) did in its time. This is important, as some critics, and no doubt many viewers, seem to believe that 'Shameless' is finally representing a segment of American life as it actually is in fact.
The irreverent 'Shameless' is a creative, colorful, and romanticized version of its BBC counterpart. It is funny when it tries to be and dramatic when it wants to be. William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, and Joan Cusack, among others, are beautifully wedded, even welded, to their parts.
If 'Shameless' is grossly unrealistic and potentially irresponsible from a social perspective, then perhaps the producer's frequently rose-tinted approach to their predominantly White suburban ghetto is meant to underscore the program's fictional basis, even if we "all know a family exactly like that."