Seriously Dysfunctional: ‘Shameless: The Complete Second Season’

Shameless, based on the British series of the same name, is now in its third season on Showtime and this, the second season, now on DVD, finds the series growing darker, funnier, and more thoughtful with each episode. The series follows the Chicago-based family the Gallaghers, headed––or not, as it turns out––by Frank (William H. Macy) as the family struggles on the edges of American life. Kept together by eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum), the brood is presented with a particularly unique set of circumstances in this season during a hot summer and cool fall in Chicago.

Lip (Jeremy Allen White) makes summer money selling pot and booze from an ice cream truck with neighbor Kevin (Steve Howey); Fiona works at a city hotspot and struggles with continuing her education and her complex relationship with Steve/Jimmy (Justin Chatwin). Ian (Cameron Monaghan) continues striving toward admittance at West Point while maintaining a love life that is almost as complicated as Fiona’s. Joan Cusack returns as the agoraphobic Sheila Jackson, and Laura Slade Wiggins returns as Cusack’s damaged daughter, Karen.

Of course, the plot twists and turns in as many directions as a soap opera. Steve/Jimmy and Fiona’s relationship is complicated by not only his having fled to Brazil but his marriage to Estefania (Stephanie Fantauzzi), a drug lord’s daughter. That he doesn’t love Estefania is hardly a problem––she doesn’t love him, either––it’s her father––and her boyfriend––that keep him dancing in circles. His attempt to smuggle Estefania’s boyfriend Marco into the country results in one of the season’s silliest and funniest moments, as well.

Frank returns with his usual scams, whether employing youngest son Liam in order to make more money panhandling or scamming a local for insurance benefits––in one of the season’s decidedly darkest moments––the lousy patriarch will stop at nothing. As with the first season Macy pulls off what would be impossible in the hands of a lesser actor––making this otherwise despicable character seem, on occasion, as though he may have a shred of humanity in him somewhere, even if it’s the size of hangnail. Macy acts with his whole body, his physicality at times more compelling than what he says. But his delivery is always spot-on and his ability to disappear inside Frank’s skin is beyond remarkable.

As good as Macy is, it’s Cusack as Sheila Jackson who delivers––this season, as with last––arguably the most remarkable performance. She has always been a wonderful comedienne and, as with Macy, her physical humor is as powerful as anything else she does on screen. This time out we find her not just falling for daughter Karen’s husband Jody (Zach McGowan as the brainless beefcake) but taking an unforeseen and darkly hilarious turn that is, to say the least, unexpected. What we’re caught up in his not Sheila’s nuttiness but, instead, her tremendous pain and seeming inability to fully communicate her needs.

McGowan, paired with her in so many scenes, rises to the occasion, lending a seemingly brainless piece of eye candy a depth that grabs our attention as often as it makes us howl. He never mugs and instead floats some of the show’s funniest lines past us, albeit in such a way that the attentive viewer will be tempted to pause and marvel at how easy New York native makes it all seem.

Chloe Webb returns as Monica, Frank’s ex-wife, and not only sets the Gallagher household on its ear with her arrival but also delivers a memorable performance as a woman struggling with addiction and her own manic-depressive tendencies. Her appearance results in some of the most emotionally charged moments during the season and, also, some of the most hilarious.

It would be a shame not to mention Shanola Hampton as Veronica Fisher or Madison Davenport as Ethel as these two actors are as strong as many of the members of the cast and both deliver fascinating performances, especially early in the season.

This three-DVD set offers a wealth of bonus materials, including three featurettes, one on Fiona’s complicated life, one in which Macy details the art of acting drunk (fascinating to watch the master actor detail this), and another that goes in depth with show’s writers. There are a few deleted scenes, a Christmas carol music video, a look at the show’s third season, and actor discussions that include Rossum and Chatwin, Howey and Hampton, and Cusack and Wiggins facing off for Q&A sessions.

This second season of the series doesn’t disappoint and suggests that the best of Shameless may be yet to come. The multiple seasons of the British version suggest that the well of possibilities is deep and that the cast is more than capable than carrying these characters through yet another array of dysfunction.

Shameless is easily one of the most entertaining––and funniest shows––on television.

RATING 8 / 10