As Shameless enters its eleventh and final series on Channel 4, it's interesting to wonder what kind of an impact it could have had if 2013 was the start rather than the end of Frank Gallagher's story.
In the beginning, Paul Abbot's drama was a compelling mix of social commentary and joyously crude pantomime that humanized the very people politicians and the press often attempted to vilify - the petty criminals, the unemployed, the single mothers, the poor.
When it arrived in 2004 - bolstered by stars like James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff - it shook up the way British television portrayed the working class and challenged perceptions about life at the bottom the social food chain. The residents of Chatsworth Estate broke the law, but we saw the circumstances and compassion that led them to do so. The families were unconventional and dysfunctional, but full of the same blend of love and tension that make up any home. It was believable and funny, the most enjoyable drama on television.
Back then, we were still in the cosy Blair years before the economic crash. We were yet to hear anything yet about 'Broken Britain', or witness the ascendancy of Cameron's Conservative Party as it sought to demonize the unemployed as 'scroungers' to path the way for benefit cuts. Would the Shameless of old have been a welcome riposte to today's political rhetoric? Perhaps. But this is wishful thinking.
In the seven series since, as the Gallagher clan has been disbanded and local gangsters the Maguires installed as the show's central family, a combination of over the top characters and story lines have meant the comedy edged out the drama and the show lost its teeth. On occasion, it has veered dangerously close to resembling the kind of 'class tourism' documentaries it was once a refreshing counter point to.
So in 2013, is there any reason other than nostalgia to still care about the characters of the Chatsworth Estate? Judging by last night's opening episode, it's going to take more than the return of a few high profile former cast members (as promised for this final run) for the show to rediscover its old magic.
Mimi took magic mushrooms and remembered that Paddy couldn't have been Jamie's real Father after all (he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, quite literally). This led to a familiar will-he-won't-he dilemma as Jamie threatened to quit the crime family and leave Manchester. Meanwhile, Frank became involved with a prostitute double act called Sherilee and Derilee, one of whom could be bribed with cleaning products to sate her OCD for housework.
Even at its lowest points Shameless has remained both funny and charming, which is why it's been worth watching for ten years. But this felt like the Shameless-by-numbers we've had to grow used to in recent years, all sex and no substance. It's still early days for the final series, but it looks like confirming what fans already knew: we said goodbye the show we really fell in love with a long time ago.
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