TV review: Shameless

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From the January 5, 2012 edition

When putting together my Top 10 of 2011, the dramedy “Shameless” was the one I was most conflicted about. It just had a couple of flaws I couldn’t overlook when picking the best of the year.

The biggest was the series’ biggest star, William H. Macy. Macy’s performance as Frank isn’t bad — it’s quite good — but the writers couldn’t decide tonally what to do with the drunken patriarch of the Gallagher family.

Sometimes Frank is treated as a comic buffoon whose deplorable actions and treatment of his children are meant to be jokes. Other times he’s almost the villain.

I think “Shameless” would be a better show if Frank appeared onscreen only as often as he appears in his children’s lives — rarely and sporadically — mainly because the other Gallaghers are so outstanding.

Foremost is Emmy Rossum’s Fiona. Filling the void left by her deadbeat parents while trying to maintain a life of her own, Rossum expertly conveys the weight of being a single parent with the youthful uncertainty of a 21-year-old.

The other Gallagher kids are also fantastic; particularly Lip (Jeremy Allen White), the troublemaking genius, and Ian (Cameron Monaghan), a gay teenager. Fiona, Lip and Ian are expertly written and acted characters — offsetting heartfelt with humor — that represent the pinnacle of “Shameless.”

Season 2 sees not too much changing as the story jumps ahead to the summer. Fiona is now working as a cocktail waitress and has been without a serious love interest since Steve (Justin Chatwin) hit the road. The rest of the kids are still hustling to help make ends meet while dealing with their own personal stuff.

One welcome change this season: The writers slightly tweaked Frank’s character. He’s still a big part of the series, but he’s treated more like the loathsome a-hole he really is.