10 August, 2009

If BBC4's "Shameless" were brought to the U.S.

Today is March 30th, 2011 - a little over a year and a half since I first wrote this post - and since Shameless has finally been brought over seas, this post has been getting a bit of traffic and two comments from seemingly unrelated total strangers. (Hey, it never happens around here.) So, let's clarify before we begin:
  1. This is a joke article, it can't be taken seriously.
  2. The recurring statements that I'm "so wrong" about Ian? I still haven't seen beyond the US pilot episode but I'm glad that they're treating the character as a human being and not a caricature.
  3. Most of the observations / speculations I make in this post are based on tropes that are still common on network television. As Shameless is a network show in the UK, I was running on what would happen if it was transplanted to a US network, much like the transfer of The Office from UK network BBC Two to US network NBC (and the US The Office's development has been as predictable as any other network program and the original charm of the UK version is lost). However, Shameless made the jump from the UK network Channel 4 to the US premium subscription cable channel Showtime, and both Showtime and HBO in particular are known for their quality over some basic cable and most network television.
  4. If you read the ninth paragraph of this article, you'll see that I was very nearly unfortunately right.
But, even as I illustrate my rationale, some folks either can't or won't read between the lines. So I want to make one last point: If I'm so wrong about Ian, I'm genuinely pleased that I'm wrong. It means we're progressing as a society.
Now, on with the - ahem - show.
Yesterday, Georgie and I were talking TV, which is what happens when we run out of TV shows to watch. We were on a Heroes kick for a while and before that there was Wire In The Blood and before that there was The Wire with regular sojourns into shows like Weeds, House, and Flight of the Conchords. But now we're between shows (though George has been dropping hints here and there that I should try Lost but I don't want to because then I would have to be one those people: "Lost fans" - yuck) and we were talking about some of our missteps in viewing choices, chief amongst those was BBC4's Shameless.
If you haven't seen Shameless, it's one of those storyless, day-by-day type shows about the trials and tribulations of English white trash. They live in a shitty apartment complex, they steal, they get drunk, the dad is unemployed... basically, it's a show about half the kids I went to high school with if they had Manchester accents. If you're unfamiliar, Manchester is in Northern England, which is like the Southern U.S., so when English folks want to sound like backwoods hicks they adapt a northern accent, much like we here in the U.S. malign our South. Of course, when the English really want to take a jab at "wat traysh", they look to the original: Texas. Even the English know that in terms of sheer shit-kicking, bolo-tie-wearing, tumbleweed-rolling, tobacky-chewing, chainsaw-massacring, bull's-horns-on-the-front-of-the-car-mounting stupidity, you can accept no substitute.
What? Don't give me that look. I spend ample amounts of time insisting that Germany is into S&M games and brown sound clubs, it's about time I took a stab at our twenty eighth state.

Pictured: Shit-kicking, bolo-tie-wearing, tumbleweed-rolling, fairy-tale-hugging motherfucker.
The scary part about all of this, though, is that the English have gotten white trash right. They've painted a more accurate picture of lower class, uneducated, financially disenfranchised culture than the U.S. could ever muster which, honestly, seems about right. The English invented poverty when our country was still run by aboriginal peoples who never wanted for anything because they knew how to use every piece of the buffalo. You think these shores saw Black Plague? Not until the Brits brought that shit here.
Of course, because the U.S. is a zealous younger brother, we like to claim the presents under the tree regardless of whose name is on the tag. (You know where I'm going: The U.S. is Randy from A Christmas Story.) So the U.S. likes to think that it has the copyright on white trash, but if the show was made here, it would fail to be as accurate because (and I want you to repeat this over and over again) U.S. television corporations think you're stupid. They'll take rose-colored lenses and stick them on their cameras and all of a sudden, poor is cute. Why not!? There's not really an ever-widening gap in the class strata!
Here's what I bet we could expect should Shameless make its way overseas. Like all shows that leap across the pond, the first episode will remain unscathed, but then shit will go down hill faster than you can say "The Office on NBC".
Frank Gallagher (Dad / Narrator). Frank is the father and the narrator on the show. He's unemployed, perpetually drunk, unintelligible, dumb, exciteable, and somehow manages to tag a rreeaallllyy hot local sixteen year old. (Of course, you have to keep in mind that even though she's rreeaallllyy hot, she's still English white trash, so that probably explains it. A little. Not really.) There's absolutely nothing likable or admirable about the character of Frank Gallagher, whose brain is so petrified by alcohol that he loses his shit over a new washing machine the same way a Ecstacy user loses their shit over glow sticks.
The U.S. though, is going to have a problem with this as it's a natural affront to our long established patriarchy; "How dare a father be made to look like a buffoon on TV!?" Seriously, at the end of the day, even Al Bundy and Homer Simpson are sympathetic characters. So the first person the U.S. is going to call to play Frank is going to have to be a balding, overweight man and the character is a man who occasionally has one too many and is actively looking for work, seated with a deep, internalized guilt over not being able to provide for his family.
Ian Gallagher (The Gay Son). There is absolutely nothing the U.S. loves more than convincing itself that it's a progressive, multi-cultured, tolerant melting pot. So when it comes to the character of Ian, the closeted homosexual second oldest son on the show (and quite possibly the most interesting, having a NAMBLA-esque affair with his boss and acquiring a goth-punk beard), the U.S. is going to show their tolerance how they show it best: by making him a screaming fucking fag queer. He'll wind up getting into musicals, playing the harp, calling everybody "honey", and making enough Liza Minelli references to remind you to pick up that season of Arrested Development you've been meaning to get from Amazon. Gone will be the loving, tortured relationship with his boss (In a Texan accent: "You mean he's gay molested?"), and just as out the window will be his beard (In a Texan accent: "Queers don't date girls!"). Because that's how the U.S. shows its tolerance.
Carl Gallagher (The Forgettable Son). I have absolutely no recollection of this motherfucker.
...
Do I have to write something?
...
Because you know the U.S. screen writers won't.
...
I mean, you know, really.
...
Can we move on, yet?
Now?
OK.
Debbie Gallagher (The Klepto Daughter). In the first season, I didn't witness Debbie doing much accept for once or twice she might pop up with some poignant two or three word line like Tiny Tim saying "God bless us, everyone," or cute like when Emma Jean pointed at the window when Flick was still outside with his tongue stuck to the pole in A Christmas Story because she was eleven years old. (Two references in the same post! Suck it!) But there was the time she stole a baby. That was kind of a decent episode, because it had an actual story.
The U.S. will undoubtedly, because of her age, turn her into a Michelle Tanner character replete with a "How rude!"-esque catchphrase. In fact, just to ensure cuteness (which in the U.S. always trumps good writing), they might even shave a few years off of her.
Philip "Lip" Gallagher (The Ruffian Son). In the first season, Lip is a bit of an asshat. There's really no other way to say it: asshat. Over time, according to Wikipedia (bastion of knowledge) he wound up becoming a straight-A student, but the U.S. doesn't like to roll like that. You can't go from Brad Taylor to Randy Taylor. Once you go Brad Taylor, you can never come back from Brad Taylor. So, the U.S. screenwriters are going to sit down, watch some Home Improvement, and wonder how they can expedite and exaggerate the dumbing down of their new Brad Taylor. In fact, if the U.S. screenwriters could squeeze a Joey Russo out of this, you couldn't stop them from celebratorally jacking off on to their own faces.

Fiona Gallagher (The "Mom" Daughter). I'm starting to run out of steam, here, but please understand that there are going to be lots of "very special episodes" centered around Fiona. U.S. television writers are cuh-ray-zeh about very special episodes because it's a brief respite from having to know that what they create is fluff that will be forgotten in twenty years. It feels like social activism, it's a justification for all the shallow "Are they going to fuck?" bullshit episodes that they've deemed as their life's work; and speaking of social activism, may I introduce this next concept?
Black neighbors.
How the fuck are we going to do black neighbors?
Look, this show is about white trash, so they're going to have to live in a white trash apartment complex... Well, in the U.S. version it would be a Alabaman trailor park, but that's besides the point. Stay with me here. If the U.S. screenwriters put black people in the impoverished complex, they'll be accused of making all black people look poor. If they try to avoid that by not putting black people in the complex, they'll be accused of not having enough black people on the show. This is not saying that all black people are difficult to please, this is saying that there's a special interest group for one angle and there's a special interest group for the other angle, just like there is for everybody else. For example, white people have a special interest group looking out for white people interests. It's called the Republican Party.
But it struck me, yesterday, that this is how it works on TV:
  • No black people is racist.
  • One black person is token, and that token is a racist caricature.
  • Nothing but black people sets back black history two hundred years because all of their characters are written by elitist white Hollywood Jews, thus racist.
Look, though, the show kind of sucks as it is, and that's in England. Bringing it to the U.S. would only make it suck more because of the silly, zany misadventures these folks will be written into. Few shows have truly survived the across-the-pond jump. Doctor Who would never fly here. Coupling went straight down the toilet. The Office survived only because they got rid of Ricky Gervais and replaced him with Steve Carrell.
Thankfully, I haven't actually heard about Shameless jumping across the pond, I'm simply hypothesizing based on the "wat traysh" angle which, until I saw that show, I thought was a uniquely Yankee phenomenon. Turns out, it's pan-Atlantic.

4 comments:

  1. you are SO wrong about ian he is exactly the opposite, his character is perfect and i totally get him

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  2. As I said when I first wrote this post, he is indeed the most interesting character and, when I watch the UK version, pretty much the only reason I watched.
    This was long before the US got a hold of the show and, after having witnessed how US television (still) treats homosexuals, I was afraid they were going to denigrate the character and make him a caricature.
    Granted, I haven't watched the US series, so if they're doing him justice here, I'm happy.

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  3. Oh Holy Fuck, you are so absolutely wrong about this.

    You need to watch our show, it way rocks. You will be enlightened. I really hope you give Shameless a chance over in our Chicago backdrop, it's so good.
    Plus our Lip is so fucking good. Have you seen yours? He's really a piece of shit. Our's is yours to the tenth power. And so's Steve. And we have Joan Cusack, it's really cool. Our Ian too, is not at all how you bullshitted it, his character is so perfect, man they did him so well. You really gotta see it. It's so good. Frank is the best ever, and he does not carry any sort of "guilt" for being the shittiest dad ever lived. He We are not in the 1950's over here anymore, thanks, though.
    So uh, incidentally, I was just watching some porn where this fat Brit was sitting in front of a mirror, jacking off. Funniest shit.
    So yeah, Watch Shameless.

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  4. Point by point?
    I am so absolutely wrong about this? This post started off with a picture of W with the Easter Bunny; probably an indicator that it shouldn't be taken seriously.
    "My Phillip" is a piece of shit and "your Phillip" is mine to the tenth power? Shit to the tenth power is just shittier shit. Plus? I haven't watched the show since I wrote this post; as I recall, Phillip is supposed to be a shit.
    Ian is not how I bullshitted him? I am glad he is not how I speculated he would be treated.
    Frank doesn't carry any "guilt". I don't know why quotation marks are needed when I expressly said the word guilt. Further, I also speculated that the casting department would call a man with the physique of Homer Simpson. They called William H. Macy. Funny how I was wrong. When I was writing a joke article.
    We are not in the 50s anymore? I'm not so sure. We wouldn't need the It Gets Better Project if there weren't homophobic assholes out there with backward ideas driving kids to suicide in the very day and age where being harassed and bullied shouldn't have to be part of the coming out process. Further, gay marriage is legal in how many states out of fifty? And still isn't federally recognized? On the other side of things, you know the Tea Party wouldn't exist if there wasn't the conservative vitriol being spewed by Fox News; a bunch of white folks afraid of a black president, trying to impress upon the public the need for old fashioned values. (Fox News, from the few clips I can stomach when not funneled through Jon Stewart, has a homophobic bent to it now and again.) A lot of the time, the only thing that keeps the US in this century is that we have fancy Star Trek phones. As far as civil rights goes? We're no closer to 2011 than Ward Beaver.
    Case in point? As you had incidentally watched a fat Brit masturbate tonight, I had the displeasure of watching ABC's Modern Family (hey, I was surfing Hulu, had half a beer left before going to bed, and Hulu told me that Modern Family was similar to The Office and Parks & Recreation so I said "fuck it"). The one episode I watched ("Boy's Night", Season 2 Episode 18, air date March 23rd, 2011) indeed provided me with the evidence that the hackneyed character writing I described is still in existence when I see how the gay couple on that show is depicted; they weren't painted unflatteringly (thankfully) but they weren't painted realistically, either. But, hey, it's network television on a network who, last I knew, is owned by Disney.

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