Shameless has always gotten the short end of the stick. In any other previous TV landscapes, it might get its due. But with so much to watch, it's too often neglected.
Shameless - its sixth season premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on Showtime - perpetrates two great sins that keep it out of the Golden Age of TV conversation. The first is it's not perfect. It can be uneven. Characters can be written into corners. Its star - William H. Macy - was miscast in the lead as the ultimate deadbeat, formerly inebriated dad Frank Gallagher, who also ends up being the least interesting of his entire clan.
But around Macy, this entire family of lovely miscreants arose to compensate for what Frank as a character was not able to do. Emmy Rossum as Fiona and Jeremy Allen White as Lip have been particularly fantastic as the two Gallaghers most capable of keeping their family together . . . if they didn't constantly screw things up themselves.
Shameless is also not an easy watch. These are characters who refuse to be redeemed. Whenever given the opportunity to improve as human beings, they reject the chance, by accident or not. But once you're in with the Gallaghers, their irredeemability becomes one of their more endearing qualities. In the new season's second episode, consummate delinquent Carl takes to selling guns out of his Chicago public school bathroom. When another student asks for a tutorial, Carl replies, "We're not in the training business. That's what the Internet is for."
Aw, shucks, Carl!
But Shameless - beyond being one of the few Chicago-set shows that actually makes that famously cold town look cold - can also tap issues attempted by few other shows. The Gallaghers are poor. They live on the south side, and Fiona supports them by working at a diner, a job she got after going to jail for a felony drug conviction in a previous season.
Their neighborhood is gentrifying and the Gallaghers are on the wrong side of the economic divide. There are, however, perks. Kevin (Steve Howey), the Gallaghers' neighbor, is enjoying the influx of hipster customers who want to revel in the poverty porn of hanging out at his dive bar.
Fifteen-year-old Debbie Gallagher (Emma Kinney) starts Season 6 pregnant and wrestles with Fiona about whether she should have an abortion.
Hard subjects to tackle - but these Gallaghers, these people who can do truly reprehensible things, find a way in. They may be bad people, but they're excellent characters.