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Season Finale: Shameless – “Father Frank, Full of Grace”

“Father Frank, Full of Grace”

March 27th, 2011

By the conclusion of its first season, I would argue that Showtime’s Shameless found something of an identity independent of its British predecessor. This is not to say that the show is better or worse, something I can’t judge given that I’ve seen only brief glimpses of the British series, but I felt as though the first season seemed driven by characters more than versions of characters. Between the work of Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Kenney, the Gallagher siblings feel as though they (if not necessarily the world they inhabit) are real people who I want to see face the challenges that result from their position. Their story never felt like we were seeing someone else’s story transposed onto these characters, as each performer seemed to be driving the characterization as much as any sort of influence from across the pond.

That is a testament to the strength of the cast, and the writers for working with them, but it is only one component of the series’ future. The other side, the part where we consider the world that John Wells and Paul Abbott have created in Shameless’ Chicago, seems problematic as the show heads into an extended hiatus before a second season. “Father Frank, Full of Grace” has some strong moments, but it has already put into motion an enormously problematic return to the status quo which threatens to undermine whatever strong character work might be done.

Or, to put it in other words, it’s already threatening to be just like every other problematic Showtime series.

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Season Finale: Parenthood – “Lost and Found”

“Lost and Found”

May 25th, 2010

When Parenthood began a few months ago, what struck me about the series was how it felt unbalanced. There were some parts of the show I really enjoyed, but there were other parts of the show that simply weren’t working. It’s not that I expected it to be perfectly balanced, as the late recasting necessitated by Maura Tierney’s cancer meant that the entire tone of the show shifted in an instant, but the combination of the series’ sappy scenes of the family spending time with one another felt at odds with the somewhat incongruous elements of the ensemble. Those scenes made it feel like the show was pretending it was something it wasn’t, that this family unit was actually cohesive despite conflict which seemed to exist within the scripts (and to some degree the casting) more than in the characters themselves.

I understood from the beginning that this show, like Modern Family, is about the family unit and its complexities, but while Modern Family leaned comfortably on broad stereotypes to immediately jump into the series’ structure Parenthood didn’t have the same luxury. Sure, we could look to Lorelai Gilmore to understand Sarah, working mother isn’t exactly rocket science, and newly discovered son has some forebears, but we had to spend time with these characters in order to understand how they are responding to these situations. Modern Family gets to reset itself each week, but Parenthood’s characters need to grow into these situations, which means we need to understand what’s changing and how it’s evolving in more of a nuanced fashion.

Jason Katims’ Friday Night Lights was about community, which meant that the show was “setup” from the very beginning: the show’s pilot clearly defined Dillon, Texas as a place where high school football is king, and the show was then able to go further into investigating how the series’ characters relate to that central theme so honestly portrayed in the first episode. With Parenthood, however, Katims is dealing with something far more variable, as every family is different and the impact of the series is dependent on our knowledge of how this family works or compares with our own. Throughout the first season, the show has done some fine work defining each individual family, showing us Adam and Kristina confronting Max’s autism or Crosby connecting with his son in a way he had never imagined. Sure, Sarah is still Lorelai by a different name in many ways, and Julia still remains the series’ weak link, but we now understand these different families to the point that we can see the ways in which they’d come together, their differences now points of difference more than points of incongruity.

“Lost and Found,” scripted by Katims, asks the same question that I was asking after the pilot: is this, in fact, a show about one happy family? I compared the show to Brothers & Sisters when it first aired, but that show very clearly prioritizes the sibling relationship over the individual families within it. Parenthood has yet to make its final decision, and each wing of the family faces that balance between “your” family and “the” family in the finale – and while there’s another one of those sappy scenes at the end, one of those wings is missing, and one of them remains pieced together with some ukelele and some emotional duct tape.

And there’s a realism to that which Katims really nicely captures in a finale that seems a fitting end to the season and creates a strong foundation for the show to hit the ground running in the fall so long as no Swedish lifeguards or serial rapists come out of the woodwork.

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Parenthood – “The Situation”

“The Situation”

March 30th, 2010

Fittingly, subtlety isn’t particularly easy to analyze when it comes to television series. While I would never argue that Parenthood’s morals are subtle, as it tends to go for the blindly emotional over the starkly realistic, I still feel like some of what the show is accomplishing could be considered subtle. Even if things eventually get wrapped up in a neat bow that lays out the circumstances at hand, things always tend to start with a small moment that becomes something more, and so the least subtle of conclusions may still come from subtle origins.

“The Situation” works for most of its run time because the characters aren’t necessarily being driven by clear moral foundations; Drew doesn’t start spending time with Adam and Max because his Dad let him down again, Sarah doesn’t strike up a friendship with Amber’s teacher because of some sort of life problem, and Crosby (while directed by others) manages his paternity situation fairly effectively. In the end, the lessons apparent in each story are drawn to the surface through more direct action, and the show gets as sappy as it always does; however, up to that point, there continues to be enough small moments of subtlety for me to stick with the show for the rest of the season.

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