There is a hilarious, clever new expletive in the Leslye Headland’s Sundance film Bachelorette: “Jesus H. Macy!” I don’t think she meant it this way, but there is truly something miraculous about William H. Macy’s performance in Shameless as Frank Gallagher, the drunken, ne-er-do-well and improbably likable father of six. Throughout season two, which has its finale on Showtime this Sunday, this dazzling black comedy laced with emotional drama has grown both stronger and truer to itself.
Part of its success echoes the British series on which it is based: oldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is the responsible parent to the other kids, so we never feel they’re in lethal danger. In danger of being jailed, always; in danger for their lives, no.
Rossum, who seemed so princessy and unlikely for the role when she was cast, is thoroughly convincing as a working-class woman, who this season was at times heartbreaking in her attempts to move forward in her own life: her true love, Steve (Justin Chatwin), returned married to someone else; her plan to get a GED stretched the limit of her possibilities. Macy, Rossum and the rest of the cast – especially Joan Cusack as Frank’s patient and twisted inamorata — create a lovely balance, making the Gallaghers’ illegal, rule-bending behavior and horrible choices seem sympathetic even though we would never want their lives.
If you missed earlier episodes, you really should look back at Louise Fletcher’s brilliant, totally unglamorous turn as Frank’s mother, recently out of prison, whose idea of grandmotherly behavior was teaching her grandson to help out in a meth lab in the basement. (That was too much even for the rest of the family.) Dying of cancer, she tried to maneuver her wheelchair into oncoming traffic, and when rescued gave a brilliantly written, pure Gallagher explanation, snapping, “I tried to get hit by a bus so my family could sue the city!”
But there were also moments of pure darkness. In last week’s episode, the kids’ mother, Monica (Chloe Webb) who returned after having deserted them for a lesbian truck driver, went off her meds and slit her wrists in the kitchen. In the season finale, Monica has admitted herself to the hospital, and as you’ll see in this preview, Frank is determined to help her break out.
Wrong in his head and loving in his heart, that’s Frank. Thank Jesus H. Macy there will be a season 3.