An enjoyable disgrace
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
SHAMELESS (Channel 4, Tuesdays), the series which has just ended,
was a disgrace. This portrayal of life in a northern council estate confirmed
every stereotype: the fractured Gallagher family is idle, feckless, frequently
drunk, drug-users, and address each other, and the world generally, with a
barrage of bad language. Petty crime and immorality are taken for granted. The
local pub and the one shop left on the estate exist in a state of siege brought
on by everyone’s anti-social behaviour.
The paterfamilias, around whom the action swirls, lives in an alcoholic
haze. When a neighbour’s husband is decapitated in an accident (it later
transpires that the deceased had, before having his head removed, been shot
accidentally by the youngest Gallagher lad with a drug baron’s abandoned
handgun) his response is to visit the grieving widow. He consoles her with the
suggestion that she shouldn’t report the death, so that he can impersonate the
dead man, collect the pension, and share the proceeds with her.
What is disgraceful about the programe is that it is brilliantly acted,
extremely funny, and addictive. These social parasites are also shown to be
warm, affectionate and fiercely loyal to each other, when they’re not fighting.
They display an acceptance of, and accomodate themselves to, life’s
difficulties — one suffers from Asperger’s syndrome — with less fuss than those
living more ordered lives. The humour and the affection, though, lower one’s
guard against the problematic morality being portrayed, to the extent that it
encourages one to become more relaxed about swearing, petty crime and drug
There’s nothing funny about alcoholism: it wrecks people’s lives and makes
family life hell. But anyone who has experience of life with such families will
recognise that this moral ambiguity is accurate: humour, affection and loyalty
do frequently exist alongside the most reprehensible behaviour. The overall
picture is too attractive and positive, but this is fresh and committed
Brat Camp: What Happened Next (Channel 4, Tuesday) reminded us of
the only kind of regime that might have any effect on the Gallaghers. Last
year, we saw how a group of impossible British teenagers were put through this
tough-love programme in the Utah wilderness, painfully learning to discard
selfishness and chronic laziness, to become hardworking members of the team.
Would the changes last? Four of the subjects — and, more importantly, their
parents — were contacted.
The programme failed to consider whether the families had used the
experience to develop their parenting skills, and I did wonder how the rest of
the particpants were coping a year on. It was striking to note how thoroughly
the four have reverted to their former appearance. The studs and "metalwear",
removed with wails of anguish by the Utah therapists, have returned.
But, despite a lukewarm attempt to inject suspense into the outcome, there
were heartwarming stories of success. They had genuinely changed. Despite all
temptation to slide back, they had stuck to their new insights.
Fran is, astonishingly, a police cadet. Danny now warns other kids of the
dangers of drugs. Perhaps the strongest lesson was not to judge by appearances
— what really matters is what lies within. Now where have I heard that before?