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If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Shameless and the Face of Bipolar: How It Looks

I would not let my grandchildren watch "Shameless" on Showtime until they are much, much older. I think thirty-five would be good. 

It's affordable, actually, on Netflix, all of Season One, with Season Two on its way. There's  also British Channel Four's original version, which just finished its ninth season, and bears a passing resemblance to the American version. 

It's a fabulous show for adults. Mature adults. Mature adults not easily offended by filth, violence, murder, poverty, crime, every form of sexual encounter known to man, blasphemy, graft and other corruption. As the critics have said, it's not blue collar, it's no collar. Let's put it this way: If you can't handle the opening credits, which depict the use of the family bathroom as the backdrop- and I admit I forward through this opening interlude- the show might be too much for you. The Mister even forwards through parts of it, and he's been in the military and has advanced degrees. He should be accustomed to the study of Man's Inhumanity on a microscale by now.

And no, I do not approve of most of the activity in this show. 

The warning is in place, now the synopsis: Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy as you've never seen him) is a depraved, selfish drunk (alcoholic is too kind) who has fathered six children with his on-again, off-again wife, Monica (Chloe Webb). Their six children are more or less raising themselves, as Monica is an off-again, on-again mother, with a big mentoring, mothering assist from the eldest child, Fiona (Emmy Rossum). 

It's Fiona who has made the lioness' share of the sacrifices to keep the family's children out of foster care this time, food on the table, clothes on their backs, and in school, by depriving herself of an education and any real chance at life. She's aided to some degree by her teenage brother, Lip (Jeremy Allen White), an authentic genius who nevertheless seems bent on his own destruction, as well a big assist from the couple next door, Kev (Steve Howey) and Veronica (Shanola Hampton). But it's often overwhelming for Fiona, who at twenty-one is torn between just walking away from her siblings and starting her own life, and desperately trying to make sure her kid brothers and sister have better than she. It involves all of the Gallagher children out there earning enough to ensure they can make it, some of them in remarkable, though sometimes illegal, ways. 

It's Fiona who tugs the heartstrings, and Frank who gets the sneers, but it is Monica who should be the poster parent for extreme bipolar. Not only does Chloe Webb sound Chicago Polish for this role (if she was trying for Irish, sorry, but it's Chicago Polish), she does a marvelous, marveling job at presenting crazy, selfish best. This is especially true in Season Two, Episode 10, "A Great Cause."

Monica lives away from her children more than she has ever lived with them. She returns this time, from living a lesbian life with Bob AKA Roberta, at the behest of Frank. Frank seeks out Monica, as he is grieving and seeking pity (you have to know the character to understand this). His evil mother (no other word is as apt) has died, leaving him none of her stolen money to him but all the responsibility. To be fair, Frank stole both money and drugs from her during her final illness, but of course Frank doesn't see it Mom's way. So he runs to Monica, and Monica runs home. 

Monica says she wants to make things right for her children, especially Fiona, who has borne the brunt of the responsibility for Monica's choices. Fiona wants to believe Monica, anxiously, dreadfully. Monica is making school lunches, washing clothes, coming to the kids' events;  making meals, at least breakfast pancakes. And it seems Monica wants to make good on her resolution.

This doesn't mean Monica has eliminated fun or the inappropriate. She and Frank wake the three younger children, Carl, Debs, and Liam, at 1 AM on November 1st to watch a slasher flick, rated R, on a school night, as a post-Halloween treat. Both parents remind the kids not to tell Fiona. While the little ones are frightened out of their wits, Monica and Frank share a joint. Monica makes herself and Debs matching cheerleading outfits for Carl's park district football team. Monica is relentless in her pursuit of Frank's manliness (yes that, it's everyplace and everywhere in the house, and Frank is worn tired from it).

I mentioned the kids must each earn their own money to survive. Dubbed the squirrel fund, they have all been working hard, even slacker Carl, all summer, so that they can survive the winter months in what is for them comfort. The fund is hidden in an old Crisco can, to keep it from Frank, who is the stable parent of the two, and that's not saying much. 

But Monica starts a manic phase. When she goes to make pancakes yet again, she looks for some sort of fat, and finds the Crisco can with the squirrel fund in it. What results can only be described as one of the best interpretations of manic I've ever seen. It covers it all: Irresponsibility, disregard for the safety of others, selfishness, lack of self-control, manic spending, over-the-top drug binge. It looks real. It feels really scary, and not in that slasher movie way, but the too-close-for-reality format. Every parent of a bipolar adult child will point to it and say, "Yes, that's exactly what bipolar looks like. I've seen it with my own eyes, and somebody has finally done justice to it on the small screen."

I saw very clearly in Ms. Webb's work my own Lulabelle's episodes, the ones where she wrecked a car, where she bought the most stupid items at the expense of her children's need for food, where she decided to paint the Mister's and my bedroom to suit her (very sloppily I might add- another problem of the manic phase), where she started projects in a frenetic pace but never finished them, and left them all over the house. I also saw the underlying calm before the storm, the seeming reasonableness, the longing for the normal and the ability to do the right thing without taking the necessary medication.    

No reputable site has this episode right now without a fee, rightfully due to copyright infringement. I can't link you to the full episode, or even the portion where the this action occurs. But find your own way to it. Wait for the second season to come out on DVD at the library. Ask to use the TV of a friend who has SHO. Get a deal on SHO yourself and remember to cancel in time before your provider starts charging you for it. Get Netflix. Get SHO.

But see this. Ms. Webb deserves an Emmy for this one performance alone, not to mention the rest of her work in this series. She also deserves the thanks of many a parent of an adult child who has tried to describe bipolar and couldn't quite convince others of the seeming normalcy fraught with bouts of manic and depressive. Now we have an illustration to point to others.

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