The Showtime and Netflix series, “Shameless,” (based on the U.K. series of the same name) follows the lives of the dysfunctional and impoverished Gallagher family. Living hand-to-mouth on the southside of Chicago, the family members’ frantic and sometimes violent lives are set to a soundtrack of ferocious, throttling punk and alternative rock songs. The result is that most of the first few seasons’ episodes look like music videos.
The sound of “Shameless”
Sometimes a show’s theme song functions to teach audiences about characters, setting and general plot. The same is true with “Shameless.” “The Luck You Got” by The High Strung is the theme song, and it plays as the camera focuses on the Gallagher bathroom. The garage band sound of crunching guitars and pounding drums serve the scene well. Audiences see various Gallaghers or their neighbors, tending to bloody noses and bodily functions, passed out drunk, or just goofing around. Even Liam runs his toothbrush around the rim of the toilet before putting it in his mouth. Well-behaved songs would not capture the verve of this brood.
There are literally hundreds of songs packed into just a few seasons. Some of the standout songs are “Black Cloud” by Choo Choo la Rouge; “Wait for the Man,” by FIDLAR, “This is the End of Everything” by Moss; “The Beast” by Concrete Blonde, “Devil at the Wheel” by Crud and “Die Young,” by Blacklist Royals.
The songs feature punk rock drums, sometimes ominous bass, chunking guitars, and even if the lyrics are not screamed, there is a nonchalant, rogue air to them that make these songs perfect for a show about people whose way of life courts danger.
On occasion, when a teenage or young adult Gallagher has a tender moment with a lover, moody jangle rock will play. But when the scene is over, the menacing sounds of garage rock or punk rock cue up as the next set of characters and their problems move into view.
“Shameless”: A view to dysfunction
The house is clearly lived in—couches are covered with old blankets; stuff, old bills, toys, random objects the youngest Gallaghers bring in from their exploits, cover all living surfaces. In one episode, one of Fiona’s many lovers stares at his toothbrush, and as the camera closes in on his view, the audience can see a giant cockroach poised on the bristles.
The camera angles add to the show’s music video feel. Often, during fight scenes, viewers will see the face of the Gallagher performing the action; sometimes the scene slows down, backs up, and allows viewers to see the same moment from a different angle. Watching the characters frozen in battle reinforces the idea that this is not a show for those who are easily offended.
“Shameless” a show with punk attitude
The show is unrepentant in its portrayal of lives that move too fast for introspection. The question, “What am I going to do?” comes up often. Then, the Gallagher who makes the inquiry springs into action. This is usually when a gut-pounding song needs to be played. And, when there is fighting, music with guitars and drums that sound like body slams and kicks, plays. By season 5, literally every Gallagher except Liam has been in a fight. He’s still a toddler, but innocence doesn’t last long on “Shameless.”
“Shameless” is arguably the most “punk” American show and it has the soundtrack to help make its points. The show allows audiences who are worlds removed from the likes of the Gallaghers to take an almost ethnographic view of the working poor. The show and its characters do not ask for pity; they only ask for our attention.