Shameless: Close Encounters

David Threlfall as Frank Gallagher

ANOTHER day on the Chatsworth to interview the cast of Shameless.

Including an afternoon in The Jockey, where the regulars still pay no heed to the smoking ban.

A month or so later, having cleared my lungs of herbal cigarette smoke, I also caught up with series creator Paul Abbott.

The eighth series begins on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight – with the first five episodes stripped across consecutive nights.

My feature is in today’s Manchester Evening News – and is online both here and also below (including extra pics and video).

With much more to come.

I watched the first five episodes of Shameless 2011 in one sitting.

Despite what some critics say, there’s plenty of life left in both Frank Gallagher and all who live on the Chatsworth estate.

As David Threlfall, who plays Frank, told me: “Last year we had the biggest and most consistent viewing figures for the show.

“That’s good. But that’s all we do. If you don’t want to watch it, just click and off it goes. Watch Newsnight.”

I make no apology for being a fan of Shameless, having watched every single episode since it began in 2004.

Although I have to admit I was concerned by one particular storyline twist in tonight’s first hour, which I think is a misjudgement.

If you’re able to watch, I’d be interested in your comments.

Series nine of Shameless begins filming later this year.

Frank on his stag night


IT’S quiz night in The Jockey. In a break from filming, a new Chatsworth estate resident explains how her last job was a Shakespeare play.

Actress Karen Bryson, who plays the Gallaghers’ incoming neighbour Avril Powell, reckons Shameless poses similar questions and answers.

“It’s poetic. You’re looking at the flaws and failings of this community, and the camaraderie. I watch an episode and I laugh and I cry. You’re moved in so many ways,” she reflects.

Wythenshawe-filmed Shameless returns to Channel 4 tonight for a record-breaking eighth series, expanded from 16 to 22 episodes.

The first five are screened on consecutive nights and are some of the most ambitious ever filmed by the Manchester team.

They begin with Frank Gallagher having an other worldly Close Encounter of the 70s kind at The Jockey before a flashback to events three days earlier.

The nation’s favourite feckless layabout is preparing for his wedding to librarian Libby (Pauline McLynn), due to feature ice sculptures of famous Mancunians in literature. But then Frank is devastated by shocking news, closely followed by the return home of ex-wife Monica (Anabelle Apsion).

Frank ends his stag night naked in a graveyard and subsequently goes missing. At various stages of a sci-fi odyssey we see him turn into a Time Lord, re-visiting Alien and getting in touch with his feminine side.

Doctor Who? Monica, Frank and the Turdis

Has he been abducted by aliens? Or is there another explanation? And will he make it back to the Chatsworth in time to marry Libby and foil Monica’s scheming, including one rather disturbing lie?

David Threlfall plays alcoholic Frank as well as being an executive producer and directing a number of episodes. Sipping chicken soup in his lunch break on set, he agrees that Shameless is very much a series for our recession-hit times.

“It’s there in every episode by dint of the fact that these people have very little choice. Whether it’s turning to crime, bailing out and turning to drink or drugs, trying to make a life for themselves based on the limited choices that they have.

“And I think that’s what people have recognised over the years. Last year we had the biggest and most consistent viewing figures for the show. That’s good. But that’s all we do. If you don’t want to watch it, just click and off it goes. Watch Newsnight.”

Threlfall is at the very heart and soul of what has made Shameless such an enduring success. “I trust the people I’m working with. I’ve never had a discussion about what’s going to happen to Frank next year because I know something will come right. It’s not broke so I’m not fixing it.

“People categorise it, which I hate. It’s a drama, as far as I’m concerned, which happens to be sometimes quite funny. The great thing still is that when you get a script, you can get to the last page and the rug comes out from underneath. It’s like life. Just when you think it’s going one way, it’ll just switch back.”

Why do so many people love Frank, a selfish, unapologetic drunk who gets through each day on a cocktail of booze and drugs, neglects his family and pursues his own desires at the expense of others?

“I think he’s lost, like many people. I think it comes down to that,” says David. “People can say, ‘There but for the grace of God.’ I could have made a decision to just start drinking as a mission at 24 and blown it away and just bailed out.

“Also it is a huge story about care and families and love and trying to paper over the cracks, like anywhere else. You can see that written down and think, ‘Oh, that sounds a bit cheesy.’ But it isn’t. It’s about trying to get by with wit and optimism. You’ve got to have a certain moment where he redeems himself. Otherwise it’s a one-trick pony.

“We get newspapers every day here with story ideas everywhere. It pours out. There’s no lack of that, the daft things people do.”

Series eight includes the 100th episode in what is Channel 4’s longest running returning drama. A ninth series will begin filming later this year, employing a workforce which includes 16 regular cast, 60 guest cast, over 2000 background artistes and 60 main members of crew.

Head of Channel 4 Drama Camilla Campbell says: “We want to celebrate the success of Shameless by giving fans more of what they want. The series has not stopped growing in terms of viewers.”

Hale-based creator Paul Abbott has pushed for more episodes every year since the first series went out. The fact that the channel agreed to 22 this year plus a ninth series is a testament to the ratings the show attracts.

“The audience love it,” says Abbott. “People are still shy of success because they suspect at the next stage you’re bound to take a dive. The Americans don’t think like that. I love what we can do.”

As it happens, the American version of Shameless, surprisingly faithful to the original, made its USA screen debut last night. Abbott is executive producer, alongside ER and The West Wing producer John Wells.

Set in Chicago, it features William H Macy as the “Yank” Frank Gallagher and will be screened here in the spring by More4 as Shameless USA. Abbott has been closely involved throughout and is “thrilled” by how it has turned out.

He recalls the reception Shameless got in the UK when it was first broadcast in January 2004. “I couldn’t believe it. There was nobody more shocked than me that people embraced it. And that’s still, to this day, a bit of a shock.”

*The new series of Shameless starts on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight.

Update: If you missed the first episode (and are in the UK) you can catch up with Shameless 2011 online via 4oD here.

Shameless Channel 4

Shameless: Paul Abbott

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