Smart ‘Southland,’ Macy’s ‘Shameless,’ LeBlanc’s ‘Episodes’: TV

William H. Macy in "Shameless," which premieres Sunday on Showtime at 10 p.m., New York time. Source: Showtime via Bloomberg

Call them the Quirky Americans, that TV species of odd working-class folk populating “My Name is Earl,” “Weeds,” “Raising Hope” and now Showtime’s “Shameless.”

At this point the edge has worn off this imaginary world where alcoholism, dysfunction and financial strain are markers of insistently endearing camaraderie.

In “Shameless,” the fine actor William H. Macy is miscast as Frank Gallagher, the grizzled alcoholic patriarch of a Chicago family getting by on swindled Social Security payments and disability checks.

Frank spends most of his time belligerent or passed out (he’s vertical more often by Episode Three), so head-of-house duties in this motherless clan fall to the eldest child -- the beautiful, caring 20ish Fiona (Emmy Rossum).

Based on a hit British series, “Shameless” goes for comedy and 1990s-style, teen-based family drama, but only occasionally scores. Fiona’s love interest -- handsome, wealthy car thief Steve (Justin Chatwin) -- brings the Luke Perry vibe, along with the skin demanded by pay cable. Joan Cusack, Steve Howey and Shanola Hampton play wacky neighbors.

The rest of the five Gallagher siblings range wildly in both age and interest. High-school brothers Lip, a street-smart toughie (played by best-in-the-cast Jeremy Allen White), and Ian (Cameron Monaghan), a gay kid having an affair with his married Muslim boss, easily steal the pilot episode.

“Shameless” premieres Sunday on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2


Matt LeBlanc, returning to series TV following one smash hit (“Friends”) and one debacle (“Joey”), lands in the mediocre middle with Showtime’s “Episodes.”

The best thing about this program is its premise: A British husband-and-wife comedy writing team are recruited by Hollywood to remake their critically lauded Britcom about an elite boys school. The original starred a wheezing, erudite Richard Griffiths as headmaster, but the American remake has been dumbed-down for its star LeBlanc. (Griffiths has a scene-stealing cameo in “Episodes.”)

LeBlanc seems to be having a great time playing a version of himself. His introduction in the second episode jolts the series to life as he reveals himself to be anything but the dumb, amiable Joey Tribbiani.

Unfortunately, neither LeBlanc nor “Episodes” pushes that initial surprise to the delicious extremes of Lisa Kudrow’s 2005 HBO series “The Comeback.” British actors Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig have little to work with beyond fish-out-of-water reactions and tea-over-coffee stereotypes, and the Hollywood execs are as generic as the show’s title.

“Episodes” premieres Sunday on Showtime at 9:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2


There’s nothing strenuously offbeat about “Southland.” The TNT cop drama is straightforward, solidly crafted and one of the best shows on television.

Last week’s Season Three premiere reassembled the terrific ensemble cast that includes Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Regina King, Ben McKenzie and Kevin Alejandro. Next week’s episode about a gang battle is even better, with the arrival of C. Thomas Howell as a nasty recovering alcoholic.

Spouting AA platitudes and racist, sexist insults with equal fervor, Howell is all but unrecognizable from his teen idol days.

What constantly impresses about “Southland” is its effortless use of a traditional cop-show format to explore issues of race, gender and class in a powerful way.

“Southland” remains the most gripping police drama since the heyday of “Law & Order.” May it live as long.

“Southland” airs Tuesdays on TNT at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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