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Is Shameless bad for Manchester?

Confidential debates the Manchester-based hit TV show as it gets into its stride once more

Published on January 14th 2008.


Is Shameless bad for Manchester?

Lynda Moyo thinks Shameless is wonderful

“Lip you always were a gobby little shit who had too much to say for himself, therefore I pissed in every bottle you left in the fridge since 1997”.

Dysfunctional, disgraceful and disgusting. It’s these ‘qualities’ that have had viewers shamelessly glued to the box every week to get the latest goings on from the infamous Chatsworth Estate. And why? Whilst many of us may live happily in white picket-fenced suburbia, Shameless allows us to be the curtain-twitchers we all secretly take pleasure in being. Four years on and we’re more addicted to the Gallaghers and McGuires because like all good soaps and comedy series we’re watching the characters grow (or in Frank Gallagher’s case, shrivel).

This is the first series without the fruitful and fragile, agoraphobic Sheila. It might have been a concern that it wouldn’t be as good, however when one willowy weak female leaves it makes way for the exact opposite. This series the one to watch is Mimi Gallagher who refused the usual new year diet pledges. “I’m a fat fuck. I’m a fucking fat fucker. I don’t wanna stop drinking or eating…or do any exercise.”

As with its northern predecessors Bread and the Royle Family, Shameless is a portrayal of life (the majority of which is based on writer Paul Abbot’s real life growing up in Burnley only this is set in Manchester). It’s gloriously funny and whilst the characters can be mocked, they’re also to be admired for their honesty and twisted integrity. Each series pushes the boundaries of the last, covering everything from arson to fetish to drugs without glorifying or disparaging. This is uncensored realism at its rawest.

In the North West, particularly, the characters are very close to home and close to the bone. You’ve seen Debbie Gallagher on a Magic Bus in her school uniform popping her bubble gum and texting and a pram-pushing Mandy McGuire striding through Piccadilly Gardens on her way to Primark.

Shameless is brimming with a particular Northern charm using Manchester vernacular throughout, with the wayward families we’ve come to know and love. It’s bold and brassy and whilst some may find it offensive and distasteful, who cares?

The stark reality is there in the title: Shameless.

Charlie Butterworth thinks Shameless stinks

Shameless is a picaresque novel. The first such novel was Lazarillo de Tormes published anonymously in Spanish in 1554. Picaresque tales, to quote the excellent Wikipedia entry, ‘depict in realistic and humorous detail the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his or her wits’.

The lead character is Lazarillo de Tormes himself. In Shameless it’s Frank Gallagher. The Spanish book was a one-off, Shameless has gone on too long and become a cliché.

In TV terms this whole genre has become a cliché. It’s the Royle Family revisited. It’s Taste of Honey back from the dead in the fifties but going on series after series. There’s no quibble over the quality of the writing or the acting but the whole thing has been done to death.

Especially this modern version of shouty, Manchester realism, of grubby lives enlivened by a bit of bent fun. From Queer as Folk through Cutting It and Stretford Wives the corpse has been dug up repeatedly. Difference is that Shameless is grubbier than ever.

Critics, who no doubt have never lived on a council estate, love the thing as a wry account of what’s happening out there, ‘in the real world’. Bollocks, anybody who knows anything about council estates knows that people are much better (and worse) than this lot.

Better is the keyword though. Because this programme depicts council estate folk as opportunistic and without aspiration. It idealises a feckless, wayward, parasitic and criminal way of life. It glamorises people who know little of the world outside their narrow existence and care even less about it. It excuses a brutalised, unbeautiful existence for a few laughs and the occasional heart-of-gold homily.

And, of course, it has to be set in Manchester. Couldn’t be anywhere else, could it? Because that’s what we’re all like. Well I’m not and most of the people I know aren’t.

Shameless brands us, just as Corrie has branded us for 48 years, in a comic horror way to the world. By turn we are cute, crude, thick, and if we’re intelligent, it’s only in a gutter-savvy way. That’s not my North of England, that’s not my city.

Lazarillo de Tormes was a grand piece of picaresque work in 1554. In 2008 - in the ASBO years - Shameless is literally without shame.

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48 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnnaJanuary 14th 2008.

Blimey, don't take life too seriously. It's not real, it's a television programme! Yes, it might push the boundaries a bit, but what great acting, scriptwriting and humour. It's FANTASTIC.

WayneJanuary 14th 2008.

Oooh Twat Spotter, people displaying knowledge, eh? Find it disturbing? Best just talk about the family, the footy, and the crime in the area, eh. Don't show you're clever for ****'s sake. Just grunt and say, yea, whatever, innit. Do you live Shameless? Actually I don't agree with Butterworth on this one. There is superb writing in Shameless and it's obviously a caricature but billiantly done. It's a British Simpson's.

CharlieJanuary 14th 2008.

Kid Disco, love the idea of right-on version set in Chorlton. We could call it Blameless.

arehlaaaJanuary 14th 2008.

It absolutely makes Manchester look a wee bit stupid .. but all in a good way. Its a fantastic comedy.Look ... Liverpool has had the p*** taken out of it - sometimes unjustifiably - for years. Mancunians have been far and away the worst offenders in doing this so I'd say you guys deserve a little fun poked at you for once! :)I can't believe some folk are so offended by Shameless. Okay it playes to stereotypes but is marvellously written, well acted and, above all, funny! It shows mancs have a great sense of humour - just as good as the scousers hey! I couldn't imagine a funny show like Shameless working if set on some London council estate.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

Whoah - my whole belief system has been shaken by this debate....you mean to tell me that not everyone in Manchester is like the characters on Shameless?! What next, are you going to tell me that everyone in Yorkshire doesn't live in a little village and drink in the Woolpack? That everyone in East London doesnt have a market stall and live in the Queen Vic?! Bloody hell....At the end of the day, TV programmes are genereally for entertainment or informative purposes, and if you struggle to differentiate between the two then that's the problem! You can read way too much into most things in film and TV - at the end of the day if you have a real life for comparison then it should be pretty clear when a little suspension of disbelief is required. If you dont have a real life, then fair enough - you may believe everything you see! Many Tv programmes and films play on stereotypical personality types,and look at the extreme ends of the spectrum - otherwise it would be pretty boring to watch methinks!

DomJanuary 14th 2008.

I think the fact that it has been running for so many series and has been contracted for 16 episodes in this series speaks for itself.Shameless is the best thing to happen to TV in a long while.I rarley watch TV never mind activley go out of my way to watch a particular program.

DenJanuary 14th 2008.

Shameless is everything I don't like in life.

DescartesJanuary 14th 2008.

Oh, let's laugh at the northerners, aren't they jolly EVEN when faced with adversity or being poor. Shameless is a perfect example of why I stopped watching tv.

LianeJanuary 14th 2008.

Shameless does ring true concerning many of my personal experiences in Manchester. It is a bit OTT, but it's drama, int it?For me, however, it definitely lost its heart when Steve and Fiona left. And then Kev and Veronica.

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

Whoah - my whole belief system has been shaken by this debate....you mean to tell me that not everyone in Manchester is like the characters on Shameless?! What next, are you going to tell me that everyone in Yorkshire doesn't live in a little village and drink in the Woolpack? That everyone in East London doesnt have a market stall and live in the Queen Vic?! Bloody hell....At the end of the day, TV programmes are genereally for entertainment or informative purposes, and if you struggle to differentiate between the two then that's the problem! You can read way too much into most things in film and TV - at the end of the day if you have a real life for comparison then it should be pretty clear when a little suspension of disbelief is required. If you dont have a real life, then fair enough - you may believe everything you see! Many Tv programmes and films play on stereotypical personality types,and look at the extreme ends of the spectrum - otherwise it would be pretty boring to watch methinks!

AliJanuary 14th 2008.

Haha Shameless - I LOVE IT!!! All this deep nonsense - it's a great written prog - get over it n enjoy it :) 'ERE YAR!!!

realistJanuary 14th 2008.

"Bollocks, anybody who knows anything about council estates knows that people are much better (and worse) than this lot." What is this supposed to mean exactly and has Charlie Butterworth ever lived in a council estate? I don't think so!!! What a load of crap Charlie! The debut of everything is always much better, whether it's an album or a series. That's what should be considered here, not if Shameless is branding fellow Mancunians. That's your snobbery getting in the way of actually respecting Shameless for what it is.

cfmJanuary 14th 2008.

what a load of middleclass mutterings - shameless could be in any city, the council estates of britain are full of gallaghers et al, its the skill of the writer and creator to chose manc whit, charm and emotion that makes it as good as it is. When did you last see a great drama set in inner city glasgow or birmingham? never, because those cities dont have what manchester has, a sense of humour and the ability not to take itself so seriously. Its entertainment not a branding exercise, get over yourselves!

GedeyeJanuary 14th 2008.

I agree with Mr Moyo on this one! I love Shameless...biased as my opinion may be as I do have a tendency to like almost any dramas that are set in Manchester..my contined dedication to this (Im still watchin it into the 5th series) speaks for itself! Its undeniably funny & original...full of characters! Amongst other awards, Shameless won the 'Best Drama Series' award for the 1st series at the most prestigious awards ceremony in TV so it must be brilliant - you dont get one of these for nothing!!!

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

My god its fab

RodneyJanuary 14th 2008.

I don't think we need to over-analyse the programme. The fact is it's funny. Both sides of the argument agree on that point. For that reason alone, it's worth watching. SCATTER!

Lesley BaxendaleJanuary 14th 2008.

I think that shameless is gutteral and reminds me of the obnoxious characters that I have come accross, in my life.I now live in Leeds and wonder what has happened to the good old Manchester spririt. I am a Mancunian, but have lived away for 20 years.Hopefully, the series will climb out of the mire and show how people can raise themselves above such circumstances and become rounded individuals.Perhaps I can view this show as a warning and make sure that I don't go down their 'dark tunnel'

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

Who cares?! It's a TV program it's there for entertainment purposes & if people in other parts of the country are so stupid to think that it's a true depiction of every single person in Manchester & how we live our lives then their opinion is null & void simply because they're too stupid to be allowed to have an opinion

Macc DadJanuary 14th 2008.

Shameless should be government funded. It is an essential aid to parenting. It provokes lively debate on subjects that would not otherwise make their way to the dinner table. Why, because it's irreverant, true and very, very funny. If that means it's Picaresque (although I prefer the Lake District for scenery)then bring on Picaresque.

tsingJanuary 14th 2008.

stupid i don,t thinks so that show ace and it shows that us machester lot r good at grafting and will do owt to earn money .

BarryJanuary 14th 2008.

I always thought shameless was supposed to be an hour of entertainment but it seems I missed the part about it being an accurate portrayal of life. I don't take Hollyoaks seriously nor do I take the Simpsons seriously. So why should I expect anymore from Shameless

benJanuary 14th 2008.

'many of us may live happily in white picket-fenced suburbia'... Lucky you Lynda - that must be why Shameless seems so charming to you. Unfortunately for those of us that do live on or near estates like the Chatsworth estate i.e. Ordsall, the reality of endless petty crime and anti-social behaviour just grinds you down. Maybe you could organise some safari-style trips to places like the Langworthy and Ordsall estates to have a laugh at the natives face-to-face? I could just imagine it - zebra-stripe land rovers, pith helmets and binoculars...

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

I love Shameless, my problem is that these people actually exist in the real world. Can we keep the show and nuke Salford instead? These scallies are great viewing but I don't want them robbin me in the street or playing crap music on the bus.

Ms LinguistJanuary 14th 2008.

I have a degree in Shameless.

NiallJanuary 14th 2008.

arehlaaa: "I couldn't imagine a funny show like Shameless working if set on some London council estate."I can: it was called Only Fools and Horses.I can't make my mind up about Shameless. I enjoy it, and yet it turns my stomach. Its nihilism is funny in a shocking way, and yes the writing and characters are excellent creations, but the programme leaves me feeling depressed-and not in a constructive way. It's even half-way close to the mark – as I suspect it is, for so many people, life must be a long tunnel of grinding bleakness punctuated by moments of pleasure. If this is true, we have an obligation to at least be aware of it, right? Sure. But I agree with Butterworth that the obligatory heart-warming homilies of ‘we’re all the same underneath’ look lame when the programme wallows pornographically in extremity and shock-tactics. The show has the perfect get-out-of-jail-free card: “we don’t do judgement, here”, to get away with what just feels like cheap, exploitative kicks. It’s like watching footage of bums being paid to fight, or to pull their teeth out, but wait, before we get too carried away, there’s a hasty sticking plaster for the wounds; remembering to show that the bums are basically nice people/vulnerable/victims of circumstance(delete as appropriate), so their humanity is redeemed. Wahaay! When the laughter in Shameless fades, the people it represents still live in a grim world, and it’s exploited for less-than-noble causes, and yes it’s still funny. It’s true, Shameless is most funny to middle class people like me because it portrays the picaresque chaos without visiting on us any of the consequences that we in our cosy enclaves fear when we walk the streets. I would hate to live in a world where I could not escape other peoples’ bad behaviour-whatever the causes, and for that I am thankful for the chance of my upbringing. So I find myself asking, what are we supposed to take from Shameless; that life is like this, so we may as well have a laugh about it? Or that redeeming character features or roguishness can endlessly excuse all kinds of bad behaviour and fecklessness? Only Fools and Horses has so many parallels on paper with Shameless (though less extreme) but somehow it doesn't fill you with hopelessness, softened with a few yuks along the way.

kevin thornhillJanuary 14th 2008.

i would love to live thier its the place to be and live

ShamefulJanuary 14th 2008.

There are three types that like this pitiful show i've observed:1) The sneering aspiring middle classes who can laugh along on their overpriced Wesley Barrel sofas at the underclass that are de rigeur on Manchester's council estates (i know i was brought up on one!)2)Chavs who love it from the comfort of their interest free credit DFS sofas of course, as they can identify with their fellow kindred spirits (although most are a lot more violent)3) The inbetweenies like me who are neither 1) or 2) but turn on (and quickly off) as the memories of those painful years skint and struggling are brought to the forefront once again.We don't need to be reminded that Manchester is full of (to quote fellow Manc Steve Coogan) "toothless simpletons" and its getting worse by the day as we accept these losers into mainstream society. Need i say more about its continuing popularity?

Case in ya Face!January 14th 2008.

Oh my god how can anyone dislike Shameless! Ive grew up on a council estate just near salford an its reminds me of being a kid again i was Debbie lol. Shamless is full of fun, drama and quality characters there are all sorts of programs about Manchester least this one is a great watch...plus its only TV peeps get over it!

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

i love it - god we need to laugh, and if we can't laugh at ourselves what's the point?

CHEZAJanuary 14th 2008.

Shameless is brill, and to be quite honest, i have seen alot worse on the estate we live on in manchester. saying that it is filmed just 5mins from my house! my family is nothing like the gallaghers i must add, but the good thing was us mancs is that we are good at laughing at our self!!!

garethJanuary 14th 2008.

I hope not Dazza, i really do. Do you think anyone involved with it actually lives on a council estate now? Because if they don't then its just a nostalgic version of how they it. Which isn't bad in itself but when people see it and take it for life now then that is damaging - 'They're poor but happy.' 'Well, then,' say suburb living decision makers, 'let's leave them to it.'

kevin thornhillJanuary 14th 2008.

i think its fab i have watched it all the time i dont miss a series of it.i think it dont make manchester bad its a brill place to go on holiday...!

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

Whoah - my whole belief system has been shaken by this debate....you mean to tell me that not everyone in Manchester is like the characters on Shameless?! What next, are you going to tell me that everyone in Yorkshire doesn't live in a little village and drink in the Woolpack? That everyone in East London doesnt have a market stall and live in the Queen Vic?! Bloody hell....At the end of the day, TV programmes are genereally for entertainment or informative purposes, and if you struggle to differentiate between the two then that's the problem! You can read way too much into most things in film and TV - at the end of the day if you have a real life for comparison then it should be pretty clear when a little suspension of disbelief is required. If you dont have a real life, then fair enough - you may believe everything you see! Many Tv programmes and films play on stereotypical personality types,and look at the extreme ends of the spectrum - otherwise it would be pretty boring to watch methinks!

Frank GallagherJanuary 14th 2008.

Shakespeare, what...a c*nt!

Brian SewellJanuary 14th 2008.

In a very real sense this excuse for entertainment offends against the essence of what it is to human: viz, to pursue beauty and taste. It is a sentimental excursion into ugliness as though the latter is a worthy quality in and of itself. Brutality will only breed brutality. For this reason we must resolve to remove this grim piece of work from our screens. May I venture that we replace it with a programme about Baroque Art...presented by me.

Kid DiscoJanuary 14th 2008.

Spot on Sir Butterworth. If opportunistic desolation is realism with a Mancunian tinge then I'll take the rope instead, if you don't mind. What does this series plan to offer that's 'new' exactly? Can't we have Chorlton on the telebox instead? There could be a whole episode dedicated to the riots after the new Tesco was announced.

Prof Rob RightJanuary 14th 2008.

I look forward to watching Shameless every week and think it is a great portrayal of every day life in Manchester.

natural selectionJanuary 14th 2008.

Unfortunately in an age where people delight in ignorance, and celebrities have no brains we are stuck with this rubbish. Hopefully when the world runs out of petrol....

T**t SpotterJanuary 14th 2008.

Picaresque? Butterworthless, you been masturbating again?

whalleystrangeJanuary 14th 2008.

When thousands of Spurs supporters rock up in Manchester singing "what's it like to f*ck your kids" it's shows like this that have provided them with the ammunition. I don't like it.

JanieJanuary 14th 2008.

Shameless is fantastic. A well written fictional piece of television that I look forward to watching each week. I'm with you, Lynda.

Miss AnnoyingJanuary 14th 2008.

What i find more disheartening is the level of grammatical skills in evidence daily on this website. It is this shameless parading of uneducated opinion that makes Manchester look bad. Is it really so difficult to proof read?

RhubarbJanuary 14th 2008.

Mr Butterworth your pompus short sighted views actually make me laugh. for f***s sake its a TV programme made to humour people. You say it "depicts council estate folk as opportunistic and without aspiration" yes it might do but it is only focused on 2 main families on the estate so its not reflecting every other family that might live on a council estate, just 2, thats all. Yeah they could make a programme of a struggling family who live to the letter of the law living in a council estate but would that be as entertaining ? just watch the programme for what it is and forget about the snobbery you might enjoy in every day life

AnonymousJanuary 14th 2008.

there are estates worse than shameless in every major city in the uk, at least shameless shows Manchester can laugh at itself.

brett sinclairJanuary 14th 2008.

Didn't know anyone still watched it. First 2 series were good though. Having witnessed one cast member's behaviour don't think there's a great deal of acting involved for his character...

abfabJanuary 14th 2008.

the people who dislike this programme & think it is beneath them, obviously live such an easy life in a bubble...but this is real life, not just in manchester but every where!!

DazzaJanuary 14th 2008.

It's not bad for Manchester...having lived in Miles Platting and Clayton for years; its an accurate and fair representation of the people and the area.

Hrh*January 14th 2008.

I think shameless is brilliant, and reality is alot of what goes on in shameless has gone on in manchester for years! Accept it us mancunians r MAD FER IT!!

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